Conceptual Travel

Critical Voices on Voluntourism and the Classism of Literature

Critical Voices on Voluntourism and the Classism of Literature

I’m chipping away at my manuscript one daunting page at a time, but I’ve also been doing some continued hefty research on the topics it addresses. I’m interested in sharing what I’ve found this week in order to spark your thinking. I encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments so that everyone can benefit from your point of view.

NOTE: If you’ve never considered that voluntourism can have negative effects, the following might be a hard pill to swallow. And if you’ve never considered service abroad to be problematic, I’m very glad you’ve decided to read this post. I wish I would have known about or considered these perspectives decades ago.

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Sparked by a word and leaving it to the end

Sparked by a word and leaving it to the end

It's something I've trained for, feel born with an attitude and aptitude for, have developed strong passions for and a personality around. In its absence, I feel loss and incompleteness and greater pains than the ones it causes. It shapes the way I think about everything remotely related to it–turns me into a philosopher, a guru in a my own mind.

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I want to teach under a bodhi tree.

I want to teach under a bodhi tree.

Regardless of the reasons why it didn't happen, I know what I want: engaged students every step of the way. That investment in time must provide me immediate return, onto which I can bank that long term effects are plausible. I am building daily on a blueprint created many years ago, when a long trip provided me a clear life goal. Of course, I also must find ways to steady my mood and know I cannot control all the variables that allow a student to be an engaged one.

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The irony of my lifestyle, part 5

The irony of my lifestyle, part 5

I am an investor in the ephemeral, that which could be gone tomorrow. This could be deemed true of everyone, but I feel arguably more conscious of the inevitable with the existence of my outbound flight. This ticket away from a nest makes me anxious, makes me analyze my underlying emotions, makes me draw connections to patterns, and makes me look at how those few constants affect me. The moon signifies change; it moves me away from an even keel of emotion and routine.

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A reason to re-examine the definition of Nomadderwhere

A reason to re-examine the definition of Nomadderwhere

It's about the constant pursuit of a deeper connection with a place and its people. This facilitates learning, when exposure leads to questions and answers (or further questioning) and possibly even understanding. A nomad learns by sticking around, talking with people, dropping their guard, and observing moments that ultimately inspire greater inquiry. This path lends to introspection and assurance that one's path leads to fulfillment and, as a result, a better world.

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What Alain de Botton says about the anticipation of travel

Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel

Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel

My reading comprehension is atrocious, my tracking snail-like. The only thing I remember from high school reading is Holden Caulfield's half-gray hair and his famous line with middle fingers extended toward his despised boarding school. I love to read, and I always have; I'm just not very good at it. And just as I would rather visit a new country than repeat an old one, I try not to re-read books I've tackled in the past. Though plots and anecdotes don't stick in my memory, my impression of the book always does. That's why I remember how much I loved Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel, so much so that I want it to be a part of Creative Arts class next term (did you know I've been teaching?). It's unique focus on literature and art history woven into personal travel anecdotes is seemingly undone by anyone else in this field. Alain verifies this in his book description:

Few things are as exciting as the idea of travelling somewhere else. But the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams. The tragi-comic disappointments are well-known: the disorientation, the mid-afternoon despair, the lethargy before ancient ruins. And yet the reasons behind such disappointments are rarely explored.

We are inundated with advice on where to travel to; we hear little of why we should go and how we could be more fulfilled doing so. The Art of Travel is a philosophical look at the ubiquitous but peculiar activity of travelling ‘for pleasure’, with thoughts on airports, landscapes, museums, holiday romances, photographs, exotic carpets and the contents of hotel mini-bars. The book mixes personal thought with insights drawn from some of the great figures of the past. Unlike existing guidebooks on travel, it dares to ask what the point of travel might be - and modestly suggests how we could learn to be less silently and guiltily miserable on our journeys.

