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Date: Tuesday, 12 Aug 2008 08:30
Also known as "vacations with heart", philanthropic tours became popular post tsunami. I was in Thailand post disaster in 2004. I went on holiday with no specific goal in mind. Most of my stay was at Phi-Phi island where much work was being done to restore the island. It was easy to lend a hand; while my friend went scuba-diving for missing items post tsunami, I stayed ashore and helped paint some houses. It was one of the best parts of my trip. The point here: You don't have to dedicate an entire vacation to a cause, but while you are traveling it's worth every effort to see what little bit you can do to contribute. It's also a great way to meet people and locals alike as it gives you opportunities to bond on a different level. So if you've always wanted to be part of some outreach program, why not investigate such opportunities in the place where you plan to take your next trip? Here are some links that might inspire you and get you started:
Author: "Abha Malpani" Tags: "Travel Advice"
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Date: Monday, 11 Aug 2008 20:33
When you travel, do you prefer to stay off the beaten path or get lost in a crowd? Although I'm not a country girl, I feel most at home in smaller, isolated hamlets (think the lesser-known Greek Islands) rather than big bustling metropolises (think Los Angeles or Buenos Aires). Big City Pros: - Always a hostel or place to stay. Plus you never have problems finding anything that you might need to buy. - Excellent transportation options; larger cities are the hubs for long-distance train, plane, and bus travel, as well as car and bike rental. - Public transportation: cheap "getting around" options allow you to see more of the city than if you were limited by two feet. Too bad they're not all as comprehensive as the New York subway. - Plenty of crazy tourist attractions. Big cities have both well-established destinations, many of them free, and some more esoteric ones as well. There's space to find entertainment no matter what your palate. - Jobs. If you're a long-term vagabonder, it's a lot easier to find steady work in a large city; particularly if you're working without a visa (shhh). Small Town Pros: - Easier to meet people and make friends. In small towns, everyone congregates at one or two places, which makes it easy to locate people to hang out with. They're often friendlier to you, too. - Beautiful landscape and countryside. You can see the stars! - Peace and quiet reduces stress. Traveling is stressful enough: figuring out how to navigate potentially distressing traffic patterns is a lot of work! Hanging out in smaller places is like a breath of (literally) fresh air. - Finding off-the-beaten-path things to see and do; many locals know of the best swimming holes, ice cream parlours, or what-have-you that never appear in a Lonely Planet guidebook. If they don't see too many tourists, they're often pretty happy to share. - Some employment can only happen in more rural areas; think fruit-picking in Australia or teaching skiing in Switzerland.
Author: "Claire Litton"
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Date: Monday, 11 Aug 2008 08:51
"Are we correct that all cultural values are being destroyed? Or are they once again changing, under the press of circumstance and from their own internal dynamics, while we, the anthropologists, disapprove of the changes or at least do not comprehend them? To argue globally against cultural change is a startling position; to accept all change as good is mindless and cruel. The challenge, as yet unmet, is to conceptualize communities as a complex process of stability and change, and then to factor in the changes tourism brings. To this end, the evaluation of tourism cannot be accomplished by measuring the impact of tourism against a static background. Some of what we see as destruction is construction. Some is the result of a lack of any other viable option; and some the result of choices that could be made differently. Which is which is by no means an easy matter to decide, but is clear that anthropologists have not yet met these problems head on." --Davydd J. Greenwood, from Valene Smith's Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism (1977)
Author: "Rolf Potts" Tags: "Travel Quote of the Day"
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Date: Sunday, 10 Aug 2008 08:22
Different travellers decide to up and see the world at different stages in their lives. Poke your head around any hostel lounge in the world and you might see a wide-eyed student, taking a year before university, a middle-aged veteran of South African safaris, London bar hopping and sushi in Tokyo, and maybe a 25 year old investment banking analyst, making use of a sabbatical before launching head on into bucket loads of perks and a six figure salary. There is no ‘typical traveller’. People do it for different reasons, at different points of their lives, and for different periods of time. One thing is for certain, being a traveller is like no other thing. Aside from the generally tedious jobs that a traveller must take in order to stay alive (flipping burgers, picking fruit and mowing lawns are all jobs I have undertaken), the financial hit can be a shock. For professionals, going from company cars and mini-bars to queuing for showers and grudgingly handing over your last five bucks for a meal can be a pain to bear. There are two sides of the story – wanting to better yourself through experience, but not wanting to lose touch with ‘real life’. I think that the answer to this is to really think about the length of time you want to take away from the rat race. How long can you stay away from your career, but still remain employable? In my own case, I jump between yearning to launch my career back home, and not wanting to take any responsibility before I have to. The beauty of my profession – writing – is that I can do it any time, anywhere. But becoming employed in a competitive publications market can become tough when you are away for too long. Also, sometimes it can be demoralising as I trudge to work for the umpteenth time, knowing that I will be drafting the same letters as I did yesterday, creating the same labels and making the same pots of coffee for the same executives. It’s a means to an end – and absolutely balances out when I catch my plane to the next city, or experience the next unique moment that I will never forget. Personally, I don't think that I could go back to the travelling lifestyle once I am into (hopefully) a successful career. I think that now, in the limbo between university and work, I might never get another chance, so I'm taking it with two hands.
Author: "Graham Reid"
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Date: Sunday, 10 Aug 2008 08:20
