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Around the World in Six Books

June 19, 2013

It has been awhile since I’ve traveled abroad. It has been awhile since I picked up a new novel. So when I saw that Amazon had put together a list of 80 books from around the world, I knew it was a summer challenge made for me. Starting now, I have picked 6 books, one from each continent, that I will read over this summer. Since I spend over an hour a day on the Seattle commute, I have no excuse not seeing this through!

It’s dangerous to go alone!

So a few rules I’ve set for myself:

  1. Authors should preferably be from the location. I don’t want to spend my summer reading from entirely American authors about the places they have visited
  2. Books are allowed to be fiction or non-fiction but I should try to have a mix of both overall
  3. The challenge is over September 1st which puts me at a book every one to two weeks.
  4. I don’t have to blog on every book but I want to do at least 3 posts.
  5. I am using the Amazon book list as ideas but I do not have to pick from it

Now on to the books!

North America: MiddleSex by Jeffrey Eugenides

While the book on southern BBQ was tempting, I don’t know much about transgender issues and this was a book I have heard about that got great reviews. Plus it was in Oprah’s book club and I trust Oprah not to lead me astray

South America: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

I haven’t read poetry in a long time, not since I was a freshman, and I think this will be a perfect pull back into it. I have read Pablo Neruda before with The Heights of Macchu Picchu, and enjoyed it. Apparently Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair is a collection of romantic poems and was controversial for its eroticism. It’s going to get hot this summer.

Asia: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

This one is a bit of a cheat. It’s not set in Asia, but it is about a refugee family from Laos in California and the cultural conflict over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. However, it’s one I have been meaning to get around to and was recommended to me by multiple professors. Since my honor’s thesis was on the benefits of collaboration between traditional healers and Western Doctors in HIV prevention, the intertwining of mental health and culture is a special interest of mine.

Africa: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I was most disappointed by this book selection on Amazon. I couldn’t find a single African writer and most of the books seemed to be the typical “White man learns Africa is not that strange” story. So I turned to the internet to find a book written by an African author and found “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. It’s about Okonkwo, a man from an Ibo village in Nigeria and his fall out with the tribal world and well as the conflict between Nigeria and European missionaries.

Europe: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

I completely picked this on a whim from the list Amazon provided and have never heard of the book, nor the author. It is set in Barcelona and seems to be a murder mystery in which an antique book dealer attempts to uncover who is systematically destroying every copy of ever book by the famous author Julian Carax. Good enough for me!

Australia and Beyond: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit.

Australia must not have many reputable authors because most of the books chosen by Amazon were more from the “wanderlust” category.  It seems more philosophical in nature and uses Solnit’s life to explore issues of wandering, being lost, and the uses of the unknown. This seems like a good way to end my summer as I decide what I want to do for graduate school and beyond.

Looking to join me in my quest? Get your library card, grab your kindle, and allons-y!

Peace Corps: “What the fuck am I doing here?”

