Monday, May 16, 2011

Dark and light: Returning from photojournalism in Northern Uganda

Returning Home

Photos by the author

Returning from working as a photojournalist in Gulu, Northern Uganda, Richard Stupart finds it hard to go back to the life he left behind on departure. Coming to terms with how he has changed, how his home community hadnt, and trying to bridge the space between, was his hardest test of all.

LIGHT AND DARK are a simple analogy for so many things. Waiting at the baggage counter for my pack and pondering the miles of home beyond the exit gate, I think I would have done well to consider how light and dark interact. How they manage, in a way, to make each other. Allow you to see what it is you have left and what it is you are moving into. Your eyes adjust until someone opens a bright door and you hurt.

I didnt think any of these things at the time. Instead, I wondered why, for the first time returning from a journey, I felt panicked.

I couldnt make sense of that reaction two days ago, and withdrew into a pattern of sleeping, checking email, and avoiding people. Mostly avoiding people. Avoiding people and their peopley things. The malls. The weekend get togethers over drinks. The five/two rhythm of salaried working life and the stories that come to make up its universe.

Light & Dark

Photo by author

Mostly, I didnt want to have to talk about the last two weeks. How was it? is a question so easily asked, but the weight of the explanation that it compelled me to give was just too large. Too inappropriate.

Ten minute appraisals in the middle of everyone elses weekly story seemed too disrespectful. A full emotional explanation would be impossible. An attempt to give one would be poor conversational etiquette.

Would lower the mood.

Nobody wants to hear about people who lost their limbs or their children. The old lady who gets wet when it rains because she is too old and doesnt have the money to reach and repair the bullet holes in her tin roof. The interview that eventually became hard to track which daughter was raped when.

Maybe that was why nobody asks how it was. Its easier not to know.

And its easier for me to believe that than to think that nobody really cares about these characters from another world.

Except that they arent simply characters. Theyre not only points of intellectual interest, or a platform for a discussion about the merits of this type of development aid versus that type. They are living, breathing, acting people that could so easily be assisted in the lives they are trying to fashion for themselves and their children. Not help, like some anonymous charity. Some unit expense to salve a conscience. But to assist. To work with.

Light & Dark

Abo Anna. Photo by author

They are friends you havent met yet. People you might actually quite like. Might laugh with. Might come to care about. They are as real as the people we cry about when they break up with us, or lend a hand to move their house, or drop their kids off somewhere.

Except that they are more than a thousand miles away, and so they cant make friends of people like you or me.

Before I left, I thought it would be a journey into darkness. To meet the people that the Lords Resistance Army did their terrible deeds to. I thought that there I would need to struggle emotionally. And yet I recall mostly laughter. Smiles and new friends. People who gave their time freely to talk about all sorts of things.

Yes, the painful things. But also the dancing. People coming over to play the harp for us. To tag along on an election campaign rally. To show us fat piglets and kids who laugh a good deal more than many I have seen at home.

It has taken two days since returning and a great deal of soul searching to realise that I had the metaphor wrong. There is no darkness there. No place deserving of a divine, benevolent light. Instead, the darkness lies here. Lies at home. In the fact that we arent interested in the stories of the places like Gulu.

It lies in the way this world smothers the stories of the lives of these people and reduces them to simple silhouettes that we can deal with in the coins we pop into an aid collection tin. In darkness, its difficult to see the texture and fine detail of a place. Of people. In darkness its hard to relate as equals, one to another.

Every story I was told. Every life shared and memory created together in Gulu is a little piece of light in the blindness of the world beyond the airport arrival gate. I can see it now in the undeniable detail that each renders about places and lives that in so many senses of the word we cannot see from here. If the metaphorical light needs to be brought anywhere, it needs to be brought here to the places where we are blindest.

Community Connection

Have you ever had trouble translating your experiences while traveling both to yourself and to others? What worked to help you cope with the difficulties of return?


