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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why is being off the "beaten path" so important?

Why is  being “off the beaten path” or on “the road less traveled” desired by so many of us? These terms conjure up a sense of being the first one to have an authentic experience. Another dimension highlighted by these terms is curiosity. Have you ever wondered where a path leads or what lies over the next hill?  These positive elements make up  “The Explorers Desire” and connect to a deep desire for authenticity and originality.  What might an idealized experience of “off the beaten path” look like?

The Idealized experience might start off something like this:

During, my flight to France I strike up a conversation, with a man returning to his family in Paris. As we share a bottle of wine, he tells me his family roots are in a small town to the north. “My brother still runs a small vineyard there. My family has lived there for generations, but most of the rest of us are in Paris now for work. The festival of our Patron Saint is next week. We will all come home. Please, join my family there. They would welcome a guest. Very few come to our festival.”
Barely controlling my enthusiasm, I blurt  out in broken French, “I would love to join your family.” He doesn’t even bat an eye at my bad pronunciation.
Pausing for a moment, he responds, “Unfortunately, I have a few days’ business to do in Paris. Call my cousin when you get to town. He will make sure you get settled in.” He slips me the name and number as we begin our descent into Rome.  We have a friendly parting in the airport and go our own ways.

After a restless night I continue my travels with guidance of a couple native Parisians.  I take a train and eventually a bus which drops me off on a narrow gravel road that intersects the main road.  The road winds along a slow moving river. A church surrounded by vines stands crumbling beside the road. I wave at a old man walking among the grapes, but I don’t see a single solitary tourist.  The crunching of my shoes on the yellowing packed gravel is the only sound that greets me. Of course, you know it only gets better from there when I meet his cousin, and the family welcomes me to the town festival!    
So, what are the ways that being on the well worn path thwart the  “explorers desires” expressed in this idealized travel prologue? There are thousands of ways the explorers desire can be frustrated.

One- travelers can ruin the path and the destination. My wife and I discovered a beautiful family owned Italian restaurant in Phoenix. We frequented it and sometimes had the opportunity to speak to the chef. Some of the staff got to know us. Later, on certain nights, we could barely get a table. We experienced a mixture of pride and disappointment at their success. The success of the place changed the experience for us.  This is forever a hazard for those with the explorers drive. Marco Polo, Magellan, Columbus, Lewis and Clark and every other explorer led others to follow them to experience what they discovered. Inevitable the path becomes more worn. Sometimes we don’t get along with fellow travelers. They might be rude or unconcerned with the hosts culture. We have all been embarrassed to be travelers before.  The cobblestones are more beaten down. The restaurants more trafficked. The tours more scripted and scheduled. Art works have to be protected. Ancient steps or monuments are “just” reconstructed.

A second “explorers desire” downer is a perception of fakeness or artificiality. This may come from a contrived experience of a place or from the people you meet. Some need to make a living from travelers. When you experience people who have become hustlers because of their proximity to a “site” or “well traveled” path. It highlights the negative consequences that our travel can have. It begs the question: Does my travel destroy the beauty I come to experience? Am I changing the culture/nature/or history in a negative way? Are the people you meet putting on a “false self” to profit from tourism? Have the people become disconnected from their past and their culture due to the influence of travelers? Is the destination presented honestly? Has it been changed, sanitized, or otherwise tampered with to create an experience for the traveler?
~aushmem.JPGThis picture from Auschwitz reflects authentic moment of our visit there.

A traveler of the “traveled path” may also be subject to disappointment. Travel stories of the explorers do not often dwell on the drawbacks of the places they discover. We like to dwell on the unspoilt nature of the place. We like to highlight the authenticity of the people. We want to talk about the experience of the awe of nature or the sense of spirit evoked by a visit. It can’t be like that every time for everyone.

These pitfalls may even ruin a trip where you are the explorer. So how can you avoid this travel trashing traps?
One-strive to understand the delicate uniqueness of every place. It isn’t only the coral reef and the millennial pace of canyon carving that should draw awe and reverence from a traveler. Every traveler’s dream destination springs into existence as the fortuitous combination of many factors. It might be an accident of nature or a coincidence of human history being rediscovered and preserved. It could be a combination of these. It might also be due to the compatibility of the host culture with the culture of the visitor. As travelers we should be especially aware of the ecological consequences of our travel. How much energy does it take for us to physically travel? How is the food we are eating raised and how does us eating it affect those who eat it every day? Find and implement green travel trips or eco travel ethics that fit your personality and enhance your travel experience.  Also, most of us travelers receive the privilege to be able to travel freely due to the combined results of economic, military, and cultural struggles of the last millennia. Do we meet people and places with the gentleness and respect that they have the right to demand from the recipients of such privilege?  Marvel at your place as a travelers on the small blue marble we call home.

