If a Millennial travels and doesn’t Instagram it, did it really happen?

No, really. We’ve all heard someone say “pics or it didn’t happen” about something. In this age where we carry cameras in our pockets, travel has become a key target, especially among millennials.

I try to take photos whilst traveling to remind myself of the places I saw and the people I met. When I look at the pictures months or years later they really help jog my memory and bring back stories that would have otherwise been buried. I like turning the pages of printed photo albums and remembering that those moments were real.

That said, I’ve tried to take fewer pictures as I’ve explored more. The ocean may not look exactly the same everywhere, but it’s blue and made of water. I don’t need to take 25 shots of the ocean every time I see it. If the weather is particularly unusual or the landscape surrounding the ocean is unique, yes, definitely. Even better if the photo includes people (either people I’ve just met or those I’m traveling with) as that’s when the pictures truly stop time forever: seeing a day, a moment, a person exactly as it was.

With social media, we now see everyone’s photos all the time. Moments don’t stop. They just keep piling up. People are booking vacations just to get a photograph of a particular location because they saw it on Instagram. While it’s great people are exploring more of this beautiful world, it’s not great when travelers aren’t earth-conscious or respectful of others. Ecosystems are suffering from an influx of human activity which they cannot handle. Economies are booming from tourism and yet the residents are still living without basic necessities. All this, just to get a better Instagram photo than someone else?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t travel. But maybe we should put some thought into our goals and reasons for traveling. Posting a cool pic on social media isn’t really well-thought-out criteria for selecting a travel destination (nor the best use of one’s time, in my personal opinion).  What matters to do? Do you have a list somewhere of things you’d like to accomplish and places you’d like to see? Focus on that. Take pictures and don’t worry about posting them on social media. Stop following people whose posts “give you wanderlust” and choose your own adventure. Seriously, unsubscribe. We’re pummeled with messages about the next coolest destination and the most beautiful locations. Let it go. Those do not have to be your adventures.

It is entirely possible to travel to really awesome places without taking the whole world with you in your pocket. You may find you’re able to enjoy it more because you’re more focused on the moment than the perfect filter for the frame. Don’t travel somewhere because everybody else is. Travel if you want to, where you want to, when you want to. Your adventures are real, whether posted on social media or not. Share your life and adventures with people in real life instead of “sharing” with a screen. I guarantee your grandma will love looking at a photo album and hearing your stories and she won’t care whether it’s the most beautiful picture of the Pacific Ocean she’s ever seen. She cares that you enjoyed yourself and your life is richer because you went somewhere new.

Try traveling and not posting all your pictures. You’ll like it, I promise.

No more newsletters

I’ve mentioned my daily email digests a few times before. They’re how I discovered the Saugerties Lighthouse and Isla Mujeres.

They’ve also inspired a super-long list of places that might be nice to go to, but were never on my personal list for any particular reason. Instead, they fueled a wanderlust I didn’t really have. It’s true, I still want to experience everything on this planet, but do I need to experience the same things as everyone else? If someone else already went and showed me the photos, I can go somewhere different. Just because another person went there and said it was life-changing doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for me.

It’s important to carve our own paths in this wide world. It’s important to seek out experiences that speak to us as individuals, not just following a list of ideas from a trusted travel site. It’s important to be true to ourselves without letting fear of missing out drive us to a new experience that doesn’t change our lives.

I’ve unsubscribed to these travel newsletters. I know where to find the sites, should I need a recommendation for a location to which I’ve traveled, but I don’t want a website to tell me where to go next. I want my inner voice to tell me.

Need versus Want

In Hawaii our horseback guide and I talked extensively about sustainability, self-sufficiency, and living off the land. She brought up the difference between want and need in perhaps a more serious way than most of us think about the two. She lives in a rainforest valley in a very wet environment, and she told me, “I WANT rubber boots because my feet get cold and wet, but I do not NEED rubber boots.”

I bought a new pair of rubber rain boots this past spring simply because it rains here sometimes and I want to look stylish protecting my feet from water when I leave the house. Her statement gave me some weighty perspective on need versus want. I do not NEED the new rain boots I got. I thought I did. I told myself I needed them because my older boots had cracked and my feet had gotten cold and wet whilst packing my car in a rain storm last winter. But in the true sense of the word, I WANTED those boots. I didn’t NEED them.

What do we truly need to survive? Not to look presentable at a job, not to be even more comfortable, not to relieve boredom, but to survive? Not much: food, water, shelter. In contemporary American society, many of us are so far removed from basic necessity that we begin to confuse the extraneous with the essential. It’s been a journey this year reducing our possessions and I’m still working on it. I’m also going to consider future purchases even more carefully. Do I truly need something new, or do I just think I want it? Is this extremely important to me, or simply adding convenience?

