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!
So a few rules I’ve set for myself:
- 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
- Books are allowed to be fiction or non-fiction but I should try to have a mix of both overall
- The challenge is over September 1st which puts me at a book every one to two weeks.
- I don’t have to blog on every book but I want to do at least 3 posts.
- 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!
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.
–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.”
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.
- Psychology. Maddy’s BA. The study of the individual.
- Sociology. The study of multiple individuals.
- Anthropology. The study of the culture those individuals create.
- History. My BA. The study of multiple cultures interacting.
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.
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!
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.
(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.)
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.