Category Archives: Travel

Man relaxes on a Croatian sidestreet, photo by zolakoma on Flickr. (Creative Commons.)

Here Yet So Far Away: Dreaming of Distances

I vacillate. Often. Back and forth, back and forth.

“Why wait?” I ask. “Why stay? Why keep banging my head on this wall?”

A part of me wants to cut and run tomorrow. Today. Now. Zippity-doo-dah, gone like the wind.

But the pragmatic part of me clears her throat and says no, we stay. We see the summer through. Turn 42. Celebrate Thanksgiving with my whole family together. Vote out Stephen Harper. Leave two days later, either in victory or defeat. That’s the ideal situation. See another shoulder season, enjoy another summer. Ensure I’ve laid solid freelance ground beneath my feet before I plunge.

Then, poof, off to Europe and chase the dream.

Prague's celebrated St. Charles Bridge, by Max aka Max Tim Tom on Flickr.

By Max aka Max Tim Tom on Flickr.

The Nutshell

Five years abroad. 89 days or less per country. Working my way through — keeping my job, my writing, all of it. Writing books. Photographing. Plodding the land, meeting the folk, noshing the foods. Write it from a first-person living-the-dream perspective. A literary treatment given with my voice.

The world through my eyes. Not travel guides, not tips. You want that shit, go read Lonely Planet. My journey will read as a mashup of Elizabeth Gilbert and Anthony Bourdain — a weird lovechild / hybrid of edgy, insightful writing set in the here-and-now of someone trying to figure out where in the world she belongs.

[INSERT DREAM HERE]

When I go to bed, I don’t know where to dream of. Should I dream of two weeks on the hills in Tuscany, a writing/reading/eating retreat, growing fat(ter) on cheese and wine as I trudge the verdant slopes?

Maybe I should dream of working on a new ebook in a seaside port on a lesser-seen part of Portugal’s coast, where fishermen persuade me to get over my fear of seafood and eat fresh-from-the-sea local specialties, laughing at my timid ways and shoving wine at me to wash it down with?

Perhaps I should instead fall asleep imagining a bucket-list check-off of shooting Prague’s St. Charles Bridge in early autumn morning fog as steam rises from the river below, hatching a plan for eggs in some underground cellar joint for breakfast as warmth returns to my chilled photographer’s fingers?

Tonight, it’ll likely be dreaming of dining on Croatia’s Pag Island, drinking local wine to accompany the famous island cheese made from the milk of sheep who spend their lives roaming seaside cliffs eating salt-dusted wild herbs daily.

I’ll do all of these things, and many more. Someday. One day in the next six years, I will.

My dreams, they’re not outlandish. No five-star hotels or crazy excess. Not my style, never has been. My dreams are like people I favour — a good way to spend a little time. Filled with intrigue and wonder, appreciation and simplicity, lively and fun. That’s how I roll.

The salty-herbs-eating sheep of Pag Island, Croatia, shot by Dimitrij Mlekuz on Flickr.

The salty-herbs-eating sheep of Pag Island, Croatia, shot by Dimitrij Mlekuz on Flickr.

You Gotta Ask Yourself One Question…

Waiting for these times ahead, so hard. Especially knowing I can do this lifestyle less than I pay now. I can improve my quality of life while living my dream, and yet it’s on ice ten more months. The idea of the wait is killing me already. I’m not sure I’ll last that long.

Just weeks ago I asked myself: Can I be this person? Am I cut out to spend five years abroad? Am I willing to just up and sell my belongings to do this? Have I got the guts?

At that time, I had to convince myself. The part that said I can wasn’t as loud as the part that scoffed at the notion.

Now, it’s not about if I can do it — it’s that I have to do it. I have to take this chance. I need to sell everything. I need to get the fuck out, live the dream. I need to know I tried. And one country isn’t enough. Five countries isn’t enough. Five years, that may be enough.

The hills are alive with wine and cheese. Tuscany, photographed by Konrad Jagodziński on Flickr.

The hills are alive with wine and cheese. Tuscany, photographed by Konrad Jagodziński on Flickr.

The Little Traveller Who Could

When I took this apartment, I increased my monthly rent by 25% in one jump. It was a risk. Only a year before, I sold my bike just to buy groceries. Could I hack the increased expenditure? Was I capable of working that hard, seeking out opportunity? Could I up my game? Could I commit?

I decided I could. Sure, I doubted myself and had a lot of fear, but I decided I wanted to make it work. So I would do just that.