I welcomed its digestible 249 pages on this trip to Thailand, and now that I've finished my latest Bill Bryson adventure, I am diving back into The Art of Travel for both personal fulfillment and professional inspiration. I think this book may be the most accurate study of my constant state of mind. As I re-read this text, I will post favorite excerpts from each chapter, in hopes that this teaser turns more of you toward Alain and his brilliant musings. We don't need more people writing about logistics and tips; we need to start asking, "To what effect?"

On Anticipation

If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest - in all its ardour and paradoxes - than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside of the constraints of work and of the struggle for survival. Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems - that is, issues requiring thought beyond the practical. We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but we hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia, or 'human flourishing'. p9

Samesa with a cow head in Nakavika, Fiji

Samesa with a cow head in Nakavika, Fiji

I evolve and mature faster through travel than I ever could while geographically isolated in Hoosier land. I attribute this to the extremes I routinely face on the road that level my demeanor: witnessing exorcisms, jumping out of planes, slow and inhumane cow and pig deaths, frantic scams involving highways, police, and 20 rickshaw drivers, walking through the slums of India, Haiti, and South Africa, and so on.

I often think about this writing genre and travel industry with confusion. How did we get to the point where top ten lists and logistics get us hot and bothered? I understand the value of SEO, but if a flash-packer is focused on targeting their audience with ad words while the world spins and gyrates around them, why do we not get slapped with that irony? Are we not on the hot pursuit of happiness, with documentation only dribbling out as the byproduct of micro-enlightenment? Doesn't it seem inevitable that industry-wide introspection will redirect us all to focus on the philosophical issues of travel? That is, after all, what consists of the vast majority of my conversations with travelers.

'I must have been suffering from some mental aberration to have rejected the visions of my obedient imagination and to have believed like any old ninny that it was necessary, interesting and useful to travel abroad.' p11

Alain quotes a fictional character, Duc des Esseintes from J.K. Huysmans's novel A Rebours, and uses this decadent literature to comment on the similarities in our current mental editing. Those details of experience left on the cutting room floor are those that indicate universal and location-independent realities: unattractive factories, litter, banal businesses, stray dogs, boring fields, people heading to office jobs. Duc didn't like seeing the moments that romantic painters omitted - didn't like seeing the truth that the Dutch countryside wasn't littered with milkmaids, windmills, and nothing else.

Hiking a hill in Ecuador, Barabon

Hiking a hill in Ecuador, Barabon

Today, we either use descriptive language to depict idyllic settings or complain that a location didn't meet our inflated expectations. Do we consider ourselves tour guides as travel bloggers with the power to recreate an experience for the sedentary? Do we think we share the abilities of the romantic painters? Or are we hoping to whet the palettes of potential travelers and facilitate their easy access to those points of philosophical inquiry? Are we just saying whatever will bring in a few ad dollars to sustain our own access to life-rocking experience?

If we are inclined to forget how much there is in the world besides that which we anticipate, then works of art are perhaps a little to blame, for in them we find at work the same process of simplification or selection as in the imagination. p13

Boy in Dali, China

Boy in Dali, China

When I read this quote, I immediately thought of my students at THINK Global School. I push for the arts to offer a language with which they can sort out their impressions, but they experience so much that it's difficult for them to focus on a main idea - or even one detail. They are overwhelmed with the prospect of editing and often leave out the most interesting facet. How does a teenager take a step back from an intense world travel education to find the most pivotal lesson in all of it?

These students have a unique opportunity to see the world, and because of this, they carry great responsibility as ambassadors. They are expected to share their experiences and constantly evolving world views. I wonder how deeply they think about the stories they tell, the illustrations of these experiences they create, and what sense of conflict or responsibility, if any, they feel regarding the simplification of these. The easy answer is probably not a lot, but with the proper leading questions, I think this would be an interesting discussion with a group unmatched in the whole world.