When choosing your first vagabonding destination what is better, something to ease you in on an extended trip away from home, or something that stuns and shocks you into a new way of thinking? Both have their advantages. In the predominantly English speaking parts of the world, it is easy for an English, Australian, Canadian or American to swap countries. They all have supermarkets, Italian restaurants, and (relatively) reliable transit and infrastructure. This can be a good way to begin a life away from your home country. Work is easy enough to get hold of, and apartments are two-a-penny in some popular cities. For the most part, the climates are bearable. This sort of adventure can be comfortable, sociable and still educational. Being an Englishman in North America, a lot of my preconceptions about those inhabitants above and below the American-Canadian border were challenged, and changed. Seeing some of the sights that have littered my television screen all my life was breathtaking and enriching. It was my first time travelling, and it was something I needed to do, as a prerequisite for camping, danger and wildlife on my next planned trip, in Africa. I couldn’t have jumped straight to the latter. For some people, the outdoors is a doddle. Living without shops, or roads, or with water in short supply is their bread and butter. But for me, I needed to know I could get on a bus and travel for three days, and everything would still be okay. In my case, when you come from a country that is seven or eight hours car ride from top to bottom, it can be quite a shock to the system. The less developed nations can offer very different experiences. For the most part, gone are the monuments and the familiar international scenes. But in their place are the feral times, living on the edge, and finding people that are a world away from your own life. Can each be as rewarding as the other? What makes a real traveller?
Author: "Graham Reid"
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Date: Friday, 08 Aug 2008 20:28
kansas.jpg Returning to Kansas after being in Asia for two years was intensely interesting. And overwhelming. And mind-boggling. At home but feeling like I prematurely left the womb, in shock, sitting back behind an obscure mask, observing the life I used to live, smiling on the inside at the absurdity of much of it. How was I ever caught in the ever-turning wheel of suffering to attain something that doesn't exist? Stepping from the chaos into the clear and silent center of things, I finally realized the true beauty of Kansas. The sky stretching for miles and changing infinitely throughout the day, the thunderstorms, the greenish-yellow color in the air and the distinct warning smell when tornadoes are surely coming. The friendliness and openness of Kansans. The simple way of life in rural Kansas where time seems to move slower and the minds of most are on the weather and the condition of the crops instead of on the daily barrage of death and destruction constantly on the television. Leaving home for a substantial amount of time (enough time to shrug off the fuzziness of cultural conditioning) was wonderful. But only after coming home was I able to put it all into perspective. Vagabonding to me is not about leaving somewhere and going somewhere else; vagabonding is about opening my eyes to the beauty of the world and keeping that spirit alive even when I am settled down in a community (where it's most easily lost in the daily routine of life). Becoming aware of the details of everyday life, I take it all in and send out a silent thank you to the Universe with a deep breath and a slow exhale. Thank you for the morning dewdrops glistening, delicately balanced atop kale, unabashadely displaying infinity through their reflections. Thank you for the butterflies with their intricately patterned dusty wings, unaware of human things such as gluttony and killing sprees. Thank you for this world and for this moment, wherever I may be. rainburstsresized.jpg Photobucket
Author: "Aly Young"
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Date: Friday, 08 Aug 2008 08:04
While “pop music” is a dirty word among the hipster set, it's hard to escape because it's well, popular. Now that I live in Taiwan, the center of the Mandopop universe, the music is everywhere: in department stores, metro stations and restaurants. The local pop stars grace the covers of magazines in convenience stores and the billboards on the street. (Note: “Mandopop” refers to Mandarin-language music, while “Cantopop” is the Cantonese variety that comes from Hong Kong.) Just from sheer overload, familiar tunes start to seep into your head. Eventually, you even start to have favorites. Without even thinking about it, I'll find myself humming the latest hit while I'm stuck waiting for an elevator. I often point out ads to newly-landed expats and recite the Chinese name of each pop star. In response, I get incredulous looks saying, “Man, you're losing it!” Silk Road, by Malaysian-born singer Jasmine "Fish" Leong, is one of my top picks. The first time I heard it, I was stuck on a miserable car trip from a remote factory to downtown Shanghai. So when this soaring ballad came on the radio, it transported me away from my problems. Every time I listen to it, I get a little teary. It just encapsulates everything I imagine about Asia, the epic landscapes, tragic loves and sheer beauty of the people. For an English translation, click here.
Author: "Marcus Sortijas"
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Date: Thursday, 07 Aug 2008 20:12
Like pairing fine wine with food, finding the best book to read during a trip is an art. Wandering bibliophiles know what I mean - books may not make or break your travels, but having the right one on hand can enhance your experiences. It's a little obvious, but you can start with a book which has your destination as the setting. It doesn't have to be a travel book, it could be a novel set in that place, such as Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises for a trip to Spain. If you can't find an exact match, go for similarity. For example, if you're visiting some beaches, bring a book set at sea. Or if you plan to go hiking, you can bring a book about mountaineering which you can read before and after your hike. You can also bring literature which was written in your destination. In fact, buy the book when you get there. This will make your purchase more memorable compared to buying it from Amazon.com. Plus, some foreign works which are written or translated in English aren't available online or from your home country. It's also important to know the mood of the work you'll be reading before you make a choice. A serious and depressing piece might not go well with an adventurous outdoor trip, nor would classical Greek poetry go with a nightlife tour of Greece. Unless you crave this kind contrast, it's best to choose a book you'll enjoy with the trip. One final thing to keep in mind: take a step back. Although reading during your trip can give you additional insight, you'll still need some internal 'alone time' to process your experiences through your own unique perspective. What was the last book you brought on your travels? How do you choose which book to bring along with you?
Author: "Celine Roque"
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Date: Thursday, 07 Aug 2008 08:57

