Gypsy Wednesday – Power to the Cubicle Drone!

Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday!  Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.

Remember when you first started a job, it was exciting?  A breath of a new start?  Two items you received to mark your status in this company were smooth to the touch business cards, the fonts kerning perfectly, and your name plate.  Shiny, hot from the press identifier.  You are… Marketing Manager!  Account Coordinator!  SIGNIFICANT.  To our team; our “family.”

Next you know, those same items are tossed into a scuffed milk crate that doubles for a box, alongside all the knick knacks you carefully placed at your “home”.  The happy family is shattered, your belongings now orphans.

Ohhh, sweet revenge.  Label me a scorned woman if you will.  I spell it this way – FREEDOM.  And I tell you, freedom never tasted so sweet.

Tell me, former or current pod people, what item did you/would you cathartically destroy to represent your freedom from the cube?

By |April 28th, 2010 |Categories: Life |20 Comments

Is The Nomadic Lifestyle Really Available To Everyone?

Are we simply self-indulgent?  Or can travelers be a catalyst for change?  Today’s guest post is by Sarah Robertson from Footprints of a Backpacker.  She asks these challenging questions and then some.  Where do you stand?

The Burning Question

As someone relatively new to the travel blogging/lifestyle redesign community, I have been avidly reading the advice and stories of those who have gone before me. I have devoured the success stories of those who have been able to leave their traditional lifestyle and create something a little more nomadic for themselves.  I have taken solace in the knowledge that there are many others out there like me; still in the dreaming stages, yearning for that departure date.  I have been encouraged and motivated by the bloggers a’plenty who suggest how you can cut down on the amount of stuff you own, cut down on the amount you spend and make preparations for quitting your job and hop-skipping around the world.

I am left with the feeling that anyone can accomplish the goal of designing themselves a life which promotes happiness and fulfillment over a vicious cycle of consumerism.  And yet, as someone with an innately overactive sense of guilt and obligation I force myself to ask…  is the nomadic lifestyle really an option which is available to everyone?

Of course, those who have stumbled upon these blogs are likely to be people who are already questioning the prescribed lifestyle and are looking for guidance and reassurance that other options are available.  But what if we were to take the concept at face value?  What if EVERYONE were given the opportunity to change their lives and not have to undertake a profession they do not enjoy?  Could our society continue to exist?  Or is it necessary for some people to do the dirty work so that others don’t have to?

In reality it’s very unlikely that everyone would look to the nomadic lifestyle as a serious consideration for them. There are some folks out there who will never, however frugally they live, have the opportunity to earn enough to fund a round the world trip.  There are those who have family commitments,which are simply unavoidable.  Or there are the people whose own physical limitations might prevent them being able to travel safely.  And then there are the many people who just don’t want to.  Long-term travel just doesn’t interest them and they are very happy where they are, thank you very much.

However, if enough people were to decide that the rat race were not for them, perhaps our society would need to undertake some serious changes to support the idea that people are not as limited by their locations as they once were.  The daily commute could be no more.  The reign of the office block could end.  We might all, one day, be valued by what we can achieve rather than how many hours we sit at our desks.

Spoiled Traveler or Giving World Citizen?

There have always been nomadic cultures and if Wikipedia can be believed there are still around 30-40million people living their lives with no fixed address.  Yet even in these cultures, individuals will play a set role in furthering the survival of the society in which they live.  In our western/’developed’/’civilised’ (hah!) societies we are now in the position where the very vast majority of people are no longer simply surviving but in fact living a life with KitKats, Twitter and Adidas. For the most part, the role each of us plays is not vital to the survival of our society.  So, does it really matter if we disappear off to the other side of the world for a few months or years and enjoy the lifestyle a bank account full of Dollars/Pounds/Euros can buy in the ‘cheaper’ countries of the world?  Will our country, as a whole, notice our absence and have to take on more work to compensate for our flights of fancy?

In reality, of course, they probably won’t.  We have a huge population living within a capitalist infrastructure, which is already employing most people in non-necessity roles.  If, say, all of the hairdressers were to simultaneously take off for Thailand, we’d probably find a way to survive it.  We already have far fewer jobs than there are people looking to work, so a couple of hundred digital nomads are unlikely to be sorely missed.