April 9, 2013
Today’s guest post is from Monika, who is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco! Today, her focus is on uncertainty and what one gives up to have the adventure of a lifetime. To read and subscribe to her blog, you can find the link here: http://confessionsofaconsciousconsumer.blogspot.com/
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I’ve come to realize that “The toughest job you’ll ever love” should, in fact, not be the motto of Peace Corps. Alright, maybe not that extreme of a statement. This is a very tough job, and I do love it. Whether my 21 year old self will declare here and now, not quite in country for 4 months, that of all the jobs I’ll ever have, it’s the toughest I’ll ever love is another story entirely. So if that’s the official motto, the unofficial motto should be this: “What the fuck am I doing here?” I’ve probably thought this line at least a hundred times in the last week and a half I’ve been in site. In some form or another, I’ve been thinking it for the last 4 months. And my 21 year old self will declare here and now this fact: if you spend a whole 27 months in the Peace Corps during your life, and don’t at some point think “What the fuck am I doing here?” you’re doing it wrong. Alright, maybe not wrong, but I at least think you’re a little abnormal in the head.
monikaWhen this thought runs through your head on a fairly regular basis, you can’t help but try to answer it a little bit while you sit bored and tuning out a conversation you can’t understand that’s happening around you. I joined Peace Corps and came to Morocco to challenge myself. I came to experience a new culture. To meet new people. To learn something about myself. To maybe help a person or two. I came because it’s been my dream since I was 14. And when it all comes down to it, I know this is going to be one of the greatest experiences of my life. I can already tell. I worry a little bit that I may have taken on an adventure that will be the peak of my life experiences at too young of an age. But seriously, when that’s my worry, I’ve got it made right? Exactly.
But let’s not forget what the actual motto of the Peace Corps is: “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” This shit is tough. It’s not like a study abroad trip where you have a group of 15 other American’s with you all day long to lean on. When you hit final site, it’s sink or swim. I’ve got it better than most with three site-mates who have been here for a year and a half already. But come November, it’s going to be just me here. And it’s not like I’m all alone. I’m in a city of 70,000 people. I’ll have friends. I’ll have coworkers. I’ll have counterparts. And this may sound weird and a bit of stating the obvious, but they’ll all be Moroccan. And don’t get me wrong, I came here to meet and experience a new culture of people, but sometimes, it’s just exhausting. Every time you step out your door, you have to think in a new language, try to follow all the various new customs, and try to ignore the endless catcalls thrown at you when you walk down the street.
When you have “Bonjour!!” yelled after you by the same group of boys you pass every day, who know you’re the English teacher in town, for the 100th time, that’s where the “What the fuck am I doing here” moment comes in. A friend of mine and fellow PCV made a great point when we were talking about what it would take to quit and go home. “You need to have both a push to leave here, and you need to have a pull back home to make you go.” So, most days, I really do love everything about being here. I mean, let’s be real, it’s not the States. I get a new adventure every day. I get to blow people’s minds with the next best “guess what I saw that crazy blond American do today…” moment. But I’m willing to bet every volunteer at some point gets that push to go home. You know, that place where in the winter, the houses are actually heated, and in the summer it doesn’t hit 130 degrees. That place where people speak the same language that you think in. That place where you can wear shorts and a T-shirt and not be a prostitute. Yeah, that place.
But you gotta remember the other half of that statement. There needs to be something from home to pull you just as much as there is a reason pushing you out of here. And, in all honesty, 130 degree weather isn’t a valid reason to pick up and leave. I didn’t join Peace Corps to be a pansy. So what would pull you back? Traveling is a deep and true love of mine. It’s something I don’t plan on giving up at any point of my life, and is worth giving up the life I knew back home in order to know what it’s like to be a little bit uncomfortable once in awhile. Its new friends, exotic cities, ancient history, weird foods, bodily dysfunctions, and personal exploration. I love it. But it comes with sacrifices. And these sacrifices can sometimes feel like a pull back home. I can’t buy Reese’s in Morocco for one thing. Alright, that’s minor, but still, I do miss Hershey’s products. It’s the bigger things. It’s the relationships.
 Sitting alone 5500 miles away working on an English lesson plan and seeing a Facebook status about ten of your closest friends all playing pool at your favorite bar is tough. Friendships are hard to keep up when you live next door to someone. They’re even tougher when you aren’t on the same continent. When you love to travel like I do, you also give up something else that’s a pretty big deal. Any chance at any sort of steady, semi-healthy romantic relationship. Even getting ready to leave for Peace Corps was hard. I know I’m getting ready to leave for two years. I know there’s zero chance I want to go into Peace Corps in any kind of a relationship. But you also don’t want to write the whole world off. What if that girl you met at a party is down to go travel the world with you? What if another year back home would have made something out of nothing? What if that girl that beat you at pool that one time is also a die-hard snowboarder? I guess nobody will ever know. But it’s a choice I make when I choose to travel. Not that I think travel is incompatible with relationships. But it’s a very specific type of relationship and a very specific type of person you need to find. And it’s not exactly Peace Corps ready. Yeah, PCV’s have hooked up, are hooking up, and will continue to hook up. Yeah, PCV’s have married locals, are marrying locals, and will continue marrying locals. I don’t really see marrying a local woman here as culturally acceptable, so that’s out. Dating another PCV? Very possible. Time will tell on that one.
All and all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling about relationships (both friendly and romantic) left behind back home, it’s this: The people who matter the most will stick with you through thick and thin. I do everything I can to stay in touch with as many people as possible back home, but if people don’t stay in touch back, there’s only so much I can do about it. Sometimes it feels like going home would suddenly fix that problem of lost relationships, but I think being apart is one of the best things I can do for them. It shows me my truest friends. It shows me who cares enough to stay in touch. It shows me who the deadbeats that I should forget about are. And it shows me which relationships would actually have lasted had I stayed back home, and who is worth calling up when I hit stateside again.
Two years is a long time. At least that’s what my 21 year old self feels right now. Give me another 40 years, and it’s only going to feel like a drop in the bucket. Peace Corps is nothing more than a warm up for the adventures the rest of my life is going to bring, and is going to teach me more than I could have ever realized I needed to learn. I live the coolest life I could ever imagine. Sometimes, that comes with consequences, but sometimes, there are perks I don’t even realize until they happen. And when it all comes down to it, my friends and my family are going to be standing right there waiting for me when I get back. Who will make up that group of friends is up to them by this point, not me. As Peter Pan once said: “To live would be an awfully big adventure.”

