Travels with “Esperando un Camino”

Esperando un Camino 

In my office there is a bronze sculpture we acquired in Madrid, Spain some 25 years ago.  It is about a foot tall and depicts a young woman.  She is barefoot and has long flowing hair.  Dressed in a peasant blouse and long skirt, she stands with her hands on her hips looking down.  At her feet is an open bag with a bedroll and a book sticking up out of it.  There is a small satchel leaning against it.  The title is “Esperando un Camino.”  The artist is Joseph Bofill

http://www.josepbofill.com/navigation/in_page_de_navigation.htm

I don’t know where she’s going but I’ve always wanted to come along.

My work has taken me to most states across the USA as well as Canada, Germany and England.  One of my few regrets is that I’ve never had the occasion for an international posting.

But I’ve had the good fortune to see a bit of the planet on my own:  Mexico, Canada, Ireland, Wales, England, Greece, Crete, Puerto Rico, Tahiti, Venezuela, Curacao, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Paris, India, Kashmir, Goa, Nepal, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Eleuthera, St. Thomas, St. Martin, Barbados, Antigua, Martinique, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Guatemala.  Pretty much in that order although I’ve visited some more than once.  And I may have forgotten one or two.

 

Rickshaw under repair

I’ve traveled to and around those places by plane, train, bus, subway, taxi, hired car, motorcycle, bicycle, rickshaw, hitch-hiking, foot, horse, donkey and elephant.  Not only traveled by elephant, but herded rhinoceros by elephant back in Nepal.  I love saying that!

Rhino Herding 

My wife says that a lack of traveling interest would have been a deal breaker.

While we’ve been on cruises, tours and stayed at resorts, those don’t much appeal to us.   When my daughter was little we went twice to Disneyland while I was in LA on business.  When I die, and if as many predict I go to Hell, I will be spending my eternity trapped and wandering in a Disney park.

The Devil, with Hell in the Background 

Interestingly, at least to me, our daughter also loves traveling.  At the tender age of 19 she’s been to Europe, Africa, South East Asia and Australia.   At 16 she spent six weeks in Thailand with a group called The Experiment in International Living.  Had I known how little supervision would be in place I doubt I would have let her go.  But she loved it, and I’m glad I did.

Yours for the Asking 

We’ve tried to raise her to see the world as her backyard and she does.  She is already applying for an internship with the US State Department and she’ll be honing her fluency in French while studying outside of Paris for her Junior year 2012-13.

Many people, of course, don’t care much for traveling.

It is a highly personal choice.  However, I can’t help but think part of the problem is the way the Travel Industry approaches the whole business.  Mainly:  avoid the locals and their culture whilst cramming as much into as little time as possible so people can check off their list and say “Yep, I’ve been there, done that!”

I can remember a day tour we signed up for in Mexico a few years back.  We started early, were loaded into the van with the other sardines, ah tourists, and raced about the area to see every possible thing the tour company could come up with.  Many were old churches.

The third one was especially lovely, or at least  so it seemed as our guide hustled us along at a record pace.  “Look there!  See that!  Isn’t it wonderful!  OK back to the van, we’re running behind!”

As we walked back thru the courtyard my wife turned to me and said, “Man, when we do a church, we do a church!!”

Irish Bicycle

Before I was married I spent a month roaming Ireland on my bicycle.  The Ring of Kerry is a beautiful road around a western peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic.  At one point there was a small parking area overlooking a spectacular view.  Since I had the place to my self, I crossed the road and climbed a small hill for an even better vantage point.

This is thirty plus years ago, but I still have that vision clearly in my brain.  I must have spent 2 or 3 hours soaking it in.  Rarely have I seen its equal.

At one point a huge ugly tour bus pulled up.  With this blight now in my line of sight I stood to gather my things to move on.  The tourists piled out of the bus, at least some of them, put their cameras to their faces and began snapping away.  Not one, far as I could tell, paused to actually just enjoy the view.  Before I was done stretching they were back in the bus and on their way.

Worked for me, but I couldn’t help feel bad for them.  On the off chance they ever look at those photos now my guess is they wonder, “Where the hell was this?”

Whether you want to travel at all and how you do it is obviously up to you.  But if it seems not to appeal or your experiences have been disappointing, maybe the way we do it might be of interest.

Here are some keys that work for us:

Travel slowly.    For our honeymoon we spent three weeks in Scotland.  The most common comment was, “Three weeks in Scotland?  What can you do for three weeks in Scotland?”