Even so, I find myself with a little voice in my ear of a nagging social conscience asking, “Is this fair?”

In order for us to hop and skip our way around the world and maintain some semblance of the way of living we have become accustomed to, we need people back home to carry on with their lives.  We need those folk putting in the sixteen hour days to work their financial magic, so that we can have such strong currencies.  Without people who are willing to work at sewerage plants, it’ll be one smelly country to come back to.  We also need people in our destinations to be undertaking some of that aforementioned ‘dirty work’. Even in the more remote countries a traveler is likely to visit, someone has to farm the food, drive the buses and shovel the shit.

Maybe it is simply that our contribution will be different to that of other people.  By luck of the draw we have been dealt a hand which has given us the circumstances to be able to choose how we want to live our lives.  Combining this luck with hard work and frugal living we can travel to some of the most beautiful places on the planet.  And possibly, in doing this, we are given an opportunity to contribute to the world in our own way.  As travelers/nomads/backpackers we act as ambassadors for our home countries; we bring our cultures to those we visit at the same time as learning about theirs.  We have the potential to help those less fortunate either by volunteering, or simply spending our money locally and strengthening an economy.  This can create more jobs for local people, enabling them to support their families.

There will always be the danger that the number of travelers to a remote location will dilute the local culture.  However, without our business many smaller communities would struggle to survive.  This double-edged sword presents a moral quandary which could be an article all of its own.  While the rich countries of the world continue to operate on a capitalist basis, I foresee that this divide will always exist.  As much as I long for a worldwide egalitarian society it will simply not happen within my lifetime.  There will continue to be inequality and so some will fare better than others.

The Lucky Few – Travelers

Perhaps, then, it is our responsibility to take the good luck we have been granted and put it to the best possible use.  We might not be the ones who will farm the food but instead we can do our part to foster good relations with other countries and their people.  We may not have to drive the buses to earn enough to feed ourselves but we can try to ensure our money is spent where it’s needed most.  And while we don’t need to be the people shoveling the shit, maybe we can contribute our skills (medical training, languages, etc.) where they are needed more than our money.

At home we are already the ones questioning our options.  We have already chosen to not ‘buy’ into the needless consumption which has left us with a shattered economy and overflowing landfills.  As more and more people begin to question what is important maybe we can gradually begin to work our way back to a society which values memories over material goods.

Throughout all of this, maybe we can harbour a sense of appreciation.  For our luck.  For what we have.  And for all the people who help to make it possible.

We may not be able to change the world today, but perhaps we can be the ones that make a start by getting out there and seeing it.

About the Author

A travel addict with permanently itchy feet, Sarah completed her first round the world trip at 18 and her second before she was 23. Currently her body can be found in London, her mind in the far East,whilst working to save for her next adventure and blogging at Footprints of a Backpacker.  You can also find her on Twitter or subscribe to her RSS feed.

Photo: VaguelyArtistic

By |April 26th, 2010 |Categories: Life |15 Comments

Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show – Part 2

Thanks to Robin Esrock’s magic wand I got to enjoy The Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show in Vancouver this weekend – April 24 and 25.

While day 1 involved some newly discovered travel treasures, day 2 had me on the hunt for some useful products for travelers.  Face it, most of us are gear geeks.

Major outdoor adventure companies like Columbia had flashy displays, taking up floor space with kayaks and hi-tech clothing galore.  All well and good, but again, I was sniffing out what might aid the average backpacker.

Keen Shoes


If you’ve never heard of Keen, I feel sorry for you.  Keen had a simple, but transparent booth at the show, displaying anything from hiking boots to sandals.  These aren’t those flip flops that will disintegrate upon contact with pavement and leave your feet open to shards of glass or rabid dogs, their sandals cover the toe, are waterproof, breathable, and composed of EGIS Microbe Shield®, a material that prevents odor or staining.  Heaven!  Their hikers are top notch, but what really sold me were socks.  I have tiny feet, so bunching is a problem.  Keen socks are designed to fit to the angle of your toes, each sock is labeled “right” or “left” to ensure a perfect fit on each foot. There’s also built-in arch support and air panels for circulation.  The biggest plus?  Their socks are constructed of merino wool, a natural odor fighting fiber.  You could wear them for 3 to 4 days and never be accused of stinking up a hostel again.  Perfect for those in-between laundry days on the road.  Visit www.keenfootwear.com.  Click by the search window to pick your country of residence.

