I have always been hard on myself if I pass a day with no “redeeming” purposeful activity. The usual shopping trips or household routines don’t really qualify. If I haven’t advanced something, somehow, but have just mooshed through a day, it feels like a waste. But, here are the things I am learning with age:
1. Nobody cares! Absolutely no one pays any attention to whether I sit at the computer writing, or fill my time reading catalogues or magazines. They don’t even know, and frankly, they all expect old ladies to just get through their days any which way that they can. But, that’s also the standard we apply to others. Hey, if it’s not hurting yourself and other folks, and if it’s your free time…do what you want to do! But, internally, I either drive myself to produce or feel slightly negligent for not.
2. Often, it all comes out the same anyway. Time has passed and that’s about the long and the short of it. You have either entertained yourself by the “progress” you’ve made…by the new plants you have put in the ground; the weeds you have pulled; the mulch spread; or scripts, books or journals you’ve written, or else, you have napped a lot; watched TV; and read every magazine that has floated, unbidden, before your face.
Ironically, You are often right back at the same starting place within six months anyway. The weeds are back, the mulch has disintegrated, the plants have either taken root or not, and the scripts and book manuscripts have simply increased the volume of paperwork you now have to store. All of that purposeful work! So much of it went to just filling your time in a way that wouldn’t cause you to think that you are a lazy bum. Of course, the ongoing outdoor projects make the yard look cared for. The writing attempts make you a more interesting and lively person to your peers, and the journaling has its own rewards in logging an interesting life.
I believe that the summation of why we humans constantly weigh this inner dialogue, even if some would say that it doesn’t really matter how we spend our free time, is that we are carving and sculpting ourselves. If we settle for passive consuming, then we haven’t really shaped anything. But, if we diligently devote our time to hard and hopeful tasks, then that time is never wasted; even if the grass must be cut, yet again like our hair, with no trace to show of the previous work done on it. Or those cookies that we have all baked in the presence of voracious children or company – gone in a second! After all that work! Why not just buy a bag of cookies in the grocery store and sit on your duff?
“Because!” is the answer. Always, “Because!”
I always find that my Big Ideas go through quite a shakedown on their way to reality. That’s happening now with my plans for my next Travel Opportunity. The next trip is my #3 Goal which I stated would be chronicled on this blog site. #1 was the Book Production #2 was this Blog, and #3 was my next Around The World trip concentrating on the Southern Hemisphere. The first two goals are now realities. It’s time for the third to be born.
I discovered a few things when I finally brought out my maps and guidebooks to get down to the serious business of outlining such a grand scheme. There’s a whole lot of water down there. Of course, I knew that, but had never had to deal with the fact, personally, and try to mash it into an existing timeframe and budget. I don’t have the luxury of a whole year this time around. I have about four months, but I still dream of taking my time within a continent to explore its great variety in a rather freeform way.
As I put together a possible flight schedule to price Round-The-World tickets, I learned that planes don’t necessarily fly straight across the ocean, from say, South America to Africa, but one must go way north to London or Paris and then catch your flight back down again to the new continent below the Equator. Now, that might only be true of the airlines that these particular consolidators were working with, and maybe flights actually do head straight out between Southern Hemisphere capitals, but perhaps those have to be arranged individually. Anyway, my proposed air tickets were all coming out to be very expensive and requiring so many hours of flight over out-of-the-way routes. Maybe I’ll learn that this is always the way that it is. I’m still a greenhorn at this.
Then, I investigated sailing between the continents, but I do believe that this would eat up many weeks, as most of the yachts and vessels willing to take on working crew members are not in any hurry to make the crossing and don’t see themselves as mere passenger vehicles. So, I couldn’t see just sailing around the water continent without spending time on the land masses.
Currently, I have solved the dilemma by deciding to spend the entire available time poking around South America only. Another time, it will be Africa; another, Australia/New Zealand, until I have worked my way, gradually around the lower chunk of our globe. I am aware of the fact that this could take years and I’m no spring chicken, but it appears to be the best way to remain true to my travel outlook instead of just zipping around, simply to tag that distinction of bagging another rtw.
I really like the sound of flying from Florida to Lima, Peru, and I was researching the many great cities that country has and getting very excited about that starting point. However, lately, I’ve been considering flying into Caracas, Venezuela, which is more at the top of the continent and covering those countries as I travel overland to Peru. Otherwise, I would probably miss them and I might be very sorry. From Peru, I’ll drop down into Chile and beyond.
