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Travel Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages to Life on the Road --> a joint contribution with my husband Chris

(1) No cleaning for three months
I have not scrubbed a single toilet, not waxed any floors. I have however, hand washed a multitude of clothes in various sinks with various soaps and cleaners. But I haven't vacuumed or done any heavy cleaning since we packed up and moved out of our house in March.

(2) Becoming Improvisational and Instinctive
Traveling forces you to be creative, to try new things, to go without. Often I have not had the regular tools I need. For example, early on in our trip, I lost my baby changing pad. There are not really any changing tables in Italy, so I have changed my son on rugs, benches, floors; and generally I have to use paper towels, wipes, bags, sweatshirts...anything I can find to attempt a sanitary changing area. At first, it can be annoying to not have what you need. As you get into a flow of travel however, it becomes almost fun to see what you can come up with when squeezed for options. I have improved at adapting to situations overall. Making baby food out of restaurant bread and fruit stands, using juice or watered-down rice cereal when I don't have milk, creating toys from scratch. Airplane bags become puppets, pan lids are cymbals, hotel telephones when unplugged become perfect entertainment. It is always a challenge and requires creative thought and new ideas, keeping me on my toes and adapting more than I would if I had everything.

(3) Less is more
When you travel with only three outfits, after a short amount of time you realize that this is all you really need. A sweater when it is cold. A bathing suit for swimming. Nice pants or a skirt for dinner, something casual for touring and travel days. Life becomes simpler, easier. There is no clutter to distract you from your life as you are currently living it. For long-term travel, often people have consolidated their life prior to travel, so their bills are online, their things are in storage, there is not much 'at home' that needs attending. Often when you are living on the road, your whole life is where you are. So you pay as you go, with prepaid cell phones and cash. If you buy something new, it is to replace something you lost or that was ruined. Nothing is extraneous. I most emphatically recommend tidying up your life prior to long-term travel (as in over a month), because it gets complicated to pay bills, deal with mail, cancel memberships, contact people, etc all via email from thousands of miles away. Much easier to eliminate what you can (I cancelled two credit cards before I left, traveling only with one personal card, one business card and one debit card). I made most of our bills automatic payments onto the credit card, so I in fact only have to look at one bill online, and pay it directly online from my bank. Reduce, Simplify, and Go.

(4) Control your expenses
Without a mortgage or rent to keep up with, you are free to travel in a style that suits your taste and budget. There are hostels which can accommodate you for (usually) much less than $50 per night or you can stay in a fancy resort for $400 per night...it is entirely up to you! The best part is that you are not subjected to the greater movements in the housing markets, where the amount you have to pay remains fixed but the value of what you are paying for is steadily in decline. Just ask most any new home buyer in the past 3 years... We personally have diligently tracked our expenses from the time of our first major travel excursion (1 year) in 2002-3 and through 3 different homes. We have found that the amount we spend in an average month while on the road is approximately 2/3 the cost of a month living in a similar situation in a stationary location. In other words, being on the road is generally cheaper than being in one place. Most people do not believe us. This is generally something that shocks everyone when we tell them we spend less traveling than when we were living in a house with utilities and all of our stuff. Part of this is taking a more minimalist approach, but some of it is just a basic equation when all expenses in hotels and rentals are fixed, whereas all of the 'extras' in a house can add up. When we first started traveling full-time on a year-around-the-world trip in 2002, the first question most people asked was, "how can you afford it?" At first this was a funny question, then it became annoying. The real question is how can you get paid, or how can you make money while you travel. Or how much do you have put away in savings? Because the reality is that the amount of money it takes to travel is less than what you need to live in the same place, if you can find a way to do it.

(5) Less distractions
Our life at home was very pleasurable...always something on TV, always something to eat in the fridge, always a bottle of wine in the basement...you know what I mean. Some of you might not want to live without these comforts at your fingertips, we certainly miss them sometimes; however, they can, at least in my case, take away from the things I really love and want to do. We used to eat dinner in front of the TV occasionally... As of today, I have not watched a TV in 3 months. We used to have an Italian night 1X/week, I now study Italian every day. I write so much I am getting carpal tunnel. We get the things we need when we need them... stockpiling is useless when you have to carry everything you own to the next place, so you keep it light. The best part is that, for reasons I am not entirely clear on, we appreciate the simple pleasures that much more... and we live almost entirely in the moment.

