Tag

solo travel

choose, travel
Adventure, Poetry & Fiction

Choose Power: A Dream-Inspired Thought Experiment

It’s been a wildly busy month, and though sharing something here has been on my to-do list every week, it just keeps getting pushed to the bottom. So as not to fall into the habit of not posting, I thought I would share this short thought experiment.

About a month ago, I dreamt about a bus that wouldn’t stop. The more I yelled at the driver, the more he seemed to ignore me. I watched with growing panic as my destination disappeared behind me on the highway, until it became just a speck.

But finally, the bus did stop. I thought I was angry… the driver was outraged! “Who are you?” He shouted. “Who are you to tell me to stop?”

Hmmm.

And so here is my thought experiment about choices and power and surrender and control:

A post shared by Toby Israel (@tobyintheworld) on

The bus is moving, and none of us gets to decide when we get off.

Angry? Too bad, the wheels are still turning.

Sad? You’re not the only one, but there are no breaks (…and no brakes) on this ride.

Confused? Join the club—no one’s been down this road before.

The bus is moving, and you don’t get to choose when it stops. The driver is deaf to your shouts of “slow down!” and “hurry up!”

But don’t think that means you don’t have any power.

You have all the power.

You choose whether to yell or laugh. You get to decide to make a scene when the familiar vanishes in the distance—or to sit down and soak in the wild frontiers.

You, and only you, determine how you react to the bumps, flat tires, detours and accidents.

So someone stomped through with dirty boots. That’s alright too. Or maybe, for a few minutes, it’s not alright at all. Be angry. Be sad. Be confused. But then remember that you don’t have to be. Their dirty boots don’t have to be your problem.

You still have power over you.

Even though the driver doesn’t listen, your heart will. So tell it sweet things, always.

A post shared by Toby Israel (@tobyintheworld) on

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Adventure, Central America, Nomadism

How to Return when there is No Turning Back

The plane lands. The boat docks. The train whistles as it arrives at the station.

You step off. Pause. Look around.

Friends and loved ones wait with brilliant smiles and open arms to welcome your return. They look just like the pictures you carried in your mind, and yet… The station looks just like your memory of your departure, and yet…

Is this home? The place you left? It feels different, but you know it has not changed. No, you have changed. Or rather, you have become more yourself, and you do not yet know how to share this new, deeper you-ness with these specters of an earlier time.

You have crossed oceans, scaled mountains, fought dragons, and befriended shadows. You have faced challenges you could not imagine, and you have learned your strength.

But this. This seems insurmountable. How can you possibly carry your lessons back? How do you return?

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Reintegration. Maybe this is the hardest part of the journey. The return.

I know this. We all do. It’s archetypal stuff. Gather so much beauty, so much wisdom, so much knowing—but then, how to bring it home, into the body, into the mind, into the world?

The heart opening, horizon shattering, mind growing is the first step, not the end of the road. For every obstacle we overcome, there is a higher one around the bend. For every road we walk, there is a longer one still to travel. For every difficult journey we complete, there are yet more turbulent waters to navigate up ahead:

The return.

Everything that follows.

We come back from our journeys changed. More sombre, or more joyful. Heavy with nostalgia, or lighter with all the baggage we have dropped along the way. Wiser, or more innocent—or both.

A post shared by Toby Israel (@tobyintheworld) on

We live more lifetimes than we could hope. We die small deaths, traverse dark nights, emerge at dawn with new perspective. None of it matters, and yet—I go on, we go on, because the sun still shines. Because the leaves still whisper. The birds still call. The guitar strings still vibrate.

Just as they have always done.

And so we still follow rules of time, of dress, of conduct. We still shine, speak, sing, dance, play—just as we have always done. But we feel like crying and laughing both, because we won’t be the same. We will never be the same.

the return, cape town, toby israel, beach

We have traveled far. We have met dragons. We have shed the layers of ourselves, and now we put them back on. Now we return, full of questions.

We have said hello to the unknown and moved beyond it. We have touched secrets and tasted their blessings on our tongues, our skin, our hearts.

One thing is certain. There is no turning back.

 

Beach Photos Used with Permission from A Different Story Studio

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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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path
Nomadism

As Long As You’re Moving, You’re On Your Path.

In this moment of deep transition, a few brief thoughts on “following our path,” and what that really means.

A well-intentioned friend recently cautioned me about falling too far from my path as I meander, in my peculiar way, through experience and discovery.

I had to laugh. Such words of caution beg the question.

If we do not believe there is One True Path, how can we fall from it?

pathKinetic Freedom

I am on my path.

It twists and curves riotously, joyously. It is sheer movement.

Angels dance on wingtips overhead, and devils on their tails below. They sing together of freedom.

I am not lost, my dear. Or, if I am, I do not wish to be found.

Because there is wilding here, on my path. There is witching, here on my path. There is wonder and meaning and laughter and growth—here on my path.

And on yours too, I have no doubt. I never claimed to walk the One True Path.

I know only a little about kinetic freedom, and it is enough to keep me spinning, spinning, spinning recklessly through parabolas and whorls—along this path that is unfailingly mine. Always changing. Always growing with me.

I choose it for myself.

No one is “falling” here. Only dancing.