Thursday, May 12, 2011

How to: Hitchhike as a couple

Hitchhiking can be intimidating, especially doing it solo. Pairing up is a good way to ease into the practice. Here, Alice Driver talks about some of her experiences on the road, and offers some tips.

HITCHHIKING IS DANGEROUS. Youre crazy! This is what I heard repeatedly when I shared my post-wedding travel plans. In 2006, recently after my husband, Isaac, and I got married, we left for a year of travel. In South America we hitchhiked around Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia. Over three days, we made our way from Puno, Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia.

I was a child of hippies and grew up hearing stories of how my Dad, his brothers, and their wives divided up their children and hitchhiked from Arkansas to Michigan for the 60th birthday of their mother.

We hitched rides with families, workers, and truckers in the back of a dump truck full of sand, in the air-conditioned cab of a semi, on the tailgate of a truck. We chatted with farmers, young girls with long braids, and old men with gravely voices.

Between rides, we walked the dusty roads of the rural, northeastern side of Lake Titicaca. Hitchhiking allowed us to be immersed in Spanish and to share ideas with people from all walks of life.

Before our trip, I had no experience hitchhiking, even though I was a child of hippies and grew up hearing stories of how my Dad, his brothers, and their wives divided up their children and hitchhiked from Arkansas to Michigan for the 60th birthday of their mother.

However, as a woman, I never imagined that I would hitchhike due to the potential dangers. Several years before I met Isaac, he spent a summer hitchhiking from Massachusetts to California with a stop at the Burning Man festival.

During our relationship he told me stories from the road and the characters he met while hitchhiking. He convinced me that it would be a great way to get to know the people.

As we hitched rides we learned slang from locals, discussed our plans to have children, asked about local politics, or looked down on the world from the top of a dump truck. Just as we felt more comfortable hitchhiking as a couple, people seemed to feel more comfortable giving us rides.

Peruvian kids

Photo: markg6

Everyone wanted to know when we were going to have kids. They would laugh when I said I wanted two kids and Isaac said he wanted four. Often, families invited us into their homes for a snack or offered to host us for the night.

Most recently, in January of 2010, we spent time hitchhiking in Honduras from Tela to the Garfuna fishing village of Miami. A policeman picked us up and drove us a short way until his low-lying car got stuck in the mud, and he had to turn around. We then jumped on the back of a recycling truck. We also hitched from La Cieba to the mountain village of Las Mangas.

As we shared rides, I asked locals to teach me Honduran sayings and slang. I learned El que anda con lobos, a aullar aprende (He that walks with wolves learns to howl). One young boy who rode in the back of a truck with us invited us to his home and later took us swimming in the Ro Cangrejal.

That afternoon, we shared plates of beans and rice with his parents and asked them about their life in the small village of Las Mangas. On their recommendation, we traveled up the dirt road to visit the womens sewing cooperative in El Pital.

The tourist experience is often segregated or limited to meeting only other tourists or people of a particular socio-economic background. What I love about hitchhiking is that it breaks down barriers and reminds me how much there is to learn from others.

10 Tips for hitchhiking as a couple

  • Speak the language if you want the kinds of experiences Ive described above.
  • Maintain a clean-cut appearance. Isaac usually shaves off his beard before we hitch. If you look clean, you are more likely to get rides.
  • Travel light. Leave your belongings locked at a hostel, hotel, or apartment if you are making a short trip. If you are traveling with a big backpack, dont carry many valuables.
  • Be curious. Strike up a conversation with the people who offer you rides, and show interest in their daily lives and culture.
  • hitchhiker

    Photo: elidelaney

  • Be safe. If you have any hesitancy about riding with someone, dont get in the car. Isaac and I often try to hitchhike with families, as it feels more comfortable and safe to travel with children.
  • Communicate. Work out a system to communicate with your significant other in case an emergency arises or one of you becomes uncomfortable with a particular ride.
  • Have a plan of action for emergencies or discuss how to deal with difficult situations. It is wise to carry a cell phone and have an emergency contact in the area just in case you get stuck somewhere.
  • Share your food with others. The stomach can be the quickest way to friendship.
  • Improve your language skills by asking about local slang or popular sayings.
  • Be prepared to wait. Have food, water, and a pack of cards with you just in case rides are scarce. Also bring a hat and a jacket to protect yourself from excess sun or rain.
  • Community Connection

    Dont miss our Hitchhikers Guide to Hitchhiking and How To: Hitchhike in Southern Africa.