Magi-Pad


Got sore muscles?  Sprained your ankle hiking up Mt. Everest?  Need to heat or cool food?  Magi-pad is equipped to handle these situations.  Talk about miracle in a blob, lifeless form.  Simply flex the metal disc and the pad turns milky white.  Magic, indeed.  These pads reach temperatures of 54°C or 130°F.  It’s reusable, lasts a helluva long time, and is made of sodium acetate, a food grade salt.  The size fits nicely into a backpack.  However, Mr. Magi claimed his product is sold on The Shopping Network, but a search came up with zilch.  It dawned on me that he probably bought them at $5 apiece and sold them at the show for $20.  No matter, it was a good reminder that these things are damn useful.  The heatomatic may be able to help.

Solar Battery Charger

Since backpackers have morphed into flashpackers, hauling a laptop or cellular device is now common, almost banal.  I’ll shut up, banality allows me to do this blogging thing.  So I was delighted to discover Earth Solar Inc.  A local company started in 2009, their solar battery charger utilizes the sun’s rays to charge your iPhone, digital camcorder or ipod.  Whether you encounter power outages in Karachi or need to recharge during a lengthy bus ride — with no outlet in sight — the uses are endless.  The kit includes adaptors for several models (Blackberry, Motorola, iPhone), a means to charge by 2 other options: car smoke ignitor or A/C, and the ability to set up various voltage settings.  The device is good for 100 recharges/discharges.  That would easily last over the course of a year long trip.  Right now the company is working on technologies for digital cameras.  I held one in my hand and it was über light.  For shame, I was disheartened to discover this product sells well in the States, but not Canada.  How sad, when The City of Vancouver is about to rollout a composting program.  Tsk tsk!  Repair that pathetic fact and visit www.earth-solar.net or call 1-604-438-5606 for more details.

Aqua Walker

Apparently I’m obsessed with shoes, if you hadn’t noticed.  I couldn’t resist checking out these.  Made in Germany, they are ideal for surfing, kayaking, rocky beaches, lakes, or the shower.  Composed of Thermo-plastic-elastomere, they are recyclable and pvc and phtalate free.  Travelers always fret over bacteria.  No worries here, as the shoes are also sanitized and antibacterial.  Price is $25 CDN.  Email: info@zimmermann-global-trading.de or call 1-604-913-3393 for more details.  I tried on a pair, cute huh?

To sum up the past 2 days, it was great talking travel with live humans instead of a computer.  I would have liked to see more accessible products rather than ATV’s or expensive, custom made canoes.  My main criticism was the inclusion of a health and wellness area.  One booth was hawking bras.  Seemed misplaced and out of depth for the travel market. Mind you, I suppose even my girls need a travel home.

Some additional highlights of the show below.

Travel show location: Vancouver Convention Centre

Waterside view from Vancouver Convention Centre

Kayak demonstration

Sea of tents

Brave girls trying out the climbing pillar

Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show – Part 1

I had the privilege of attending The Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show being held in Vancouver this weekend – April 24 and 25.

Somehow I lied my way into a media pass and was able to scope out over 300 exhibitors.  Yup, that’s more than the total number of dates I’ve had in 5 years.

The media pass was not procured by my clever wit or good looks – no, no.

Right now I treat my blogging career as a happy mistake.  I also operate on a high level of denseness.  In this case, I boldly asked Robin Esrock for an interview over Twitter.  Who is he, you  may ask?

Only the Vancouver based travel writer who’s been published in scads of newspapers and periodicals.  Only the creator of Word Travels, airing on OLN and Citytv, co-hosted with the fantastic Julia Dimon.  He literally just returned from China, promptly emailed me that he would love to do an interview, and didn’t I know he was speaking at the travel show?

My response: uh, the what show?