As promised, I’ll keep posting the evolution of this idea until it gels into a final shape. Looks like my targeted departure date might be January 14, so I have not quite three months to get myself together. This will be a much simpler sort of trip to plan for and I will probably wait until three weeks before leaving to nail down my tickets, leaving myself free to watch for last minute bargains. Aside from making sure my shots are updated, buying a new and smaller backpack, and the usual “being away from home for awhile” arrangements, there will not be a great deal of pre-planning except for studying my South America On A Shoestring Lonely Planet guidebook. It already sounds very good to me.
Earlier, I began to quote from my new book, Hey Boomers, Dust Off Your Backpacks, the story of my border crossing into Albania, a country which Lonely Planet warns us not to enter. Here’s more from page 118:
“Okay, now back to the story of how I got here and of my fifteen hours in Albania. After saying goodbye to the last official, I returned to the car with my three thugs, who had rearranged themselves so that I could sit in front. Two men now held down the shifting rear seat. I was “not allowed” to fasten my seatbelt, as was also the case in Goran’s taxi, earlier. It’s obviously a terrible insult to their driving ability, and possibly, to their very manhood, and every time I pulled on the strap or even looked as if I were thinking about it, a finger would be shaken: “Ah, ah!”
What the heck? I’m in Albania now. Do as they do. I sure didn’t intend to antagonize these guys. But, ohmigosh, what dangerous driving, on what awful roads. At one spot, two old car tires had been propped up in a pothole to warn drivers away and prevent them from falling in and getting hung up… We did breakneck things as I admired the many shrines of flower-bedecked crosses and memorials to all those loved ones who had lost their lives doing just what we were doing now, though perhaps they had had a drop or two to tip the scales. One of their cars was still upside down and rusted out in someone’s yard…
We filled up with gas and a little farther along, we pulled into a fenced yard surrounding an auto repair business. “Uh oh! Do we already have car trouble or is this where I get done in? Why are we stopping?” Then, two harmless-looking teenage youth began to haul on a white fabric bag, half-filled with something sand-like. It might have been dirt, but I don’t think so. Then, a larger, similar bag was yanked, with some difficulty, from the other side. Both had been wedged on either side of the engine block. “Oh, okay. They aren’t banditos any more. Only smugglers. I feel better.”
La tee da. I didn’t say a word. Nosireee. We all just ignored that transaction and the hood was slammed shut and we were on our way again… Hey, it could have been beach sand for all I knew. But, if not, this would explain the tight features, the nervousness at the border and the refusal to exchange names. I’m not one to upset the delicate fabric of a country’s economic structure. Well am I familiar with the desperate subsistence smuggling done for mere survival in a Communist, or a post-Communist country.”
As it happened, the driver was true to his promise to take me to the bus in Shkoder and we pulled up to the side-street stop just as the Tirana bus was loading. I was the last passenger left in the Mercedes as the two cronies had hopped out along the way. So much for my Albanian bandit story.”
The moral of this story for me, now, is that we often leap to conclusions about the danger that we are in. Because things may appear strange to us, we can, and do, imagine all sorts of dire and unhappy endings – which, in real time, never existed at all. Those men were simply doing as they had been asked for a fair price. Not once did they give any indication that they would fulfill the Lonely Planet’s general warnings about banditos at the northern border of their country.
I’m also not blaming myself for having those thoughts, but I am mighty glad that I did not have a hissy-fit at the border trying to save myself from an outcome which existed only in my head.
It’s easy to take easy for granted, especially in this time of instant global communication. But, in 1935, my life, as well as my father’s, depended entirely upon the existence of a tiny, homemade, seven-watt ship’s radio. He was about to die at sea aboard a large, wooden sailing vessel rapidly taking on water. If the First Mate hadn’t cobbled together a working radio out of scrap parts and against the wishes of a tyrannical madman captain; and if that little set hadn’t succeeded in rousing the Honolulu Coast Guard, then the Seth Parker would have eventually gone down, taking my mother’s fiancé with it. I would not have been born two years later.
Father was attempting to sail around the world at the time but he never made it across the Pacific Ocean. Now, I have succeeded in circumambulating the planet once and am soon to do it again, the other way around. He was a young man. I’m an old woman. How did I come to such a pass? Surely, it’s genetics from both sides of my family, for sea captains populate my parent’s past. Mother’s grandfather was a Bermudian tall ship captain, and Father sprang from New England sea captains, becoming one himself. Obviously, the itchy-feet gene was bound to surface again somewhere in my family. But mine had to wait till I had raised my kids, divorced my husband, retired from work, and found a way to pay for an unconventional, burgeoning travel bug.