Gary Buslik once accidentally urinated on the infamous “Butcher of Uganda” Idi Amin in the Caribbean. Thankfully, he survived the encounter and can now enthrall us with his exploits in his new book A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean: A Grump in Paradise Discovers that Anyplace it's Legal to Carry a Machete is Comedy Just Waiting to Happen. It seems there isn’t a Caribbean adventure Buslik hasn’t discovered, from receiving a dinner invitation from the late Princess Diana, to witnessing a cockfight, to his nervous attempts to smuggle Cuban cigars through United States customs (he only succeeded thanks to his wife). One thing is certain: his time in the Caribbean is never dull. Vagablogging asked him a few questions about his sojourns: Why are you "rotten"? I speak for the rotten person in all Americans, especially these days, when the dollar is worth less than toilet paper and is sometimes used as such in Third-World airport bathrooms. I think of myself as a travel messiah—except that Jesus wasn't willing to throw his friends under a bus for a cheap laugh. Of course, we weren't there, so who knows? Why the Caribbean? One night shortly after we met, when my now-wife and I finished making love, she sighed, "There must be more to life than this." So I suggested getting married and honeymooning in Branson, Missouri, to see Andy Williams. Instead, she bought a travel magazine, pointed to a picture of a hammock strung between palm trees, and said, "Buy it for me." She meant the Caribbean, not the hammock, because that's how my wife thinks. I was just starting out then, so I couldn't afford to purchase the entire region, but not wanting her to think I was a piker, off we went on a one-weeker to Jamaica, which she planned on converting to a large shoe rack. How much time have you spent on the islands over the years? Years ago, when I did a lot more magazine writing, I would bundle as many assignments as possible and sometimes spend weeks at a time down there. I would keep telling my wife—who was back in Chicago—how miserable I was, but eventually she got wise and demanded I take her with or she'd file for divorce and in public records reveal that I polish my cat's toenails. What is your favorite thing about the Caribbean? Least favorite? A lot of newbie travelers rave about gorgeous sunsets and sugary sand and exotic cuisine, but my favorites are the small things. I love meeting stray dogs you see on almost every beach, giving them a good scratch on their bellies, and telling the locals to shut up and mind their own business when they try to shoo the dogs away. Last December I found a sweet cat on the beach in St. Maarten, and every morning we had breakfast together in the hotel lobby café, with me sitting in front of one plate, she another, her dirty little butt on a placemat. It drove the manager stark raving nuts, so it was a double pleasure. I also enjoy stepping on the flip-flops of margarita-slurping tourists walking in front of me. My least favorite thing about the Caribbean are mosquito nets. Any membrane that gets between my bladder and the bathroom at two in the morning—and I include pajamas here—is never my friend. If you turn on a light in the middle of the night, your "mosquito" net—a misnomer if there ever was one; they should be called "large-furry-things-with-buck-teeth" net—resembles a Night of the Living Dead reunion. The result being that while trying to make a mad dash from under the elastic, I get more tangled up in netting than a drunken groom in a garter belt, and my wife comes to my rescue by spraying my face with something that smells suspiciously like nuclear waste. My other least favorite thing is steel drum music. West Indian bands never take breaks. I was not alive when they built the Panama Canal, but in hearing "Yellow Bird" for the zillionth time, my eardrums can imagine what the isthmus must have felt like when that huge, hardened-steel, saw-toothed gnawing wheel ground its way from one ocean to the other. From Idi Amin to Princess Diana, you seem to be a magnet for odd encounters with interesting people. What other memorable encounters have you had with the famous (and infamous)? It's not just me. If anyone hangs around the islands long enough, I guarantee they'll bump into famous peeps. The trick is to act unimpressed. Americans are obnoxiously famous for slobbering over celebs—especially Chicagoans, whose biggest local star is Oprah, so that should tell you how celebrity deprived we are. I once chummed it up with Prince Philip while we were both eating ice cream cones when strolling down Montserrat's main street. He had absolutely no idea who I was, of course—because, in truth, I'm nobody—but he seemed concerned that my flavor may have tasted better than his, and I could see he was anguished that he had made a mistake by ordering strawberry instead of chocolate. I offered him a lick—he was Prince Philip, after all; he couldn't have had germs—but, being British, he demurred. I also met Queen Beatrix of Holland in St. Maarten, and she and I, too, shared a couple of yuks. She's not a bad looker, although I had the definite impression she'd rather have been wearing sandals than those queenie pumps. One night over dinner in Nevis, I sat with a wealthy, older gay guy who owned villas all over the world and who, after a few rum punches, regaled the table with allegedly true stories of his wild parties in the good old days, and how, in his mansion in Cannes, Herbert Hoover liked to slide down the banister dressed like Auntie Mame. Don't blame me. I only report the news. What do you think of the statement "Truth is stranger than fiction" as relates to your writing? Life is strange, and the world is a weird place, if you can just get your face out of the refrigerator