    Monday, May 9, 2011

    The long and short of happiness

    BNT intern, Rich Stupart, gives the skinny on the difference between passing and true happiness.

    OUTSIDE A TOWN IN ZAMBIA named Chisikesi, there is a mission station. Its home to a number of Jesuit priests who had to settle outside of the popular area because the Seventh Day Adventists stole their land claim almost a century ago. In that mission station was a priest named Matthew, and I had just asked him how he could be so sure he was doing Gods work. I might have been trying to be difficult. I cant quite remember.

    But I do remember his answer.

    Matthew explained that the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius, had argued for a distinction between a type of true happiness and short, passing happiness. By way of illustration, doing good such as participating in charity or opening up and sharing with others produces a feeling of deep happiness which remains over time. Even the memory of doing the thing can bring back a smile and a recollection of the happiness that the event brought about.

    Most importantly, Matthew explained, was that the happiness was rooted in the fact that it came from being part of a pattern of behaviour that had purpose. Paradoxically, the participation itself may not even be pleasurable, but it serves as a small building block towards a larger sense of existential happiness. The sense that I am moving in a good direction, or that I am fulfilling a purpose with my life.

    In contrast with this, the passing, false happiness is often shallow and short lived, offering little in the way of further happiness in recalling the memory of the event. Happiness through consumption, Matthew explained, was an example of this. Buying a new toy produces a short instance of happiness, which quickly passes. Remembering the purchase of the item a year or more down the line will not produce the same smile, the same fond memory.

    This first happiness, which comes from a deeper sense of purpose, is the one that matters, Matthew explained. Call it God; call it the greater good; call it what ever you like. The satisfaction it brings is of a different fundamental type and can be recalled and remembered.

    Its interesting, then, that science seems to agree with Matthew. A study from the University of Wisconsin not only agrees with the fairly uncontroversial notion that consumptive, hedonistic happiness is not fulfilling in the longer term, but that happiness through having purpose known as eudaimonic happiness may actually have an observable physical effect on our long term health. In particular, the study found that:

    Participants with low education level and greater eudaimonic well-being had lower levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory marker of disease associated with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimers disease, than those with lower eudaimonic well-being, even after taking hedonic well-being into account. The work was published in the journal Health Psychology.

    David Bennett, director of the Alzheimers Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and his colleagues showed that eudaimonic well-being conferred benefits related to Alzheimers. Over a seven-year period, those reporting a lesser sense of purpose in life were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimers disease compared with those reporting greater purpose in life, according to an analysis published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry. The study involved 950 individuals with a mean age of about 80 at the start of the study.

    In a separate analysis of the same group of subjects, researchers have found those with greater purpose in life were less likely to be impaired in carrying out living and mobility functions, like housekeeping, managing money and walking up or down stairs. And over a five-year period they were significantly less likely to dieby some 57% than those with low purpose in life.

    One explanation as to why this should be the case, according to neuroscientists, is that those with higher eudaimonic happiness tend to use the pre-frontal cortex more than others an area of the brain which affects higher-order thinking, goal-setting, and memory skills which assist in creating a fundamentally less-stressed outlook towards the challenges that life brings. The researchers further observed that the motivations behind the activity have a fundamental bearing on the levels of happiness that it brings about.