Two-strive to be authentic and respectful. Learn to know yourself. Are there habits you have fallen into using so that you don’t have to be honest with those you meet? Do you use masks to hide your failings when you meet others? Are there stock phrases you use during interactions to keep from listening? Do you practice treating every person as a unique individual? When an authentic traveler meets another person they find opportunities to encounter the others’ mysterious humanity. In seeking authenticity, use the experiences of those who went before you and seek out advice of expats or locals. They can help guide you toward the authenticity you seek! Remember even those who have not left their hometowns or countries travel on their own journeys. They strive, search, and live. At home or abroad, you can have amazing experiences when you meet others with respect and share your true self.  

Three- Dodging disappointment. In our relationships, in our professional lives, and in our travel disappointment and fear of failure hold us back from experiencing the joy, passion, and transcendence of the moment. Traveler’s disappoint first arises from comparing our experiences with a movie, book, or story from a fellow traveler. They trigger expectations that our experience should match or exceed the stories. Comparison and the belief that “our” travel should be of the “best kind” prove fertile breeding ground for disappointment. The second incarnation of travelers disappointment arises when we begin to measure our experience against the expectations that we have created using the raw materials mentioned above. We fashion an itinerary which includes peak moments that will fulfill our needs and bring us to new “travelers highs.” We expect to find what we are looking for or experience the emotional charge that adventure and travel do for us. Whatever your philosophical or religious outlook this kind of living from expectations is a recipe for disaster. Find a way to avoid it that works for you. Meditate, do yoga, pray. Ground yourself in your body. Remember and be firm in your belief that “All will be well,” as Hildegard said. This will help you make space in the present moment to be surprised by awe, meet wondrous people, and be amazed at the world you find yourself encountering.

Do you have any tips to share or pitfalls of being on the beaten path?

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Few Tips for Kid Road Trips!

You gotta have goals!     1)Road Goals!  Any road trip with kids needs road goals. A road goal is something I use to try and give the kids mind and energy something to focus on. Remember your child's attention span varies by their age. Our three year old might be able to focus on his own for five minutes, and the four year old may last seven minutes on his own.  Five hours or even two hours means nothing to them! Even the lure of ice cream or pizza in five hours is likely to drive them CRAZY.
Some of my favorites: "Who can spot the next red car?"  "Was that a cow?" "What animals do you see?" We also use- "Do you want to stop at a park, a library, or for a snack?"  This discussion often takes a while.  Sadly, "Do I smell cow poop?" is also popular with my boys. Sorry, it had to be said. ; )

This breaks the trip into smaller chunks for little minds and bodies. Remember what you have done a thousand times is likely new to them. We also mix in some of their favorite cd's and books.  We celebrate crossing state lines, bridges, and time zones as well. 

2)Snacks. In the previous packing post, I mentioned the necessity of snacks. I should elaborate a little more. They should be snacks you feel okay with as a parent, the child likes, they don't drive you crazy or trash the vehicle beyond recovery. You can also use choosing new snacks as something to break up the trip at a gas/potty stop. I try also to avoid snacks that are too heavy as they will ruin any stops where you plan to eat actual meals. It will also help your kids to take some ownership of the trip! 

3) Stopping for extended breaks is okay. It is still legal to leave the interstate and even the toll road. They tempt you to think you can meet all your needs while staying on the "limited access road"-- but you don't have to. The myriad of "balls of twine" and local fun often still exist dotting highways across the country. They may not have their former crowds or bright lights, but for less experienced (younger) travelers these smaller often more affordable stops might be just right. In a pinch you can even play a game of soccer or picnic under the trees at a rest stop. Just beware that you don't stray into the "pet potty" area of a rest area. We have also used google search for local elementary schools to find a playground. That is often easier than searching for a municipal park.These are not always listed and not all of them have play equipment.

Road Problem:The biggest road problem that we have encountered on all of our longer road trips is that kids car seats are not as well padded as the standard seats for adults. This can make for sore bottoms or hurting legs for little people. When our second was an infant, and particularly squirmy at that, he actually got a little sore on his back! Yikes. That put a dent in our more ambitious plans for a while.

I am sure part of it is due to the stiffness and restraint distance required to make sure the munchkins are held in the seat, but COME ON! Does anyone have a tip related to this ...or expertise to answer the question of why the seats are like this?

Do you have any tips of your own to share or solutions to our road problem? 
Please add below.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Getting two kids and a baby out the door

Getting out the door is always the hardest part.
We had to make five hours to meet up with the rest of my family at the beach. It is a doable one day drive for our kid-toting crew.
We planned to leave at 2pm. We hit the on ramp at four, and I decided that was a success!

First mistake, my wife and I decided that I would work a half day, and then she would work with one of her clients before our departure. This was NOT a good idea. Every time we plan for a trip we are still trying to maximize work before departure and this inevitably leads to stress. Sadly, it often takes the first hour on the road just to regain the excitement of travel and adventure. 

#1 Reminder to self and recommendation to others. Give yourself time to get things together for departure at a normal pace.

Never again will I do the cardio workout version of packing, loading, and getting the kids in the car!

#2. Do have a list of VITAL gear.

My oldest son has asthma medicine and an inhaler. It has to be with us. Middle son has a "Dolly" that is a requirement for a successful  trip.  Baby bottles, diapers, and wipes are necessities as are phone chargers.