Hmmm.. perhaps mistake is the incorrect word, how about fluke?

So I plod along viciously clueless, caving into the realization that’s how I roll.

Anyway, Robin was kind enough to extend a media pass and the rest is history.  I promise to devote a full post to him, which applies to all the travel writer wannabes out there.

And how did the first day of the Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show roll?  Quite a variety.  The usual suspects were on hand –  Gap Adventures and Intrepid Travel for instance.

I was personally seeking a dose of the unique or out of the ordinary.  Thus, this post will cover some travel services that struck my fancy.

Ruby Range Adventure

Ruby Range is an adventure company that specializes in the Yukon.  Their personalized tours span anywhere from 5 to 22 days.  The Yukon is chock full of untouched mountains and rivers, and the managing director told me that most Canadians miss the rich landscape of the Yukon, simply passing through on the way to Alaska.  Good point.  Personally, the Yukon has always fascinated me.  Now I can partake in camping or hotel roundtrips by van or bus.  Talk about close contact to the wild.  Visit www.rubyrange.com or call 1-888-667-2209.

Boeing Tour

This is not a tour of their factory in Seattle, but a neat diversion in Evertt, Washington.  Called the Future of Flight Aviation Center, you can gawk at the 747, 777 and 787 jets.  What hooked me is the aviation center is currently devising biofuel options.  They are actually growing algae as a possible fuel source.  Algae is high in fat and can be grown indoors.  Incredible!  Boeing is also testing Camelina, a promising fuel alternative.  The cool part?  Camelina is essentally a weed.  Admission is $15 for adults and $8 for kids 15 and under.  Visit www.futureofflight.org or call 1-800-464-1476.

Wild Play Element Parks

Remember hundreds of years ago when were basically monkeys swinging from trees?  Okay, maybe not.  Either way, Wild Play recreates those days.  Called the Monkido, it’s an aerial tree course, a sophisticated set of monkey bars to frolic with.  People of all ages can zip line, hang from rope swings, scale ladders or tightropes, and rip across wobbly bridges.  The thrilling part? Some of the sequences are up to 60 feet above ground.  The neatest thing about Wild Play is the emphasis on comfort level – go at your own pace and physical strength.  The second neatest thing is that kids are encouraged to participate.  The kids course is only $19.99, while the adults runs a reasonable $39.99.  With locations in Nanaimo, Victoria and Whistler a variety of terrain is available.  Visit www.wildplay.com for specific locations.

North Okanagan Valley Tours

Most British Columbians equate the Okanagan Valley with wine tour upon wine tour.  Mary-Jo O’Keefe is trying to change that stereotype.  Her company, MJO tours extends a menu of choices to any type of traveler.  Sure, she offers wine tours, but how about a pontoon boat ride down Okanagan Lake?  Or enjoy an ecological and historical tour with a local geological guide ending with “high tea” at the Mackie Lake House.  Prices are reasonable ranging from $89 to $160 for tours robust with activity.  A sound reason for a staycation.  Visit www.mjotours.com or call 1-877-726-6548.

Mondo Adventure Travel

Certainly Mondo could be categorized as another Gap or Intrepid.  Perhaps I took a shine because they are local, either way Mondo has access to tours and flights to fulfill your travel adventure.  The most unique aspect about them is their impeccable service for Galapagos.  Another locale on the Nomadic Chick bucket list.  I blame Darwin’s writings for this lust.  Mondo cuts out the middle man, dealing directly with travel suppliers at Galapagos.  They can customize a tour, but a few options are by boat from 4 to 7 days or a hotel based tour.  I’ll definitely be considering them as my travel provider when the time comes to chase Darwin’s ghost.  Visit www.mondoadventuretravel.com or call 1-877-825-6818.

Tomorrow’s post will highlight some travel products from the show.

Photos: I Am Mike and Jer under Creative Commons.

By |April 24th, 2010 |Categories: Travel Tips |3 Comments

Gypsy Wednesday – When Things Fall Apart

Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday!  Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.

My interest in Buddhism has spanned years, leaving a terrible ache for self-improvement.  Lingering in bookstores is another long held pastime, so the second my eyes devoured its cover, When Things Fall Apart had to be added to my collection.