Beating the Slump

March 22, 2013

I’ll admit, I was a little spoiled as a child, having a family that loves travel as much as I do. I have them to thank for bringing me up that way and giving me so many opportunities to experience other countries from such a young age. On top of that, I had a number of family members who worked for the airlines so we were able to travel more often than our finances might normally allow thanks to employee discounts. When I left for college, though, I began my “formal” adult life and became much more financially independent. Between that and said members retiring or moving on to other jobs, I found myself looking at full-price tickets on one hand and college loans on the other. Sure, I had been spoiled, but in this case, is it such a bad thing? Is simply resigning myself to less travel the best solution?
After starting college, I didn’t leave travel outside of the US or Canada for three years. I finally worked the logistics to make my Japan trip happen after that, but since then it has been over a year since I have gone international. So what’s a spoiled travel junkie like me to do? Or rather, how have I kept myself from going stir-crazy?

-Travel within the country. I covered my “adventure/travel jobs” in Alaska and Colorado in my Travel in Your Own Backyard post, but once again let me say that new cultures may not be as far as you think, and it’s a great way to go if money is an issue.
-Go on an adventure. Culture is a huge part of travel, and the main one we focus on at the blog. But another reason I love travel is because it’s exciting in its own right. Being in unfamiliar territory with only yourself to rely on is very fulfilling at the end of the day. Camping is one of my favorite ways to get that same sense of independence and adventure. It certainly helps that I live in the hiker’s paradise that is Washington state, but really, every part of the world has its own unique landscape to explore. Not only that, but to echo a statement from my Emergency Preparedness post, it develops efficient packing skills that will serve you well on any trips abroad.

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I took this picture on a day hike just a 15-minute drive from my college apartment, but getting out an exploring is rewarding whether you’re doing it abroad or not.

Finally, get stir-crazy! Don’t fight it or accept it or settle. Normally, I’m an optimist who likes to find the best in whatever situation I’m in. But right now I’m frustrated that it has been so hard for me to make my travel dreams happen. And that’s okay. That frustration keeps it in my mind. I might not be able to travel today, but I’m always thinking about it and every day I work toward making it happen. Whether it’s examining your budget and putting money aside (note to self, write post about budgeting for travel) or planning the basics of your trip well in advance, make sure you are always moving closer to making it a reality.