(6) The literal ability to go anywhere, do anything
This is all dependent on where you are choosing to travel, your 'means' of procuring income (i.e. can you be anywhere or are you stationed overseas in a particular spot?), and your preferences. But I love that while traveling, if we hear about a great event coming up somewhere nearby, we are often free to go attend. There are no obligations holding us back from experiencing life. For instance, the Tour de France was in Paris, but we were living in Lucca. Well, a quick flight, and there we were for a weekend in Paris to watch the Tour. We made the decision to come to Lucca while we were in Prague, miles away, when we found out my husband could start at his Italian school mid-month, so we planned our trip and booked our apartment. The freedom of life on the road is infectious, especially in Europe where so many different places, events, cultures are only a quick train or plane ride away. There are so many choices you can make, where to go, what to do...

Disadvantages

(1) Less time with family and friends
This is obviously self-explanatory, but the most difficult part about traveling is missing the ones you love. It gets even more difficult when you travel with children...and they don't get as much time with your families and friends as you would hope.

(2) Less social interaction / language barriers
We actually have quite a lot of social interaction when you get into the groove of traveling and meet other fellow travelers, or when you stop in one place long enough to make friends, start conversations and you definitely meet interesting people along the way. But when you are in another country, esp one where you do not speak the language well, it is tough to get past that superficial level of friendliness to have someone to lean on and discuss deep issues of life with...which often leaves yourself and your travel partner as your 'everything'. It can be a lot of pressure on a relationship to provide everything that you need... Often while traveling, you have to rely ONLY on yourself and your partner to get by in many ways, which can be emotionally exhausting. Also, as a parent, there are no babysitters (well, unless you get lucky), no temporary help while you take a shower or run errands, no date nights. You are traveling as a team, for better or worse, all the time. This builds unity and connectedness but can also build frustration and test patience as distance between you is compressed.

(4) The rule of one thing/one thing out
When you have a fixed amount of weight you can carry with you on an airplane you are limited to how many things you can acquire - don't even bother trying to fly on Ryan Air. We do our best to live by the rule that when you buy something you really like or want, then something else has to go...trust me, this will entirely change you perspective on the cost vs. benefit of buying anything, unless it is really needed i.e. an umbrella in a rain storm...

(5) Mishaps, Mistakes, and Adversity
It helps to have either infinite patience or a fabulous sense of humor, but either way, sometimes you lose. There are inevitably those times where something doesn't work out. Your first train is late and you miss your connection. You have to stay an additional night in a place you do not want to be, or you get lost along the way. You lose your tickets, or your money, or your bags... You have to expect the unexpected.

(6) Planes, Trains and Automobiles
There can be so much travel, and so much time spent going from place to place. Logistics, logistics, logistics. It can be exhausting, difficult, tedious, sweaty, and plain painful at times to always be on the move. It can also mean long journeys by plane, train, bus, boat, whatever. You get used to getting where you need to go by every form of transportation, except possibly mules. The timing can be challenging, early morning flights, long mile walks from the train station to the hotel dragging your bags and stroller across town in sweltering heat or thunderstorms...there can be moments when the travel parts are less than ideal, and the travel from place to place is less about the journey than it is about the destination!

Posted by globalmomma 07:42 Archived in USA Tagged travel light to simple what days traveling easy bring expenses advantages long-term disadvantages Comments (0)

Our karmic bank account just ran out

An Evening at the Orly Airport

semi-overcast 17 °C

We had been traveling for nearly three months with not really any major glitches. Minor ones, of course, but no real major calamities. Then...it all hit us at once...

Why do I say that? Well, it all started with a routine trip to the airport to catch our flight back from Paris Orly to Pisa. We had just sent a nice morning at the Louvre art museum, seeing a few more sights in Paris before we had to head back to Lucca for my husband's Italian class. We get in the first metro and then have a fairly long walk to the connecting metro at Notre Dame that takes you to the airport. It is raining lightly, and fairly cool. We have all of our baggage rolling along with us. We are walking this route, and I am feeling incredibly uneasy. We NEED to get there! I am not usually anxious like this about arriving to the airport in ample time, or getting seats...usually I am just fine with waltzing in without too many minutes to spare. But for some reason, this time is different. I rush through lunch, spilling half on the floor in my haste. I want to go. Now we are walking on our way, and I still feel this urgency.