and your fat ass off the La-Z-Boy. Some of my travel-writer friends (I don't have many, but that's not their fault) complain that there's too much to see and too little space to get it all published. To me, limited print space is a great blessing, because it forces us to distill all our experiences into literary quarks. I honestly don't know what "quarks" are, but they sound like they should be tiny, dense doohickeys. Whether we like it or not, we're all in the entertainment business (at the university where I teach, the creative writing department cringes at this notion because it seems so anti-intellectual—which is why I tell my students that if they really are serious about becoming writers, to get as far away from college as humanly possible), so readers expect, and are entitled to, getting their jollies even out of "truth." There are plenty of funny, poignant, sad, and horrible things out there, so quit griping and do your job. If you call yourself a travel writer and you're not meeting the Idi Amins and the Princess Di's, my advice is to sharpen your pencil. Do you have a favorite Caribbean island? I'm fond of the Dutch islands, such as St. Maarten, Curacao, and Aruba. The Dutch run their tourism-related businesses cleanly and efficiently, in order to make up for the fact that you have to dig up tulip bulbs every fall and replant them in the spring. Also, the Dutch are funnier than other people when they're drunk. They climb palm trees for no apparent reason and tend to fall on their heads. I suspect this has something to do with tulip bulbs. What does your wife think of being a central, spendthrift character in your writing? My wife makes a studious effort not to read my writing, and her mental hygiene is the better for it. It's sort of "don't ask-don't tell," and it's worked, more or less, all these years, so why upset the apple cart? When we first met, she used to edit my manuscripts, until she got tired of crossing out stupid clichés like "why upset the apple cart," so about ten years ago she gave up the whole enterprise in a keen sense of self-preservation and, it must be said, disgust. It turned out to be liberating for me, too, because now I can portray her any way I want with virtual impunity. I say "virtual" because you can bet your bottom dollar (see "stupid clichés," above) that her troublemaking sister will call and say, "Did you read what Gary wrote about your vagina?!" But my wife will never confront me about it because she knows I would just reply, "Well, you shouldn't have stopped editing, and what's good for the goose is good for the gander." Do you see yourself moving to the Caribbean full time? No, because, though rudimentary, I have what's known as a cerebral cortex, which requires periodic stimulation not involving suntan oil and piña coladas. My wife is the opposite, which is why we've managed a marital compromise in which we will at least spend my winter semester breaks down there. I do happen like that time of year in the islands because Christmas in the States involves exchanging presents with people who would prefer to see me dead, and in my neighborhood mail carriers use our plastic lawn Santas for target practice. What aspects of the Caribbean do you find particularly interesting, from an historical perspective? I'm intrigued by the number of Jewish synagogues that all claim to be the first in the Western Hemisphere. Almost every island has one, which you can visit for normally $5.00, but for you, $3.50. On several islands the synagogues themselves are gone, but we know there must have been thriving pre-Columbian Hebrew communities there because you can still see plaques on ancient volcanic boulders that say GIFT OF MAX AND ESTHER FLEISCHMAN. If you were stranded on an uninhabited Caribbean island, what three things would you bring with you? I'm tempted to be funny here, but, in fact, this question requires a serious answer because whenever you fly anywhere throughout the Caribbean, you should always be prepared to get stranded on an uninhabited island. On one airline the emergency door says, LOCK SECURELY, BUT ONLY IF YOU REALLY TRULY FEEL LIKE IT, and one night I was having dinner at a Nevis guest house, when one of my table mates, a pilot for the local airline, asked if I would consider going to St. Kitts the next day and, if so, would I like to be his copilot? I'm pretty sure he meant this in the aerodynamic, not romantic, sense of the word. But I've stalled long enough—no pun intended—and will now try to answer your question. Theoretically I would always take my cat, Babs, the love of my life. But, of course, this would be a "who," not a "what," so let me think a little harder. I know: I'd bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Diet Coke, so if it turns out to be my last meal, I'd at least die happy. I don't know if you'd count that as one item or two. If two, then my last item would be a catnip mouse, for obvious reasons. Have you perfected your Cuban cigar smuggling routine yet? When sneaking Cuban cigars past customs, the important thing is to not separate them. At the Miami airport, security agents are highly trained to spot individual cigars on an X-ray screen. If you are caught, they will waterboard you until you confess to having understated the total value of cocktail stirrers you brought back into the country, and they will cavity search your wife for illicit rubber alligators. They will also confiscate your Big & Buxom Biker Chicks magazine. On the other hand, if you tie your Cuban cigars together, they will show up on the screen as a bundle of dynamite, and you'll zip through customs like a VIP.
Author: "Kristen Pope" Tags: "Readings from the book world"
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Date: Wednesday, 06 Aug 2008 20:05