What I have been doing lately is putting money aside not just for the travel itself, but for travel related things that can serve as physical reminders here and now. Even though my next major trip might be another year away yet, I put aside a portion of my meager paycheck and bought a new backpack, specifically making sure it would be suitable for a journey across Europe. The next month I bought a pair of lightweight, breathable travel pants. When my laptop made it clear to me it was on its last legs, I decided on an extra compact, lightweight replacement with a long battery life so I could manage my photos and keep up the blog and other correspondence while on the go. Buying little things like this that aren’t necessary at the moment may not be the most financially responsible thing in the world, but it has been invaluable to morale. And again, being an avid camper, most of the things on my wish list serve two functions for the price of one. Besides, I’m willing to turn down a trip to the movies once in a while, because right now that pack is the last thing I see before I go to sleep each night, just whispering to me: “Don’t forget. Make this trip happen.”

The Osprey Talon 33. I might not be out of the country just yet, but when I am I know exactly where I’m putting my stuff.

This blog, too, is a way of making sure that travel is always on my mind, and I never lose sight of my goals. Over the coming weeks I might take the time to give a sort of stream-of-consciousness post about the trip Maddy and I have been planning, like what I hope to accomplish to the early-stage logistics of getting there. I would also like to bring the current obstacles, from financial to psychological, and hopefully it will help out other readers in similar situations by offering solutions, or just giving the sense of camaraderie that comes from knowing there’s someone else in the same boat.
These all being interspersed with other, more organized posts, of course. You can take a stab at this too, Maddy. We’ve talked about it here and there, but putting it into writing and posting it for the world to see might help give an air of formality. Shoot, maybe we could do the majority of our planning this way as a sort of public corrispondence. It could be a great motivator to keep us busy!
Anyway, I know it’s easy for me to feel insecure. I just graduated college and have been thrown out into the big scary world on my own. But that’s just it, isn’t it? I’m a traveler, which means that big scary world is exactly where I want to be.

History: Putting the “Travel” in Time Travel

March 13, 2013
When Maddy and I graduated from college nearly a year ago, we left with one of the best possible combinations for two travel enthusiasts, in this author’s opinion. The way I see it, there are a few degrees that cover essentially the same subject, and differ mostly just in the scope. We may call them by different names, but I think my co-author and I both majored in the same thing: the study of people. Or if you want to be fancy and greek about it, anthro (people) and ology (study). Anthropology, if you will.
Wait, no… that’s not right…
Well, in a sense, it is. But that’s just one in a part of my (patent pending) scale of the four human studies, with each covering the same topic on an increasing scope.
  1. Psychology. Maddy’s BA. The study of the individual.
  2. Sociology. The study of multiple individuals.
  3. Anthropology. The study of the culture those individuals create.
  4. History. My BA. The study of multiple cultures interacting.
Not that any field can’t make you a better traveler, since the way I see it, the more you know about the world the more you can appreciate it. And admittedly my definition is a little flawed in other ways, too, since history is really about past cultures. The modern version would probably be political science. But politics and culture, while intertwined, are far from the same thing. And I guess a psychologist could study the differences between the thought processes of people from one culture versus another, and a historian could spend their whole career focusing on a single period, so the scale part isn’t quite right either… but I’ll have none of this “logic” hogwash slowing me down. It’s my blog post – I’ll say what I want. Maybe there’s a reason the patent hasn’t actually been approved yet. But if a field of study focused on understanding the interconnected nature of cultures over time and space isn’t relevant to global citizenship, then I don’t know what is, so on we go under the assumption that I have at least a tiny idea of what I’m talking about. Anyway, since according to my model the two of us fall on opposite ends of this supposed spectrum, I think that makes us a pretty good team. (Shout out to Maddy: you should do a post on how psychology influences your interest in travel!)
Experiencing a new culture! In this case, post Black Death Italy. Too bad they didn't have passports to stamp back then.

Experiencing a new culture (aka finals week)! In this case, post Black Death Italy. Too bad they didn’t have passports to stamp back then.

