Category

Adventure

wings
Adventure, Central America, Travel Advice

On Growing Wings & The Value of Figuring It Out for Yourself

wings

I have the clearest memory of asking my father for help tying my shoes.

I was sitting on the bottom step of our unfinished basement—I must have been around four years old—trying to remember something about a rabbit and a hole. And there was my father, who already had all the knowledge I needed about shoelaces and rabbits; he could help me.

But instead he said, “You can tie your shoes yourself.”

And I did.

Maybe that memory is real. Maybe my mind constructed it out of dozens of memories like it. I don’t think it matters.

My parents pushed me to “tie my own shoes” throughout my childhood in countless ways, large and small. It’s one of the gifts for which I’m most grateful. Without a doubt there is a fine balance between holding a child’s hand and pushing them out into the world alone. I have no idea what that balance is—one of many reasons I’m not a parent.

As an adult, I’ve made a religion of self-sufficiency. Perhaps I’ve taken it to too much of an extreme, but that is what I have done. Solo travel, distance walks, one-way flights to countries where I know nobody, constant seeking for edges—my own, and the world’s…

Some people are adrenaline junkies. The Unknown gives me my high.

When I moved to Cape Town for the first time in early 2016, I didn’t know anyone there. I came with a name—a friend of a friend—and an address. When I found out that the house I’d already paid a deposit on was nowhere near the center of the city, I hitchhiked my way to climbing gyms, dance classes, and cozy cafes until I figured out the informal shared taxis.

Would it have been easier to have friends, family, or resources at my disposal, ready to give me rides, show me the ropes of a chaotic transport system, and introduce me to new friends? I’m sure it would have—but then, would I have learned as much?

I’m a firm believer that we grow fastest and fly farthest when we push ourselves well beyond our comfort zones. Experience has taught me a key paradox to traveling (and living) in a state of discovery: To thrive outside our comfort zone, we must trust, absolutely, that we can thrive outside our comfort zone. But to truly believe in our capacity for flight, we have to fly.

In essence:

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” — Kurt Vonnegut

Now, there are a few key elements to this jumping-off-cliffs-and-growing-wings business…

First, that balance. We are none of us an island, as a wise writer once said, more or less. For every cliff we jump off alone, there may well be another to whom we say, “not today,” and third on which we find a companion to hold our hand on the way down. Balance.

Second, support. While my parents were teaching me to tie my own shoes, they were also giving me love and support every step of the way. I am blessed to know that my family and friends are always there, ready to cheer me on when I fly, or pick me up if I take any knocks on the way down. Family, friends, community—a support system, even if we never call on it, makes it so much easier to jump.

Third, will. You could argue that personality or background determine our ability to grow wings, and I would disagree with you. While stubbornness is my dominant personality trait, and I don’t like following directions, I have met so many others far more resourceful than I, of every possible personality type and cultural background. I don’t believe it is personality; it’s will. Tautological though it may sound, to figure it out for yourself, you have to want to figure it out for yourself.

To grow wings, you have to grow wings.

Easy?

Wrong question. It’s possible, and that’s really all we need to know.

Happy flying!


Many thanks to a good friend here in Costa Rica, whose conversation on this subject pushed me to articulate what exactly I think about it!

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trust
Adventure, Poetry & Fiction, Travel Advice

But Still: A Short Story on the Wisdom of Trust

“Trust no one,” the wise ones said.

Deep-lined faces, milk eyes clouded with all the memories of all the misfortunes of all the ages, they hummed with knowledge of the world’s evils and ills.

“But why?” the innocent ones asked.

Smooth smooth skin, crystal eyes free of such heavy knowing, they saw only beauty — believed in the bright spark glowing in all the souls of all the bodies of all the beings around them.

“Take heed,” the wise ones replied. “Once, we were like you, crystal eyes and silk skin and child hearts untouched by sorrow. But now, but now, but now, but now…” the fragments of harsh lessons learned echoed in that mournful “but now.

The innocent ones began to look around them with more caution.