The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress; they cut away the periods of boredom and direct our attention to critical moments, and thus, without either lying or embellishing, they lend to life a vividness and a coherence that it may lack in the distracting woolliness of the present. p14

Lindsay photographing elephants

Lindsay photographing elephants

I have yet to encounter an observation more reflective of my career than this one. I spend the majority of my work time editing: cropping images, directing focus with lighting, cutting videos to impart one major lesson, and highlighting the most vivid and unique aspects of something to overshadow any pedestrian details akin to regular travels or lives. Especially with today's fleeting attention spans, I have to compress these moments into even smaller boxes. I take life and pick out the bits of meat and flavor, leaving the pixelated carcass to the hard drive birds.

The nature of this task forces constant inquiries like, "Why am I omitting this? Do I have a responsibility to portray this angle, and does it lend to a complete vision or story?" Yes, I produce marketing material, but I don't see it as such, most of the time.

Stories from the road have always been my way to reveal the familiar from unfamiliar locations. What gets me motivated today is making something that could provide exponential value in a way that expands minds. Though my actual audience could be miniscule, I take it as a responsibility to provide a realistic window and evoke a feeling or energy for the purpose of whittling down a bubble. How successful am I at accurately and powerfully portraying a moment? I need some focus group action to figure that out.

I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island. p19

If given the sentence starter, "I spend most of my time thinking about..." I follow it with, " I think too much." I could be in a beautiful location, far from my familiar cornfields and water towers, but I have a somewhat useful - though mostly unfortunate - ability to detach and let whatever category of emotions wreck and ravage my mood. And though I can fake it quite well - "Wow, can you believe how beautiful this is? I can't believe I'm here." - it takes a peak of extreme emotions to rattle me into the present, to allow my current thoughts and feelings to suffer complete abandonment, to let me see and appreciate a place detached from my human self.

After months of frustration and one last fight in Nakavika, Fiji, I collapsed on the steps of the school house around dusk. Garrett and I sat together silently, quite aware that this moment signaled the end of our efforts, and I felt all feeling drain from my mind and body. In that vulnerable breath post-sobbing, all words uttered and hyperventilation overcame, I noticed the golden setting sun was illuminating a monstrous moon in between the midnight-blue gap in green crags. Mist and wispy clouds thick with warm color connected the two extremes of our vision. It was the most beautiful moment we had ever witnessed, and it took a pinnacle of human emotion to reach that appreciation, to abandon the mental barriers that make us focus on the 'us' in every situation.

Nakavika Fiji as seen from the school block, mountains, mist

Nakavika Fiji as seen from the school block, mountains, mist

It seems we may be best able to inhabit a place when we are not faced with the additional challenge of having to be there. p23

If so, then I have a big job to do.

If I carry one book with me abroad, it is this one. Each chapter requires in-depth study and results in a brain steadily gaining awareness and understanding for travel and human nature. I'm eager to read your feedback below and help you through the rest of this book in the subsequent posts to come.

There are affiliate links in this post. I purchased this book.

Domestic deficiencies and my learning curve post-Ecuador

Living in one place for a couple months - regardless of one's experience - inevitably causes nostalgia upon leaving and for a succeeding period of time. If it was a bad time, the pleasant memories override the bad, and if it was a good time, as was Ecuador, everything habitual and endearing continues to perpetuate once home again. In my case, the lingering reflexes from previous travels usually mess me up in Indiana - sometimes big time. I tend to call these the ironies of my lifestyle, but lately I feel it's more a deficiency in domestic knowledge, exacerbated by my fondness for the last three months of international living.

I can't live up to familial expectations

Max after baptism, family

Max after baptism, family

Once I knew my work dates for December, my sister-in-law planned her son's baptism around my schedule - to make sure I could definitely attend. And there I was on the morning of his christening, coffee in hand doing the two-step warm-up dance outside in tights, watching my friend's husband jump my borrowed car's battery where it sat 90 miles from the church. It's not too hard to remember to turn the headlights off in the pitch black of night the evening prior, but that's assuming one gets those pangs of common sense.

