Tag

community

Nomadism, Travel Advice

“How Many Countries Have You Been To?” & Other Questions I Avoid

Originally published on elephant journal.

Nowhere on my website will you find a tally of countries I’ve visited. Not on my Instagram either.

Several times, I’ve debated changing my policy about this. It appears to be de rigueur for writers and bloggers in my niche of adventure travel and digital nomadism. And, I am proud of the ground I’ve managed to cover in relatively few years.

However, I’m much prouder of how I’ve covered it.

Hitchhiking thousands of kilometers through Europe, learning (basic) Swahili in Zanzibar, building community in Costa Rica—these are the stories I want to tell about my years on the road, which numbers can never do justice.

Numbers may tell you how many kilometers I walked, how many years I lived out of a backpack, or—yes—how many stamps I have in my passport. But numbers won’t tell you what the Phnom Penh pavement felt like under my bare feet, how my shoulders ached after carrying my life with me across Spain, or the many amusing (stressful) ways I crossed all those borders.

I think you get my point. The number of countries I have visited is, like any other tally, just a number. It is not, in my opinion, very interesting information.

Furthermore, it is already an exceptional privilege to travel as I have done. I am deeply grateful to sustainably maintain the nomadic lifestyle I find so exhilarating. It seems unnecessary to proceed to flaunt that privilege in such a one-dimensional way.

I also dislike the rhetoric, only too common in the travel blogosphere, that “more countries = more happy.” There is no happiness equation. A fuller passport does not equate to a higher happiness index—though travel can certainly lead us down many paths to fulfillment. I am wary of contributing to this superficial conversation in any way.

countries, travel, vagabonding, nomadic

All that said, I would hate to raise objections without offering solutions. I wouldn’t waste your time with criticisms of displaying the “travel number” if I didn’t have some alternatives in mind.

When I tell new friends about my vagabondish lifestyle, more often than not their first question is, “So, how many countries have you been to?” I’ve come up with a lot of ways to avoid (or transform) that one. Here are my favorites:

1. “Let me tell you about my most recent trip to X.” Stays on topic, but narrows the conversation down to a specific, less superficial angle that I actually want to explore.

2. “A lot… I’ve been living nomadically for quite a few years.” Vague, but hopefully avoids anything that might come off as boasting.

3. “Honestly, I’d rather answer a different question.” The most direct answer, and usually goes over well when delivered with a genuine smile.

4. “I actually don’t think it’s that interesting. Let me tell you a story instead.” Also direct, and opens space for the exchange to move toward a subject of mutual interest.

5. Just tell them the number…once in a while, it’s easier to go with the flow and answer the damn question.

I like these answers because most of them are rather versatile. The same tactics can help us to gracefully evade personal questions we don’t want to answer, small talk we don’t want to engage in, and norms of conversation we don’t want to support.

I hope travelers with similar misgivings to my own may take away a helpful solution or two.

May your backpack be light and your feet happy—no matter how many borders they’ve crossed!


I also don’t really like “Where do you come from?” Stay tuned for some thoughts on that.

Continue reading
Related posts
What is Transformational Travel, Really?
October 23, 2018
The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real… & it has a Name
September 23, 2018
Don’t Ask me where I’m From, Ask me where Home Is
September 6, 2018
cacao ceremony, pura bliss microfestival
Central America, Culture, Peace

How do you Organize a Local Event when you’re Not a Local?

Inhale. Exhale.

Fifty bodies lift and settle in unison. The light changes from day to dusk. I look around the circle at faces from here (Costa Rica), the U.S., Venezuela, Canada, Germany; I see peace and unity and potential.

A lot of potential.

This is the conscious community I want to cultivate in my life, and my world. This is the tribe I serve in my work with NuMundo. This is the culture of peace I strive toward in my studies at the University for Peace.

I speak in English as I lead our pre-cacao ceremony meditation. I’m still not confident enough in my Spanish to use it for facilitation. I am not local here in Costa Rica. Hardly. I have only lived here for seven months. I have never met most of the people attending. Really, I’m not quite sure how I ended up in this position.

Yet, here I am. Co-founder of Pura Bliss Microfestival, Costa Rica’s “first locally-sourced, co-created transformative festival.” We have big dreams for the future of the event—and the community we hope to foster through it. As we develop our mission statement, we describe ourselves as being, “by locals, for everyone.”

toby isreal, pura bliss microfestival, conscious community, costa rica

From our last event, March 2018. Next festival slated for early 2019.