The interesting tidbit here is I purchased this book 3 or 4 months ago.  It’s obvious my subconscious was preparing for future challenges.

Published in 1997, When Things Fall Apart is based on the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.  His student, Pema Chödrön pieces together a transparent guide to higher understanding.  Pema is a fascinating character herself.  After a painful divorce, she sought answers in Buddhism to emerge as the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, the first Tibetan Monastery in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Finishing the book seemed paramount, due to oodles of spare time and my present situation.

How does this book relate to travel?

Frustrating travel days exist.  Sometimes we narrowly miss a flight connection.  Other times the hostel was east, when you walked west.  Or a cafe’s idea of vegetarian is chicken.  The harsh reality is multiple events can turn awry on the road, which rubs the shine off travel.

Obviously the worst is when tragedy strikes.

We are dazed accident victims –questioning why terrible things happen — doubtful we’ll even get through intact.

The ground beneath feels slippery, unstable.  Our emotions ride intense waves, and the result? A jarring sense of lack of control over anything.

When Things Fall Apart is divided into 22 chapters, which sounds denser than the Holy Bible, but that is a plus.  It allows one to pick and choose – mine a particularly difficult emotion you’re enduring.

A sample of my favorite chapters follow.

Chapter 1 – Intimacy With Fear

“The next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky.”

Okay, what?  I did a double take after reading that sentence.  How can fear be positive?  All it did was hold me in a vise grip, rendering my hopes and dreams mere dust on a long forgotten shelf.

“This is where courage comes in.  Usually we think that brave people have no fear.  The truth is that they are intimate with fear.  When I was first married, my husband said I was one of the bravest people he knew.  When I asked him why, he said because I was a complete coward but went ahead and did things anyhow.”

The illusion of others holds true.  We automatically believe successful people are never afraid.  That travelers have granite nerves.  Not so.  I’ve always viewed travel as an avenue to tackle my fears head on, even develop new ones.  Chödrön recommends not bailing, because the minute fear is whiffed, we run away like mad.  Fear can symbolize exploration, or as Chödrön suggests, revealing that nothing is what we thought.  That includes pre-concieved notions of happiness or failure.

Chapter 9 – Six Kinds of Loneliness

I’ve read this repeatedly in travel blogs, “Been in Antarctica for 10 days and haven’t talked to a soul.  Sooo lonely.  I cry, miss my family terribly – wonder if doing this alone was a good plan.”

The idea that six types of loneliness exist left me feeling abandoned in Siberia six times over.  Yup, Chödrön owed me an explanation.

Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy.  Heartache is not something we choose to invite in.  It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company.  When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.

How does a traveler quell bursts of loneliness?  Why, engage in the six kinds of “cool loneliness” that Chödrön alludes to: less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one’s meandering thoughts.

So many travelers hunt for sensory experiences, but are we merely filling a void?  A need for comfort?  Without dissecting all six types, it’s important to examine our relationship to loneliness.  I use to dread solo travel, afraid of what my quiet mind might produce.  Lonely moments can breed intimate self-awareness.  The eye opening revelations I discovered about myself were usually on solo trips.

Chapter 16 – Servants of Peace

I vividly remember a Swiss couple we encountered at the Laos/Cambodia border.

“Oh, you better watch the border guards here.  They’re greedy bastards, asking for bribes to enter their country.  Don’t crack, always offer $5.00 US dollars.”

Suddenly, I felt ashamed to be associated with them.

“Generosity, the journey of learning how to give.  When we feel inadequate and unworthy, we hoard things.  We are so afraid – afraid of losing, afraid of feeling even more poverty-stricken than we do already.  This holding on causes us to suffer greatly.  We wish for comfort, but instead we reinforce aversion, the sense of sin, and the feeling that we are a hopeless case.”

I wholeheartedly support budget travel, but sometimes my conscience barks.  At what price?  I never, ever want to breed cynicism to a fine point that I quibble about an extra $2.00 with a person who earns $200 US dollars a month.  Generosity doesn’t just apply to others, but ourselves as well.  Letting go will chisel through constraints, turning us into the fearless.  Chödrön says it best:

“Real transformation takes place when we let go of our attachment and give away what we think we can’t.”

