Do You Plan Your Wanderings?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Happy Wanderer.”

I’m a planner. I admit it. But whether or not my children believe me, I wasn’t always one. When I traveled to Ensenada, I let my friend plan our weekend. When I traveled to San Felipe, I went with the flow. On my trip to Australia, we were free and spontaneous. We chose where to stay and for how long, money and a flight home our only boundaries. Even my first trip to Paris and Zurich were simple – I stayed with friends, brought guide books, and decided each day where I would be a tourist.

But then I had children. And the world became more crowded. I discovered that summer camps would fill up before spring. With a child with food allergies, spontaneity was difficult and wrought with disappointment and a hungry child. Slowly, I learned to plan. And now, I always plan.

My hesitation and anxiety about traveling to South Africa was lessened by learning more about the country, where we could and would go. Planning has allowed me to avoid long lines and eat gluten free at Disney, visit our sponsored child in Lesotho, camp at Pawtuckaway State Park every summer for years, be led by a tour guide through Gettysburg National Park, and visit the Senate on a trip to Washington.

But I still love spontaneity. And while doing a little research before traveling to a new place helps me to find the special and unique, or avoid those well traveled and touristy, destinations, spontaneity allows us to change course. To listen to recommendations from other travelers or discover new places ourselves.

Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have attended a hearing for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, watched the surfers in Half Moon Bay, or listened to the Wave Organ in San Francisco. I wouldn’t have spent the night in a treehouse, picked strawberries in Pescadero, gone hiking with the Hobart Bushwalking Club, or danced Nia in Santa Barbara. Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have met Terry from England who later invited me to her wedding in Athens. I wouldn’t have stayed with the dairy farmer in Auckland or gone hot air ballooning outside of Alice Springs.

The travel world is so different than it was – the internet provides information and access to so many places, and apps like Yelp can allow a little bit of spontaneity with less risk of disappointment. You can read about where to go and what to see on blogs and share your experiences on social media.

But there’s nothing quite as freeing as just setting out, doing what you feel like doing at the moment, eating when you’re hungry, and being ready to just let things happen.

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Shopping Around the World

I discovered all these handmade gifts a couple of years ago at various local fairs. Even if you’re at home this holiday season, buying and giving gifts made by people in other countries brings the world to you and helps the artisans who make them as well. Happy shopping!

Snapshots and Sojourns

Where did you go this holiday season? I stayed near home the month of December but went shopping around the world and bought several gifts handmade by women and children in places like Sri Lanka, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Thailand. Each item made me pause and smile, and I have no doubt, they made the recipient feel good, too.

I oohed and awed at jewelry made in the Philippines and in India from genuine pearls. Pearls with Purpose was created to instill self-sustainability and hope in women throughout the world.

I smelled the candles and admired the containers at Prosperity Candle, a company whose mission is to “empower women to rebuild their lives through candle making, one gift at a time.” After training women as candle making entrepreneurs in Baghdad, the company began working with Burmese and Bhutanese women refugees living in Massachusetts. If you buy a candle, you…

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An Insight into Lesotho

Visiting a place and getting to know its people makes the world smaller and increases our sense of community, even when that place may be far away. Or at least it does for me. My family visited the tiny country of Lesotho (pronounced li-soo-too) just three years ago.

Highway in Lesotho

So last week, when I heard of Lesotho’s attempted military coup, I could picture the people and the place, a country where over 90 percent of the women are literate, according to UNESCO, but half the population lives below the national poverty line, and 40 percent of the people suffer from malnutrition.

Village People

Lesotho housing

For more photos and travel stories of our trip to Lesotho, check out these blog posts:

Adventures in LesothoSleeping in LesothoEating in LesothoOrphans in LesothoVisiting Our Sponsored Child in Lesotho, and Washing Clothes by the River.

Trip taken August 2011.

Renting a Home Away from Home

When planning a vacation away for more than a few days, consider renting an apartment or cottage instead of staying at a hotel. While the service may be lacking, you’ll gain freedom to cook your own meals and explore your destination more like a resident than a tourist.

We’ve rented a house in Bolinas, California; an apartment in Cape Town, South Africa; and a cottage on Plum Island near Newburyport, Massachusetts. In all three cases, we stayed near the ocean, in comfortable lodging, for a reasonable price. In all three cases, we used VRBO.com to rent a place directly from its owner. Cape Town Apartment

Bolinas: Although the tiny house was bursting with our party of four adults and four kids, the deck allowed us space for overflow. We stocked the kitchen with our own favorite foods and took over the kitchen and grill; we jogged along the cliff nearby and throughout the local neighborhood; we drove to the local market, walked the beach, and ate out at a nearby restaurant.

Cape Town: Located between the ocean and the local markets, our two-bedroom apartment in Sea Point was full of books, DVDs, local artwork, and maps of the area. We caught the bus at the end of the road and walked into town for groceries. Cape Town  Artwork   Sea Point

Plum Island: Just outside our front door, a sandy path led to the beach. We ate mussels at the local restaurant before riding our bikes back to the cottage to cook our own fresh pasta. Although we spent little time inside, the cottage was comfortable and well equipped with movies and music to enjoy in case of bad weather. Plum Island Cottage

While we’ve had good luck and much success with our rentals, things can go wrong. In Cape Town, we arrived after a long trip to discover a bathroom without toilet paper. After knocking on our neighbors’ door, we borrowed a roll before venturing to the nearest local market to stock up. Each time we rent, we learn a little more to consider before we rent the next time. Things like:

  • What is the minimum stay?
  • Does the price include a cleaning fee?
  • What type of deposit is required and is it refundable?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Are other guests allowed?
  • Do you need to bring linens?
  • How will you get the key?