sunset_adam_baker_flickr.jpgWhen I spend any length of time somewhere — whether it's two months in Paris or an hour at the side of the road waiting on a bus — I can't help but wonder, "what would it be like to live here forever?"

Giving that question a bit of thought almost always leads to the same conclusion: It would be great to live here, wherever here is, but what about that town just down the road? If there's a downside to vagabonding it's that there just isn't enough time.

Everywhere I go I end up thinking, I should spend more time here, I should live here... I should know what it's like to work in a cigar factory in Leon, fish in the Mekong, live in a floating house on Tonle Sap, sell hot dogs at Fenway Park, trade stocks in New York, wander the Thar Desert by camel, navigate the Danube, see the way Denali looks at sunset, the smell the Sonora Desert after a rain, taste the dust of a Juarez street, know how to make tortillas, what Mate tastes like, feel autumn in Paris, spend a winter in Moscow, a summer in Death Valley. I should be able to not just visit places, but inhabit them.

There is, so far as I know, only one short life. And in this life I will do very few of these things.

Sometimes I think that's very sad, but then the bus comes and you're on to the next town, free to start the dream over again.

Author: "Scott Gilbertson"
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Date: Wednesday, 06 Aug 2008 08:48
We all plan our trips—some might even say it’s almost as fun as the trip itself. But the more you travel, the more you know that planning for everything is a bit futile. And dare I say—you might even enjoy something in the change of plans. I was reminded of it by two things in the past few days: A friend stopped in town on a round-the-world trip last week. Only a few weeks into her year-long journey and already she had several itinerary changes under her belt—because of bad weather, and because she just plain changed her mind. Luckily the dates on her ticket were flexible enough for her to move as the wind blows. Then a passage popped out from a book that I’ve been reading—“The Size of the World” by Jeff Greenwald. You can imagine during nine months-worth of plans while circling the world (taking car, ferry, train, bus, ship—everything except a plane) he’d face some surprises. And you’d be right. After Jeff loses his laptop, his travel companion, and the chance at reaching a dream destination, he muses:
“A strangely liberating thought occurred to me: Maybe those three incidents were related, after all. Each of those three attachments had conjured an illusion of predictability; each had generated desires that were painful and difficult to renounce. All three had become, ultimately, impediments to my self-sufficiency. Now the pilgrimage begins.”
Fun at the time? No. Ultimately enlightening? Quite possibly. If you don't lose your mind in the process, the best things you could possibly lose while traveling are predictability and attachments. A certain freedom is restored, and so is your intuition. What makes the letting go any easier? I'd suggest flexibility and perspective, but if you have the magic answer you'll have to let me know. And then there’s the obvious upside of change and unmet expecations: when did you ever think that you'd meet that wise fellow traveler or join that traditional ceremony? Stop, reconsider, and go ahead—let those well-honed plans fall by the wayside once in a while.
Author: "Alison Brick" Tags: "Notes from the collective travel mind"
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Date: Tuesday, 05 Aug 2008 20:11

Photo by bexross, flickr.comWhen I first mentioned my new position at vagablogging.net to some friends several of them looked at me rather quizzically and said, "what do you know about vagabonding? You're married."

It wasn't exactly the response I was looking for, but I realized that, in the general public's mind, "vagabonding" is synonymous with single. Even among committed vagabonds there's no shortage of those who see traveling with a friend or partner as somehow less authentic than traveling alone.

I realized my friends weren't alone when I ran across John Flinn's recent piece about what he calls "militantly solo travelers" over at SFGate.

While Flinn admits that many of the arguments for going solo are somewhat valid -- there's no alternate agenda pulling you around, no distractions from the culture you're in, nothing but you -- he's also not a fan.

Certainly one of the joys of vagabonding, as opposed to other forms of travel, is confronting yourself and going it alone. After all, many vagabonds go it alone out of necessity — it isn't easy to convince other people to travel for extended periods of time.

Of course I wouldn't want to come off as part of some militantly not-solo crowd. I spent eleven months traveling through Southeast Asia alone and I have no regrets. Sure it would have been nice to have someone around to say, "wow, did you just see that?" but I learned a lot about myself in the process.

That's one of the common refrains you'll hear from the militantly solo crowd -- traveling alone makes you more exposed, more honest and more in touch with the world around you. Flinn quotes Jonathan Raban who claims, "you've got to go naked into the world and make yourself vulnerable to it, in a way that you're never going to be... if you're traveling with your nearest and dearest on your arm."

Now, I don't know Jonathan Raban and I've never traveled with him, but I'll let you in on a little secret about my time in Asia — I wasn't really alone the whole time. In fact I spent far more time in company of fellow travelers I met along the way than I did alone. I was traveling by myself yes, but I was rarely alone.

Maybe I'm just not hardcore. Maybe I'm missing something. Call me crazy if you will, but I like meeting people, locals, travelers, everybody. And the idea that you won't meet people when you travel with a partner is just silly. In fact I've found, especially as a man, you're much more approachable when you're with someone else. It's like a voucher that says, no really, I'm okay, and I have at least one person who thinks the same.

And far from being a distraction, the people I met and traveled with helped me get more out of my experience than I likely would have alone, and several of them remain among my closest friends.

In fact, I've never really met anyone who truly traveled alone for extended periods of time. Unless you're going off into the woods like Thoreau, or are purposefully asocial, chances are you're going to meet some fellow travelers, probably share some beers, perhaps split a room to save money; and I fail to see how that's any different than leaving home with a friend or partner.

Which brings me back to Flinn's article. He has a little gem that I think doesn't get said enough: "I have a message for those who'd rather travel with a partner: it's OK."

Author: "Scott Gilbertson"
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Date: Tuesday, 05 Aug 2008 08:23
I was in Ibiza last weekend; we partied until 3am (yup, I'm getting old! :) and headed to the airport for an 8am flight. With 5 hours to kill, we tried to get some sleep on the airport benches. It was horrible. We hardly got any sleep and my back and neck are still in pain. I wish I'd known about the Mini-Motel!. It's basically a one person covered sleeping bag/tent, that is ideal for stranded occasions like this. It folds flat into the size of an average laptop, looks comfortable, is straight forward to set-up, weighs under 5 pounds and is priced at $49.95. Perhaps a little pricey, but, my friends, each mini-motel comes equipped with: an air mattress, a pillow, a bed sheet, an alarm clock, a reading light, toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs and eye shades! HOW COOL! Can't beat that, eh? For more details and ordering information, check out their website here.
Author: "Abha Malpani" Tags: "Miscellany"
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Date: Monday, 04 Aug 2008 22:53