As long as you’re dancing, you are on your path. As long as you’re moving, you are on your path. As long as you can read your footprints in the sand, you are on your path.

Choose it.


Next Stop: Costa Rica. Home for the next 12 months. Hasta luego!

 

Photo Credit: A Different Story

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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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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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won't you stay
Nomadism, Poetry & Fiction

“Won’t You Stay?” A Short Story about Leaving.

Written in Taghazout, Morocco in October 2016. Originally published in elephant journal.

Won’t You Stay?

won't you stay

A bird came to rest on a branch outside my window one day. It sang such a beautiful tune, I nearly cried.
“Won’t you stay?” I asked the little bird.
“I could stay,” it replied, “but that is not what these wings were made for.”

A fawn appeared on the hill outside my window one day. Its silent grace was so lovely, I nearly cried.
“Won’t you stay, and rest by my side?” I asked.
“I could stay,” it answered, “but that is not what these legs were made for.”

A fish jumped in the river outside my window one day. It moved with such effortless joy, I nearly cried.
“Won’t you stay?” I called to it hopefully.
“I could stay,” it answered, “but that’s not what these fins were made for.”

A man knocked on my window one day. His eyes were such pools of wild grace as he watched me pack my bags. Tears slipped from my eyes.
“Won’t you stay?” He asked, though his heart knew the answer.
“I could stay,” I whispered, “but that’s not what I was made for.”


Read the original piece on elephantjournal.com

Image: Used with permission from Paula Barkmeier

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June 12, 2018
struggle
Culture, Europe, Nomadism, Travel Advice

Struggle: A Travel Manifesto

If you travel (or live), where the mother tongue is not your mother tongue, you will struggle. The mundane will become complex and challenging, and you will no longer take your habitual fluency in the everyday for granted.

This is a good thing.

It shouldn’t be easy. (Or at least, I strongly believe that it is through challenge, discomfort, dis-ease that we grow best.) So, this is my travel manifesto for you…

Go out into the world, and struggle:

Struggle, to purchase underwear.
Struggle, to ask directions.
Struggle, to talk about the things that matter to you.

Comprehending the cost of your coffee will be a minor victory.
Catching a compliment on the first go will be cause for celebration.
Navigating a simple interaction will thrill you—as it never could at home.

These are all very good things.

For it should not be easy, this day-to-day living.
It should not be easy, this being in the world.

So struggle, to take the bus.
And struggle, to order at the bar.
Struggle, to understand.
Struggle, to say you have understood.

For it should not be easy, this everyday living.
It should not be easy, this quotidian life thing.

When it is easy, we forget—

We forget that buying our coffee is in fact a minor victory,
that a compliment is cause for celebration,
that understanding is a miracle,
and being understood doubly so.

So struggle,
and don’t forget
that it is a privilege to move through this world with grace.

And when you do forget,
as, invariably, we do,
Go out again
and travel.

Remember what it feels like
to struggle for the simplest of rewards.

Remember not to take
anything for granted.

Remember how to move
through this world
with grace.

 

— Monday, 15 May; train Barcelona—Paris

 

*Image photographed in Belleville, Paris. Artwork by rnst.

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loneliness
Europe, Poetry & Fiction

Give Me Loneliness (a poem for travelers and dreamers)

Sagres, Portugal, early May.

This past weekend, after a few wonderful weeks of travel and adventure with friends and family, I gave myself the gift of a few days utterly alone. I went to a tiny town at the end of the world—Sagres, Portugal. (There is magic there, you should know.) I surfed (badly), ate (decently), and puttered about (spectacularly), and I did my best to avoid making friends so as to properly refill my creative batteries. Or something like that.

My airbnb host gave me various well-intentioned suggestions on where to drink and how to meet other travelers, none of which I followed.

She was worried about me feeling lonely. I wasn’t.

On my last morning in town, I sat down at the Perceve Kiosk for coffee with a view of the sea, and I wrote this poem. I hope it may speak to the part of you that also, perhaps secretly, craves loneliness.

Give Me Loneliness

Give me loneliness.
Give me long mornings where not one word passes my lips.
Give me dinner for one.
Give me the sweet melancholy of looking out at the sea and whispering—only for myself—“that is so fucking beautiful.”

Beauty shared doubles in its charms,
but beauty held within multiplies without bounds.

Give me loneliness.
Give me empty roads in forgotten towns.
Give me shadowless landscapes where my soul can dance all alone.
Give me sleep, because there is nothing—no one—for which to stay awake.
Give me dreams of open skies and towering cliffs and violent surf, which do not fade on waking.
Give me a soft shawl of solitude, with a bittersweet border. Let me wrap myself in it for an hour, a week, or a year, to keep my dreams warm in daytime.

Dreams shared may reach towering heights for a while,
but dreams kept inside—these grow wings in their own right.

Give me loneliness.
Give me a short coffee and a long, long morning.
Give me voices on the breeze that require no answer.
Give me the low, salubrious song of no footsteps passing.

Give me loneliness—
When I am ready
…after a while…
I will look up and smile.
And you will understand that I was never lonely
not really
but only warming my dreams over a silent flame,
biding my time
until the wind was right
to turn whispers
into flight.

***

Photo Credit: Casparo Brown

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adventure, hitchhiking
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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