My wife did a fantastic job of having all the "must haves" ready. She had these details down ...just like always. She nailed it.

#3. Have car friendly snacks ready for the kids.

This will help with the loading and every step of travel along the way. Car friendly should include some type of spill proof cup. I had this covered! Pretzels and fruit snacks work well.

#4. A ball, and a bag/box of well chosen traveling toys are key.

This will buy you a break on the road, and a few moments of peace in the hotel/or wherever you are staying. Preferable these are toys that do not have any electronically produced sound effects.  Be careful that if an irreplaceable favorite makes the trip that you keep tabs on it at every stop. I mean every stop.

 Sadly our toddler once lost his "Wilby" on a flight. Wilby was a strip of an Ikea sheep skin rug which he used to fall asleep every night. He would twirl it around his fingers and rub it on his face. It was his constant sleep companion from when he turned one until he was two and a half. Losing Wilby added an hour long stop at IKEA for replacement - Do not fool yourself - this stop could not be avoided.

#5 Enough underwear is a must.

Everything else should be taken with a grain of salt. Numbers of big deal. Pants or shorts...don't sweat's vacation. In the end we did get on the road. The boys and I had a picnic sitting on the back bumper of the van. We played soccer in the grass by the van, and they never knew that dad "cardio-packed". 😉

Do you have any other favorite kid friendly departure tips? We would love to hear them.

Next ...Tips for Road Trip.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Wanderlust Strikes

I was scheduled for a six week stay in language school, but I never made it to week six.

 It was my first international travel.  The schedule called for six weeks of summer language immersion in Guatemala. It was the era after the war but before the current violence set in. 
On the recommendation of a friend I went to Quetzaltenango - or Xela to locals. It is the less touristy country cousin to Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala. The indigenous influence there is strong along with the Latin culture. There was an abundance of language schools and easy bus transit to other cities even farther of the beaten track. 

My teacher Mateo told me about how he grew up and what is was like for him to study and teach spanish. He spoke quechua in addition to Spanish and English. We bought books to practice my spanish, reconstructed the basketball hoop at the school, and generally found ourselves beyond the school walls whenever possible.

 Being outside school provided opportunities to get to know the people and the place. The idea to do a trip around the whole country began to take shape in my mind. After some research I settled on a circuit around the country  using my language school tuition for travel, food, and entrance to the ancient ruins on my route.

This was my itenarary.
Xela -> Guatemala City     chicken bus
Guatemala City_> Flores       coach bus
Flores -> Rio Dulce      chicken bus
Rio Dulce to Livingston     river taxi
Livingston to Chiquimuila      chicken bus
Chiquimula with border crossing to Copan and Quirigua ruins in Honduras.       
        Chicken bus and walking through banana plantations.
Back in to Guatemala To Antigua to reunite with my original group before departure.       chicken bus

The trip involved many "chicken buses", countless discussions with curious locals, walking along the rotting rail tracks of banana plantations, three visits to ancient ruins, a lengthy water taxi ride, a ride on a "passenger coach" bus where I met a local cattle rancher, and the desertion of one hotel due cautious avoidance of some english speaking kids trying to score some drugs.

It was an amazing adventure. Often on the trip there was not another "gringo" in sight. That was not and still is not a common experience for me! Travel was the bridge that took me beyond my own experiences to see the world from another perspective. It opened my eyes and changed my life. There was no going back.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Couple Her and Me photos

In the gondola over Salta, Argentina.

Her and Me Plus Three - Time to Travel

It was just Her and Me.
Now there are three more.

My wife loves to travel. When we first met she had already lived abroad for almost two years. She wanted to get back out there. The Motorcycle Diaries inspired her and she set her sights on a trip through South America.

A couple years later we were on the road. We traveled through Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. We followed that with Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Later in that trip, we visited the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Poland, Italy, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia. We loved to travel. It tapped into the deep recesses of our identities.

These days, our four year old asks when our next adventure is. 
I ask him,"Where do you want to go first?"
His answer never changes, "Africa."
Our three year old likes to ask where we are going today, and he loves to talk
about past travels. "Well, the last day we went to...."
These two young boys are ready for life on the road!

When they were infants, we got the boys comfortable in the car seat and ready to travel. They have road-tripped and flown throughout the US, but our travel has been on hold for almost  a year now. First, little brother's pregnancy involved bed rest. After, that he had another plan.

Instead of the new baby falling asleep in the car seat or being comfortable, it has caused him to scream.  Not a little crying, it was full-out red-faced howling. My wife has had to endure many dirty looks when she is picking up his big brother at pre-school.

 I took the baby to the store yesterday and he did not cry. I am hoping we have turned the corner.

The sights, the sounds, the tastes, the smells, and the people add zest to life. They stretch our souls and change our perspectives.  Travel makes life delicious.  The adventures mirror the adventure of life and show that no one place is your home and that boundaries are just the artificial creations of politics and habit. 

It is time to Travel. GO!