I’ve done better than I hoped. I’ve really led the good life in this apartment. My standard of living is better, my dreams are bigger, my confidence higher, my focus sharper. A year ago, I didn’t have the guts to tell folks about this travel dream of mine. Now I can’t shut the hell up.

That’s not to say I’m fearless with this adventure. I have a lot of fear. Lots. And I should. There’s so much unknown. There’s new cultures, places, risks, threats, adventures, mistakes — all just sitting there, waiting for me. I know that.

But I also know of what I’ve toughed out — all the misadventure and adversity of my thirties. And I kicked its ass.

I don’t know what gauntlets await me, what struggles might come. I just know they’re there. They’re always there. But so is the knowledge that whatever else I might be, I’m a survivor. I make it through, and I come out better. And sometimes I have fun during the mindfuck of it all. Because that’s who I am.

So, yes. Just weeks ago I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this. If I had it in me. Now I know I do. The more I learn about the places, the more I know I can hack it. Besides that, I’m smart enough, savvy enough, and I’m good with strangers. I have rarely-fallible intuition on folks that will serve me well.

Fishing boats in Portugal, shot by salvadorveiga on Flickr.

Fishing boats in Portugal, shot by salvadorveiga on Flickr.

To Dream a Vivid Dream

I may not know what specifically to dream about when I lay myself down, but I’ve inklings of experiences I want. I want this craving I have right now, coupled with the heart-exploding anticipation of being amidst the travel zeitgeist. The brighter-than-bright saturation of moving fast or slow through worlds previously unknown to me. The kaleidoscope of color, places, and people swirling together around me. The feeling one gets from stopping to just be of a moment, in some strange great place. “I’ll never be here, like this, again.” And knowing it.

I dream of being confused by things like trying to buy vitamins and toothpaste in local shops, never knowing the same bed for longer than two months, shaking my head in confusion at foreign-language street directions, wheezing from running to catch planes/buses/trains, and always finding a new spot to see a sunset.

I long for the day when the boredom and routine of me being a hermit in my character apartment here/now seems like a great and distant fantasy. I think of the people I might meet who’ll indulge just a moment, or maybe for a stolen hour over coffees, to teach me their language.

I don’t need to dream of specifics. I dream of moments. Tiny moments I’ll remember for a lifetime. These vague and fleeting seconds will fuel me. I don’t want planned travels, just organic and whimsical detours. Dreamlike and surreal. Fed by impulse.

And with that, I have some wine that needs some drinking, and more travel shows to get lost in, as I tab through AirBNB listings and cost-of-living comparisons. Because this is what I do, these days. Haphazardly living in the present while stuck in the future.

I’ll be writing ebooks about these journeys. Sign up for my mailing list. I won’t be spamming you.

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Cutting Paper Snowflakes: Having a Moment on December 1st

I should be in bed. 12:43 am, work comes early. I’m writing by the glow of the Christmas tree on my right (with an assist from my monitor). To my left, a fog-rimmed half moon rises.

I’ve spent my evening cutting out paper snowflakes, eating carbonara, watching the (adults-only, and awesome) documentary I Am Santa Claus, and drinking wine, after a long day of work punctuated only by escaping to buy my best friend a Christmas gift, myself an alpaca knit toque, and some jam. Ahh, Christmas craft fairs, for the win.

I’m savouring the day, the weeks, the months. This might be the last time I decorate a home for Christmas for five years. FIVE YEARS. I love Christmas. I love my version of Christmas. It would be strange and odd to live under other people’s ideas of Christmas for a half-decade. To travel the world, though, I can make that sacrifice. And wherever I go, I can always make paper snowflakes. I’m a pro now.

But this exactly is why I favour the long-term approach for leaving. If saving money is the goal and I can save up to 30-50% per month by living elsewhere, shouldn’t I leave sooner than later?

Well, frankly,I’m under no illusions that my life is anything but great right now. I may have some operational shortcomings in which I fail to maximize on my life’s awesomeness, but the bones are there, man.

I’m not in a rush to LEAVE this. I’m just wanting something new. That saying you don’t know what you got till it’s gone? Wrong. I know what I’ve got. So, I’m aiming to at least get close to “overstaying my welcome” as opposed to “premature departure.” I don’t ever want to regret not living in this particular apartment just a little longer.