The knife-edge teeth of the sharks — who had once been their friends and accomplices in underwater adventures — suddenly inspired fear. The midnight eyes of hawks and gulls — who had once delighted the children with their dramatic displays of flight — now reflected frightened stares.

The highest branches of the oldest trees — once safe refuges of friendship and warmth — revealed the word Danger writ into the grooves of their bark.

The knowing, the knowing, the knowing — it descended upon the children like a milky white shroud, swirling thoughts of evils and ills in once-clear minds, and soon it was they who echoed the mournful tales of the ancient wind and rocks around them:

But now, but now, but now.

Yet, not all the children bowed before the knowing and donned the severe cloud eyes of the wise ones.

No, there were the other ones too, and when the wise ones said Trust no one and the innocent ones asked But why, these last few held up a hand for quiet and called softly, “Wait.”

And some of the innocent ones stopped to listen.

The other ones continued, “Once, we were like you, crystal eyes and silk skin and child hearts untouched by sorrow. Now, our eyes, our backs, our hearts, too, carry all the memories of all the misfortunes of all the ages. Our skin, too, carries knowing in every pore.

Yes, the world will knock you down, cheat you, hurt you, lie to you and disappoint you. You will not be innocent forever; the wise ones speak true…”

And then, milk eyes creased in child heart smiles, and the other ones echoed the joyful melody of the waves and the sky and the mountains around them:

“… But still, but still, but still, but still —

the spark you see in all the souls of all the bodies of all the beings is there.

But still, but still, but still —

Trust anyway.”

trust


Originally published at Rebelle Society.

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August 27, 2017
toby, train, tracks, dancing
Adventure, Travel Advice, U.S.

What to Do with a 10-Hour Train Ride

I’ve done that thing again.

That thing where I look at plane tickets, look at train tickets, enter all available data into an elaborate equation (something like, Value = Adventure / Cost + Adventure x Time + Cost/Environmental Cost) and decide to take the ten-hour train.

Again.

You see, adventure counts twice in my calculations… and I value my time a bit differently.

So I’m sipping on free hot water (having exhausted my ten-hour snack supply in just over seven hours), watching an obstinately rainy day pass me by—all the way from Vermont to Philadelphia.

It’s not a bad day for a train ride, I have to admit. The sky is a study in gray. Wisps of cloud catch in green hills, blur the horizon, put me to sleep.

I wake up quickly; I think my feet are getting frostbite. I set up camp in the cafe car. Consider diving into a pile of work. Think the better of it. Return to staring out at the nondescript, along-the-tracks landscape.

I’ve taken so many absurdly long train, bus, and ferry rides, keeping count lost all meaning a long time ago. Barcelona to London: Why go in two hours when you can take two days, via Paris and the Chunnel? Tangier to Barcelona: What fun is the plane when a thirty-hour boat ride gets you 100% there? Stockholm to Turku: Thirteen hours and no regrets! Goa to Kolkata: In hindsight, maybe forty hours was a a bit long…

A love of slow travel, a desire to lighten my footprint whenever possible, and a stubborn resistance to doing things the easy way all feed into these choices.

But I realize that whiling away an entire day—or more—on a train doesn’t come without practice. I haven’t forgotten my astonishment at my fellow passengers in Nepal, where I took some of my first twelve-hour bus journeys. They put me to shame, doing nothing for the entire journey, never complaining, and maintaining perfect serenity during the hours of touch-and-go traffic leaving Kathmandu Valley.