We arrive at the metro to take us directly to the Orly airport, and the trains are running behind. First it says 5 minutes, then it switches to 10 and then to 12. We have to do something, I tell my husband Chris. Find another way. So we trek all of our bags and the stroller back up the escalator and out of the metro. We try hailing a cab, but we need to walk a few blocks to the taxi station. We arrive and hop into a taxi and head to Orly. When we arrive, we have about 25 minutes until our Easy Jet will take off, and Chris runs ahead to the checkin desk, while I follow briskly behind, pushing Bodhi. As I get there, Chris is at the desk, and I rush up there hoping to plead our case. But when I arrive I realize that Chris is already being told that in fact, we do not have 25 minutes until our flight leaves...it left 25 minutes AGO.

OOPS. So turns out, we were not kinda late, we were extremely late. In fact, we never had a chance of making the flight. We had written the time wrong; the flight was at 2:30pm, not 3:20pm. Discouraged, we asked about our options. There were, essentially, none. No more flights out today. One at 6am tomorrow, but we would have to pay the full fare again. Any other flight to any other city would be a ridiculous price based on highest fares. Hmm, no stand-by, no 'change fees', no just switching us to a new flight from our old one without any cost? nope. We were stuck. We had to pay and stay overnight, so we did, after a little whining and kicking and screaming.

So now, on to find a hotel. We resigned ourselves to stay at the airport due to our earlier issues with trying to leave the city of Paris, so we would spend the evening in Orly at a random airport hotel, instead of in our lovely apartment (that we were already paying for!) in Lucca. It was an expensive mistake. One that wasn't funny to us then, and now, it can actually get a smile and a shake of the head, but still isn't very funny. Paris had kicked our butts, and we were paying much more for our weekend excursion than we had bargained for, and I was resentful. Why hadn't we been more careful? Why had things gone this way? After questioning and questioning, the only satisfactory answer I came up with was that our karmic bank account had finally ran out. It was time to refill and rebuild it, and that was really the only explanation there was.

Posted by globalmomma 15:58 Archived in France Tagged paris travel transportation weekend trip bad airplane luck jet easy orly karma Comments (0)

Reflections on time & family

When I now go to touristy spots in Italy, it makes me feel like a caged animal or a fly searching for an open window. I can't breathe, can't see light. I feel trapped. I feel an extreme irritation when someone approaches me and directly speaks English. I want to be challenged. I want to be met where I am... Not as a newbie guest visiting Italy for the first time, but as a friend returning.
I know the difference between rosso di Montalcino and rosso di Montepulciano... I know Chianti Classico and Primitivo and Vermentino. I have been to each of the regions. I know the grapes and the landscapes. So when I go on a wine tour designed for Americans, I frankly occasionally find it insults my intelligence. Enjoyable nonetheless to spend an entire afternoon touring Tuscany tasting locally produced wines, but I have a thought to provide tourist experiences for a more experienced traveller... and I realize that when you travel, things are still often black and white. Tourist or local. No matter how many shades of grey you may try to create. "Where are you from?", I hear on many occasions, including today. There is always a hesitation before either of us speaks an answer. There is no clear answer. Usually we say: "most recently, Seattle". Sometimes we say Tahoe for ease, or Rhode Island, when we are with our respective families. Or sometimes we use the areas of our births. It is difficult to explain our current predicament. People do not understand traveling for three months. They are confused. Vacation? No, not really, we answer, more of a lifestyle choice. Blank stare. We currently have no house, only stuff packed in storage. We need to move again when we return home, and we are not sure what home that will be. We look for a simple answer, but there is no easy response. There is not a word for this thing we are doing, this extended travel. This long vacation/life/migration. I have heard it referred to as 'modern nomads', travelers, vagabonds, but these all have an intonation of recklessness and insecurity. They imply we are searching for something that has not yet been found, moving around until we find that missing element. They don't convey the joy and light steps of a nomadic life that is on the go when it wants to be, moving from place to place at whim. There is nothing missing, there is only an inherent love of travel that one either contains or doesn't contain.  On our last trip, we called it the travel bug or travel fever, because it felt contagious, and once you caught it, there was no returning. Like malaria it keeps recurring, the fever, the sweats, the deep desire to be on the road again. Finally you need to seek treatment for the condition, and get moving. Sell your house, pack your bags, and the fidgeting stops.

