Video Moment – Vegemite & The Aussie Nomad

Chris Richardson of The Aussie Nomad and I recently got cozy with Vegemite.  Watch my first snazzy video for the full story.

A special thanks goes to my friend Steve Boland for proving to be a creative, adept cameraman.

By |May 31st, 2010 |Categories: Uncategorized |29 Comments

Why Victoria is Worth Visiting

I spent the May long weekend in Victoria, BC.  The city is significant for one reason, one of my closest friends moved there over a year ago.  For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to her as Jabba.  The move proved difficult for her, Vancouver held a sacred place in her heart and to leave it was devastating.  The power of a place and its memories can stay with you.

Crowned the capital of British Columbia in 1871, Victoria is Western Canada’s oldest city.  In recent years, British Columbians flocked there for the mild weather, affordable retirement housing, and government jobs.

Tourists also come in droves, attracted to the historic downtown, with a tour typically ending at the Inner Harbour to catch stunning vistas of the famous Empress Hotel and the Parliament Buildings.

Until last year, I wedged a sleepy reputation of Victoria in my mind, but Jabba showed me a different side.  Beyond the retirement jokes and staid government image, Victoria is littered with intimate boutique shops, accessible local restaurants, and fabulous outdoor parks minutes away from one’s residence, instead of miles.  Ocean views are free.

Even though Jabba questions her decision, Victoria is the cooler, laid back cousin to Vancouver’s craziness.

Summer Festivals

A myth about Victoria is the dearth of kicking summer festivals.  A few of my picks for summer 2010.

JazzFest International (June 25-July 4)
Location: Royal Theatre, Centennial Square, Alix Goolden Performance Hall, Open Space Gallery, Victoria Event Centre, and numerous other downtown venues
“Ten hot days and nights of the coolest music in town.” Enjoy over 90 high calibre individual jazz performances taking place in numerous indoor and outdoor venues/stages with over 400 musicians. A series of free admission performances in Centennial Square will also take place during the daytime with ticketed and cover charge performances scheduled in various theatres, clubs and restaurant venues in the evenings. Free workshops by visiting musicians as well.  Contact for more Information: (250) 388-4423 or visit www.jazzvictoria.ca.

Festival Mexicano (July 9-11)
Location: Victoria Event Centre and Centennial Square
Celebrate Mexican/Latin American culture – features an open air main stage with local performers sharing traditional music and dance, kiosks showcasing Mexican/Latin American food and beverages, arts and crafts.  Contact for more Information: (250) 216-3664 or visit www.1415broad.ca.

Free B Film Festival in the Park (Aug 6, 7, 14, 21, 27, 28)
Location: Cameron Bandshell, Beacon Hill Park
Go beyond the summer blockbusters and enjoy a movie under the stars with another great line-up of B-movies from the “Family-Friendly” to the “Funky and Fun”.  Contact information: (250) 389-0444 or www.victoriafilmfestival.com.

Eats

Pluto’s, 1150 Cook Street, (250) 385-4747
This restaurant stole my imagination because it’s a gas station converted into an eatery.  I gobbled a ginormous salmon omelet. Review of Pluto’s.

The Black Olive, 739 Pandora Avenue, (250) 364-6060
Jabba raved about this spot.  Delicious pastas, succulent rack of lamb, BC and West Coast wines make this restaurant a culinary jewel in Victoria.  www.theblackolive.ca.

Bean Around The World, 533 Fisgard Street, (250) 386-7115
Nestled in charming Chinatown, Jabba and I sparred at cribbage while sipping lattes.  This North Shore based company adheres to ethical business practices, something I’m proud to support.

Shops

Salt Spring Island Soapworks, 575 Johnson Street, (250) 386-7627
Us solo women travelers need pampering once in a while.  I had a chance to try the Body Gelato.  Even typing those 2 words is deelish!  Made of pure sea salts, infused with natural moisturizers and oils, I exfoilated myself to baby soft skin.  Actually, forget babies – pre birth skin.  With hair care, body lotions, and foot care – fortifying your toiletries is easy and decadent.
www.saltspringsoaptworks.com.

Smoking Lily, 569a Johnson Street, (250) 382-5459
No, this store isn’t practical, but I love it just the same.  A Victoria store that expanded across Canada, all the clothes are locally made and unique.  What appears impractical may not be.  Pick up a cute t-shirt or a skirt that can roll up nicely in your compression sack.  smokinglily.com.