And so, if you have a ten-hour train journey ahead of you, or another trip just as daunting, I’d like to offer a few of my favorite activities to help you pass the hours:

  1. People watch. This activity could, without exaggeration, occupy all ten of those hours, especially when coupled with eavesdropping. The man in the seat behind me telling another passenger how he never learned how to read words, only concepts. The woman across the aisle discussing, at length, a petty workplace drama. The endless procession of human faces, voices, expressions—mundane and extraordinary at once. Yes, one could certainly people watch for ten hours.
  2. Crochet, or otherwise make things. When I traveled from Philadelphia to Miami by train in 2013, I spent about four hours of the thirty-hour odyssey crocheting a hat for a particularly odd and impressively drunk character sharing the cafe car with me. Activities that occupy the hands but leave the mind free to wander are ideal for long trips.
  3. Read. Bring a fresh book you know you’ll love. The longer the better. This time I brought The Wayfinders by Wade Davis, and it enthralled me. If you’d happily sit on the couch with a good book all day, you can stop reading right now; your ten hours are sorted.
  4. Write. Whether or not you’re a writer is beside the point. Write down observations, stream of consciousness, the funny things people said while you were eavesdropping. These words may serve some purpose later on, or you may never look at them again. Also not the point.
  5. Make lists. If you can’t think of anything else to write, there are always lists. I happen to love lists—the way they sit uselessly on my desktop after I make them, their satisfying list-ness, the irrational sense of efficiency I feel when writing them. Maybe you’ll be equally entertained by this activity… or maybe not.
  6. Eat. On travel days, I drop any preferences or pretenses I usually have about food. Today I feasted on cherries and leftovers, but sometimes it’s chocolate and chips. While normally I wouldn’t advocate for eating out of boredom, long train (or bus, or ferry) rides are a special exception. Entering a liminal space, free from the normal constraints of time and metabolic physics, is one of the advantages of traveling this way after all.
  7. Work. Just kidding—travel days aren’t work days! Be it a lack of reliable wifi or the soporific rattling of tracks, these journeys don’t usually support much work. But if you need to get things done, there’s certainly time.
  8. Do nothing. Nothing nothing nothing. Stare out the window and daydream about mountains that hold up the sky. Close your eyes and turn the rocking of the train into music. Lean back, put your hands in your lap, and just sit there. I think we could all do with a little more nothing in our days. A ten-hour train ride is a good place to start.

Additional uses of time that may inspire you: listening to music, meditating, talking to strangers, walking up and down the aisles, stretching, deleting old files off your phone, gobbling fresh air in the areas between coaches…

Think that just about covers it!


How do you pass a long journey? Please share your favorites with me!

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September 23, 2017
going out alone, dance, dancing
Adventure, Europe, Travel Advice

How to Go Out Alone (& Not Hate It)

It’s 2009, and I’m eighteen. Paris is home for the year.

It’s a chilly night in early winter. Ten or eleven o’clock. I’ve just gotten off the metro somewhere in the center of the city.

Buzz. Buzz. The text messages, which don’t yet reach underground, arrive in a flurry. “Can’t make it.” “Running late. Might bail.” “May come later. Not sure.”

Well shit. I’m not going in there alone. My first instinct is to flee right back the way I came.

But then I glance at the bar—warmly lit wood and brass, clientele dressed in the ultra-chic black uniform of the city—and my natural stubborn streak takes over.

So what if no one else is coming? It’s Friday night, and it took me forty-five minutes to get here. I’ll be damned if I go home without at least checking out the scene.

I open the door. Step into the warm light. Rest an elbow on the narrow wooden bar. Order a glass of wine—white, I think.

The clamor of several dozen voices reaches my ears at once. I absorb it as I sip my wine, but before long someone strikes up a conversation with me, and my focus narrows to just one. I practice my French. Find that it comes easily with strangers, without pressure. Somehow I find myself at a table with a dozen young people from the south of France. Celebrating a birthday—I think.

The evening flows, and I leave for home many hours later, glowing with perverse satisfaction more than anything. I went out alone, and it didn’t suck. So there, world!


I’ve been meaning to write this piece for years. All credit goes to the friend who asked me last week what I did about going out alone when I travel: Thank you for reminding me.

That night in Paris was, in a way, a pivotal moment in my solo travel career. It’s one thing to hop on a train alone, sightsee alone, or even eat at a restaurant alone. We might do all of these things with ease, yet panic at the thought of entering a bar or club without backup. And by “we” I mostly mean “we women,” as that is the experience I feel I can speak to.