Last fall, Travcoa and National Geographic Traveler sponsored the Next Great Travel Writer contest, sending the winner to Mongolia and China on a Travcoa trip with Traveler Editor-in-Chief Keith Bellows to write on assignment for the magazine's website. Yesterday, we interviewed Bellows. Today, we interview the talented woman who won the contest. Out of the 500 entries, University of Nevada, Reno PhD candidate Suzanne Roberts was selected for the 300-word essay she wrote about witnessing an Indian cremation ritual. Roberts is also the author of two books of poetry: Shameless (Cherry Grove, 2007) and Nothing to You (Pecan Grove Press, 2008) In July, after Roberts returned from her travels in Mongolia and China, Vagablogging was able to ask her a few questions about her trip and travel writing. With over 500 entries, competition to be the “The Next Great Travel Writer” was fierce. How did you react when you learned that you were the winner? I jumped up and down. And I screamed. I am sure my neighbors were wondering what I was up to. But in many ways, I feel like everything I have done up until now—the writing, researching, studying, traveling—has prepared me for this. Why did you choose to write your essay on an Indian cremation? What about that experience captivated you? India is one of the most amazing places I have ever been, and one of the most incredible experiences in India is witnessing the cremations—the tenanted beauty of a landscape where no separation exists between the spiritual and the gritty, the beautiful and the ugly, life and death. When you were in China and Mongolia on your Travcoa tour, you and Keith blogged from the road. What difficulties did you face blogging from the road? Blogging seems a bit like sending off a rough draft, and that aspect of it makes me uncomfortable. For me, writing means thinking, writing, rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting. In blogging, there is very little time for the writing process. I am a poet, and some of my poems have taken me more than 15 years to write. Many people would never believe that a 15-line poem could take 15 years or more to write, but oftentimes, it will take that long or longer. With blogging, it all happens so fast, so I would send something off and then think, “Oh-no. I should have added this line or that fact.” Also, sometimes a story develops over the course of a few days or a week, so after sending off a piece, I realized that the story wasn’t yet finished. But I suppose the story is never finished, and I probably need to be able to let go of things more easily than I do. Another difficulty was that I didn’t bring my computer, which I regretted. I have this giant laptop, so I left it at home. I ended up spending a small fortune in the business center of the hotels where I was staying. Needless to say, I am in the market for a smaller laptop, and I won’t travel again without it. What was the best part of your trip to China and Mongolia? The worst part? The best part for me was seeing the Gobi desert and witnessing the “mim-naadam,” a smaller local version of the big annual festival of the three “manly” sports—horse racing, wrestling, and archery. We were so close to the wrestlers that a couple of times, we had to jump out of the way to avoid having a pair of wrestlers land in our laps. I also really enjoyed traveling with Keith Bellows. I learned a lot about travel writing from him. He is wonderful mentor and an overall great guy. Everyone on the tour really enjoyed having him along. There was no “worst” part of the trip for me—and that is usually the case. The “worst” parts often become the best stories. What advice would you give aspiring travel writers? Although I am not sure I am qualified to offer “aspiring travel writers” advice, I do know this: Travel writing does not mean going on a free holiday, writing about it, and getting paid for it—or if it does, I am dead-wrong about what I am about to say. Many people think travel writing, and often writing in general, is easier than it is. The truth is, writing is hard work. Finding the story means research, following leads, conducting interviews, writing and lots of rewriting. I get bored, though, if I don’t have a “job to do,” so travel writing fits my temperament. A prominent scholar and writer, Sandra Gilbert, once said, “The first step is to have the seat of the pants in the seat of the chair.” Though travel writing seems like the converse of that, both are necessary—the adventure and the hard, and often sedentary, work—this is the part no one thinks about when imagining the life of the travel writer because, quite frankly, it isn’t very sexy. So, my advice is this: work hard, study, find mentors, and read and write a lot. You are writing your dissertation on eco-feminist theory at the University of Nevada, Reno. How does this relate to the lands you have visited and the people you have met on your travels? My research has definitely influenced the way I see the world. Every place I go, I am interested in the way people interact with the landscape and how these interactions affect both the people and the land. Last year, I was traveling in Ecuador’s El Oriente, and I kept asking our guide where all the animals and birds were—I was in a rainforest, and the only animals I saw were snakes, spiders, and bats. The guide kept saying, “Rainy season. Animals gone.” I did some research and found out that both the human and animal residents had been affected by the contamination due to oil drilling (by US oil companies). I have since written a series of poems that deal with the issues of oil drilling in El Oriente. I am also very interested in the ways in which women interact with the natural world in the US and elsewhere. My dissertation argues that in British and American literature, women have been relegated to the domestic sphere, creating the illusion that the wilderness is especially dangerous for women. I do think that contemporary American women still carry some of these ideas in our collective consciousness—the idea that goblin men lurk in the dark glen, and we should therefore be afraid to go out into the wilderness alone. I am intrigued with the ways in which other cultures have created similar, or dissimilar, constructs of women and nature. Of course, in a place like nomadic Mongolia (as opposed to the Mongolians who are city-dwelling), there is very little separation between humans and the nonhuman world—the construct of wilderness as a “separate place” from humans cannot exist. The “wilderness” is home for both men and women. By looking at the ways in which other cultures interact with the natural environments, we are able to discover different, and perhaps better, models. What is next for you after you finish your PhD? Are you planning on focusing on a travel writing career? I would like to explore the possibility of travel writing, and I have a couple of ideas for upcoming stories. I love traveling and writing, and both will continue to be a large part of my life regardless of what happens, but I do plan to bring them together in a more intentional way in the future. I am also working on a few other “travel” writing projects, including another book of poems, Almost Somewhere, comprised entirely of travel poems and also a memoir about hiking California’s John Muir Trail.