    Those performing typically eudaimonic-happiness-inducing activities obtained little fulfillment from them where they were forced to do so, or where their primary motivation for doing so was the expectation of material rewards later (If I do this, then it will help my career, pay off later, etc). The behaviour needed to actually be seen as part of a larger project to live with purpose, and make the most of oneself.

    It seems, then, that if you spend your life doing things that are meaningful to you, you may, quite literally, end up having the last laugh.

    Community Connection

    Do you agree? Looking back, do you feel there is a distinction in the happiness you obtained from activities you engaged in with a longer-term purpose in mind?


    The Long and Short of Happiness

    BNT intern, Rich Stupart, gives the skinny on the difference between passing and true happiness.

    OUTSIDE A TOWN IN ZAMBIA named Chisikesi, there is a mission station. Its home to a number of Jesuit priests who had to settle outside of the popular area because the Seventh Day Adventists stole their land claim almost a century ago. In that mission station was a priest named Matthew, and I had just asked him how he could be so sure he was doing Gods work. I might have been trying to be difficult. I cant quite remember.

    But I do remember his answer.

    Matthew explained that the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius, had argued for a distinction between a type of true happiness and short, passing happiness. By way of illustration, doing good such as participating in charity or opening up and sharing with others produces a feeling of deep happiness which remains over time. Even the memory of doing the thing can bring back a smile and a recollection of the happiness that the event brought about.

    Most importantly, Matthew explained, was that the happiness was rooted in the fact that it came from being part of a pattern of behaviour that had purpose. Paradoxically, the participation itself may not even be pleasurable, but it serves as a small building block towards a larger sense of existential happiness. The sense that I am moving in a good direction, or that I am fulfilling a purpose with my life.

    In contrast with this, the passing, false happiness is often shallow and short lived, offering little in the way of further happiness in recalling the memory of the event. Happiness through consumption, Matthew explained, was an example of this. Buying a new toy produces a short instance of happiness, which quickly passes. Remembering the purchase of the item a year or more down the line will not produce the same smile, the same fond memory.

    This first happiness, which comes from a deeper sense of purpose, is the one that matters, Matthew explained. Call it God; call it the greater good; call it what ever you like. The satisfaction it brings is of a different fundamental type and can be recalled and remembered.

    Its interesting, then, that science seems to agree with Matthew. A study from the University of Wisconsin not only agrees with the fairly uncontroversial notion that consumptive, hedonistic happiness is not fulfilling in the longer term, but that happiness through having purpose known as eudaimonic happiness may actually have an observable physical effect on our long term health. In particular, the study found that:

    Participants with low education level and greater eudaimonic well-being had lower levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory marker of disease associated with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimers disease, than those with lower eudaimonic well-being, even after taking hedonic well-being into account. The work was published in the journal Health Psychology.

    David Bennett, director of the Alzheimers Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and his colleagues showed that eudaimonic well-being conferred benefits related to Alzheimers. Over a seven-year period, those reporting a lesser sense of purpose in life were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimers disease compared with those reporting greater purpose in life, according to an analysis published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry. The study involved 950 individuals with a mean age of about 80 at the start of the study.

    In a separate analysis of the same group of subjects, researchers have found those with greater purpose in life were less likely to be impaired in carrying out living and mobility functions, like housekeeping, managing money and walking up or down stairs. And over a five-year period they were significantly less likely to dieby some 57% than those with low purpose in life.

    One explanation as to why this should be the case, according to neuroscientists, is that those with higher eudaimonic happiness tend to use the pre-frontal cortex more than others an area of the brain which affects higher-order thinking, goal-setting, and memory skills which assist in creating a fundamentally less-stressed outlook towards the challenges that life brings. The researchers further observed that the motivations behind the activity have a fundamental bearing on the levels of happiness that it brings about.

    Those performing typically eudaimonic-happiness-inducing activities obtained little fulfillment from them where they were forced to do so, or where their primary motivation for doing so was the expectation of material rewards later (If I do this, then it will help my career, pay off later, etc). The behaviour needed to actually be seen as part of a larger project to live with purpose, and make the most of oneself.