Why? Why is this the impassable limit of independence?

Well, first off, we’ve had it drilled into our heads that this simply is not done. That old fear rhetoric strikes again. Creepy guys, lechy guys, drunk guys; social stigma, weird looks, pitying stares; feeling lonely, awkward, unpopular, uncomfortable—

Ahhh stop! Forget it. Let’s never go out alone. We’re convinced. Right?

No! Let’s go out alone, because, as usual, reality is better than our imagination—and certainly better than our nightmares.

I went to bed that November night in Paris feeling empowered. “Not sucking” may seem like a low bar for an evening out, but when we’re conditioned to expect utter disaster from any solo foray into social adventures, “not sucking” is actually high achievement.

In the years since, I’ve often gone to pubs, live shows, dance clubs, bars, and festivals alone. Sometimes I even—gasp—prefer it. Story for another time.

going out alone, dance, dancing

I think the “how” of going out alone is fairly self-explanatory, but I’d break it down something like this:

> No expectations/low expectations. If you’ll happily go home disappointed, a nice evening out is a pleasant surprise.
>> Stay sober-ish. Obvious. Safety in self-possession, especially if you’re trying the solo adventure thing.
>> Stay open—to possibility, to people, to surroundings. There’s potential in everything.
>> But be prepared to deflect all the kinds of creepy. Welcome to the world. Books are excellent shields. So are crazy-arm, spinning-jumping dance moves.
>> Just open the damn door and go in.

Worst case scenario? It’s terrible, you go home, and you can blame me later for even suggesting such a thing.

Best case scenario? You learn that you truly can do anything, because you’re a badass, and life isn’t as scary as everyone tells you.

Cheers!

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wilderness, wildness, wild
Adventure, Nature

The Wild Song and Where to Find It

Seek. Wildness.

The signals have been clear for a while now. Years. This is one of the most important things we can do in our overly sanitized, regimented, domesticated world.

This is the wordless impulse that drives me ever further into the waves, the mountains, the physical and spiritual frontiers of the man-made. That galvanizes me to push the limits of my body, break past the boundaries of my known experience. This is the imprecise call that sent me on a vision quest, on an 800-kilometer trek across Spain, and next on a week-long journey into the wilderness of northern Greece.

There is a song; I believe we all know it, whether we recognize it or not. It sounds like the sun on pine trees and tastes like bold green and smells like an almost-forgotten dream. It instructs us to seek wildness.

Every so often, I try to do its bidding.

If you have the slightest interest in eco-restoration or rewilding, I highly recommend a book by environmental writer George Monbiot called Feral. In it, he imagines a world—perhaps utopic, but nonetheless exhilarating—which is not free of humans, but free of human arrogance. In this world, elephants and lions, wolves and bears once again roam their natural habitats in Europe. In this world, human beings have relinquished the delusion of mastery and allowed a far wiser, far older system of order to reestablish.

In that world, we wouldn’t need to seek out wild places, because they would exist in abundance. Perhaps the same would be true of our internal landscapes…

In the meantime, however, it is not always so easy to immerse in wildness. That is why I am traveling to the mythic, mystical island of Samothraki to participate in a Wild Wandering School run by my good friend Casparo Brown.

There I hope to learn a few more of the words to the wild song that so enchants me.

But I’m not writing this post out of self-congratulatory narcissism (that’s what mirrors are for). I am writing in the hope that you will stop, for a moment, and listen.

That song—the one that sounds like pine and tastes like green and smells like a lost past… you don’t have to travel so far to hear it. Sure, the wild places in our world are harder and harder to reach, but the ones within haven’t gone anywhere.

I hear that wild song in un-self-conscious dance. In play. In getting lost. In risk. In fear. In hunger. In wonder.

If you listen, maybe you will hear it too.

Seek wildness.

Put down the screens, the structure, and the insipid sterility for a minute and close your eyes. Underneath the rules ripples a harmony far wiser, far older than you or me.

If you listen, maybe you will hear it.