...because I'm used to: cheap taxis and close proximity

When my school's transportation or my feet couldn't take me where I needed to be, I could stand on a curb in the historic center and hail a yellow car that never cost more than $5, even for a twenty minute trip. Distances traveled - in this country smaller than Nevada - were relatively miniscule compared my US of A expectations.

In my breaths between trips, I rely on my wheeling-and-dealing car salesman of a brother to have a means of getting around. Taxis in Indiana are as scattered as stars with meters that run like Michael Johnson. Not efficient, easy, or happening.

I've got plumbing confusion.

Cuenca resembles an historic European city with cobblestone streets, cloth napkin lunches, and more ornate churches than there are Sundays in a year. It is a lovely town with enjoyable nightlife and beautiful rivers flanking the walkable center. That's the necessary introduction for my dear American audience that will be disgusted with the necessary toilet paper disposal method: a trash can.

...because I'm used to: weak sauce toilets

The plumbing in Ecuador generally requires an 'exit-stage-left' strategy for used tissue. Not to divulge my rituals behind closed stall doors, but I have yet to not be confused with the protocol since my return. In the same way that I don't remember my current continent when my daily alarm rings, I have to go through a process of remembering where I am and what I'm doing every time nature summons.

The motor skills flop when cooking duty calls.

Whereas my fifteenth year was marked by an obsession with Food Network, today I chop vegetables at the speed and with the delicacy of Remy's first try. I can make a spectacular explosion of coarsely slaughtered salad ingredients, which is actually my most coveted meal when abroad, but anything involving even marginal levels of calculation and finesse isn't possible for at least a month post-trip.

I've actually got a known track record with the Indianapolis Fire Department with this issue.

...because I'm used to: $3.50 lunch specials and constant group meals

Near the end of Cuenca, I realized I hadn't cooked for myself - not a saucepan touched - in months. It was more cost-effective and timely to eat at a nearby restaurant with wifi than it was to assemble something palatable in the hotel's kitchen. I also felt like a bothersome house guest when I tried. And eating with the students meant a pre-set menu consisting of meat and potatoes, sandwiched by a creamy soup and a fruit platter curtain call.

I'm speaking the wrong language.

Ecuador presented me with daily challenges to expand my language skills, much like New York gave me the sensation of world travel the moment I left my apartment. I was able to push beyond my fluency from senior year of high school and regain the abilities swiftly lost with the apprehension of Italian.

...because I'm used to: never being able to communicate with the surrounding majority

This is nothing new. I was saying naka to my mother two months after Fiji - instead of 'thank you' - and even though my recent firings of Spanish have hit some native speakers, I am forgetting how to communicate to people at home in daily, civil settings. I am used to being a fly on the wall and observing life I don't connect with personally. In this environment, I can pop in and pop out; obligation to the place is non-existent.

With every trip abroad, the return home gets easier. I'm hoping these are the remnants of a dying reverse-culture shock trend. It's a plan to tackle one or more of these issues while in Thailand...and again when I return to the great US of A.

Indy to NYC: Flying with Felines

This is a two-pronged post - conceptual and practical - so before you hate on cats, read the first half and reap the benefits. This week officially marked my sixth month living in New York City. Spending $100+ on shipping boxes was a cost I happily incurred, in the moment and in hindsight. Transporting little things on quick trips home was a breeze, especially since I've already weeded through and prioritized my material things in life. But the last step in this transition and relocation was the transportation of my 10 year-old feline, Alli.

Cat eyes with wings

Cat eyes with wings

Owning a cat at this stage in the game is one of the few things that goes against my potential nomadic ease. Three years of college in dorms and sorority houses weren't conducive to hosting her, and post-college travels only had me in her vicinity for 49% of that time. For nearly ten years, my parents were wildly flexible and tolerant to house my shedding ball of love. And when the decision to move to New York called for a serious analysis of my pet ownership, I was overwhelmed at the extent to which I couldn't live without her.