Author: "Kristen Pope" Tags: "Notes from the collective travel mind"
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Date: Monday, 04 Aug 2008 20:24
One of the hardest parts about being a vagabonder in the first place is the expense of traveling itself. Getting there is actually pretty easy, so long as you prioritize plane tickets over paella, but the costs of buying new shampoo, finding socks, or paying for apartments can add up to a lot, even in the cheaper destinations. Especially if you have a car and need it to travel (cross-continental road-trip, anyone?), expenses mount up pretty quickly. The second hardest part is that, yeah, okay, sometimes we get lonely. Enter the New World Order. I've been traveling for the past few months without spending a penny on housing and spending a very reduced amount on gas. I've had meals provided for me in most cases, and provided them in others, but mostly I've been meeting some really amazing people. And I'm doing this by relying on Couchsurfing and Craigslist, in combination. Most of you have probably already used Couchsurfing as a way of finding cheap accommodation and a bit of company; a network of like-minded souls with extra floor space in almost every major city in the world and a lot of the smaller ones. Craigslist is an online classified-ads site that most people use to find an apartment or sell their car; but there's a tiny corner of it that is well-used, and a real boon to the enterprising voyager: the "rideshare" section. As someone who owns my own car, I've been traveling around North America, staying with couchsurfers and having large chunks of my gas paid for by ridesharers. My accommodations have been spacious, clean, friendly, and luxurious. And free. My ridesharers have been gregarious, helpful (one of them fixed my exhaust pipe...twice), and forthcoming with gas and toll money. Oh, and I'm a single woman traveling alone, and there has been not a hint of danger. Call it what you will, but this seems like the absolute best way to travel if you a) have transportation, and b) like meeting people.
Author: "Claire Litton"
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Date: Monday, 04 Aug 2008 08:28
"To academics and freelance philosophers who theorize about the difficulty of achieving authenticity in the postmodern world, the souvenir T-shirt is seen as the ultimate defilement. To wear one means you had the money to see the sights of the world, but not enough wit to do anything other than stare vacantly at them and then wander off in search of a cheeseburger. To them, I say, ''No way.'' In fact, a superficially simple T-shirt is a complex weave of symbols and implications. Travelers hanker for a genuine, unique ethnic experience, but that's increasingly elusive in a globalized world where you can get good Chinese food in Iceland and Icelandic food in Tbilisi, Georgia. A T-shirt, however, is inarguably authentic: Fat chance that an ''I [Heart] Slovenia'' T-shirt would have been purchased anywhere but that country. True, you could also purchase an equally authentic Slovenian peasant outfit, but you're unlikely to wear that to the supermarket back home." --Jim Heintz, "And all I got was this deconstructionist text", AP, April 23, 2003
Author: "Rolf Potts" Tags: "Travel Quote of the Day"
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Date: Monday, 04 Aug 2008 00:46
Last fall, Travcoa and National Geographic Traveler sponsored the Next Great Travel Writer contest, sending the winner, Suzanne Roberts, to Mongolia and China on a Travcoa trip with Traveler Editor-in-Chief Keith Bellows to write on assignment for the Traveler website. After returning from the trip in July, Keith Bellows took a few moments to fill us in on the trip and the field of travel writing. You don’t normally travel in groups. You wrote that you normally travel incognito and alone. What was the experience of traveling with a group like? [Group travel is] not the most comfortable way of travel for me simply because to be effective as a travel journalist, you really need to be able to insinuate yourself into a situation and a place without people being aware of it. You need to be free to totally go with flow, get lost, and be open to surprises. In a large measure, tours are organized so there are no surprises. You’re somewhat insulated from a lot of what is real around you. I must say with this particular tour, because of the nature of the tour in Mongolia, it is what it is, so there was much less insularity. We really did get to have close contact with the locals, nomads, camel herders and so forth. My normal mode of action is to go to a place and observe it as you or anyone would. Have you been to Mongolia before? It was my first trip [to Mongolia]. I loved it. My major feeling was witnessing a country emerging from its cocoon- a place held in suspended animation. Quite frankly, until the early 90’s when the Russians left, it was pretty much closed to the world. Now it’s very much open. My major concern though was: I’m cruising across the steppes or Gobi Desert and there was nothing as far as the eye can see- how long will that last? You said that you selected Suzanne’s essay on India as the winner because, “Her story instincts are good, and that is something you cannot teach a new writer.” Could you explain what you meant by that? She wrote about the experience of witnessing a typical passing of an Indian life, which is through cremation. It was moving, well rendered in short form. She displayed good observational skills. When you’re looking at somebody as a writer, a lot of people can say they “went here, did that,” but it is very dull writing. I’m looking for someone who will set the scene, has an eye for detail, and can recognize something interesting when they see it. What advice would you give aspiring travel writers? First of all, I wouldn’t think of yourself as a travel writer. Before [National Geographic Traveler] magazine 10 years ago, I had never written any travel and certainly never edited any travel. Think of yourself as a writer first, a writer who travels. Second: Write, write, write, write, write. Third: Really read the writers you love and dissect them. Pull apart sentences and paragraph structure. Starting as writer, I looked at Sports Illustrated, and dissected it from the bottom up. How long are the sentences? How do they use verbs and adverbs? How do they start sentences? Transitions? How