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life lessons travel
Adventure, Nomadism, Travel Advice

7 Hardcore Life Lessons Travel Teaches Faster

Travel is a relentless teacher.

There are no bathroom breaks, no question and answer sessions, and no weeks off for study or review.

We jump in, and there we are. We learn on the fly, or we fall on our face. Or, we fall, and then we learn to fly.

Whatever the order of events, we learn, and we learn fast when we get out there. These are a few of the life lessons I’ve found travel teaches fastest:

1. Let Go of Expectations.

That time you think you bought an apple pastry at the Finnish supermarket, but when you bite into it the orange mush inside is anything but apple—and it might be tuna fish. The time you order the cheapest thing on the menu at a rural Kenyan restaurant, and of course it turns out to be beef tongue. When you board your train to Rome, and find out you’re heading to Geneva…

Yes, life is full of surprises; never more so than when we don’t speak the local language, or are in too much of a hurry to ask questions. At some point, I realized I’m more surprised when I do get what (or where) I wanted than when I don’t.

Welcome the unexpected.

2. Eat the Food.

I’m not vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, vegan, low-fat or high anything else. While I’ve met many brave souls who stick to their dietary restrictions while on the road, I’ve learned it’s a hell of a lot easier (and maybe healthier) to eat whatever’s available. Not to mention unique culinary-cultural experiences don’t usually follow our rules. I frequently choose to eschew the privilege of choice (the eschewing of which, yes, is a privilege in of itself) in favor of honoring a friend’s hospitality or sampling a street snack I’ve never seen before.

Eat the food. Maybe we regret it the next morning, but in the balance, it’s worth it.

3. Be Flexible.

Would you sleep in a boat? Would you sleep on a coat? Would you sleep on the floor? Would you sleep while they snore? It’s not Dr. Seuss; it’s a night in the life of a traveler. Parks, boats, train hallways, packed dirt, wooden pallet, moldy shack, noisy dorm—if you can name it, I’ve probably slept there.

Flexibility is a skill, not an inbred talent, and one which I’ve cultivated over many years. Be it food, sleeping quarters, hygiene or travel arrangements, I’ve learned—had no choice but to learn—flexibility is king of the travel kingdom.

Travel will teach us to be flexible like a ballet class on steroids.

4. The World is your Toilet.

Lest this be misconstrued, I’m not suggesting you relieve yourself in your friend’s bedroom or the public gardens. Rather more in the vein of number three, we don’t always get to be picky about our WC. London city street at three a.m.? Hey, everything’s closed, and the next bus is an hour away. Edge of a Himalayan field? The alternative is the middle of the village road.

Bottom line: we can’t be prissy about where we piss, and sometimes we have to get creative.

5. Technology Won’t Save You.

Sure, Google Maps is super handy for getting from point A to B in a new city, but it has never helped me get back when my phone dies. I’ve seen enough power blackouts and internet outages to firmly believe we can never rely on technology. It may disappear without warning—or it may not be useful once we drop far enough off the map.

We have to be resourceful—without any resources.

6. People Will.

When you’re outside the service zone, a friendly shepherd will give you directions, and he and his three dogs and two dozen goats will accompany you for the next kilometer of your journey. When you’re stranded on the side of the road, well-meaning strangers will (usually) stop and pick you up.

When emergency strikes, technology won’t save us, but the human beings around us will.

7. No Fear.

When I said yes to a stranger’s invitation to dinner in Nepal, she became a friend, and her family’s hospitality gave me one of my most memorable experiences of the trip. Jumping on another friend’s motorcycle for a two-day ride from Mustang to Pokhara tied it for first. Wherever I go, I try to say yes to every (reasonable) opportunity.

Not everyone will agree with my “yes-woman” policy, but I stand by it. From hitchhiking to midnight swims, and mountain climbs to backstreet wanders, it has led me to a treasure trove of adventures—and no regrets.

In short: leave fear behind, along with the high heels. Where we’re going, we won’t need them.