The next time you’re looking for a place to stay with a little more character and a lot more flexibility than the Days Inn or the nearby Hilton, consider checking out VRBO, its parent company Homeaway.com, or one of their competitors. After your experience, you’ll feel almost like a local!

Trips taken 2007, 2009, 2011.

A Souvenir Allowance

Traveling with children can be a challenge. The “I want this, I want that,” may abound. It’s exhausting to say no all the time, but the alternative will most likely result in a spoiled child. Just remember Veruca Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and her constant phrase, “Daddy, I want it now!”

Before our trip to Disney World, when our kids were 8 and 10 years old, a friend gave me some good advice. Let each child choose their own souvenirs but give them a price limit. So, before our trip, we decided on a dollar value. Each child would get a souvenir allowance of $25, and they could spend it how they wished.

I remember walking through the BoardWalk and seeing signs for hair wraps.

My daughter elbowed me, “I want that.” But when she found out how much it was ($22), she changed her mind. The quest for a souvenir continued for the next few days. Would it be a neon stick for $12, a necklace or book? A stuffed animal or hat?

The questions didn’t stop, “Can I have … ?” was constant, but I never had to say, “No.” Both kids were empowered, and I was no longer the “bad guy.” What will your kids buy if they’re in charge?

Disney Blog - 27

When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

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Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

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Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Horizon. The space or line where the sky meets the earth. 

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

According to Franklin Roosevelt, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Perhaps that’s why I love to travel. To see beyond my own boundaries, to meet new people and encounter new places, to experience life from a different angle.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Upper West Side, New York City.

Upper West Side, New York City.

Shopping Around the World

Where did you go this holiday season? I stayed near home the month of December but went shopping around the world and bought several gifts handmade by women and children in places like Sri Lanka, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Thailand. Each item made me pause and smile, and I have no doubt, they made the recipient feel good, too.

I oohed and awed at jewelry made in the Philippines and in India from genuine pearls. Pearls with Purpose was created to instill self-sustainability and hope in women throughout the world.

I smelled the candles and admired the containers at Prosperity Candle, a company whose mission is to “empower women to rebuild their lives through candle making, one gift at a time.” After training women as candle making entrepreneurs in Baghdad, the company began working with Burmese and Bhutanese women refugees living in Massachusetts. If you buy a candle, you can email its creator through the organization’s website.

I bought recycled bead bracelets made in Uganda from BeadforLife. Bead for Life teaches women the art of bead making as well as entrepreneurial and business skills so that they may successfully run their own sustainable business once they graduate.

I bought bracelets for gifts and a necklace for myself from Emerge Global, an organization which supports teenage girls in Sri Lanka, ages 10-18,  who have survived abuse and helps them develop business and life skills needed for self-sufficiency.

IMG_0814I gave animal shaped ornaments made from soapstone to my family to hang on our tree. Venture Imports sells these ornaments and other carvings which are cut with machetes by Kenyans as part of the Tabaka project. Tabaka was established to eradicate suffering throughout the Kisii area of Kenya and provide an opportunity for a better quality of life by providing fair wages and the ability to market products outside of Kenya.

And I don’t know about you, but when I’m shopping, I sometimes buy gifts for myself. So, what did I buy?

I bought a string of lights and flowers made from real leaves of the rubber tree and the bodhi tree by Burmese women. Money from the sale of “flowers from real leaves” supports local women and other projects at Whispering Seed, “a village-based sustainable living and learning center and home for children who have been orphaned, abused and neglected along the Thai-Burmese border.”

I bought a bracelet for myself from the Mmofra Trom Bead Project whose motto is “Give the gift of education, one bracelet at a time.” Children in Ghana string beads made from recycled glass to help fund their high school and college education. The beads are made by local Ghana artisans.

In the past, I’ve given shares of animals as gifts through Heifer International and bought jewelry and art from Ugandan artists through Project Have Hope, an organization that empowers women in the Acholi region of Uganda. What unique and handmade gifts did you discover as you traveled around the planet this past holiday season?

Ducks in a Tree

Have you ever seen a duck in a tree? Or penguins on the beach or an ostrich by the side of the road? Have you ever felt the winds of a Southeaster? On the west coast of South Africa we experienced all as we made our way to the Cape of Good Hope, not the southern most tip of Africa.

In South Africa’s winter, we experienced a “Southeaster” as we were blown by Cape Town gusts at least 60 miles per hour on our first afternoon in Cape Town. We walked along Sea Point’s ocean front promenade, the sun warm but the winds strong.

We meandered the paths of Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Gardens, beautiful botanical gardens at the foot of Table Mountain, where we discovered grasses, bushes and flowers different from those on our own continent, aloe plants blossomed and ducks stood in trees.

Just south of Simon Town on our way to the Cape of Good Hope, we photographed penguins on the beach, wishing the sun was warmer so we could join them for a swim.

We greeted ostriches by the side of the road in Cape Point.

And we took photos of the Cape of Good Hope even though we learned it is not the southernmost point of Africa (Cape Agulhas located 90 miles east-southeast gets the honor).

Trip taken in August 2011.