Maybe my son will develop this travel bug too, we will have to wait and see what happens. Maybe he will become a homebody whose dream is a permanent residence for the rest of his life (HA!)... You never know what it is that will make each individual happy, you only have to search inside and find what you truly want, and to make that visible to the world. And as a parent, to try to nurture and basically get out of the way, to allow the child's true self to blossom and come through. I watch how quickly my son is growing and it is a continuous reminder of the impermanence of life.  It all goes by so quickly... I am amazed I am now double the age of when I graduated from high school, and yet it does not seem all that far away.  I tell people my son is fourteen months old and think, "where has the time gone?" When I hold him as he falls asleep, I still flashback to those first few nights looking into his brand new face, watching the little angel sleep in my arms. Days I will never forget, and yet, the memories keep building. Piling on top of the older ones like building old stone walls of a fortress. It is a foundation of solid moments that continues to grow until you look back at it and see the castle of memories and instants that you have created. I want that castle to be full, and solid, and strong. I want it to be massive and have areas of lightness and of density. Most of all, I want my family there, living inside, laughing and sharing meals. This is the important point of it all: the ultimate WHY for our trip to Italy together, the last few weeks of extended family visits, the reason my husband and I both have the singular goal of spending as much time with our son as possible while he still lets us, and maybe also a major reason we are all here on this Earth. To build our castles of life experience. Meditating on this very idea brought me to this thought: when I turn and look at the castle I have built, I want it to be the most beautiful one I see. The one just for me. You only get one, so live it like you want. Spend money to have experiences that last a lifetime. Build a beautiful romance. Work hard at the job you love. Start now. 

Posted by globalmomma 12:46 Archived in Italy Tagged children travel meditation family bug nomads journey Comments (0)

Generosity

Lest anyone (especially me) begin to think romantic thoughts about this journey we are on, let me reassure us that it still has all the regular smatterings of life's ups and downs. There are days I still struggle to get out of bed when I hear my child stirring. There are moments I want to quit, get off, and go home. There are moments we are having much less than a good time.
I tend to do this...I hype expectations to the extreme, idyllic realms, and often reality falls quite a bit short.
Today is one such day. Bodhi is still recovering, so he is sleeping the majority of the day; hence, we are in the apartment stewing around most of the day, getting cabin fever.   When he is not sleeping, he is hanging on my pant leg and whining.  We are still struggling to work out the logistics of a plan, figure out finances from afar, and do all the other regular housekeeping from thousands of miles away. It can be taxing to be so far from any comfort zone, or not to have one at all. The key is to find it inside. We are teaching Bodhi this, I hope, to find his comfort spot inside of himself, but sometimes, this Buddhist trait does not make it through the murkiness of the self. However, even on these worst of days, there are bright spots. And those breaks in the clouds are the parts of days we should remember every time, travelling or at home. For instance, after arriving back at our apartment this morning from getting groceries, whiny baby in need of a nap, feet sweaty from the trek, our 'landlady' from downstairs knocks on the door and presents us with a gorgeous platter of fried fresh anchovies she has labored on this morning. It is quite a gift. We are like house guests here and are treated as such, with daily gifts. And the difficult morning evaporates in a flash of generosity.

Posted by globalmomma 12:49 Archived in Italy Tagged travel house amalfi guests anchovies Comments (0)

The Travel Groove

May 14
I am waiting for it to start. The travel groove. Anyone who has ever traveled for more than a few weeks in a row know what I mean... when things begin to just fall into place, you just know the places to go, and providence moves with you. Until that time, the first few weeks of winging it can be trying. Things just don't work out, places aren't open, finding your way is difficult. You can wander around a city aimlessly... hungry, tired, trying to find a good hotel at your price. We look for those hidden gems of restaurants that we like to find; but sometimes the baby is tired and impatient, and we have to settle for a touristy, overpriced, unsatisfactory experience of mediocre food and ambiance. It happens. But we feel like novices! Because once you get used to traveling, this struggle happens less and less. It happens to beginners, but not experienced travelers. Maybe it is an ego thing, when we have a bad experience with a place we are staying or a restaurant, we blame ourselves for our lack of savvy...
One day we forgot to change Bodhi's diaper for about 6 hrs while walking around sightseeing Rome, not sure where to stop or go. With a child it is that much more difficult because you have to anticipate their needs, and their needs can be very immediate. You can't just press on, knowing the right thing will be just around the corner.