Because isn’t that what travel is really all about? Going to see different cultures? I suppose seeing the sites is part of it, and you could go summit Everest or visit the Grand Canyon and dive the Great Barrier Reef. And don’t get me wrong; the Seven Natural Wonders of the World are absolutely on my destinations wishlist. But if you were to visit all of them and never interact with any of the people there, wouldn’t that feel a little hollow? I love me some majestic geography, and it’s one of the reasons I love my home in the Pacific Northwest. But when it comes to travel, meeting new and interesting people and experiencing those cultures is one of the things I look forward to the most.
And that’s where my love of history comes in. For all the cultures we can experience by getting on a plane, Mayan or Zulu or Carolingian culture are not among them. And that’s why I spent four years studying the subject. Because I’m a traveler, and I’m not going to let that fact that I live in the 21st century stop me from visiting them in the bet way I can.
On top of that, when I do seize the chance to travel in the more physical sense, it’s like I’m visiting a dozen different cultures all at once, all temporally layered on top of one another. I got to see the busy Tokyo metro, then step outside and catch a glimpse of a Kamakura era wall or an Edo pagoda, and to me they all tell different stories. When I go into a museum I’m not looking at an old pottery shard so much as through it and into the cultures and people on the other side of that window. If you like travel, try time travel. It’s not quite as flashy in real life as it is in the movies, but if you look at history through the same eyes as you do foreign countries, you might just get some of the same things out of it.
Don't just think of the building - think of all the interesting people who used to live in it!

Don’t just think of the building – think of all the interesting people who used to live in it!

But I understand that a book will never be quite the same as really visiting and being able to meet the people and see not just the buildings but the vibrancy of life among them. I recently got a job at in my home state of Washington working in what’s called a living history museum. It’s our attempt to recreate historical periods as faithfully as possible, to give people a chance to visit (in my case) a fourteenth-century English village the same way you would any other destination. There are others that focus on Colonial America, different periods in Medieval Europe, and I’m sure more that I have yet to learn about. It’s a little bit of a novelty, I’ll grant you, but in true living history museums the researchers put a lot of effort into what they do, and in that sense it really is like interacting with a culture that no longer exists. And I think that’s an opportunity any devoted traveler would jump at.

The Passport Epilogues, a review of 2012!

December 30, 2012

 

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The 72-Hour Bag – Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

December 18, 2012

Natural disasters seem to be disconcertingly frequent when I turn on the news, from the earthquake in Haiti to the tsunami in Japan to the hurricane that recently hit the East Coast of the United States. No matter what part of the globe we live in,  most of us today face a very real probability of nature disrupting our typical routines, especially if you add man-made unrest such as the riot in Egypt to the list.

The point is, no matter how comfortable you are right now, it is worth being prepared in case something happens. As a Boy Scout I lived by the motto of “be prepared,” and I believe those words apply equally whether you are camping in the woods, visiting a foreign country, or even relaxing in your home.

So why bring this up in a blog about travel and global citizenship?  Because surviving a disaster and exploring a foreign country both take a very similar mindset: self-sufficiency. By learning how to prepare for one situation you can be better equipped to deal with the other. On a less practical note, I also happen to enjoy preparing, and treat it like a mental exercise. As an adventure traveler I try to pack in such a way that I minimize space and maximize versatility, and I think of it as though I were solving a puzzle. It’s not often we get to blend fun, practical and educational all into one activity, and while packing can often be stressful, I invite you to approach the idea openly, as you might actually enjoy yourself! Plus, while real disasters are certainly a serious issue, I also amuse myself by thinking of how best to survive a zombie apocalypse.

(Actually, the Center for Disease Control released a comic about zombies as a means of raising awareness about the importance of real emergency preparedness, so there may be a little more to it than simple entertainment value.)

(Admittedly, the analogy isn’t completely parallel.) 

This isn’t an episode of Doomsday Preppers. With disasters happening all over the world, I think we can strike a balance between safety and paranoia. Even though your town may never experience a hurricane, tsunami, tornado or guerilla insurrection, you can still achieve a reasonable amount of preparedness without sacrificing your life savings and devoting half of your house to guns and canned food, and you can learn a lot in the process even if it’s only hypothetical.