If I didn’t exactly live small, I lived regularly. I had an ordinary life and I still do. But, genes and DNA, once activated, are very persistent in claiming their fifteen percent of one’s time and attention and now, mine seem to be making up for lost time. I don’t sail; I fly into countries and backpack alone around each continent; then come home and write about it. Three years ago, at age 67, I backpacked, for a year, throughout Eastern Europe, Turkey, Egypt, India, Thailand, Hawaii, and the U.S. West Coast. For awhile, that satisfied my inner wanderlust. But now, with a new book published and a blog site to tend, my genetic code is firing up again; inspiring me to plan my new trek across the Southern Hemisphere, going in the other direction – East to West. As before, I plan to hostel and backpack in a spontaneous wandering way, through South America, the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Borneo, Africa, Israel and Spain, before returning home to write another book.
Because I’m seventy-one years old by now, I’ve been investing time, energy, and money into making my very healthy body even healthier. My food is all organic; my water, bottled; I detoxify herbally; and do strength and weight training so that I can again lug that really heavy pack under some pretty basic travel conditions. It makes sense not to have to carry any extra pounds beneath my own skin. Meanwhile, before departure day, I have a book to promote: Hey Boomers, Dust Off Your Backpacks; Travel The World On A Limited Budget.
This book chronicles my adventures as a single woman of a certain age and describes what happens when one sets out alone to explore less-well-traveled regions with nothing pre-planned except the stack of airline tickets in my pocket. For each location, those provide an entrance city and a far distant exit point for a randomly-selected future date. It’s a blank slate in-between for me to write upon with my body.
How does it feel to sleep in a crowded coed bunk room with hostellers half your age? Is it safe to take the local buses and trains in Bosnia, Albania, and India? What about language barriers, street food, and drinking water? How are the emergency rooms in Goa and Bangkok, compared with one in Los Angeles? What does it feel like to ride elephants and camels? What’s it like to sit up all night in airports and train stations, worldwide; and how about the occasional involuntary adoptions that persistent natives sometimes wish to perform upon you? How does one deal with touts and cheeky beggars who see you as an undefended target in their midst? Who are the friends you make along the way?
Before I leave home again, I really hope that I’ll have many opportunities to answer these burning questions and tell the story of my first around the world adventures. Hopefully, I’ll be besieged with speaking invitations when my press release goes out. Because, in the process of analyzing that trip, I realize that I have a message for leading edge baby boomers, some of whom were world-class backpackers in the sixties. Perhaps they don’t fully understand that it’s still entirely possible to do such things in old age and on a limited income. Their generation has found a way to perpetuate youth with every new decade they’ve entered as the leaders of that gigantic population bubble. But, within their heart of hearts, I hear, that secretly they dread the unknown future which advertising tells them is littered with ill health, mental decline, and loss of freedom and fun.
Eligibility for social security represents that rapidly-approaching boundary line, which in youthful minds, spells old age, dotage, pipe and slippers. This is an emotional misconception nowadays, but it’s often there, lurking in the psyche, until the line is crossed, and….. Voila! The sun still shines! I wish to be a pied piper to those nervous boomers, telling them that it’s not so bad over here across the SS line. In fact, it’s even possible to do outrageously audacious things. I will always sound really old to them, at eight years and more, their senior. So, they will conclude that if I can do it, then it will surely be a piece of cake for them.
It will be interesting to see how I can manage to stay in touch with my new friends on the internet, as a blogger, from deep within the Amazon. For me, questions like that are part of the whole fascination with this kind of life: the uncertainties; the adaptations; the surprising discoveries and simple solutions. Traveling free-form around the world has proven one thing to me. It’s really all so easy!
Linda J. Brown’s new book, “Hey Boomers Dust Off Your Backpacks” can be purchased on Amazon.com and through her blogsite, heyboomers.com.
In September, 2005, midway through my journey around the world, I entered Northern Albania from Montenegro. I had arrived in Podgorica the night before, thinking that I could just hop on a bus traveling to the next country, but a taxi driver who intercepted me at the bus station informed me that there was no such thing. He and an English-speaking friend convinced me to take his taxi to the border in the morning and to walk across in daylight. This proved to be very good advice and I hired him to drive me to a pension for the night as well.
“2:40 p.m., September 15, 2005 – Ohhhh boy. Albania is a new entity entirely. Big challenge. It’s way different from the rest of Eastern Europe. Probably much like the Soviet countries would have been for us without our team of youth translators along to buffer us from the basic realities. And why not? This has been a Communist country until just recently. It is so Third World that a lone Westerner is really completely lost, mostly because the familiar infrastructure just doesn’t exist here.