I like to think I give him a few "perfect moments" a week. You know those perfect moments, when everything goes right. You are the perfect temperature, you have everything you need, you are in your warmest flannel pajamas snuggled by a fire watching your favorite tv show. That kind of perfect moment. Or the kind where you are sipping on a glass of prosecco watching the most gorgeous gigantic sun slip behind a bubble of blue and pink clouds, enjoying the breath of the sea, and feeling the warmth echo off of your skin on a glorious summer day. Those kinds of moments are the type I hope I give to my son every once in awhile. When I see him looking blissed out, and feel his muscles relax as a hold and rock him, feel him give off waves of heat as he is falling asleep to the sound of my lullabies and the sound of ocean waves on the iPod, I think: I hope this is a perfect Bodhi moment.

I get really really mad at my little boy sometimes now at night, that he can't sleep. I know he tries, I know we are asking a lot with forcing him to adjust every few nights to a new environment. But I still just really want him to learn how to fall asleep by himself, and to sleep through the night again like I know he can, like he used to do. I hear myself at night rationalizing, maybe if I just sit here he will figure it out. Shhh. I say, be quiet! Go to sleep! Those comments fall on deaf ears. He wants to be held, to fall asleep in our arms. But our arms are becoming less willing as we get more tired. I guess he is also working on his travel groove.

Posted by globalmomma 05:16 Archived in Italy Tagged travel of italy a with baby rome month Comments (0)

The Necessity of a Cellphone

Some nights of travel are perfect, where you have a nice meal at a cozy restaurant, trying local specialties and wine, soaking up the ambiance with a content baby eating puffed cereal in his seggiolino (high chair). Other nights can be like this one. I am waiting for my husband Chris to arrive home at the trulli apartment, after a long trek by train and bus to pick up a rental car for us, while the baby and I stayed behind. It's 9pm, and I am fixing whatever we have at the apartment for dinner, which happens to be baby food size pasta (tiny pasta alphabet!), canned white beans, olives and pesto, with salad. We won't starve but it won't be good.

I am sick with nerves waiting for Chris. Always when we travel, we travel together. But with a baby involved it got complicated...do we both shlep to the rental car place, causing issues with naptimes, etc, or does he do the horrible errand while I stay behind for the nursing and naptimes? So, he went ahead while we stayed at the apartment.

I walked up to the 'new' section of Alberobello this afternoon and bought a prepaid cellphone after he left, and I realized, good God, I have no way to reach him to know if he is OK. Nor he, us. At least he knows where B and I will be, but it is still nerve-wracking and entirely senseless. We didn't exchange numbers. He may not remember the address of our place. I don't know which rental car place he was going to. We were entirely too nonchalant about the whole thing.

I now humbly understand a little of how my mother feels about this situation. She feels uneasy when she doesn't know exactly where I am going to be. At least what city I will be in. Now that I am alone in one city, and my husband is two hours away in another city at night alone, I understand that feeling of helplessness and insecurity. What if? What if something were to happen and I couldn't find him? I don't care anymore how much it costs, just get a phone so there is a way to be in contact. I have heard my mom tell me this time and time again. This time, I get it, and I spent 70 euro today just to prove the point. No cost is too much for this security of being able to reach the ones you love. OK, now I get it.

Ahh, and just as I am writing, and starting to reach a level of panic (He has been gone exactly one hour longer than I predicted it would take him)... a knock on the door. Yes, my heart can relax, he is home. Time for baby pasta pesto zuppa, made with amore.

Posted by globalmomma 13:23 Archived in Italy Tagged travel rental car phone cell separation alberobello Comments (0)

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