 

What did I miss? Please share your travel-taught lessons—I’d love to hear them!

***

Originally published on elephant journal.

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toby-israel-afraid-ocean-nature
Adventure, Poetry & Fiction

The Girl Who was Afraid of Everything—Fiction

The Girl Who Was Afraid of Everything.

(A break from the usual—story time!)

***

Once there was a girl who was afraid of everything.

She lived on a tropical island of fearsome forests surrounded by cavernous seas. All the other islanders lived for adventure, it seemed, but not her.

She watched the towering ocean waves rolling toward her, and gasped at the audacity of the swimmers who danced in the roar of the surf, bodies like slippery eels.

Hugging her knees at a safe distance on the beach, the girl said to herself, “I could never do that.”

As the children of the island dove, jumped, and spun into a thundering waterfall, the girl dipped her toes in the pool below and shivered with fright.

“I could never do that,” she thought again.

She hovered at the edge of the forest that bordered the village and peered through the trees. The hunters chased great beasts on foot, leaping tree roots and serpents with ease and clutching arrows in their teeth.

The girl sucked in her breath at the sight and shook her head with finality as she whispered, “I could never do that.”

And so the days turned into months turned into years, and the girl became a young woman. Still she was afraid of everything. The other young men and women of the island made fun of her, and she withdrew ever deeper into her fearful heart.

One day, all the young people of the village ran off to play in the waves. A storm was brewing, and each wanted to prove their mettle. Only the girl stayed behind. She sat on a rock, drawing patterns in the dust, and an old, old woman came to sit beside her.

“What’s wrong?” asked the old woman.

“Everyone has gone to play in the waves, and I am all alone,” said the young woman.

“Why don’t you go with them then?”

“Oh, I could never do that.”

“Do you want to?”

“I… I don’t know. I never thought about it.”

And indeed, she never had, so fixed she had been in her certainty that it was impossible.

“Well,” said the old woman, “perhaps you should ask the others how it is they manage to do what you believe you never could.”

And that is what the young woman did.

She went to the swimmers and asked, “Oh swimmers, tell me how you can be so brave to swim like slippery eels in such big waves. Are you not scared?”

They laughed. “Of course we are scared, little sister,” they said, “but we must swim.”

Next she went to the divers and asked, “Oh divers, please tell me how you can be so fearless to dive without hesitation into such a big waterfall. Are you not scared?”

They laughed. “Of course we are scared, little sister. But we must dive.”

Finally, the young woman went to the hunters and asked, “Oh warriors, please tell me how you can run after such big beasts. Are you not scared?”

They laughed. “Of course we are scared, little sister. But we must hunt.”

She had a lot to think about.

And so she sat on her rock at the edge of the village, and she thought. And thought. And thought. And thought. And this is what she decided:

“If the swimmers must swim, and the divers must dive, and the hunters must hunt, perhaps everyone has something they must do, which, when they find it, makes them brave. Perhaps I too have something I must do, and when I find it, I will not be afraid.”

Soon after, a terrible drought struck the island. The oldest of the villagers could not remember its equal. The fruit in the trees withered in the sun and fell like stones, and the crops in the gardens shriveled and disappeared like smoke. The river dried up to a trickle, and the waterfall ceased to thunder. The people began to starve.

Now, there is something I have not told you about this island.

While the islanders were daring and brave and courageous and fearless, while they could swim and dive and hunt with abandon, and though they were happy, they could not love. From the youngest boy to the oldest woman, it was, they believed, quite impossible. Legend had it that this love business was far more perilous than any wave, or rock, or beast.

But, the legend went on, one would be born amongst them who would be braver than all the rest, who would not be afraid of loving, and who would save their island from destruction when calamity struck.

The young woman who was afraid of everything (formerly the girl who was afraid of everything) watched her neighbors starving and the crops failing and the river drying up to a trickle. She watched these things, and she listened to the prophecy and the legends that issued from parched, ancient lips, and she retreated deep into her fearful heart. Deeper than she had ever gone.