If it goes as planned, next Christmas I’ll be enjoying the holidays in Croatia, a predominantly Catholic country that does it well. I’ll be just a few weeks away from a late-January/February trip to Istanbul in an attempt to photograph snow  falling in the Old Town. (Which is currently my desktop wallpaper, by dilemmanya.)

snow_in_istanbul____by_dilemmanya-d4oecxk

I know where I am. I know where I’m going. I may want the world of travel today but I also know I will have frequent times of fatigue and weariness where I miss owning a bed, having a routine, and knowing EXACTLY what is around me. Which is what I have, and am savouring, now.

I’m a woman of two minds right now, but the one I’m “in” is the one that’s got my attention tonight.

And that means the kaleidoscope glow of a tree, snowflake-filled windows, and a bed that’s all mine, from which I’ll pad away in the morning, and restart my work week.

Tonight I know it’s 24 days to Christmas, and less than a year to the adventure of a lifetime.

Both are working for me. Night, minions.

I’m working on the first of the books to come about this life-changing journey/goal/dream I have. If you want to be alerted when it’s coming together for your reading enjoyment: Join my seldom-mailed Mailing list! 

Sunset over Beacon Hill Park.

Rain-Streaked Daydreams of a Would-Be Nomad

It’s one of those Wet Coast days I think might wash away all my sins if I stand in it long enough. The kind of rainy day that makes my head thick and my eyes heavy.

I sit by a window, umbrella-head after umbrella-head passing me by. Between pulled-taut hoods and umbrellas, I’m not sure anyone with a face remains. It’s like some surrealist daydream. The bobbing umbrella-heads.

This rain, these days… in some ways it’s all I’ve ever known.

photo 3

I drift off between the wet tires splashing and my clacking keys, wishing it was the clickety-clack of a train rumbling under me instead of the Wet Coast Writer soundtrack that it is.

I have a tentative date of November 1st, 2015, for when I set out on a bold adventure I hope will last me five years. Trains, planes, and automobiles: Steff Style. If I don’t leave earlier, that is.

I have ideas of where my path will lead but I’ve learned life’s more fun if you misplace the roadmap. Maybe I’ll plan it out, maybe I won’t.

For now, I have a rough idea of my first year abroad with pretty simple rules — stay nowhere less than two weeks or more than three months. I’ll tell you more about that one day.

I have many places on my list. Many weird little things I want to do, like ride as many funiculars as I can everywhere I can. Forage for food in every region I stay longer than 4 weeks in. Write ebook upon ebook, but in the classic travelogue or literary journal style, not the “I got your deets” type travel-writing one sees everywhere on the web.

I want to write about places and times, peoples and experiences. My culture-shock and awe. I want to dream of adventures to come then embark on a completely different journey than planned, and to be changed in every way by the world I get to explore.

I’ll sell half of what I own before I go, strategically “loan” my antiques to friends and family. I’ll start over with a simpler life when I return. I wonder sometimes how living around the world for five years and opting out of this rooted life, tapping into a roaming nomad life will change me. What new values will be sculpted? What parts of the old me will crystallize? How much metamorphoses do I have in me?

It’s a big goal. I don’t have anything emotional invested in making it to the end of that five years. Instead the end of the journey will be something organic. Like love or a really good sale — I’ll know it when I see it.

I want to live in locations as far flung as Tangier, Zagreb, Prague, off the beaten path in Spain, Cape Town, the vineyards of Mendoza. I want to sit in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, photograph Madagascar’s baobab trees, dip a toe in the Congo river while I read The Heart of Darkness. I want to walk the beaches of Fiji, visit family in Australia, live in the mountains of Ecuador. I want to see cherry blossoms in Japan, drink tea in Osaka, and ride a scooter in Vietnam.

The list keeps getting longer, because that’s what good lists do.

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So today I stare wistfully through my rain-soaked window, knowing that all this familiarity and routine is not long for my world. I relish in being bored and stuck in routine lately. I cherish bad hair and pajama days. I know it soon won’t be an option soon. Not for the better part of five years.

In the end, this life of mine where I’ve felt trapped in this costly part of the world is proving to be a gift — the gift of losing connection, of sensing opportunity, and of daring to take a chance.

I’ve deliberately made my departure date further away, because I think I want another summer here in Victoria. Like I say, I’m not married to my plans. I’m going to listen to the wind and go where it leads. Those winds may gust sooner than November, like say on my 42nd birthday in September. I’ll listen for the breeze and heed its way.

Paul Theroux once wrote that tourists don’t know where they’ve just been, and travellers don’t know where they’re going.

And so I daydream of all the many places I would love to see while committing to none of them. Wherever I start, it’ll be the adventure of a lifetime. With every day that passes, I grow a little more ready for it.