This was closely followed by, “I’ve been to Europe and saw it all during my two week tour.”  Ah, OK.

Rushing from place to place ticking off the sights as you go means you’ll spend most of your time in transit. Not fun, and spending a three hour layover in the Frankfurt airport doesn’t mean you’ve been to Germany.

Relax.  Find a local cafe and waste an afternoon over a cup of coffee.  Watch the locals drift by.  Maybe even talk to a few.

Avoid the sights.    Maybe not all of them, but choose just a few that really appeal to you.  Learn to be comfortable leaving some stones unturned.  Be sure that what you see you take the time to see well.

A bench in Jackson Square, maybe mine.

Linger in cafes and parks.    Absorb the feel of the place.  Breathe it in.  Last year in New Orleans I found an isolated bench in Jackson Square.  I sat for an hour with my eyes closed and just listened.  Quiet your mind and let it it flow.

The locals might not be as scary as you think

Talk to the locals.    Lots of travelers complain that the people in such and such a place are unfriendly.  Well, if you are flying past in a rush to your next sight you are not, candidly, a very attractive opportunity for them.

In Quito we stumbled on a little chocolate shop.  Because we were leisurely poking around Ruth, the owner, took the time to chat.  Before long she was insisting that we stay to try her special hot chocolate.  Incredible stuff and while we were sipping it, her friend Celeste stopped by.  Introductions were made and during the course of conversation we mentioned we were looking for a Spanish tutor.

Turns out Celeste knows just the person and two days later she brings Sylvia over to our apartment.  Sylvia not only begins to teach us Spanish, we wind up taking side trips with her.  This October she came to visit us in New Hampshire and next summer we’ll be traveling with her thru Bolivia and Peru, two areas she knows very well.

Before we left we were guests in Ruth’s home and her husband, who works as a naturalist on the Galapagos had invited us for a “behind the scenes” visit.

Of course, we didn’t see every church and museum in town.

 Settle in. 

If you can, spend some time.  Even if you’ve only a week, pick a spot and focus on what’s there.

This past summer we took an apartment in Quito for the month.  By the time we left we knew all the local shop owners.  One day we went to the little shop where we bought our eggs and milk.  It was closed.  On the walk back to the apartment we ran into the owner.  We exchanged pleasantries and asked when he would reopen.  He insisted on walking the two blocks back to his shop, opening it and selling us what we needed before closing again and going on his way.

We’ll remember that long after we’ve forgotten the museums.

Leave your camera at home.    Too many people waste their time trying to record the trip rather than living it.  Indeed, I’m convinced many see everything they see only thru the lens.  Give it a rest.  If you follow the advice above you’ll meet locals.  They’ll have cameras and they’ll send you the pictures they took to remember your visit.  As for scenery, use Google.  You’ll find better shots of the Taj Mahal or Kilimanjaro there than you are likely to take yourself.  Been here, didn’t take the pics:

Kilimanjaro Crater

Kilimajaro 

Taj Mahal 

Arches National Park

Prefer video?  This site will take you all over the world:

http://www.jcdurand.ca/Monde/Monde.html

Do it now.  Sad to say, the world is becoming a more crowded place.  Back in the early 1970s I visited Arches National Park in Utah.  Simply stunning and I had the entire place all to myself all day.  Find the undiscovered and go now.

Do it while you are young.  There is no question that travel involves some discomfort.  Sitting in cramped airline seats for hours on end.  Bouncing over rutted roads in antique local buses.  “Delhi Belly.”  Or….

Sleeping in haylofts after a night of music and beer with your kidnappers.

As I feel the years build the time is coming where the hassle will outweigh the joy.  But, thankfully, not yet.  If you are going to do it, now is the time.

Addendum 1:

“I admire the strenuous tourist who sets out in the morning with his well-thumbed Baedecker to examine the curiosities of a foreign town, but I do not follow in his steps; his eagerness after knowledge, his devotion to duty, compel my respect, but excite me to no imitation. I prefer to wander in old streets at random without a guidebook, trusting fortune will bring me across things worth seeing; and if occasionally I miss some monument that is world-famous, more often I discover some little dainty piece of architecture, some scrap of decoration, that repays me for all else I lose. I am relieved now and again to visit a place that has no obvious claims on my admiration; it throws me back on the peculiarities of the people, on the stray incidents of the street, on the contents of the shops.”