Goran let me out of the taxi within sight of the border control buildings but I had to walk the final half block. He seemed afraid. There is simply no relationship between the two countries. So, I walked across my second border. First, my passport had to be stamped by the Montenegran authorities, and then I had to walk over to the Albanian Entry Station and pay their ten Euro fee. The uniformed Albanian official asked me where I was going and I blithely said that I would catch the bus to Tirana, the capital, and he blithely informed me that there was no bus running from the border. The first bus could be caught thirty miles away in Shkoder. Whoops. A little bit of an information glitch between the two countries.
Lonely Planet was no help, as they simply advised no traveling at all in Northern Albania which is where I was now. Banditos. I was here because the French Foreign Legion man on the train told me the banditos had stopped being dangerous, or something like that. Hmmmmm. Anyway, the official waved over the next car passing through and told him to take me to town and to put me on the bus.
I completely believe, to this day, that this luck-of-the-draw car was full of said banditos. Three very skuzzy men, unshaven, with long greasy hair, driving an ancient very, very, very beat-up, caramel-colored Mercedes, pulled over and agreed to take me for ten dollars. While we were trying to set a price, a nice-looking, well-dressed man came up to translate for us. He said “Wouldn’t you rather ride with me?” and waved towards his fancy Mercedes with his family inside. My backpack was already in the first man’s trunk so I didn’t want to make waves and get it out. But soon, I regretted missing that opportunity when we were in front of the Albanian Customs Office and my driver waved me into his car and motioned me to sit quietly. It didn’t help that his seat was not securely fastened down and slid about when I sat down on it.
It also didn’t help that he became very nervous and completely unfriendly. It seemed to me that he was not intending for me to enter the office to get my passport processed. By now, I had reached my bandito conclusion. So, I slipped past him and went to speak to the professor in the car behind us, saying that I would rather ride with him after all… Alas, it was too late, as the first man was already going to have to pay a percentage of my fee to the border station officer.
Okay. I sat back down on the detached, sliding around, back seat, comforting myself with the idea that the border police on both sides of the line knew that an American was riding with them and anyway, what dastardly deed could they do at ten o’clock in the morning, for goodness sake? Steal what I had on me, is what, if they were banditos.
They sure looked tough. One had greasy long hair and very few teeth. He was probably in his forties… I was so glad I hadn’t tried this border-crossing business last night as I had originally planned. I do remember thinking, while apparently captured in this unstable back seat, that this was as good a day to die as any. It was sunny and warm and even a little bit lovely. I would simply go with the flow.”
[Buy the book to learn what happens next…. or tune in for my next posting when the story continues.]
For some time, I have been meaning to sing the praises of a piece of travel clothing that I discovered before the big ’round the world, and it’s probably the only one that made it all the way around and came home with me. To this day, it hangs in my closet and I still wear it frequently. That’s staying power, because I gave away so many items to make room for new, and I went through so many seasons and had to buy for the cold and the wet days that took me by surprise.
It’s my Macabi skirt and I’m thinking of getting at least one more in a different color to take both with me next time. The fabric is very lightweight, so it dries quickly, feels very cool, doesn’t wrinkle and packs in a squish – even in your purse. The pockets are very deep, and one has a hidden zip mesh compartment. One of the best things is that you can convert this skirt into pantaloons/punjabi pants with the help of a provided strap…or snap the sides up and make blousy shorts. The latter styles are good for getting the cloth out of your way while wading or picking your way along a rocky trail, or simply for keeping cool. Though there is something to be said for a skirt that frees your legs up and swishes away the mosquitoes and stinging plants.
When you emerge from your hike and need to walk down a village main street or take in a temple, you can unhitch and unsnap, and you are dressed very appropriately in an ankle-length skirt. It’s also available in a knee-length version. Because of the wrinkle-free qualities, you are now dressed well enough to go to dinner in the same skirt you hiked in, if that becomes a necessity.
Men are even buying this versatile thing because they like the freedom it offers not to have their legs bound so closely with cloth. They recall the fact that Scotsmen wear skirts and they call this one a MUG. It seems to be revolutionizing outdoor wear in its own quiet way and mine has been through the travel wars and it still looks almost new. I like it so well that I have written a recommendation for it in the back pages of my new book.
Why don’t you go have a look at it at www.macabiskirt.com and read the comments that all the veteran travelers have posted on interesting uses they have put it to.