And there, beneath the fear, she discovered something she had not expected. Something that was not fear. Something that moved and flowed and had no bottom.

As she touched this mysterious well at her core, it spilled over and fell onto the cracked earth. She opened her eyes and looked at the blurred scene before her.

And… she… loved.

She loved the village, and the villagers. She loved the jungle, and the beasts. She loved the river and the waterfall, the ocean and the beach. She loved the island, the earth, the sky…

… and so the prophecy came to pass.

With her love, the woman ended the drought. The skies opened, the rains came, and the island prospered for a long, long time.

And she never stopped loving, the woman who was afraid of everything except that most perilous of nature’s inventions. She grew old, and still she loved.

Whenever a young, fearful villager asked her how she could be so brave as to love, when all around her believed it to be impossible, and was she not scared (and they asked her this often), the woman who loved laughed and laughed.

“Of course I am scared,” she would answer, “but I must love.”

***

Previously published on Rebelle Society.

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solitude, curious
Adventure, Europe, Nomadism, Travel Advice

When You Don’t Want to be Friendly and Open and Curious

That’s okay. It’s normal. Go ahead and hermit.

 

I stare resolutely out the window of my Uber at the windy Cape Town day, quite determined to see that any attempts at conversation die a quick death.

As our fellow hostel guest in Matosinhos (northern Portugal), a kind man from Tokyo determined to talk about marijuana at length, engages my friend in discussion about alternative cures for cancer, I stare resolutely at my book, quite determined to leave the onus of politeness on her.

A talkative-looking chap sits down next to me at a cafe. I pretend not to speak English, or Portuguese, or French, or Spanish…I stare resolutely at my coffee cup, quite, determined to be Russian for the next hour or so.

Surprised?

I write so much about openness in travel, without giving any stage time to its inevitable counterpart: closedness.

I think I’ve touched on this before, but never really delved into it: No one can be “on” all the time.

For permanent vagabonds, this can be a slow realization. After all, aren’t curiosity, openness, and willingness to engage the key ingredients to meaningful travel experiences? Sure, but then, so is balance.

I love my alone time. Fiercely. I am probably less social, less inclined to long chats, and less of a people person than you are (and I don’t know who is reading this).

I write often about kindness, talking to strangers, being open to the world—and rarely about selfishness, ignoring talkative strangers, and withdrawing from the world.

But balance, right?

Lest you mistakenly conclude after reading my blogs that one must always be friendly, happy, and socially-inclined in order to travel, let me assure you: I’m not.

After all, how else would I get so many articles written?

Someone once told me that I like the idea of people more than I actually like people, and he was probably right. Humans are so fascinating! Culture, language, food, stories—I love it, and I want to soak it all in…50-90% of the time. The other 10-50%, I really cherish my own company (another key ingredient for solo travel), and I don’t want to share it.

Balance.

For those naturally inclined to solitude, there’s a spider-web-fine line—at which you may choose to stare resolutely while seeking to avoid conversation—between comfortable, uncompromising introspection, and exhausting, unrelenting openness. And if you can dangle from that line by your toes, in an incredible feat of mental acrobatics, you just might find the recipe for richly balanced, joyful adventure.

Maybe your travel soup will have some of the same ingredients as mine:

> Ample time to read, write, yoga, and think
> Bizarre and fascinating interactions with strangers
> Learning experiences of all variety
> Wordless (heart-centered) communication with people and spaces
> Silence in abundance
> Dancing and other movement in abundance
> Kindness
> Selfishness
> Outward-focused curiosity
> Introspective curiosity
> Creative exploration
> Physical adventure

So happy travels, and happy soup-making—I hope you’ll find just the right balance.

Please share your favorite ingredients if I’ve forgotten any!

 

Photo Credit: Zen Monkey Photography

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Adventure, Europe

The Rough and Wrinkled Side of Adventure

Sunday, 23 April. Porto, Portugal.

Welcome to the world of unplanned adventure.

It’s messy. It’s unphotogenic. It’s wild-ish.