The most important tool in your arsenal is knowledge. I’m not in a position to teach you that right here and now, but making a plan costs nothing but a little of your time, and thinks like basic fist aid skills can come in handy even in the safest of towns. Aside from that, though, one of the best things to have on you is the 72-Hour Bag (aka the Bug-Out Bag, or BOB), so I will spend most of my time here on its merits, and how to go about making your own. It gets its name from the length of time it should keep you alive before you need to supplement it with outside resources (namely food). You should be able to fit 72 hours worth of supplies in a typical school backpack, making it portable and convenient.

It may seem like a stretch, but I think packing a 72-Hour Bag it a positive step in our ongoing quest toward global citizenship. For one, it is a direct application of two of the skills that all good travelers need to have: planning ahead, and packing efficiently. More importantly, though, I am a proponent of the idea of using personal experiences to drive home deeper ideas, and a hands on project like this may help drive home the reality of the situation entire populations find themselves in after a disaster. And to top it off, this exercise in awareness-raising might just save your life, too., or at least make it easier. Although my home in the pacific northwest has fortunately been spared any major disaster lately, we still face occasional power outages, and I can safely say that I’m glad I have an accessible kit even in these non-life-threatening scenarios.

Most of what I pack comes from previous camping and travel experience, cross-referenced with other BOB guides that are readily available online. Most are not very expensive, and many of them are the sorts of things that are useful to have around anyway as they tend to overlap with the typical camping or travel checklist. I was a regular backpacker before I made my first 72-Hour bag, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I already owned about 80% of the things on the list. Several items here (also posted by Maddy on our Facebook page) are a mix between basic travel and more intensive emergency prep.

There are so many lists out there that I won’t add my own. Instead, I encourage you to make a few quick google searches and adapt each list to your own environment and needs. My only warning is that a lot of the survivalist sites can be a little paranoid or zombie-oriented, and will place a crossbow higher on their list than a solar USB charger. Self defense can be important if you find yourself in the middle of a riot or looting, but use your best judgment. More often than not, a cool head and good judgment are better than a shotgun in those situations.

I have provided a small, non-comprehensive list of some items that I don’t see on every website, or that I think could use a second emphasis:

USB solar panel (A frequent concern of Hurricane Sandy’s victims was their inability to charge their phones enough to make emergency calls to relief teams and family members. A cheap solar panel won’t provide enough power to play Angry Birds, but it can help you tell your loved ones you’re okay. This is an item you won’t see on older lists, but the declining cost of solar technology has finally made simple chargers affordable, and the increased universality of cell phones makes it a primary means of communication.)

Iodine tablets (Much smaller than other water purification methods, and also useful for reducing radiation poisoning in case of a nuclear event like Fukushima.)

Copies of important documents (Like passports. Keep in a Ziploc bag so they stay dry.)

Sunscreen and bug spray (Don’t underestimate the importance of these. Disease is a huge issue in disaster zones and mosquitoes will help spread anything that starts. And sun exposure is a major risk when shelter is not guaranteed, as when families had to retreat to their roof after flooding from Katrina.)

Surgical masks (The cheap, disposable kind commonly worn by doctors or construction workers to protect their longs from germs, or particulates like dust or spray paint. Many of the first responders after the September 11th terrorist attacks suffered from health problems caused by the debris, so they may prove helpful in the unhygienic environment that follows a disaster. When the risk of health issues goes up and access to proper medical care goes down, prevention becomes critical. A bandana can do in a pinch, and can also be used in treating some injuries.)

On that note, talking about being stranded on a roof for days, fending off looters and coping with a nuclear meltdown may be a tad depressing, but ignoring the possibility of a disaster will do you no good, and the items are pretty small and cheap anyway. This isn’t about becoming a doomsday conspiracy theorist living in a bunker; it’s about eliminating that unhealthy mentality of “those things happen to other people, but it will never happen to me.” Even if the likelihood is small, it’s worth the investment.