Alli on sedatives

Alli on sedatives

We suburban Midwestern gals tend to grow painfully attached to our household animals, and I assume this touches on a maternal reaction to a dependent's reliance, which we embrace with fervor. We hear and respond to 'the call' - whether it's directed at us or not - to serve other beings. And it hits us with a glee/glum one-two punch; the latter only for the inevitable life choices or threat of loss an invested pet owner must face.

Though I find it a ridiculous debate and one that deserve zero airtime in any arena, I know not everyone enjoys cats, hearing about cats, justifying the existence of cats, etc. And though I am scribing and cutting video with those feline travelers in mind, Alli has been an obstacle to one half of my lifestyle and a beloved necessity to the other.

Dare I say we all have similar parallels?

Unconscious Anchors

I know a man named Jase who could easily steal the "Most Interesting Man in the World" title away from the bearded Dos Equis gent. Though I'm not completely clued in to the inner workings of his life, it appears he has very few factors hindering him from living the life he does: one of unconventional exploration. When he's not driving across continents, he's bartending for first class flyers. Jase is one of the few people I know that can actually live a nomadic existence without a desire for the opposite. He's the exception.



As my dad likes to diagnose, I have a tendency to be a contrarian, not only in the sense that I follow an unconventional job path but that I lean toward what's underrepresented in any sphere. I was a grungy nomad with a Blackberry, a sorority girl in art school. I summon a Devil's advocate response to any topic, but I don't put on black lipstick and call myself a nonconformist. These aren't conscious decisions. I keep my emotional eggs scattered in many different lifestyle baskets, to stay balanced and maintain the ability to relate to diverse people. My cat acts as my personal weight toward a more stationary and conventional path, for which I do have lingering desires. And I think most of us do, if not for that then something else.

Individually, we all tend to dabble, desire what we don't have, and wish to do it all. If you live a committed and routine life, you probably have the occasional hunger for wildly-dangerous spontaneity. And I've met plenty of travelers who can't silence the impulse to nest. Had I given Alli away in the move, I would have lost the sometimes necessary 'ball and chain', not to mention something I love. And had I merely left Alli where she was in Indiana, my move would have seemed an uneasy balance of two lifestyles: a nest with a false bottom or a trip that lasted too long. I desire a lifestyle that doesn't overindulge or invest in one way but moderates with many, because things change quickly and constantly.

Never letting the dust settle doesn't necessarily mean movement. It means variety. It means evolution. I'm not dedicated to being a nomad or a cat-wielding spinster, I'm just open to being influenced by the things, beings, and experiences that matter to me over time.

Guide to Flying Stateside with a Carry-On Cat

For those of you who don't like cats, stop reading. This is the practical part where I cringe over the amount of bad websites on this topic in existence and my subsequent call to make my own wee guide. This being a strenuous experience for human and feline alike, the only thing that will make you feel more comforted and secure is preparation. Don't take this situation lightly. The following relates specifically to flying with Delta, but most airlines will require some variation of these steps. And obviously, these were my steps, but everyone has differing opinions over big or tiny details. Ask your vet for reassurance.

Alli cat in her kennel at the airport, pet travel

Alli cat in her kennel at the airport, pet travel

  1. When booking your ticket, ask to reserve a spot for your cat as a carry-on in the cabin. Each seating area only allows a certain number of animals on a flight. Do yourself and kitty a favor and book a non-stop.

  2. Flying across state lines is surprisingly a Department of Agriculture issue. Research what is required of the destination state in terms of pet inoculations and documentation. Frequent your veterinarian to receive a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (or a health certificate), and expect to pay $30+ for these pieces of paper along with any necessary shots (often rabies). These are only valid within 10 days of travel, so schedule this visit a couple days before the flight.