It’s kind-hearted French tourists warning you that you’re being followed (you know already) and offering to accompany you wherever you need to go (you’re touched).

It’s hastily scribbled hitchhiking signs, crumpled and smoothed out again. It’s sloppy smiley faces in the O’s of Oporto. It’s red eyes after too much dancing in other people’s clouds of smoke, and not enough sleep. It’s aching feet and dirty jeans.

It’s strange people chasing after you in the street to tell you they like your hat.

It is so far from glamorous that any Instagram post on the matter seems discordant.

It’s empty coffee cups and chipped tiles, half-formed impressions flitting in and out of your mind. It’s improvised, individual, and in flux, but not quite indescribable. It’s sauerkraut and beets for dinner, because the Russian supermarket is the only one open on Sunday evening.

It is chaotic. It is alive. It is enlivening.

Welcome to the world of rough, messy, unplanned and unplannable adventure.

It’s not just on the other side of the world (though it’s here, too). It’s in your backyard—as long as there’s dirt. It’s in your dreams—as long as there are dragons. It’s in every crumpled page, wild dance, and imperfect human encounter that appears in the archives of your life.

And isn’t it beautiful?

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Adventure, Europe, Nomadism

The Strangeness

 

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Sorry, Robert Stevenson, on two counts. First, I still haven’t actually read any of your books, but I swear they’re on my list. Second, I’m going to have to disagree with you on that lovely and popular quote of yours.

Because I’m starting to think that there are only foreign lands. That nothing is, after all, familiar or domestic. That when we spend a portion of time “abroad,” away from what was once home or something like it, we realize that “home” is just as strange, just as illogical, just as arbitrary as all the rest.

***

The sun is out in uncharacteristic force, and as I walk down the street in Chelsea, London, it reflects back at me with a grin off a row of tall, identical apartment buildings.

The walls are spotlessly white. The streets are free of garbage. The public transit runs seamlessly.

I have just arrived this morning from Cape Town, South Africa. And as I am coming to expect when I jump continents, I’m slightly bewildered by everything… The old lady in a mauve pantsuit and Ugg boots pushing her walker with one hand and holding her mauve hat with the other. The young men wearing shorts and T-shirts (whereas I have just pulled my down coat out of storage). The utter politeness of traffic on Kings Road.

Politics and economics, on the other hand, run parallel. Xenophobia and poor economic choices rule the day, here as much as elsewhere.

I digress. It is the strangeness that lingers with me today, and which I would attempt to describe. The slight eeriness of one of the places I consider a home base. A flutter in my stomach as I amble along the too-neat lanes and study the too-same rows of pretty buildings.

London.

London, where I stay for free. London, where I have friends, a climbing gym membership, and a regular cafe, supermarket, and aerial dance studio.

London, where I don’t need a map.

London, where I keep coming back, although I can never quite decide if I even like the place.

As I do in Cape Town, I have a community here. And so I return again and again, such that it has become familiar, evan banal, to visit.

Except, not this time. This time, it is the sense of strangeness, not of homecoming, that strikes me first. The roads too straight, the people too well dressed, the pavement too clean, the attitude of the entire city just a bit too…deferential.

As spring unfurls in the flowering magnolia trees and the underdressed pedestrians, London opens her arms to me, and I hardly recognize her.

This, too, is a foreign land.

And if this is foreign, then nowhere—nowhere is anything but.

Why talk about this strangeness? This foreignness of the formerly familiar?

“This is our tragedy….our fictions are killing us, but if we didn’t have those fictions, maybe that would kill us too.” ― Salman Rushdie

It’s critical to acknowledge the inescapable quality of strangeness in a world brimming with fearful people seeking security in the familiar. People who genuinely believe there is a “right” way to build a city, be in a city, be a city.

There is no right way.

There is no “standard” from which all other lands digress in various degrees of foreignness. Such a standard is fiction, and it divides us.

Perhaps the truer statement is this:

All lands are foreign, and it is us, only us, who are the same—everywhere.

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