My one criticism of religion are the flaky, nonsensical aspects that simply don’t add up.  Maybe I’m a realist, but a patchouli smelling nutcase swathed in a turban chanting “Ohhhmm” rarely satisfies, but offers endless laughs.  I need my spirituality to be useful.

I can guarantee, when things do fall apart, this book delivers practical, graspable advice for the lost.  Like Pauline Frommer, I’m also a firm believer in reading everything, not just travel oriented material.

Growth and potential is derived from a plethora of sources, albeit music, poetry, literature, art – not just travel.  Wherever you gather inspiration, it can make life and travel that much richer.

What have you done when things fell apart, whether related to travel or not?

By |April 21st, 2010 |Categories: Life |7 Comments
Tags: , ,

Round the World Now

This is It

It’s been a furious few days mainly spent on the pavement, a phone line, or surfing the web.

A week before the demise of my corporate career a chief worry was meeting my financial goal.   That concern forced me to consider setting back my leave date of June to August – a disappointing prospect.

When HR director slid the severance package across a table and I released the freshly printed documents from a brown envelope the dollar amount staring back at me was it.  Basically what I needed to begin.

The first 3 nights of unemployment proved sleepless, my brain revving with scenarios or possible outcomes.  The fourth night I slept soundly.  By the fifth, desire and reality clicked into place – two puzzle pieces slotting together.

What I desperately longed for had come, but did so abruptly.  A whack to the side of the head.

As I processed the layoff,  one question nipped at my heels – what now?

It was obvious.

#RTWNow

My new hashtag.  For those unfamiliar, the Twitter tribe can follow certain lists, which are initiated by hastags, marked with a # before it.  My former hashtag was #rtwsoon.  But, no more.

I’ve graduated, it’s clear forces are pushing me towards that June departure date.

Oh yeah, it’s on.

Inert, slouch mode is replaced with being upright, feeling the ground beneath my feet, a weighty pack against my hips and back.  Morning coffee won’t come from a plastic dispenser, but a smiling, toothless street vendor beneath the tropical sun.  Sustenance will no longer sizzle under cancer forming rays in a microwave.  It’s open fires and grills from now on.

I’m already mining that mentality.  I’ve walked everywhere the past few days, basking in fresh air and spring flowers.  By everywhere, I mean 20 city blocks plus.  My morning yoga routine is full bore, and I sat down to actually read an unfinished book.  Creaky body parts are becoming buttery dough, malleable and smooth.  Especially slumber.  Oh, the glories of a full 8 hours with naps interspersed!

It’s forming as I write this, 15 Things I’m Looking Forward To is resoundingly present.  I’ve never felt so relaxed or productive.

By the end of May, my old life will wrap up.  First stop is brother and mother across the open prairies.

I couldn’t be more ecstatic.

What is Scary

Lack of travel arsenal:

  • Backpack.
  • Laptop.
  • External hard drives.
  • Plug adaptor.
  • Extra battery and SD cards for camera.
  • Travel insurance.
  • Travel vaccinations.
  • Visas (if needed).

God, I’m certain there are a number of items missing from this list.  I’ll need to mine craigslist and other sources.

What You Can Expect

Never one to leave my faithful friends hanging, I hope to document the experience of closing shop.

  1. Gear list.
  2. Just where my old crap will go.
  3. Complete the series on unplugging from the cubicle.  Figure my expertise is cemented in this area now.
  4. How to keep in touch with loved ones.
  5. How to pack like you’re going to jail. Über minimalist.
  6. Some ideas on income streams for the burgeoning digital nomad.

And whatever else enters my curious mind.

Don’t be fooled, of course I’m quaking, frightened at the unknown road ahead.  What fortifies me is a well of amazing relationships and an innate knack for resourcefulness.  It came full circle when I recycled that brown envelope used to house my severance package by placing the application for Child Haven into it, addressed to an untethered future, one beaming with promise.

Anything new is terrifying, but isn’t it worth doing?  Now give me that virtual high-five!  I know you want to.

By |April 20th, 2010 |Categories: Adventure |42 Comments