  3. Purchase a soft kennel to ensure its fit under the seat in front of you. I dug into the airline's website to find out the specific model of airplane I was flying and the measurements of the foot storage. First shopping online makes finding specific measurements and reviews easier than at a physical store, but before I bought the kennel, I had my cat 'try it on for size' at the store. Some may frown on that. I smiled at it. After purchase, stick one of the health certificate carbon copies in the kennel pocket.

  4. Leave the kennel out for a couple days prior - to make travel less of a shock and give kitty more time to familiarize with her carrier. I lined the bottom with an old mat that she recognized, along with a maxi pad to make me feel a little better about potential accidents. Packed in my other carry-on were additional mats and pads, along with food and a copy of the health certificate.

  5. Arrive 90 minutes early for check-in, pay your animal carry-on fee, and to ensure getting the best seating arrangement. Having an empty seat beside you is optimal. And make sure you pass through security during a lull. One TSA agent asked me if I wanted do the screening in a closed room, in case she breaks loose. I felt confident I could hold onto her and take her through the metal detector. At these low traffic times, someone should be able to help you return the cat into the kennel, if that's usually a struggle. Thankfully, Indianapolis' TSA agents are wonderful people.

  6. When at the gate, appeal to the attendant (if you haven't already at check-in) to make sure your seating situation is that which will provide the least amount of discomfort for fellow travelers.

  7. Take-off and landing are both awful, because kitty will be hyperventilating and without your assurance that everything is okay. During the flight, put the kennel in your lap, make sure enough air is hitting her, and insert your arm through the flap to hold her close to you, petting the entire time. This works for my cat, who clings to me at the vet's office. And don't be surprised if she slobbers excessively. Mine wouldn't accept any water or food.

  8. Upon disembarking, be prepared for someone to pull you aside to inquire about your cat's health certificate. Though no one asked for mine, I think we'd all rather pay $30+ for nothing than get pulled in by the USDA.

  9. Once at the final destination, make sure before the cat is let free that she knows where to find her water, food, and litter box. I recommend trying to maintain as much continuity as possible from her pre-flight norms - litter brands, food type, bowls, comfort toys or blankets. My cat needed a serious wipe-down out of the kennel, as she urinated a tad and slobbered her mat damp. Post-travels, it will take a while for kitty to feel comfortable and recovered from the traumatic experience. Thankfully, it's all over now.

Updated Information

Flying with Felines

Flying with Felines

Kitty ended up having to relocate back to Indianapolis because I got another traveling gig. On this leg, I consulted with a vet about giving her a mild sedative, which she took right before leaving for the airport. We tested the drug on her a couple nights prior, and it hit her like a brick within 20 minutes. Unfortunately, when it came to flying time, the pill didn't dissolved quickly, and its effects hit her five hours later back at home, swerving like a drunken sailor.

Crush up any sedative you give your cat into soft food she will easily digest. Test this practice a couple nights prior and make sure she has supervision the entire time. She will try to jump, and she will not be coordinated enough to succeed.

Neglect in a time of note-worthy experiences

I call myself a writer, but I haven't written - really written - in two months. Since my last real musing, I traveled to three regions of Haiti, frequented my second Carnival celebration, had a random reunion with a travel friend in the middle of a street parade, hosted my best friend and travel gal for a week in New York City, and traveled across the world to Thailand for production. I should have many a post on my site by now regarding all the previously mentioned events and experiences. Instead, I am a chicken sans head with too many things to say and not enough time to process them. And you know what else is sad? I wrote the previous paragraph in the middle of March. I call this type of article a 'Frankenstein'.

Frank N. Stein

Frank N. Stein

I've read others discussing this interesting phenomenon - the travel writer's Catch 22 - and I know I've dealt with it using various methods in the past. Even though I've been based out of home between these escapades, there is still the delicate balance between experience and reflection, one that I usually miss due to overindulgence of one.

Sadly, my mind is a sieve. Without documentation and over-processing of real-life experiences, I tend to forget or reconstruct my life. Therefore, the neglect of noting certain meaningful experiences seems dangerous and irresponsible for someone mortal wanting simply to thrive on memories in the end.