Finally, be sure to keep this bag in a convenient location. It won’t do you any good if you can’t get to it.

Good luck, and stay safe!

Crossing the Return Threshold: How to Make Sure Your Experiences Abroad Stick With You

December 11, 2012

While Maddy and I do spend time coordinating and bouncing ideas off of each other, we also give ourselves a fair bit of blog independence. So I wasn’t expecting her last post about the difficulties of sharing your travel experiences with others. But being the self-improvement junkie of this internet duo, Maddy’s topic raised a concern I often have after coming home from another country having stuffed myself full of life lessons. How do I apply those experiences to this new (or rather, old) situation? In other words, how do I avoid slipping back into familiar habits and letting my suddenly expanded worldview narrow itself back down to what it was before my trip?

We are all the heroes of our own stories, so I direct you toward scholar Joseph Campbell’s take on the final leg of the journey. As he covers in his “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” the protagonist of the adventure frequently experiences a desire not to return at all. If they do, they fear they may not be able to bring their treasure with them or communicate what they have learned. Campbell speaks of this Crossing of the Return Threshold:

“The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life. Why re-enter such a world? Why attempt to make plausible, or even interesting, to men and women consumed with passion, the experience of transcendental bliss? As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and the prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes.”

Unless you share my delusions of grandeur, you may want to tone down the vocabulary a bit. However, I’m guessing the overall statement sounds pretty relatable to those of you who have been really impacted by travel. Unfortunately, Campbell is better at describing the problem than the solution, so let me give some examples of the things that have helped me, and the things I wish I had done better.

Keep a Journal

I’m not really the “dear diary” type, but I always make a habit keeping a notebook on me while I travel for a number of reasons. The main one is to write down any sudden revelations. When you spend your time surrounded by Zen monks every other sentence is a nugget of wisdom, and I don’t trust myself to be able to remember every profound truth I hear for several months.  I also use my journal to sketch out quick ideas for pictures I want to take, or the names of specific places like temples or restaurants so I don’t have to be vague when recounting a story. I tend to pack very light when I travel, but I will never, ever skimp on extra pens and a notebook.

Often the simple act of writing something down will help you remember it better. Travel is all about learning, so treat it a bit like studying for a class.

Pursue Things Further

When I got back from Japan, I started reading up on alternative Buddhist sects like the Theravadan branch that is more popular in Tibet and Nepal. This helped keep Buddhist philosophy on my brain and encouraged me to keep meditating on occasion after I got home. When I returned from my eco-tourism vacation in Costa Rica I made a point of writing down the number of miles my meals had to travel to get to me. I don’t do that any more, but going that extra mile during the transitional phase helped turn a short-term lesson on sustainability into a long-term habit. Maddy’s story is a great example of pursuing a lesson after her trip. Between her presentation on HIV and her work at non-profits, she has done a great job turning her experience into something tangible.

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(Here I’m wearing the staff and robes of a Shingon monk on pilgrimage. Right now I’m at my desk with my laptop in jeans and a t-shirt writing for a blog. Same person.)

Travel More!

Sometimes the best way to get something to sink in is to experience it twice. What’s more, you may find that you take away similar lessons from different destinations. Staying in a monastery and visiting the third world both helped me realize that material things are not the key to happiness, and that day-to-day dramas are almost never as big a deal as we tend to make them out to be. In a word (or two), acceptance and perspective. Maybe you’ll discover the same thing, or you might learn something completely different. Either way, you’ll have that much more evidence to support your expanded perspective. It’s hard to forget something when you’ve seen it from more than one angle.

I often hear people refer to returning to the “real world” after coming back from a trip. But Japan, Nicaragua and the United States are all equally real. When you come back from an adventure, don’t take off your travel hat and put on your “normal life” hat. You are the same person at home as you are abroad, and the more you can fuse those two lifestyles the better qualified you are to consider yourself a global citizen.

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