Dancing With Wolves

This Christmas Eve we decided to do something a little different: go hang out with wolves.

I’ve been to Howling Woods Farm twice before – once by myself mid-week whilst studying for the Foreign Service Exam (that feels like it was in another life) and needing some pup cuddles, and once for my 30th birthday party. It’s a super special place and if you’re an animal lover in the tri-state area, I highly recommend a visit. Mike has a great story and is super passionate about wolf rescue and education.  Plus, who can beat snuggling with a 120lb wolf?

Lake Champlain Sunshine

I’m trying to crank out a few extra posts per day at the moment, and I have lots of photos to share. There are stories behind each. I realized some I’ve shared to Instagram without much backstory. Here’s a photo of the sun lazily hanging above Lake Champlain in September, and the story behind it.

We went to Burlington to find a house. We were also visiting friends and riding bikes, but we wanted to see if it would be a good fit for us to live. We found the perfect house about 35 minutes outside of downtown Burlington, but neither of us managed to secure a job. I’d been scouring job boards for months with no luck, so we weren’t sure whether this was going to work out for us or not.

We still don’t. I wish I had an update on where we think we’ll end up next, but we don’t (yet).

That said, all adventures enrich our lives. Riding our bikes on the causeway out into the middle of Lake Champlain was beautiful and a reminder that, even when it feels like we’re all alone in the world, we have each other. I took this photo after maybe 15 miles or so of riding one afternoon. We watched the sun set after this and – although we didn’t have answers – we had each other.

Food memories

Another mini mobile post, this time about food.

Every time I travel I try to find a new food to enjoy…or at least sample. This way, months or years and thousands of miles later, I can bring myself right back to a travel memory.

I haven’t made arepas for a while, but arepas with eggs, tomatoes, and onions served with a cup of hot chocolate remind me of Colombia.

Shakshuka brings me back to the shores of the Dead Sea, cooking over a camping stove with my friends.

Most recently, fresh tropical fruit is totally Hawaiian but difficult to find on the east coast. Instead, my gastronomic reminder is a bowl of Bakery on Main maple cranberry nut granola. The host at our Air B&B had a bag waiting for us in the hut and we devoured it like we hadn’t eaten in days. This morning – a humid, misty, gray morning of around 60* – I had a bowl and remembered the misty gray mornings in the open-air hut.

What reminds you of your adventures?

Suggestion to airlines

We’ve returned from Hawaii! Or, as we dubbed it, Hawa-whee! There was so much to do and experience on the Big Island.

 

Since I’m typing this on my phone (to knock out some of those remaining posts), this won’t get too detailed. But I’ll start with the travel. Sometimes a trip isn’t just about the destination, but the journey. Cliche, I know, but I’ve had some adventurous journeys (flat tires in Arizona? Grabbing beers in London en route home from Israel? Meeting Travis in the woods?) that led to good stories.

Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. We had two layovers each way, for a total of about 19hrs travel time. Eek. We flew Delta and I have to give them a huge nod for delivering us on time to every stop – even though our first flight took off 40mins late. Impressive!!

That said, I have one suggestion for airlines in general. Is it possible to have child-friendly and child-free sections on planes? I know first-class already exists, but I’m talking maybe a few rows in economy where you could guarantee you won’t be kicked in the back for 5 hours, or sneezed on, or poked in the arm, or being tripped over by a too-eager kid.

We both experienced some fairly challenging parents on this trip too – the parents were generally worse than the kids. The child who tripped over my backpack was not told by his parents to wait their turn to exit the plane (they were a few rows behind me and as soon as the seatbelt sign went off, he dashed up the aisle). Travis spent hours being kicked by a screaming toddler whose parents completely ignored the child’s behavior. Most infuriating for me was a couple with a sleeping infant. The child was great, but as the parents moved him between one another’s arms, they arranged him with his head lolling over in my direction. I’d been reading the entire flight with the help of my reading light as it was dark. They did not say a word to me, but saw the baby’s face in the light, reached up, and redirected my reading light…into the aisle. Not cool, guys. Seriously, just ask politely first. I would have had no issue accommodating a polite request, but that was totally disrespectful.

So, for the sake of the many types of travelers everywhere, can airlines consider child-friendly and child-free zones? I don’t need the leg room and service in first class, but I would like to be able to read in peace.

 

Thoughts??