Why Write About Travel?

Writing, Photographing, Filming in the Field

Writing, Photographing, Filming in the Field

It began as a way to inform my family I was still alive. Once they gained this comfort, the detailed accounts were meant to illuminate a black hole on the world map of one's understanding. Soon after, it became a job and then a way of life through which I felt fulfillment. While documentary photo and video work easily allow for simultaneous experience, I write the way the Social Network dudes code: plugged in with total concentration and all-consuming fervor. After the arc of adrenaline subsides in a travel day, it's all I can do to charge up the batteries and coordinate logistics for the next day. Writing in the moment hasn't been a real possibility since my 7-month discovery tour.

Upon returning home, the act of processing begins involuntarily through dreams - brutally honest reactions that make for sturdy foundations later. Of course, errands to the laundromat, outings with friends, job applications, and other life logistics eventually take precedence over mental fermentation and readiness. And so, what's left from a life-changing "away game" is a brain of floating and incomplete thoughts like a bowl of Alpha-bits.

In January, my friend Jazmine departed on a two month journey throughout Southeast Asia. Aside from recommending the occasional splurge during her budget initiative, my one adamant piece of advice was to write. Especially on a whirlwind adventure, sometimes it's only in the observation of a blinking cursor on a word document that we realize the confusion of our interior. And alternately, scribbled sentences on mounting scraps of paper are the necessary mastication of the experiential piece of gum. In my opinion, there's no better way for anyone to savor that flavor, and this isn't just for those who consider themselves capable crafters of written word.

Alpha-bit cereal

Alpha-bit cereal

The Bottleneck Effect

I'm passionate about writing relevant and satirical travel narratives, and these such stories are exactly what have been lacking in my recent blogging pursuits. Instead, when people inevitably ask about Haiti or Thailand, I have to use words like "amazing" or "incredible," as though that really demystifies the destination for them. Writers should have distinct voices, based on objective truths, unique observation, and subjective viewpoints on humanity. To call Haiti an incredible experience is like saying Mariah Carey is a good singer. Thailand is a beautiful country with kind people. Earth is a planet with land and water. That's all hot air. I'm looking to add insight to the sea of declarative sentences born and syndicated every day.

The goal: document experiences uniquely and dynamically The reality: confusion, sloppy schedules, and a mere 24 hours taunting me in the day The problem: time brings new experiences whether or not I'm ready The solution: force thoughts to make a single file line outward, all with purpose



Imagine the wiggly line as my pool of thoughts, the fish-eyed text as concepts to ponder, and the bottleneck as my avenues of expression restricted by time, ability, and external factors. This isn't adult swim when the kids are back at school; this is noon at the public watering hole on July 4th. These thoughts aren't conscientious swimmers. They all need to get out of the pool safely or else they start pruning and eventually peeing in this uncertain limbo.

The Token Freudian Analysis

I hope by now the irony of this post has hit you. Am I not still treading water with this time and energy to vocalize the fact that I haven't vocalized my thoughts in a while? Why share this when I could obviously be sharing what I aim to produce? And why has this venue of blogging to the world wide web become so darn important to the sanity of man?

Even though life is a constant linear chain of experiences, the mind doesn't necessarily process them as such. And even though traveling seems like an itinerary of visits, challenges, and conversations, the entire concept of 'travel' is far more existential an arena of thought than it is a modification of geography. If I don't dedicate time and energy to sorting through what transpires in my life - big or small - I run the risk of disconnecting unconscious interpretations of superego standards from conscious actions of the ego. Translate the previous sentence with a couple of Freud's favorites:

Ego: the part of the personality which maintains a balance between our impulses (id) and our conscience (superego)

Unconscious: the area of the psyche where unknown wishes and needs are kept that play a significant role in our conscious behavior

Subconscious: that which exists in the mind but not immediately available to consciousness*

It's like stepping over the question repeatedly, multiple times a day, every day, "What is this life I lead?" Are we - dare I say - robots that power forward with the sequence or humans that react to the varied stimuli we encounter daily, especially on the road. I say leave your robot on the dance floor. Experiences are had to be felt and purposefully utilized to make a person better.