    It seems, then, that if you spend your life doing things that are meaningful to you, you may, quite literally, end up having the last laugh.

    Community Connection

    Do you agree? Looking back, do you feel there is a distinction in the happiness you obtained from activities you engaged in with a longer-term purpose in mind?


    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    80 things we wish we knew before we started traveling

    haggling

    Tip # : Haggling is NOT a competition / Photo: TheeErin

    Tips from experienced travelers, for newbies and veterans alike.


    HINDSIGHT IS 20/20, right? Well, foresight can be near to it when you have the expertise of some seriously savvy travelers at your fingertips. Like the Matador team. If youre starting out on your first trip, this is for you. Hell, even if its your 20th trip, this is for you too. I know I learned a lot putting it together.

    On preparing for your trip

    1. Print your entire itinerary and flight tickets/confirmations. Store these with your passports. You cant always rely on Internet access or electricity to pull this info off your phone or laptop.

    2. Keep a copy of your passport and never have all of your forms of identification or access to cash (ATM/credit cards) in the same bag. If that one gets lost or stolen, you are SOL.

    3. Check in with friends and family from time to time, especially when traveling alone. Its a good idea for someone to always know where your next movements are, just in case.

    On talking to airline agents

    4. Always be patient and polite. This person could be the difference between you getting the flight that night or having to spend it on the airport floor.

    Travel in low season. In places like Thailand and India, food and accommodation can be half the price.

    Bad: Can you get me on the next flight out I cant miss my connection to Europe!

    Good: Excuse me, Barbara. I totally understand you guys are slammed right now, but if you have one minute, Id really appreciate if you could try to get me on that next flight out, otherwise Ill miss my international connection. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

    5. Call the airline if youre getting stonewalled, and find an agent that is willing to help you. Keep calling until you get the answer you want. Many times agents are trained differently and some are better than others.

    On budgeting abroad

    6. Travel in low season. In places like Thailand and India, food and accommodation can be half the price. And there is still plenty of sunshine.

    7. Use the Share-a-bill iPhone app when traveling with friends. It helps to track who spends what so no more arguing about money.

    8. Track your spending. If you have a laptop, use a spreadsheet and set up some simple formulas to automatically add up your purchases. Or simply write it all down in your journal. Be vigilant.

    9. Set up a new account to pull from on the road. Limit yourself to that, so when its gone, you come home.

    10. Check your bank account options. Withdrawing overseas can be a huge cost, so make sure you know the fees. It might be worth it to upgrade to a premium account that includes international ATM withdrawals (and sometimes your service fee can be waived if you keep a minimum amount in the account).

    11. Know the exchange rate of your destination countries ahead of time.

    foreign atm

    Photo: Z17R0

    12. Dont use travelers checks. These are a pain in the ass to cash in, and the fees can be very costly.

    13. Have local currency when you arrive (preferably small denominations). Having to exchange money at the airport when you land is expensive. If you do have to exchange at the airport, shop around a bit if possible. The first one you encounter is likely to be the most expensive.

    14. Try your hardest to avoid currency exchange places. The exchange rate at these are the worst, especially in airports and train stations. Always better to get the local currency from an ATM.

    15. Buy food and booze at large grocery stores, instead of going out to bars and restaurants.

    16. Do research ahead of time and book a reservation at a hostel that is both nice and inexpensive. Walking around with a backpack on looking for a cheaper place to stay isnt fun when youre exhausted from traveling all day.

    17. Check out Craigslist, HomeAway, Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), and AirBnB for apartments to rent in the places youre visiting these are often cheaper than hotels and hostels.

    18. Use Couchsurfing for free accommodations. [*Note: Never use this site solely for free accommodations. The main purpose is cultural exchange and to meet people. Reciprocate if possible when you return home.]