Russell Books, 734 Fort Street, (250) 361-4447
When I published my get rid of books post many commenters fell into the die-hard book club.  You love the feel of pages between your fingers and are willing to absorb extra weight in your pack.  You can indulge those desires at Russell’s.  They opened a second store at 702 View Street, which adds up to over 13,000 square feet of books.  I was vastly impressed with the selection of classics, literature, and non-fiction.  So, enjoy book lovers!  www.russellbooks.com.

To research city parks visit www.webvictoria.com.

Without further ado, a gallery of memories from my weekend.

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157624152310310″]

By |May 27th, 2010 |Categories: Victoria |15 Comments

How to Prepare for Solo Travel

Today’s guest post is by Gray Cargill of Solo Friendly.   As an outgoing solo traveler, it never occurred to me that there are different kinds of solo travelers.  Isn’t there only one type?  Nor that I had something to learn about going it alone.  Gray reminded me, there’s always something new to learn.

So you’ve finally decided to fulfill your lifelong dream of traveling around the world, even though you have to go solo.  While you’re busy handling the logistics of your trip–saving money, booking travel arrangements, getting vaccinations, and learning basic phrases in several languages–don’t forget there’s another aspect of your trip you should be preparing for ahead of time:  Being alone.  Sure, you’ll meet people and make friends on your journey, so you won’t be alone the entire time, but there will be days when you are.  Are you ready for them?

The issues you have regarding your solitude will depend on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.  How do you know which one you are?  Imagine you run on a battery that is fully charged at the beginning of each day. An introvert’s battery is drained when she is around other people (especially strangers); it is recharged when she alone with her thoughts.  An extrovert’s battery is drained when she is alone, but recharged when she is around other people. Both introverts and extroverts can be shy, and both can get lonely.  But there are some things you can do prior to your trip to prepare yourself for those long, solo days of round-the-world (RTW) travel.  Here are a few tips.

For Introverts

1.  Talking to Strangers is Good

Since you’re traveling solo, those of you who are shy can’t rely on your extroverted friend to talk to locals when you need information.  You need to get used to approaching strangers yourself.  Practice at home by chatting people up in the line at the grocery store, on the bus, at a coffee shop, or at an event.  If you don’t know what to say, talk about the weather, ask for the time, ask for directions, anything to get used to talking to strangers.  Always do it with a smile.

2.  Forge Short, But Satisfying

I know you introverts prefer depth over breadth when it comes to friendships, so you’ve probably had the same core group of friends for a long time. But when you’re only in a city for 3 or 4 days, you need to make short-term friendships unless you truly want to be alone for the next year of your life.  Practice by volunteering for a nonprofit event or joining a hobby group where you don’t know anyone. At the very least, you’ll get more comfortable being around new people. Be assertive about getting to know others. Ask them questions about themselves and show interest in them.  Just like on the road, some of these short-term friendships may turn into long-term friendships, but if they don’t, it’s okay.

3.  Test Run Shared Spaces

Are you accustomed to sharing a room with strangers? Can you handle it?  If your home city has hostels, go ahead and buy a bed in one for a night to see what it’s like.  If there are no local hostels, and it’s been awhile since you’ve had to share a room, invite some friends over for a sleepover (have them bring sleeping bags so you can all bunk out in the same room).  Or take a weekend getaway with three friends and share a hotel room with them.  It won’t completely duplicate the experience, since they’re not strangers, but you may learn more about your tolerance levels for group sleeping arrangements. If you find you don’t like sharing your sleeping space, you may need to increase your travel budget so you can afford a private room or travel for a shorter period of time. Even if you decide to tolerate hostel dorm life, figure out now where you will go for the alone time you need every day.

For Extroverts

1.  Alone is Good

As long as you are not a shy extrovert, you will probably have an easier time making friends wherever you go, based on your outgoing nature. But whether or not you are shy, you will find yourself alone at times on the road.  Lest your loneliness come across as neediness (a sure-fire magnet for predators), you must learn to embrace solitude.  Practice spending time alone with just your thoughts–no other people around, and no external stimuli (no Internet,cell phone, TV or radio).  See how long you can stand being alone.  Keep practicing until you become comfortable.

2.  Practice Makes Perfect

Start practicing doing things alone, like going for long walks, to events, or to the movies.  Eating alone in public might be especially tough for you.  If you can’t bring yourself to eat alone in a restaurant at home, what makes you think you’ll be able to do it on the road?  Everything gets easier the more you do it, so practice, practice, practice until you can do it comfortably.  Obviously, you don’t want to divert too much of your travel money to this exercise, so find cheap ways of practicing–go for coffee and dessert, go to a church potluck, or just go to a bar or coffee shop for a drink.  Just go alone.