One more day in the office

and then we head to the Big Island of Hawaii for ten days. It’s been far too long since I’ve had a big adventure. I have had a tough time focusing in the office this week while daydreaming about living on a volcanic island for the rest of my days.

Wander Lost

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we travel. I love the thrill of getting on a plane and heading off to some faraway place as much as anyone else, but seeing three VERY DIFFERENT friends post the EXACT SAME photo of the EXACT SAME SPOT in Iceland within the past six months has me wondering: what do we get out of traveling now? If you’ve already seen the photo on Instagram and you followed your friend’s Facebook Live tour while they were there, why do YOU  need to go see it too? Are we really traveling more than generations before us did? I think the media wants us to believe that, and I’m not necessarily saying I disagree, because travel is absolutely easier now than ever before, but it’s also very, VERY different. A century ago, authentic travel might have involved a rickety wooden train somewhere in Europe, or a khaki outfit in the African bush, or a very long boat ride to Australia. Your experiences would live within you, probably in your journal, and perhaps only if you were quite fortunate, in photographs. Your friends couldn’t easily click a button and have the same experience two weeks later, as long as their bank accounts approved.

So why do we do it? We say we’re seeking “authentic” experiences, but those are so few and far between now. Is it REALLY authentic if you’re taking the SAME photo as every other visitor? What was this area like before travelers decided it was a worthy destination? Can the environment support the amount of human traffic now passing through?

These are very real questions. There’s a village in Norway that’s become an Instagram destination that can’t handle how many tourists have recently swarmed in. National parks are full of people who drive in (or drive to the top of the mountain), take the same quick snap of the same spot everyone else does, and hop back in the car – or worse, people who’ve never hiked want to get a picture so badly, they head into the wilderness wildly underprepared. I can’t tell you how many people we encountered last weekend who were lost in Harriman State Park, hiking without food, water, shelter, compass, nor any directional sense whatsoever. We aimed them in the right directions, but the sun was setting fast and they had miles to go. Even extremely remote areas like the Colombian Amazon are becoming top destinations.

And yet, as this happens, we know less and less about the world immediately surrounding us. I’ve lived in my condo for nearly a year and just last month, finally saw the inside of my downstair’s neighbor’s place, when he sheepishly asked if I had jumper cables. I don’t event know his last name. In another country I might be able to ignore a fussy baby at a restaurant because I’m preoccupied with an unfamiliar view outside the window, but at home, I would likely be very frustrated a child was interrupting my nice meal. I can meet people once or twice, befriend them on Facebook, and then not even say hello next time we’re in a group setting together.

What is going on? We go on these epic adventures that, if we’re speaking plainly, really aren’t that epic compared to the travels of generations past. We’re going farther faster, but I’m pretty sure American pioneers are 100% more badass than ANY of us catching a plane in yoga pants these days. And then we come home, and go back to work, and complain about our daily life, and how we wish we could travel all the time, and we’re back in our ruts. We’re more hypermobile than ever before, and that’s not a good thing. Our health is suffering as we sit in front of screens and earn our vacations by straining our eyes and flattening our backsides. We get “inspired” to visit certain destinations because someone else went there first. How about we just spin the globe and go where our fingers land? No, that would be too difficult/too time-consuming/not interesting (or Insta-worthy) enough. So what are we getting from traveling?

Lots more on this topic to come.

Why do you travel?

Mexi-Go

I finished the glass of whisky and clicked over to Google Flights. I knew if I didn’t buy the tickets now, I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t ask for the time off but I had earned it last year, and I was taking it whether it was approved or not. New York to Cancun, read my confirmation. 1 passenger.

Thus began my birthday trip for my 31st. I didn’t have enough vacation time (nor enough room in my budget) to head to Europe, and I’d read a little bit in one of my travel digests about some small island off the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres. Why not? The price was right – I’d be flying home the day before my actual birthday, but if I counted Arizona as my 30th birthday trip two weeks post, this counted too. I looked up where to stay and found an inexpensive studio apartment with a fridge and microwave right on the beach at Maravilla Caribe (MVC). You couldn’t book online but I sent an email and placed my deposit via Paypal. I could have booked a hotel but I wanted to stay off the beaten path. I also could have tried a hostel – which I still have yet to do – but I didn’t want to indulge in the typical “spring break in Mexico” party scene. I wanted to enjoy my peace and quiet for a few days.

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I also researched how to get around. There was a ferry from Cancun but I’d need to get to the ferry terminal. I could take a cab but they didn’t run from the airport. I could reserve a shuttle but they were more than I wanted to pay. I settled on the most economical – and perhaps sketchiest – option: I would take the bus from the airport. I saved the notes in my phone so I wouldn’t forget.