W. Somerset Maugham, from The Skeptical Romancer

Addendum 2:   Here’s a video well worth your time if the world and its cultures hold an interest for you:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/wade_davis_on_endangered_cultures.html

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33 Comments

  1. Trish Rempen
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    As I remember, there were others in that hayloft! A stellar night, that was. Last of the ould way. And did ye mention the lessons in cutting turf? Not everyone has that experience. Never mind the rhino we surrounded with our elephants…
    Pleased to have been along on some of the journeys…no guidebook required.

  2. Posted January 27, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    below, folks, is a note from one of my kidnappers. Yes, indeed, there were several others in that hayloft when we woke. But I’m pretty sure I was the only captive.

    Oh, and I forgot I was pressed into slave labor cutting turf for their fireplace. nasty work, that.

    We did travel together several times after that, which can only be attributed to Stockholm Syndrome on my part. Well, that and the fact they were fine traveling companions….

  3. Josh
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Beautiful post Jim!

    • Posted January 28, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Josh….

      ….glad you took the time to comment.

      It is interesting to me that this one struck a cord with you. Given your financial expertise I would have expected one of those entries to draw comment from you. :)

  4. Posted January 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    honestly, if someone is going to travel to a country that they “would love to visit” but they aren’t willing to meet the locals and explore areas and sites not found in an American travel book, than they really aren’t interested in the country. They are only interested in what others have said, and as a result they miss out on what really makes a country beautiful. Sorry if that was harsh but its true.
    “Relax. Find a local cafe and waste an afternoon over a cup of coffee. Watch the locals drift by. Maybe even talk to a few.” -During my 3 week stay in Iceland with my friend, we literally did just this for half the days we were there.

    Good Post Dad!

  5. Posted January 28, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    This is so great! I love and completely agree with all your tips…especially do it young. I’d like to add before kids…sounds like your daughter is a champ, but traveling does get harder when there are little ones involved. And herding rhinoceros with elephants? AMAZING!

    • Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      As I recall, the rhinos didn’t much care for it. :)

      thanks for stopping by FF, and glad you liked it!

  6. Posted January 29, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Nice post, I understand where you’re coming from, travelling has to be the best thing you can do. However most young people don’t have time being put through a system designed by society. For example from age 3 or younger until 21-22 we are in education.

    Then after University/College we have to get a 7am-8pm job right away to be able to afford everything we’ve ever wanted. I have to say following this society system myself, it will be hard to achieve financial freedom if the system is followed throughout life.

    Thanks.

  7. Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    This post comes at a great time for me: my wife and I are planning our first trip to Europe (which will probably be our last big vacation before we have kids). We have only two weeks so we have really tried to narrow it down and not cram too much into it. I’d hate to come back from my vacation and immediately need another one!

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      cool beans! where have you decided to go?

      • Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

        We’re spending 3 nights in Barcelona, then hopping a plane to Rome where we will spend 3 nights before heading down to the Amalfi coast and spending the rest of the time in Sorrento. Neither of us have ever been to Europe so we’re really excited.

  8. et
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    You method of travels sounds like fun.
    I’ve moved quite a few times in several countries and cultures, which I consider slow motion travel.

    Assuming your based in USA are not Canada, Germany and England an international postings?

    • Posted January 31, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Hi et….

      Yep, I’ve always lived in the USA: Chicago, Cleveland and now New Hampshire.

      Your “slow motion travel” is my notion of ideal. What places, and what took you there?

  9. Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Zanzibar! All things being equal, there’s a place I’d put on my list before any other you mentioned… great post, JL.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      thanks Andrew…..

      …actually my wife is from Zanzibar. A couple of years ago she took our daughter there for her 1st visit and she loved it. From the stories it was a magical place in which to grow up. Magical name, too.

      Personally I loved, in addition to Zanzibar, East Africa overall.

      • Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        I agree, I quite liked East Africa. Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda. Warm, hospitable people and great sights. And fantastic coffee.

  10. Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the post and the TED Wade Davis link – that guy can TALK!

    The slow down travel approach reminded a little of when I took my then college age children to Europe and we spent at least 4 days in a place before moving on. Even after only 3 days in Cassis, FR the bakery shop owner and coffee shop waitperson knew me. We had developed a relationship in spite of the fact my French language skills did not extend beyond courteous pleasantries and their English was rudimentary. Yet, the knowing and genuine smile meant the world to me and makes me long to return for a month.

    • Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      Hi Michael…

      Glad it brought back the memories for you. Sounds like it time to head on back.

      Our daughter leaves in August to spend the year studying in Rennes, FR. She won’t be coming home for Christmas. We’ll be going there. :)

  11. Kit
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Insightful post.
    I have long hung up the camera and any place we stay must NOT have an elevator.

    • Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kit….

      us camera free travelers are a rare breed. :)

      Most times I climb the stairs in hotels, even when there is an elevator. But….

      Traveling the Altiplano this summer at around 12,500 feet I confess to almost weeping with relief when we discovered our 4th floor hotel room was served by an elevator.

  12. Sue Sam
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Today I am wearing a perfume that I bought in London twelve years ago. When I wear it I am brought back to the joy of riding a double decker bus riding through the city streets with no particular destination in mind. I dread the day the last drop is gone as they don’t make it anymore and I need that sensory connection to my memories. I loved reading your blog. Cafes? Oh the joy of sipping cappuccino in Venice, or Slovenia or Rome or…. while watching people pass by. Again no schedule just me, time and the utter freedom to do and go wherever I pleased. I have been in need of inspiration-something to remind me of what that feels like as I go to work each day and plan my next vacation-thank you for taking me away this morning!

    • Posted January 17, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Welcome Sue….

      It can be amazing how smells can trigger memories and take us back. Once the perfume is gone, hang on to the bottle. The smell should linger and the bottle itself should help.

      Plus, you can always return to this post!

      Cafes are one of may favorite things. In fact, in the next few weeks I’ll have a post on them. Hope you join in with your favorite.

  13. Spartan Swami
    Posted April 16, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Fantastic post Jim. I love your life philosophy and your attitude towards travel… and life in general. I came upon your blog via MMM (another chap whose life philosophy I love) and am truly enjoying reading your various posts.

    Thanks and looking forward to hearing more.

    • jlcollinsnh
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Thanks, SS….

      nice to have you here!

  14. Posted December 17, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Awesome post. I read a book by Benjamin Barber “Consumed: How markets corrupt children, infantilize adults and swallow citizens whole”.

    I speak of that book because it is interesting how he spoke about “seeing the sights” in other countries. It is interesting that when family from other countries come and visit mine (the USA) they want to go to the mall. Now granted their malls are much much better. Its bizarre even to think that a third world country could.

    Also I think it is interesting to imagine how the gifts we give are so American. Imagine giving a iPad to a family you meet in Nepal. What would you be giving them :)

    Finally, I want to say again thanks for your posts. I am trying to tackle my finances and it intrigues me that you focus more on investing in stocks than real estate. So many bloggers I follow seem to focus on real estate rental incomes. Thanks for the knowledge you impart. Best Wishes.

    • jlcollinsnh
      Posted December 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Drew…

      and welcome! Glad you enjoyed this post. It is one of my personal favorites.

  15. ak907
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I am a bit late to the party with this comment but I have been reading through your site and loved this post. It describes very well how I would like to travel the world.
    I recently traveled to Thailand, it was fun and a great learning experience as my first international trip. But the trip, taken with and largely planned by friends, suffered from some of the very issues you describe. I had small bits of experiences as you describe, but I would enjoy having even more genuine travel experiences.
    How do you do it? From my little bit of experience I can tell it will take a lot of research and planning. Unlike your daughter I traveled little as a kid and am not sure how to go about travel and having experiences like those you describe. Simply flying to a foreign location and going from there does not seem like it would lead to experience such as you describe. Sites/sources such as lonelyplanet seem have been ruined by commercialism/tourism. Any recommendations? Perhaps the answer is simply experience.
    How do mesh the competing goals of f-you money/financial independence and expensive travel?

    • AJ
      Posted April 3, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      To the last commenter… I would say that the lack of planning is what makes the types of experiences Jim describes most likely :)

    • jlcollinsnh
      Posted April 10, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Hi ak907…
      No worries being late, glad you made it!

      I think AJ nailed it, a lack of planning is the key and it sounds like your trip to Thailand suffered from a bit of over-planning. I tend to just show up, wander around and see what happens.

      Now that I’m older and have gone soft, I do book the hotel for the first night or few before I arrive and I like to arrange for a driver and car to meet me at the airport. There is nothing like stepping off a plane after a long, tiring flight and finding someone there with a smile holding up a sign with your name on it.