3.  Dear Diary

If you don’t already, start writing in a journal every day.  Write down not only what happened, but what you thought about it and how you felt about it.  Did you learn anything from it?  Not only will this solitary activity help prepare you to be alone with your own thoughts, it will become habitual so once you start your trip, you can record it for posterity.  I know, you’d rather “live in the moment” when you’re on the road than write about it.  But trust me, your memory will eventually start to fail you, and when that happens, you’ll be glad you recorded the details of your amazing journey.  Re-reading it years from now will be fun.

So whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it’s worth considering the psychological and emotional preparation for your RTW trip in addition to the logistical side of things.  You can certainly wait until you are on the road to discover that you can’t bear to eat alone in a restaurant or can’t sleep in a hostel dormitory.  But wouldn’t it be better to know these things beforehand so you can prepare yourself just as you would for high altitude hikes or preventing pickpockets from making off with your wallet?

About the Author

Gray Cargill is the author of SoloFriendly.com, a blog featuring advice and tips for solo travelers and reviews of solo-friendly destinations, lodging, and restaurants.  She is also the author of VegasSolo.com, a guide to help solo travelers plan their Las Vegas vacation.

First Week of Nomadism

My body weight buckled under the pressure.  Was it wise to buy such a large pack?  Which my readers now dub the “Chanel” of backpacks.  How can 35 liters feel like 100?  It was a sweltering Sunday, having just left my best friend’s 18th floor apartment.  The previous night was a series of errors.  My first day of nomad existence was supposed to begin at my sister’s, but a dramatic argument with her boyfriend, and then with me ended in an agreement to cool off.  I would stay at Sheri’s.  Sis would go home to deal with the boyfriend situation.

An hour later, post 2 Hefferveisen beers and a piece of chocolate cake, I tossed and turned next to Sheri.  Her hubby, Pete lay sprawled on the couch.  God, I was warm.  Feverish.  This feeling reminded me of the time I downed açaí in Rio prior to my flight home.  We were on the cusp of take-off when my stomach boiled over and the sweats broke out.  The flight attendants fluttered around me in moth to light formation.  Rio was gripped in a dengue fever outbreak, and the suspicion was that I was a carrier.

Off the plane I went, into the bowels of the airport medical clinic.  Out came açaí from the bottom of my stomach.  Thank heavens Rio has wastebaskets.  Back to Sheri’s, I pushed myself up to beetle to the bathroom, sensing something was happening internally, oh my.  Brazil berries all over again.

Then it burst forth – vomitus shot from my mouth seemingly with no control towards a hallway closet, the carpet, and the worst –  Sheri’s precious pillow of the UK flag.  I just regurgitated all over her native country.  Our friendship could be effectively over.

Things were going along swimmingly.  And before you ask, I have never projectile vomited in my adult life.

I weakly tried to clean up, conceded defeat, and roused Pete for help.  He instructed me to sit down.  Sinking into those cushions was the first bit of relief I had since the layoff.

That’s what the last few weeks have been – seemingly no control until I hiked to my sister’s with a new life on my back.

I burst into her suite, dropping bags with a loud thump, started sputtering a mile a minute.

“Whoah, okay.. you need to simmer down.  You’re starting to stress me out.  I’m just trying to have a nice time at home.”

I paused mid-word, she was right.  I collected a glass of water, went on her patio, and breathed.  In. Out.

Thus, here I am.

The past week still involved tidying up loose ends.  Calling government agencies or amending bank accounts.  I had to return to my old place and retrieve more items I want to sell to the highest bidder.  Then a crisis arose with which party could foster my cat, Amelie.  More phone calls later, that got solved.

I have worries.  Observations.

My first worry is the physical punishment.  Certainly my pack feels great, sits beautifully.  Yet to imagine hauling Miz Chanel for several hours a day?  The solution lay before me.  Repack, woman.  Cut down even more.

My observations fall into the societal realm.  In the last month, I’ve systematically removed all the North American placeholders that hold significance for so many people.  Homeless.  Jobless.  Practically penniless.  Definitely child and man free.

These were the concepts I was taught since birth to covet.  Pathologically desire.

I can’t lie and say it doesn’t feel strange at times.  That I don’t have a regular bed to sleep in.  Or all the objects where I’m staying are not mine, but my sister’s.

There’s a doe-eyed quality to these discoveries.  Remember that brilliant show Morgan Spurlock spawned called 30 Days?  Each episode a regular joe was placed in situations that were polar opposite to their beliefs.  I think a Christian guy lived with a Muslim family, for instance.

The best episode by far was Off The Grid.  Morgan plucked two 30 something New Yorkers with the worst carbon footprint and planted them at an ecovillage called, Dancing Rabbit.  The female participant, a sassy Black woman pierced a Dancing Rabbit resident with bitchface when it was pointed out her shampoo and grooming ways were killing the environment.  Loved it.  They had no car, no job, no processed food, no electricity (at least not the old fashioned way).