For now, I’ll return my gaze to the screen, fall back into the routine of the dayjob, and sigh wistfully about a future I’m not sure I can wait 11 months to begin.

As that day draws near, I’ll begin issuing ebooks of all kinds on my travels — the days leading up to it, the dreams I have for it, the plans and logistics of it, and more. If you’d like to be on the mailing list for when I begin issuing those books, that’s here.

A Quick Rant about Quick Travels

Three Norwegian guys are getting a lot of press today for breaking the world record for most countries visited in 24 hours. I railed against this in a tweet and was retweeted by a guy who’s visited all 198 countries by the age of 35, who is one of the three dudes who accomplished this.

So I sat and thought for a minute. Am I annoyed because of jealousy  that they have the opportunity to blow through all these countries? Well, sure, probably a little bit, but I think my angst is on a deeper level than that.

Beyond being able to say they’ve done this, what was really accomplished? Maybe a quick bowl of local food as landscape whizzed past? Like, anything? These guys are what can be called professional travellers — they’re not missing a lot because they’ve done these places, seen them before. But for the most part, a lot of speed travellers can’t say that.

“Collecting Airports”

We’re a society that’s in it for the pictures, the proof, the acclaim. “Pics, or it didn’t happen” isn’t just a catchphrase, it’s a lifestyle ethos.

As a passionate hobby photographer, it’s ironic for me to rail against “pics, or it didn’t happen,” but I at least try to be in the place I’m at. I try to absorb what’s around me, look for a better shot. I talk to people, engage. I mean, I just spent 24 hours in a town that’s only 60km away from me and I feel like I didn’t get enough time to see it all, and there’s only 50,000 population.

I think this “record” is just one small example of things I see happening a lot. Fortunately, I see others doing travel really well too, and they inspire me daily.

Photo from Lonely Planet

Photo from Lonely Planet

Different Folks, Different Trips

Travel is still a luxury for most of us. It’d be easy for someone to mock me as some observer who doesn’t have a clue, because I technically haven’t been a traveller for years. Yeah, I’ve been to England on a family trip, and when I owned a car I probably saw more via road trips than most people will see in a lifetime. After all, my vehicles racked up more than 500,000 kilometres before I became a walking/cycling gal. But when I roadtripped, I saw everything from the big, popular places, to really cool weird little places. I’ve been from Mexico to Alaska and halfway across Canada, and everywhere in between, and I still feel like there are so many more roadtrips I could take in just those regions.

But I guess that’s why it riles me up when I see “speed travellers.” People who seem to go to a place, be there, leave. Boom. Done. TAPPED THAT. There’s a Facebook update, so that happened. It’s a wasted chance, it seems.

It’s different when it’s for work and family. Short, whirlwind trips sometimes make sense. I’m talking about the “collecting” of airports and visa stamps, rushing through places so you can say you spent a day at best in some town before rushing to the next. Even that seems almost luxurious against this 19 countries in 24 hours challenge.

Travel is about seeing the world. Being of the world. Seeing cultures, trying foods. It’s about experience, not just brief exposure. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever sign up for a “five countries in seven days” vacation. I’d sooner not leave home than have to race for such a short and unrewarding trip I’ll mostly remember taking photos on, not being places.

That said, I don’t want to shit on this young guy who’s seen every country in the world. Would I kill for that experience? I probably would. I just know that I’d have constant regrets about places I didn’t linger. I’d have a new list, “Places I need to go back and see properly.” I’m sure he’ll never regret doing what he’s done, but instead might regret not seizing moments or blowing off the next leg, all because of some predetermined schedule. I’ve been there, too.

Travel: The World As a School

I have no idea what my five years of travel will entail. Travelling is, and should be, a deeply personal journey. That’s part of the beauty of it. There will be a lot of places where I stay long, and others I breeze through. In my travel dreams, I see myself learning local recipes, exploring markets only the locals go to, taking cooking and language classes, making friends who are from the countries, not just expats.

In the end, the important thing is just to travel. It’s critical we all realize just how much more binds us to each other than pushes us apart, how interconnected our environment is, and how much we take for granted. Travel is a crash course in humanity.

Or it can be, if you stand still sometimes, and look behind the curtains in others.

Slow down. Breathe. Life isn’t a race, and those lists of places “to go back to” — well, I’m old enough now to know just ow often we don’t get those do-overs.

 

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Dreams of Flight and Fancy

When I was growing up, I dreamed of going to places like Italy and France. I always thought they were out of my reach, far too expensive.