    19. Dont book domestic flights at the same time you get your international flights. Booking close to the departure dates from inside the country can be much cheaper. For example, flying into Kathmandu from New York is really expensive if you make that your destination and book from the US. It is much cheaper to fly from JFK to Bangkok, spend a night or two, and then book the flight from BKK to Katmandu on a local Asian airline.

    On meeting people when traveling alone

    20. Use Couchsurfing to meet folks for coffee or tea or to join in a group event. If youre hesitant about it, check out Overcome Your Fear: How to Practice Safe Couchsurfing.

    21. Sit at a bar and strike up a conversation with the bartender. Theyre possibly bored, know a lot about the town, and might introduce you to other regulars.

    22. Stay in a hostel, even if you want to stay in a private room. You can always meet people in the common areas.

    23. Share information with other travelers. What goes around comes around. When you give others a leg up, it comes back to you down the road.

    [*Note: Meeting people is never compulsory. Don't feel bad if you're not up for it.]

    On researching a trip vs winging it

    24. Be flexible, situations can change very fast and you dont want to miss out on things if you have a rigid plan.

    25. Research Couchsurfing and similar sites to find forums for cities you plan on traveling through. Ask locals and expats questions. You might even make some contacts before you go. Dont forget to check the Matador Travel forums!

    26. Understand you never have time to see EVERYTHING. And be okay with it.

    27. If you dont have time to research or buy a guide, at least have a map, whether its downloaded to your handheld, printed, or bought.

    On adapting to a new country

    28. Get out and about as much as possible. Orient yourself as soon as you can, and learn at least some basic expressions of the language ASAP. Taking a course locally can help with meeting people, too.

    29. Talk to the front desk staff at your hostel (if youre staying in one), they will have all kinds of advice for you. They know what theyre talking about, so reach out to them.

    30. Find a room in a shared house with locals.

    On food

    31. Learn food words in the local language. Youll be eating three times a day in whatever country youre in.

    32. Have snacks (e.g. nuts, fruit) handy. Theres nothing worse than settling on something because youre too hungry and annoyed to keep looking for the perfect restaurant.

    33. Carry a couple Cliff Bars with you. The train might be late, the bus ride might last four hours longer than you thought. Keep your mind working at its best by staying nourished.

    34. Avoid fruits and veggies that cant be peeled or cooked when in developing countries. For more info, read Robin Esrocks How to travel in India and not get sick.

    35. Eat street food. In many places, this is how the locals eat on a regular basis. Its a great opportunity to get an inside peak into the culture.

    On taking taxis and other transport

    36. Find out the procedure and price for getting a taxi. You will most likely get ripped off at least once, but dont worry about it. Let it be a learning lesson.

    Carry a dummy wallet with some expired credit and bank cards. Hand that over if you get robbed.

    37. Pay attention to how things are done, like observing how the locals get on the bus and pay. Every place has their own system.

    38. If youre driving in sketchy places, make sure the back doors are locked, keep your bags on the floor instead of on your lap, and be vigilant when stopping at intersections.

    39. Always negotiate the price of a cab BEFORE you start towards your destination. If the cabbie is unwilling to agree on a price when you get in and hes not using a meter, get out and find another cab.

    40. If youre on a long bus trip and theres a break, always make sure you keep an eye on the driver when he/she gets back on the bus, theyre going to leave.

    On staying safe

    41. Dont keep all your cards and cash together. Use multiple pockets so if your cash gets ripped off, your ATM card doesnt have go with it.

    42. Carry a dummy wallet with some expired credit and bank cards. Hand that over if you get robbed.

    43. Dont carry your passport with you. Keep it locked in a safe if possible or hidden away. Carry a copy of the passport.

    44. Keep your eyes peeled. Stay aware of your surroundings. If you get the feeling that something isnt right, pay attention to it. That feeling is real.

    45. Dont get drunk. This is when youre at your most vulnerable and can make poor decisions.

    46. Wear a jacket with an upper-breast zipper pocket where you can put passport/docs, even camera/wallet. Pretty impossible to thieve from.