long are the paragraphs? How did they handle characters and dialogue? How hard is it to blog and write while on the road? Do you find it significantly more difficult than writing from home? I don’t think it’s so difficult to write well. I rewrite and pause. The problem with blogs on the road (and there were at least three times this happened on the trip) is that you make an observation on your "day one" post and then, on day three, you make another observation which you could have used to build on the first. On day seven, the observation could have been used to modify the observation from the days before. Ultimately, the insight could lead to a conclusion and a summary perspective, but you don’t do that when you're blogging. You just report what you see and do. Over time, that can be very boring, “What did I do with my summer vacation?” If you can get distance from something and render it with perspective and insight, it is worth reading. I think episodic blogging gives some opportunity to give people a sense for what is going on and a place. But a good writer should also be synthesizing and offering insight and perspective and that’s hard to do in a blog. Is there anywhere you would like to go where you haven’t been yet? Every place that I haven’t been to. I feel like I haven’t spent nearly enough time in Indonesia, Java, Sumatra, Papua New Guinea. I was born in Africa, but I have not spent a lot of time in Africa. Check back tomorrow for an interview with Next Great Travel Writer contest winner Suzanne Roberts.
Author: "Kristen Pope" Tags: "Notes from the collective travel mind"
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Date: Sunday, 03 Aug 2008 08:06
It doesn’t matter which country you travel in, you can never take safety too seriously. Almost everyone is aware of vaccinations that are often needed for changing continents; political unrest in countries is also often widely reported in the media (such as in Zimbabwe at the moment, or in Kenya over the past few months, for example); and crime hotspots are often just known through word of mouth. But it is a sad state of the world we live in that even in the seemingly safest places, gruesome events can occur. Take Canada for example. Alongside probably New Zealand, the Canucks have one of the best reputations for being a friendly people, and inhabiting a safe country (if you don’t count the bears!). Chills were sent through my spine, as I read reports on Thursday of a decapitation on a Greyhound bus, travelling between Edmonton and Winnipeg. It was only three months ago that I was on that same route, making a stretch across the vast prairies of mid-West Canada. Remembering that journey, I had been blissfully carefree, chatting to most people on the bus, never feeling an ounce of fear. There was no trouble on my trip. Thousands of other bus journeys, across thousands of countries, involving millions of travellers, have been eventless. I don’t want to encourage suspicion amongst you. I am just saying that it can become easy on the sometimes lonely road, to take friendly people on face value. Meet people, see the world, making lasting connections. Just be vigilant.
Author: "Graham Reid"
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Date: Saturday, 02 Aug 2008 08:26
Hi everyone, Here it is, my first post on the (in)famous Vagablogging.net! Hope you all enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear what you think about everything! So, with niceties out of the way; keeping a diary/blog/journal is a great way to remember your travels. Although it can be sometimes tedious, finding the effort to just jot a few thoughts and experiences from each day can really bring back some great times when all is said and done, and you are possibly back in the rat race. The problem with these concepts is that the more you experience, the less time you have to write about it. It is a bit of a conundrum, because if you find yourself having an idle two weeks, twiddling thumbs, then what is there to write about? I found that the best place to write about the travels is between destinations. While I'm travelling, I'm so busy booking flights, seeing sights, and having sleepless nights that, well, if I have two seconds to jot down what I did, let alone my thoughts, then I'm a lucky man. The gap within all this trans-continental carnage is the flight. Four hours here, nine hours there; surprisingly, staring at the back of somebody else's headrest for that sort of duration can be just the remedy for catching up with journals. It can give a bit of time to bring together thoughts, and sometimes one can even be inspired. Finding the time to bring a masterpiece together can be a challenge. What are the strangest places you have found inspiration on your travels?
Author: "Graham Reid"
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Date: Friday, 01 Aug 2008 19:37
Our most recent "call for writers" elicited dozens of excellent submissions. But in the end, there could be only six. Here's some background info about our six new Vagabloggers:
    Graham Reid - A Graduate Journalist from England, Graham has spent the past year traveling around North America, including an epic East-to-West Coast bus trip. Graham's entertaining travel blog can be found here.
    Celine Roque - Celine is currently living in a small town in the Philippines, a country she'll be exploring for the next two years. She blogs at pimpyourwork.com, a site that encourages people to work more efficiently so they can have more time to pursue their passions.
    Marcus Sortijas - Our first Hawaiian contributor, Marcus has studied creative writing in England, backpacked through Europe, and lived in Shanghai. He now resides in Taipei, where he maintains an excellent travel blog called Bluefox808 Adventures.
    Claire Litton - Claire is currently on tour as a professional bellydancer-- another first for Vagablogging-- and she's been writing professionally since 1998. Her poetry and fiction have been published in literary magazines in the US and Canada, and she's working on a nonfiction guide to bellydance. Claire tells me that "the relief [she] felt at finding Rolf's book a few years ago and thinking, 'There really are people who think like me!' cannot be described."
    Scott Gilbertson - Rolf's book Vagabonding was part of the inspiration for Scott's eleven-month trip around Southeast Asia. Scott has been a freelance writer for five years, and his work frequently appears on Wired.com. Scott keeps family and friends (and now you!) updated on his travels at luxagraf.net.
    Aly Young - Aly has moved back to Kansas after spending two years in Asia. (Sound familiar, Rolf?) She blogs and posts her incredible photographs at Another Wandering Soul.
Welcome aboard, new Vagabloggers!
Author: "Aaron Hotfelder" Tags: "Miscellany"
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