A couple of friends remarked recently, “Haven’t seen much about travel at ‘No Pension, Will Travel.’ Sounds like no pension, no travel.”
Yes, it’s true. I’ve been writing about almost every other aspect of our journey these days. Cheryl and I were lamenting that – as we are still both working – all of our vacation time is spoken for this year, and our first trip longer than a weekend isn’t until late June. So how do we keep travel alive when we’re not traveling?
There’s the usual travel-related tasks such as budgeting for the next trip – a lot more exciting than paying for the last one! Or trying to find the cheapest way from Rome to Rio. (If you don’t let the shenanigans of the airline and other travel sites drive you crazy!) Planning a vacation is often listed as one of the top ways to improve your mood. We’ve discovered quite a few others.
Most of our upcoming trips are with groups of various sizes. Following our resolution made on our cycling trip in Provence, we pulled together an ad hoc group of 16 people for a week of cycling in Croatia. This has given us lots of excuses to get together with fun-loving people and talk about the upcoming trip. Half of the original group of 16 decided to add on another week of exploring Croatia’s Plitvice National Park, so we met at the coordinator’s home for spaghetti, wine, and a little bit of travel planning. With eight people, we have enough to make a custom itinerary cost-effective. In the next month or so, we hope to get all 16 together for dinner as some of us have yet to meet.
Arranging accommodation through services such as Servas, Couchsurfing and AirBnB has given us another way to start a trip months before liftoff. Once we’ve booked something, we often find the host happy to talk about our upcoming visit, offering us information and ideas, as well as just getting to know each other a little. Recently we’ve been chatting with Sara, our upcoming host in the old centre of Ljubljana, Slovenia this Fall. Nothing like connecting with a real person to make it feel like you’re already there. We also stay in loose touch with hosts we’ve had on earlier trips – to Paris, Avignon, Barcelona, Costa Rica, Tuscany, and the Italian Riviera. Add Mexico and Columbia for those we’ve hosted here. Often it’s just Facebook, but special connections warrant something more.
Learning something about the culture of the countries we’re going to visit is another way to savour an upcoming trip, one that can also amplify the experience when we’re there. We’re hoping to visit the local Croatian cultural centre before we go – in our city, there seems to be a centre for almost every ethnicity you can imagine. Something we’ve yet to try is EatWith.com, billed as “Dine in homes around the world! Meet amazing people, eat great food and enjoy unforgettable experiences!” Besides using them when we travel, we could also find an authentic Croatian meal right in our home town.
Perhaps the most significant cultural undertaking before a trip is to learn something of the language. As Rita Mae Brown observed, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” I’m just starting my Croatian lessons, hoping I can achieve a working knowledge before we arrive in Dubrovnik. Travel has been the main reason that I’ve learned several other languages since leaving high school, although there are other advantages. Sure you can get by with English in most countries these days, but bear in mind the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “No man should travel until he has learned the language of the country he visits. Otherwise he voluntarily makes himself a great baby – so helpless and so ridiculous.”
In the meantime, my volunteer work as an immigrant mentor has led to a number of invitations to meals and parties among the local Chinese community. Most recent was an invitation to a house party to welcome in the Chinese Year of the Horse on January 31. Definitely a cultural
experience, even if we don’t yet have a trip to China in the planning stages. Even if you don’t have any personal immigrant connections, check out the public festivals celebrated by immigrant communities in your area.
There are lots of other ways to travel between trips. As members of Servas and Couchsurfing, we also host overseas visitors from time to time. This Spring we have a special visit in the works. Through dabbling in my family tree on the great collaborative genealogy site, WikiTree, I’ve made contact with hitherto unknown second and third cousins in England, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, Australia and Brazil. Our current challenge is to choose between invitations to several countries. A cousin from Brazil plans to visit us this year, and Cheryl and I are already making tentative plans to visit my new extended family in Florianópolis in the next couple of years. It would be great stopover en route to learning tango in Buenos Aires.
If you keep your eyes open, there are lots of opportunities to experience the world within easy commuting distance. In most cities, there are frequent “world music” concerts to expose you to new sounds. I’ve been greatly enjoying my first attempts to learn Latin Funk Dance. I’m pretty much off balance for the entire hour every week, but just think of all the new synapses I’m creating. And with that Latin beat, I could be back in the main square of Santiago de Cuba.
Being “off balance” is a lot of what good travel is about. As a dear friend recently reminded me in her post, “Out of the Blue”, travel “rattles our carefully-designed world view.” If you have any doubts, check out one of the many Internet lists on how travel makes you a better person. The truth is, however, that we don’t have to travel at all to live in “vacation mode.”
I was reminded of this the other day when I discovered an opportunity to join a “drumming circle” and bring along as many friends as I could muster. The opportunity to join a drumming master, schooled for months in western Africa, and experiment with call-response rhythms on djenbe and other drums sounds like a great new experience. I jumped at the chance, and invited 25 of my friends along too. I was sure that they’d all leap at the chance to experience something new. Yet, as the excuses started to dribble in – “I have to go skiing the weekend following.” – “I’ve got to do my tax return.” – Really!? – I began to realize that not everyone saw the value in jumping in to brand new experiences. It’s a pity. The evening was magical, and those who showed up were excited to invite others to a future event.
I think this points to the real way to keep travel alive even when you’re not traveling: bring that attitude of open-mindedness, that stance of being perpetually a little “off balance”, to everything you do. I collected some of the markers of my own travel attitude in a “vacation mode” posting a few years back: “Do only one good thing every day… Talk to people for no reason… Live with less material stuff… Go outside even when the weather isn’t cooperating… Spend time with friends and family that you enjoy being with… Have sex any time of the day…” You get the picture.
So, what can you do today in that spirit of exploring a brand new place you’ve never been before? How can you rekindle that wide-eyed curiosity in familiar surroundings? When you start to look, there’s no shortage of opportunities. On Valentine’s evening, Cheryl and I joined a small group for a snowshoe hike under the full moon. Snowshoeing is a fairly new activity for us, and this was the first time we’d ever been out after dark. It was magical. And, yes, it was romantic too.
What are you taking on in vacation mode? How do you keep the travel spirit alive between trips?
- “Travel Broadens the Mind” (Aware of the Void)
- “Travel Broadens the Mind” (Maizebread’s Blog)
- “40 Quotes that will Inspire you to Lose yourself and Travel” (Thought Catalog)
- And making a similar point, “Why Travel Does Not Broaden the Mind” (Oundle Underpants)