There were hilarious moments of utter shock as both processed this entirely new way of existing.  That is me at moments.  Disbelief.

The appropriate question is, do I miss it?  Those things I worked hard to escape.  Not really.  The energy it generated, to just keep them afloat.  Not to mention the personal pressure we put on ourselves to die the cast – be what others expect.

Right now it’s sinking in that I am Off The Grid – cut free.  The sweetest part?  The ride is just beginning.

Today I’m off to Victoria, BC for the long weekend.  To say goodbye to a treasured friend, take in some sights, and continue my membership in the foodie association.  What’s that Latin term?  Carpe Diem!

By |May 21st, 2010 |Categories: Life |19 Comments

10 Things I’ve Discovered Since The Layoff

1. Cooking rocks. I use to detest wasting 1 or 2 precious hours preparing meals.  So I instituted the proportionate school of cooking.  Take Sunday to make a load of food, dole portions into Tupperware – hallelujah!  Good for the work week.  Lately I’ve rediscovered culinary delights – spices, unusual ingredients, exotic recipes.  Take today’s breakfast: flax pancakes topped with a honey infused strawberry sauce.

2. Trees are green. What was blatantly obvious never registered with me.  My new favorite ritual in the mornings is grabbing a breakfast seat outside to watch trees sway in the breeze.  Did you know there are over 100,000 species of trees scattered across the world?  That’s a lot of tree watching.  Can’t wait.

3. I can type anywhere. With a steady wi-fi signal, naturally.  The concept of not being chained to my desk or the printer for 9+ hours is surreal.  Nowadays you’ll find me on a patio, a coffee shop or my sister’s living room, pounding away productively on the keyboard.

4. I can take baths. Because of my previous insane schedule/life, I haven’t had a bath since the Bush years.  That is not a joke.  A couple of days ago, I eased my battered body into a sumptuous vanilla scented bubble bath.  Ohhh yeah.

5. I remember lyrics.  Music was background noise for workouts or ignoring my office mates.  Slightly weird behavior for someone who use to scribe music reviews.  I’m now hooked on these lyrics from Elbow‘s song “One Day Like This”:

What made me behave this way?
Using words I never say
I only think it must be love
Oh, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day

6.  What stress? It’s not accurate to categorize my current decompressed state as a vacation.  Imagine a purgatory of nirvana – time or events are ethereal and thoughts are never wasted or forgotten. Om.

7.  Public transportation doesn’t annoy. The clock ticked during my commute to and from work. Buses or trains served me, not the other way around.  Within the past month I’ve spoken to 2 or 3 homeless people, overheard a few shouting matches via cell phones, snooped at readers book jackets, or soaked in the scenery whizzing by.

8.  The nap myth is true. I promised a few months back that naps were top of my post-job bucket list.  They work.  They’re restful and keep me content.  I drift away on the couch, or someone’s couch and it IS divine.  Waking is never a rushed endeavour, but considered – much like a cat stirring from an 18 hour snooze.

9.  Food tastes awesome. I was an inhaler.  Suck back food quickly, so I could scurry to the next task.  In tandem with the resurgence of cooking, I find myself concocting 2 or 3 courses, then sitting down to a long session of savoring flavors.  My foodie days are here again!

10.  Silence is golden. No more jangling phones, barked orders, or Xerox printers whirring and spitting papers.  The quiet greets me every day with hot tea and a steady ear.  For once, something is there to listen instead of natter back.

The gist?  I’m discovering life all over again.  I only wish others could experience the same.  Hesitation or fear wouldn’t even be an option.  Isn’t our one life worth living?

Photos: James Jordan, Dirk Gently, book grl, Jerrold, Mara-Earth-Light, CanadaGood, Archangeli, stirwise, Anna Gay

Gypsy Wednesday – Currency Book Giveaway Contest!!

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

What is currency?  Cold hard cash, plata, yen, euros.  Certainly, it’s all of these.  In the context of traveling, that word can signify a monetary transaction between hostel owner, tout and backpacker.

In Zoe Zolbrod’s first novel, Currency money equates to a sexual balance of power between main characters, Piv and Robin – a Thai man earning a wage from the foreign dwellers of Khao San Road, and a roaming American backpacker running out of funds and time.  The unlikely pair join in a physical and financial union mired in a downward spiral of reluctant love and illegal smuggling.  Against the sweltering backdrop of Thailand, Currency quenches a reader’s thirst for suspense, adventure – even complicated cross-cultural romance.  As a traveler, aren’t these aspects what we sign up for?