Taking this project forward, my co-founders and co-creators are Costa Rican. When they speak of building something rooted in this place, it makes sense. But coming from me, it’s a bit more complicated.

So, I’m grappling with these questions: How can I organize a self-professed local event, when I am not a local? Is it even ethical? How can I be a co-founder of it? How can I root my initiative in this place when I do not know it, can never know it, with the intimacy of those who have always lived here.

But, you may argue, we’re all one global tribe anyways. Why does this even matter?

In my view, it matters a lot. Wherever I choose to live or travel, the very fact of my choice represents considerable privilege. Whatever actions I take in those places—be they small, like buying a coffee, or large, like organizing a festival—they have real impact.

That impact isn’t a simple negative or positive.

Da Corpo, Ciudad Colon, costa rica, pura bliss microfestival

Water Flow Workshop with Lau Ra Gonzalez, owner of Da Corpo Studio in Ciudad Colon.

On the one hand, whenever we attempt to take an action outside of our “home context,”—as a development worker, community organizer, or even cafe customer—we are always acting within structures of power and colonial legacies of violence that color even the best of intentions gray. In my case, whether I agree to it or not, I will always be a representative of the hegemonic group into which I was born. We can’t escape these dynamics just because we disagree with them.

On the other hand, I refuse to accept the premise that because of these limitations, the only acceptable place for a white woman with a U.S. passport is “at home.” I am part of the Jewish diaspora, and while my official papers read, “United States,” I feel neither belonging to nor ownership of this identity group. Where can I ethically be and work and contribute? This question can be paralyzing.

On the other, other hand, what does it even mean to be local? Costa Rica, like any nation, is a simple name belying a complex society. If I collaborate with young, well-traveled artists from San Jose, is this representing the real Costa Rica? Can we somehow incorporate Costa Rica’s indigenous community into our efforts? Its immigrant community? Even if we try to represent every “local” group, someone is always left out. In a festival of just a few hundred people, basically everyone is left out.

pura bliss microfestival, local, yoga festival, costa rica

Pre-sunset yoga class at Pura Bliss.

Perhaps the goal, then, is to create an event as collaboratively and inclusively as possible, knowing that it will never be perfect.

I’m still exploring the nuance of being a foreign organizer of a local event, but as we progress toward our vision, a few considerations help me to understand my role in it:

1. My Co-Founders are local, rooted in Costa Rica’s creative community, and deeply supportive of this initiative. While Pura Bliss may have originally been my baby, it is now a collective and co-creative project. It is not mine. It is ours. And most of the “I’s” in that “We” are in fact local.

random collective, pura bliss microfestival, costa rica, transformational festival

2. Our Values support local, collaborative involvement at every turn. We are currently designing our financial structure, which rewards each collaborator equally with a fair share of the profits. The event itself is entirely non-profit. Local vendors, artists, teachers, and performers are our first priority.

pura bliss microfestival, local vendors, ciudad colon, costa rica, mercado

3. Local is Global. Global is local. In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, it is too simple to draw hard lines between insiders and outsiders. I literally feel like I am an outsider everywhere. Maybe it’s time for me to stop worrying about it and contribute where and how I am best able.

pura bliss microfestival, dance, co-creative festival, conscious community, costa rica

4. We’re All Here to Learn. And we’re all here to teach. Everyone has something to offer, regardless of nationality, location, age, gender, race, or any other label. And if another human being, or another community, welcomes that something sincerely, then it is our privilege and our responsibility to give it.

herbal medicine, workshop, pura bliss microfestival, costa rica, transformational festival

5. I’m Doing this for Free. If all else fails, I rest secure in the knowledge that I will not personally profit in any way from this initiative. I distance myself as far as possible from the historical trends of extraction and exploitation.

pura bliss microfest, conscious community, costa rica, transformational festival, self-expression

6. Listening with Humility. I take my cues from those with and for whom I work. I know that that there is a lot I don’t know. Hopefully I’ll learn some of it in this process. It’s not perfect, but we can’t wait for perfection. I will keep striving to fulfill my role with respect and integrity, and in service to this community. I welcome feedback, thoughts and suggestions on how to do better and do good.


To learn more about Pura Bliss and to stay up-to-date with our journey, follow us here!

Continue reading
Related posts
What is Transformational Travel, Really?
October 23, 2018
Don’t Ask me where I’m From, Ask me where Home Is
September 6, 2018
“How Many Countries Have You Been To?” & Other Questions I Avoid
August 2, 2018