    47. Dont travel with a laptop unless its necessary (e.g. your work). There are cyber cafes all over the world for easy Internet access.

    48. Dont wear any jewelry, dont carry your dSLR in a brand new bag that screams CAMERA, dont carry a fat wallet in your back pocket, and dont pull out a big stash of money when you are paying for something at a counter.

    49. Keep all your valuables and documents close to you when taking long distance bus rides. Not in your backpack thats in the luggage compartment.

    Read How to NOT Get Robbed When Traveling in a Dangerous Country for more tips.

    On health while abroad

    50. Drink lots of water. To help with jetlag, drink at least three liters in the 24 hours before your flight. Dont let yourself get thirsty.

    drink water

    Photo: anaulin

    51. Pack some Ciproflaxin (aka Cipro). This is a miracle anti-biotic that is used to treat all kinds of things, from a bad stomach bug to a bladder infection or UTI.

    52. Always bring Neosporin and bandaids. Neosporin is another miracle medicine. Its a simple over-the-counter ointment that will fight off infection in open cuts. It will also fight off any sort of rash or skin irritation and it can be tough to find in local pharmacies.

    53. Carefully consider bringing malaria pills or not. Many places the health office says you need them, you dont. Inoculation/immunization is big business and they want to sell pills. Do your research carefully and read forums with advice from other travelers.

    On connecting with locals

    54. Learn some of the local language. It will not only give you confidence, but will give you a ready-made excuse to talk to anyone (to ask for help or practice).

    55. Avoid getting trapped in expat bubbles tap their knowledge but dont use them as a comfort blanket.

    ABC. Always Be Charging. Whenever you can, plug those electronics in and keep those batteries juiced.

    56. Keep a promise book with you (can just be the back of your travel journal). Use this to help keep the promises you make to the people you meet on the road (e.g. sending the photo you took of them). Be good to your word.

    57. Dont just seek out conversation with your peers. Some of the best connections you can make abroad are with the very old or very young, even if all you get out of them is a warm smile.

    On carrying electronics

    58. If you do decide to take a laptop, get a cheap and light netbook. You have the benefit of having a familiar keyboard and if all the computers are taken at the cyber cafe, you can just find wifi somewhere.

    59. ABC. Always Be Charging. Whenever you can, plug those electronics in and keep those batteries juiced.

    60. Find out what adapters you need for your trip and make sure those are packed. Also make sure your electronics meet the electricity standards of your destination (110V AC, 220V AC, etc).

    On taking photos without being obnoxious

    61. Smile. This is key; it will make you seem approachable and non-threatening.

    62. Make an effort to communicate even if you dont speak a common language besides hello, thanks, and goodbye. Hand gestures work as good as verbal conversations.

    63. Observe their work and, if possible, momentarily partake in their work with them to let them know its not insignificant whether helping a porter take down the tent, or lending a hand to a baker. This also builds a quick transient level of trust.

    64. Respect and sensitivity should always trump the perfect shot. Let people pray or meditate in peace. Stop following that monk or little kid around. Let people pull you into their lives when they are ready.

    65. Make eye contact with the people you are photographing, even if you are taking pictures of their merchandise. Make eye contact with parents when taking photos of children.

    66.Show your photos to your subjects. Make good on your promise if you tell them you will send them copies.

    On haggling

    67. Haggling is not a competition its a way for the buyer and seller to agree on a price that is acceptable to both parties. Humour goes a long way in defusing heated situations.

    68. Try to learn a few sentences like How much or Thats too expensive in the local language. Itll make the vendor smile and often will agree to lower the price.

    On border crossings

    69. Know well in advance the visa requirements for all your destinations. Some can take weeks to obtain.

    70. Have solid and prepared answers when crossing borders, especially between the US, UK, and Canada. Check out these tips learned from an experience crossing from the US to Canada.