No sooner do I put one big project to bed, (my book is completed and published), than two or three other urgencies fill the void. One must, naturally, do things to announce the book’s existence to the world or it will wither and die unread upon the vine. Now that I am face-to-face with it, I’m beginning to understand that this could fill months of my time since things like speaking engagements and media interviews take awhile to come about.
But long ago, when the book was still in its beginning stages and I hadn’t realized exactly how long books take to finish, I set the departure date for my next around-the-world trip for January, 2009. How far away that sounded then. January to May is also the period when my snowbird neighbors will be here to watch over things at home and that determined the length of my trip. It all looked so neat in theory. Now, Push is beginning to lean heavily on Shove, and though I’m still on schedule, I’m beginning to multi-task even more.
So, into this running contest between my to-do lists and my chronic need now for long exercise beach walks to Caladesi Island, injects a new and alluring possibility…probably somewhat related to the slightly neglected shoreline. I have learned about a new way for a vagabond like me to get around the planet.
Sailing! Well, I always knew that people could sail around the world. My father attempted it during the last depression. But, I never knew that I might be able to actually sail long distances across the ocean depths, myself. I have no yacht, nor do I know anyone who might just so happen to invite me aboard for a long sail to exactly the countries that I have on my planned itinerary. And so, I figured that this was probably something that I’d never experience in this lifetime.
But, a lifeline has been thrown! Do I catch it? Shall I shift the focus of this next trip to the means of transportation rather than the countries sampled? I have just learned of a website which matches potential crew members (yes, even inexperienced ones) with boats of all sizes and sorts. Very often, the passenger/crew member travels free or for some shared expenses, in return for the labor required by their position on the ship. They earn no salary. They pay no fare. But, they eventually get to their destination. Everyone wins. And, since there are always boats and ships criss-crossing most of the planet’s waters, there will usually be one that fits your specifications, needing a crew member to do something that you know how to do. Even stewarding or nanny service is advertised and, in many cases, you don’t have to be an experienced seaman, or seawoman, to qualify. Some captains don’t put age caps on their consideration of an applicant. The website is: www.findacrew.net and there is no charge to join up. Those who become interested enough to do serious business, can become a premium member for less than fifty dollars.
As time goes by, and I become more in the groove about trip preparation, I will be reporting here on the decisions that I make about the safer, saner, and swifter solution of simply buying a single around the world air ticket and being done with it….and the much more crazy, insecure, and unpredictable, but far more romantic idea of sailing the South Pacific to all the lands down under. Do I have the guts to go for that new level of leaving behind all pretense at a comfort zone and a solid guarantee of arrivals and departures? (Hmmm, as I recall that was pretty iffy in the standardly-accepted method of air travel… )
Examined more closely, surely the slower, more laid-back life aboard a sailing craft just beats, hands down, a frenetic travel onslaught like the one I waged on the Northern Hemisphere a few years ago. At any rate, it’s very good to know that there’s a choice.
On Sunday, September 28, 2008, My Book Launch Party was held, hosted by my dear friend and mentor, Fawn Germer (www.fawngermer.com), who taught me how to get this book written and published. We had a very good time eating Greek food and focusing on the new reality of Hey Boomers, Dust Off Your Backpacks: Travel The World on a Limited Budget. Many people not only bought a book for themselves, but went home with a few Christmas presents for their friends. I had fun inscribing each book in a personal way.
Fawn tells me that rather soon, authors shorten their written front page commentary when there are lines of folks patiently waiting for their turn to get your autograph. That will be a welcome landmark to have reached….but until then, I indulge us both.
I like to make speeches and did have that opportunity this night. Naturally, later on, I was coming up with all sorts of brilliant ideas about what else I should have added to perhaps go for the goosebumps. I think my friends were lucky that those inspirations only occurred to me at 3 a.m. and not while I was still standing before them.
Yes, these are once in a lifetime days…but now that the book exists in real life, I find that I am getting carried away by the next duty and the next, which I must do to serve it. I find it difficult to spend adequate time savoring the moments as they whiz past. Just today, I sent out 36 press releases to radio and TV stations as well as newspapers, hoping for speaking engagements and interviews. And, those were only the local ones. Next, packets must go to some major talk shows. Well, why not try, for goodness sakes?
Many new ideas and related ones crowd in to be tackled. Particularly, I must get going on the plans for my next around-the-world journey coming up in three short months. I’ll be posting that unfolding story as I investigate two newly-discovered websites: www.couchsurfing.com and www.findacrew.net. Perhaps, my second book will reveal my story of sleeping free on people’s spare beds or couches and vagabond sailing across the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere.
Then, I can have a Second Time In a Lifetime Book Launch…and so it goes.