Arriving in Cancun I was surrounded by typical tourists. I once read less than 25% of the American population holds a passport and something like less than 10% actually use it, so when we meet fellow Americans abroad, we should effectively high-five them at their ability to have made it out of the country at all. I have perhaps a more elitist view, and I wasn’t here to party. I kept my shades on as much as possible to hide my light eyes and spoke no English. I got my bus ticket and went outside in the heat to wait.

I realized I’d forgotten my phone charger cable. I had the charger itself, but not the cable. I travel without a handbag and had forgot to put it in my backpack. Already on the way to Isla Mujeres, I was flashing back to the Amazon: if this “sleepy” island was anything like the remote villages in Colombia, I was screwed. I immediately emailed my hosts at MVC to see if they knew of anywhere on the island I could purchase a cable. Then I boarded the bus and watched a poorly-dubbed American film until we stopped at the taxi stand. The bus had wifi and I was able to link in. Ronda had emailed me back already that she’d put out an APB out on Facebook and had a local tell her there was a store on the island similar to a Walmart that would have the cables. Relieved, I put my phone away and found a taxi. The taxis in Cancun weren’t in as rough shape as the taxis in Brazil and Colombia, but I was still feeling the jungle vibe.

Studies show the human brain remembers every experience it has – that is, everything you’ve experienced in your life leaves an impression in your brain, whether or not you remember, and whether or not you’re able to recall. Studies also show your brain fills in the gaps, and – perhaps most interesting of all – your brain compares all subsequent experiences to a prototype. The first time you experience something real, everything else will relate back to it. For me, my first major trip outside the country was to the Amazon, so even unrelated travel with few similar qualities was recalling that experience. The similarities? I was alone, I was speaking only Spanish, I was surrounded by native culture (once I got on the island), I was eating unusual food, it was hot and humid, I did some traveling by boat. Differences: different country, different accents, different living arrangements, different premise for the trip, different tourists, different economy, different food, different activities….the list goes on. And yet my brain was making me homesick for the Amazon.

The ferry dropped me at the port in Isla Mujeres in the heat of late afternoon. I slung my pack over my shoulder and walked down the sidewalk to my right, south, toward MVC. If I’d done my research properly, I would cross over to the eastern side of the island and come to the house in about two miles. There was construction on the road and once I got past the piers and shops, it got quiet quickly. I wasn’t sure I was headed in the right direction but I kept going. There were only two roads leading North to South, around an airport and some natural lakes, and I knew I needed to be near the ocean side, so I had to be going the right way. The house was a bright turquoise – I couldn’t miss it.
IMG_2037 And I didn’t. Just past some construction and around some palm trees, I sawthe turquoise house on my left, the soccer dome to my right. I walked in and went upstairs as instructed to meet Ronda and Bruce. They let me into my apartment and then invited me into theirs to chat. I’d had a long day – why not get to know my hosts? We wound our way past their hammocks (“We sleep in them all the time – they’re so much more comfortable! I’m glad you like hammocks too!”), picked up beers in the fridge, and sat on their ocean-facing balcony to shoot the shit for a couple hours while the sun descended.

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Ronda and Bruce were from Texas – oddly enough, where Graham had just moved, and why I’d had that whisky the night I bought the tickets. They’d moved to Isla because they loved the slower pace of life, the sense of community, the paradise-like weather, and the beach. They’d come here on vacation, decided to move, and waited for the house to be built once they got the land. I asked why they didn’t list the apartments on more places and Ronda said she liked to keep things simple. She maintains a community blog – hence why she had local connections to help me with my iPhone cable – and enjoys getting to know the islanders. They were such accommodating hosts, I truly can’t recommend a stay with them earnestly enough. They knew I brought my hammock and told me nobody would be in the apartment below me after that first night, so I was welcome to hang out in that porch area for the rest of my stay. They gave me recommendations on places to eat and visit, and – only after it was dark and I was hungry – did they apologize for taking up my first afternoon. “We don’t normally have guests come in and then just get them drunk upon arrival!” I didn’t mind. A couple ice-cold beers after a long day of traveling never hurt anyone, and I was glad to meet such laid-back people who truly understand what’s important in life.

It’s not about how big your house or car are. It’s not about where you work or the clothes you wear. It’s how you treat those around you, how you can appreciate the little things in life, how you’re willing to take a risk to live the life you’re meant to live. I thanked them for their superior hospitality, got my backpack from my room, and set out to find some foo.d