I had the opportunity to pin down Zoe on the writing process, Currency’s roots, and why you should read her book.

Q: How did the idea for Currency germinate?

A: In the 90s, I went on a solo backpacking trip to Southeast Asia, and it blew my mind.  You know how it is when you’re in the serious travel zone: every day, every image, was seared into my brain for eternity.  Thailand was my base, and I had a friend living in Bangkok.  She showed me the city in a way I could have never managed on my own as a tourist.  Also, I had short but intense relationships with several Thai guys.  At the end of my trip, a credit card snafu left me without access to funds.   I was hanging out with a Thai man, and to say he helped me out would be an understatement.  So, broke in Bangkok with a cute Thai guy.  The people and events in Currency are entirely made-up, but that was the germ for the story.

Q: What came first, writing or travel?

A: Well, I wrote my first novel when I was about ten, but I spent a lot of my early adulthood telling myself I didn’t want to be a writer.  It was only after my big trip that I started getting serious about writing–joining a workshop, trying to write every day, eventually going to grad school and keeping up with it after that.   So writing came first, but traveling brought me back to it.

Q: How does travel factor into your philosophy?

Zoe, the authoress

A: When I travel, I’m more fully present in the moment, I live through all my senses, and I’m more open to the world.  Traveling helps me take the focus outside of myself, and in the process, it helps me know myself in a different way.  Those are all things I aspire to in everyday life, but they can be harder to achieve.

Q: Whether one is a journalist, travel writer or fiction writer, there’s always a process – what is your creative process to eek out the words?

A: I have to spend some time in my head first, mulling things over.  Then I let the words come out in any old quick sloppy way they do—unfinished sentences, jumping around, whatever.  Usually I draft on the computer, but sometimes I write in a notebook at the very beginning.  Then I go back and forth between smoothing out what I have and adding more really rough stuff, and I go over it and over it like that until it’s all smooth in my mind.  Then I ask for feedback from someone before I go at it again.

Q: What do you hope people will glean from Currency?

A: I hope it will entertain people, and that it will give them some of that travel feeling—like they’re wide-eyed, like they’ve escaped from the everyday routine.  More ambitiously, I hope it will help people realize that they’re part of a larger pattern—economically, ecologically, historically.  And that there is always another perspective on things, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t abandon the search for what’s right.  That morality might be more complicated than it can appear, but it can exist.

Q: Finally, how do you plan on incorporating travel and writing into your life again?

A: Well,  I hope that next year, when I’m not traveling around for the book, my family can take a trip together outside the country.  If we can’t get to Costa Rica for a longer trip, then I hope we can at least get a week in Mexico.  Writing-wise, I’m going to aim for one full day a month, by hook or by crook, along with scraps where I can find them.  That doesn’t sound like much, but for me right now, it’s a lot.  But so much of my life is spent parsing vacation days and plotting to steal hours.  In the bigger picture, I’d like to keep working on being a traveler in my own land, so to speak, to be able to tap into that sense of wonder and adventure and risk more often in my day-to-day, no matter how constrained by circumstances I feel.

Contest Giveaway Details!!

Be one of the lucky few to receive a freshly pressed copy of Zoe Zolbrod’s enticing first novel, Currency.

Tell me about a time you got into a financial scrape on the road, or tell what you did to earn money to keep on traveling.  Write your tale of woe in the comments section and ensure you provide a valid email or website address.

The Rules

  1. 3 winners will emerge – judging will be based on severity and the inventive manner in which you bailed out of the scrape.
  2. Contestants are people about to travel the world or currently are at a fairly fixed address.
  3. Zoe requests that when the receivers are done with the book, they leave it where another traveler is likely to find it–maybe they hand it off directly, or maybe they leave it in a hostel or hotel library, at a cafe, or at a traveler’s bookstore, where it could even be sold or exchanged.  A sticker will be placed inside each book explaining the plan and asking whoever received it to comment at zoezolbrod.com telling where they got it and/or where they left it.  We hope readers keep passing the book on.
  4. Contest winners will be formally announced on June 1, 2010.

Participate in this unique contest!  Not only will you explore the globe, so will the book.  To whet your palate more, check out a book review of Currency at Local Lit.

About Zoe Zolbrod:

Zoe Zolbrod was raised in Meadville, PA, graduated from Oberlin College, and received her MA from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Program for Writers.  After backpacking around Southeast Asia, she co-edited the zine Maxine and worked as an editor.  She lives in Evanston, IL, with her husband, the photographer Mark DeBernardi, and their two children.

Photos: Zoe Zolbrod and FriskoDude