    71. Always check that your passport is stamped with a correct date before leaving the immigration center. If theres a mistake, you can get in trouble (not the immigration officer).

    72. Never say your purpose for entering a country is work if you are a journalist on a press trip. You can avoid the 20 questions game this way and also ensure they dont try to charge you extra for a different visa.

    On packing

    73. Bring cable ties and ziplock bags. Cable ties for holding things closed or tying bundles together. Ziplock bags for things that are wet (damp clothes, stuff that is stained, etc) or things that might break and mess up other things (suncream, that bottle of snake wine, etc).

    74. Always pack a headlamp. You will be surprised at how often you will find a use for it.

    75. Bring a sarong with you (men too). It can be useful for so many things like covering yourself in holy places, a bedsheet in shady hostels, a towel, a beach/park blanket. Tip: to keep cool at night in a hot place, soak the sarong and wrap it around you while you sleep.

    On relationships

    76. Sex with random people while youre traveling wont make you feel less lonely or forget the (ex)partner you have (had) back home.

    77. Sometimes a stroll with someone youve just met, holding hands (with optional make-out session) in a plaza somewhere in Costa Rica or Mexico, feels better than anything.

    78. You cant expect it, but its possible to meet your life-partner while traveling. She or he could be right there on the bus with you.

    79. Have reasonable expectations (or, better yet, none at all!). If you take a trip to heal a broken heart, be aware that you could potentially feel worse.

    On place

    80. Theres a tendency sometimes to think this place will always be here. I can do more here later. Places change a lot faster than you can imagine. Whatever it is you need to do, do it now.

    Community Connection

    What do you wish youd known before you started traveling? Share below.


    On saying goodbye (and travel without traveling)

    adios

    Photo: Pink0901

    Its transition time; the time between the seasons when many good friends leave.

    IVE WAXED POETIC about my new hometown, Nelson, BC, many times in recent months, as anyone who knows me or has been following along could attest to. Since moving here Ive really started to understand the importance of community and connection. It really is about people.

    Saying goodbye is a common occurrence for travelers. It doesnt make it any easier though, in my opinion. Saying goodbye is always hard. Ive been walking around these days with a heavy feeling an impending sadness. The thing about Nelson is that its an extremely transient town. This is part of the excitement of living here; the opportunity to meet so many great people who are passing through. Of course, the flip side to that is having to say bye to them at some point.

    Doing this on the road is one thing. When Ive said adios while traveling its usually been under my conditions. Even when its not, the newness of what lays ahead serves to blunt the sharp edge of parting. Being still I dont seem to have this luxury. Someone comes into town, we make friends, they leave, and here I am.

    speeding train

    Photo: smaedli

    I always say to people that living here is a great exercise in facing attachment issues. Its a great exercise in learning how to say goodbye. How to let go. Right now, we are in a transition period. School is over (many of my friends are students) so lots leave to go back home or to work for the summer. Some return, but some do not.

    When I first arrived in Nelson, I put forth a lot of effort in plugging myself in, using Couchsurfing to meet a few people, which inevitably led to meeting others. I surrounded myself with a nice little circle of friends. Potluck dinners were had, music shows were attended, beer was drank. After a few months, my friends started to slowly leave.

    I entered a new phase. I saw a girl. I made new friends. But then they started to leave too. Its the seasons. Skiers and snowboarders come for the deep champagne powder of the local mountain, Whitewater (aka WH20). Then they leave.

    Its springtime now and Ive been working in the garden (my first time gardening), watching things sprout and grow and bloom. I experienced an amazing friendship sprout, grow, and bloom in the past couple of months. She left today. And still, more made their way out of town last week.

    Its hard to take, all this leaving. But I have to remember to acknowledge and appreciate what these people brought into my life for the time they were in it. Each one builds upon me, each one a reflection of who I am, which I then reflect outwards. Some will be back. Many will not. But there are always more coming.