Before I could become the traveller I wanted to be in my 20s, life interfered with much stupid/tragic/disruptive stuff. Travelling didn’t happen beyond my roadtripping days, where I saw half of Canada and the whole west coast of North America, from Alaska to Mexico.

In hindsight, I understand why I got so dramatically derailed. I can say truthfully now that one’s propensity for having regrets grows exponentially with age. That’s hindsight for you. With wisdom comes the acceptance that there is much we could have done better, learned faster.

Staring down age 41, I have some of that regret, these days.

Surprisingly, not as much as I would have expected, given how unhappy I was, and for how long. As “old” as I feel, I also feel far younger than I would have thought for 40. I have excitement that I can still change things. I also have a sense that everything has kind of gone just as it should.

After all, becoming a world traveller in my 40s will mean I’m old enough to understand and appreciate all the culture around me. I’m wise enough to see what contentment is, and just how little is required to attain it. I’m cynical enough to look behind the curtains and ignore the tourist veneer. I’m confident and defensive enough to stroll off the well-trod path and find the “real” people and places behind the cultures I’m visiting.

I’ve been watching all my friends travel, and none of them have done it in the way I think I will. That’s the beauty of travel. It’s a world of options for a world of people. Literally.

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The Great Wandering Act of ’79

When I was soon to be six years old, we were on our first big family trip to Disneyland in ‘79. On a daytrip to Tijuana, I meandered off. I mean, not just a few feet away — I walked the hell off. I was gone for hours. My parents thought I was kidnapped. They waited to file a missing person’s report in the then-corrupt-as-hell-and-lacking-a-PR-department Mexican police station for two hours. My mother had $500 cash stolen from her IN THE POLICE STATION. This was in ‘79, man! Oh, Mexico. That’s a lot of dough.

Meanwhile, me, the absent 5-year-old, I was having a grand old time. I wandered the streets, talked to strangers. I bought a giant bag of candy and made a MILLION little Mexican friends who followed me around as I got them high on free candy.

Then I found my way into a street market and managed to barter with a vendor for a fringed leather cowgirl vest I would cherish for the next two years, followed by a Seiko watch.

I don’t remember how I reconnected with my parents, but I went back with no spending money, a candy-full tummy, a new vest, and a watch.

That afternoon, I learned about how sometimes people stole children and sold the kids to bad people. I never wandered off again. It was pretty fun while it lasted, though.

You Are What You Do

If this premise that our personalities are fully formed by age seven is true, then I guess my little wandering act says a lot about who I should be today.

It’s long overdue that I finally shift gears to be that wandering-act girl again.

When it comes to watching how all my friends are travelling, it’s helping me to decide the sort of traveller I wish to be. I don’t want to be breezing through places with only two to four weeks to see the region (or worse, less). I want to stay put, be a part of the place, become privy to the rhythm of their streets.

I see people shit on others who take trips and only see touristy things, but if I was confined to only a week or two, I would fall victim to the same dull scheme. That’s why I fancy the idea of 5 to 6 months spent per place. As a writer, I love the idea of really getting to know areas.

I’m also not deciding on a plan of attack. I want to see where the flow leads me. We live in an age where you don’t need to speak the language. Photo apps translate foreign-language signs, for crying out loud! Dictionaries and translators will speak for you at the press of a button.

Aside from medical vaccines, money, and visas, there’s no reason why one should be limited where they travel today. It’s an open-door world, thanks to gadgetry.

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Times Have Changed, As They Do

The world I thought was once too expensive to see has become far cheaper than where I now live. If I set the only parameter as being “must be 30% cheaper than where I live today” it seems as if more than half the world is an option for me.

It’s a strange phenomenon to go from a cheap little Canadian city to the most expensive in Canada, and top 100 in the world.

It seems an unrealistic goal, to spend my life travelling for a few years yet live for 30-40% cheaper than I presently do, but according to friends who’ve spent a year or more abroad, it’s not unrealistic at all.

It’s about choices, doing a little research, and being willing to live with less.

When you’re travelling, you don’t need entertainment. Your life is constantly new, entertaining. Stopping, pressing “pause” to spend time writing, or just wandering for photography, will become all-consuming. Writing, photography, they don’t cost money. They just take time.

Time I have too seldom of today. That’s my “pause” for this morning. Dreaming about the next phase. It’s taken some edge off some depressing world news I’d read before breakfast.

But later today I get to be a small-scale traveller as I go visit my brother in a town I’ve never seen before. Something new is always fun, even close to home.