      If I know someone who has been, I’ll ask for their recommendations for a hotel. And since I like my hotel centrally located and an easy walk from places, I’ll check the location on their website. This is exactly how I found the place where I stayed in Guatemala last month.

      For what it is worth, I don’t use the travel guides like Lonely Planet or sites like Trip Advisor. Nothing against them, just never felt the need. And, as I think about, I guess I’ve always kinda figured they’d be out of date by the time I got there and would lead me to places that were by then overrun.
      Once there, I just ask people where to go and what restaurants are good. Other travelers are easy to talk to and happy to help. When I find a good place to eat, I’ll also ask the owners where else they’d recommend. Figuring this stuff out gives you a reason to engage people in conversations. Which is one of my key goals.

      But mostly it just takes showing up, not being tied to a schedule and going with the flow. This can take a few days, so it’s good to have more than a week to play with. Even now it is not unusual for me to hit a bit of a depression in the early days before things begin to come together. So, if this happens to you, don’t be overly concerned.

      As for the FI/travel balance, it is a matter of choosing what you want to spend your money on. It is a fallacy, it seems to me, that pursuing FI means you can’t spend money on anything else. You just can;t spend money on everything else. Most people can afford both FI and travel assuming, of course, that they are not also indulging in fancy cars, homes, wardrobes and the like.

      Plus, traveling this way can be surprisingly cheap. My hotel in Antigua was about $18 a night. Not fancy, but spotlessly clean, well located and run by incredibly friendly folks.

      For more check out: http://jlcollinsnh.com/2012/11/25/so-what-does-a-month-in-ecuador-cost-anyway/

      Here’s another great source on the hows and costs: http://www.gocurrycracker.com/reflections-of-2013-a-year-on-the-road/

      Oh, and it helps to travel alone. When you are with other people you are less approachable and less likely to approach others.

      Good luck and safe journeys!

      • ak907
        Posted June 24, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        Thanks again for the through response.

        • Trisha Ray
          Posted July 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          As the guilty party in the hayloft kidnapping – let me add airbnb.com as a great way to stay somewhere.

          Cheap, if you want – or expensive, you choose.
          There are other sites, too. Or try housesitting.

          Both are local, and you can usually cook your own food, which saves money in eating out.

          We do it everywhere. It’s fun to have the key to your “own” place, even if it’s temporary!

  16. Posted July 8, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Jim, I can’t say enough good things about this post, and today’s post that led me to it. Even the comments have a lot of wisdom!

    First, let me say that I had the good fortune to see the remake of the movie “Razor’s Edge” many years ago, purely by chance, and though it was widely panned by critics, I LOVED it. Bill Murray was magic — and this was a serious role WAY before he became more famous for more serious roles. I couldn’t help but think it must have meant a lot to him.

    Anyway, it turned me on to this book and Somerset Maugham’s many other books. For me it captured so eloquently the disturbance to the soul that is the modern way of life most of us force ourselves to fit into.

    Second, as I mentioned to you in an earlier post, my wife and I have been living in several places in Mexico, Florida’s Space Coast, and two places in South Africa for the past 2 years — “slow motion traveling” as one of your commenters adroitly put it :). It is a fantastic way to travel, and by doing so, we have been able to live almost as frugally as if we stayed in place, and we’ve had the time to get to know our neighbors and the places that we’ve visited.

    One trick we’ve learned is to choose 2 or 3 places in a country where you live for at least 3 months, and during that time take mini-trips to beautiful or important places to see from there. A rental apartment or even house on the local economy is going to save a lot of money over a series of hotels, and it’s nice to feel like you have a home for awhile — especially as one gets older (we’re mid-50’s and mid-40’s).

    And your very important points about meeting people, getting to know a place, doing the small things, staying away from the bus crowds…it’s all very much RIGHT ON!

    Thanks Jim, you’re an inspiration to us.

    • jlcollinsnh
      Posted July 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Scott!

      Very kind of you to say.

      I didn’t know Razor’s Edge had been made into a movie and with Bill Murray no less. Without having seen it, I’ll still go ahead and say, “Great casting!”

      Anyway, sounds like you are living what I only (mostly) get to write about. Well played! It always does amaze me how little it costs living on the road. Just stripping away the costs of owning a house and car is huge.

      Do me a favor? Post your comment over on today’s post as well? More people will see it there. Thanks!

      For other readers who are interested, this is the one we are talking about: http://jlcollinsnh.com/2014/07/08/summer-travels-writing-reading-and-other-amusements/

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