The Selfish Act of Not Sharing

Mom feeding me the last drops of wine

Mom feeding me the last drops of wine

The liquid inside a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino doesn't motivate or fulfill a person's palate. Once it passes through the aerator and clashes with fresh oxygen, that sweet nectar becomes something of value. A book in Hungarian means nothing to me until it is translated into something Latin-based I can recognize. Unless an experience runs through the necessary steps to become useable to a person, it is a waste, a missed opportunity, a neglected tool for burrowing efficiently and successfully through time. It is only in this translation through the sieve of human standards and emotion that an understanding can pass through the nonconscience to the subconscience to reach the active, living conscience.

In non-Freudian terms, going somewhere or doing something means nothing if you don't understand how it affected you.

So when I say I haven't really written in months, it means I haven't actively processed that which has the great capacity to improve my being, including: • traveling through Haiti's Port-au-Prince, the Central Plateau, and cultural Jacmel. • meeting President-elect Michel Martelly (candidate at the time). • attending my second Carnival celebration in a country pent up after a year of recovery. • randomly running into a woman that saved me years before around the world. • hosting my best travel comrade, Alexis Reller, in New York City. • spending three weeks in Thailand on production for another travel series. • reliving my first third-world solo trip in Vietnam. • finding peace and creativity in Luang Prabang, Laos.

...all experiences that drip with the tantalizing prospect of organic value, not just for me but through the informative and experiential butterfly effect. It's why we read books and talk to our friends. Sharing stories, especially via such a mobile force like the web, makes for an even greater learning experience across international and industry borders. And if we don't analyze why this process isn't happening, it threatens to repeat until we come to.

Action Plan for the Neglected

Thus ends my soliloquy of why I'm thinking too much of how I can't think enough. And of course, one cannot ramble without a conclusive caboose. I plan to revive the elicited emotions from said unprocessed experiences and craft some posts that remain relevant to what's going on today. For instance, May 14th marks the presidential inauguration of Haiti's Michel Martelly, the wake of which provides a perfect moment for reflection of our meeting. Expect 'Lost'-esque flashbacks to experiences in Thailand that dictate my present endeavors. And as always, it's not my intention to provide a static, one-time commentary but instead evoke an elongated discussion through comments beneath. I hope you're on board with that.

Surely there are others that have too much to recall or process and are grappling with this feeling of neglect. What have you neglected to process, and in your opinion, is there only a small window of opportunity for intake?

*Definitions provided by

AllPsych Online



What a New Year Means to a Traveler

What a New Year Means to a Traveler

Do you know where we were a year ago today?

This is a game my family plays. Actually, this is just a common sentence equation my parents throw around, about which my brother and I like to joke. Whether we recall where we were last month or dream of our future location a week away, the Clarks can often be found discussing their coordinates except where they are in the present.

Today, I'm sporting my genes and recalling my exact location at the 2010 New Year: on the Pacific Harbour beach in Fiji, taking a break from an exhausting project. Don't worry; I have a purpose for this nostalgia.

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Andrew Zimmern and the Transformative Power of Travel

Andrew Zimmern and the Transformative Power of Travel

I've been a big time fan of Big Tony B. since the No Reservations series began in 2005. His approach to travel television and subjective, experiential authenticity abroad felt so relevant amidst a sea of market-y documentation. His conceptual thread continues to be pretty darn obvious, which makes it easy to instantly jump on the Bourdain train. But for his fellow Travel Channel host (and our Creative Council member), Andrew Zimmern, I had a harder time identifying what truly made him tick and drove him to produce what he does. Thankfully, I had a recent opportunity to hear Zimmern clarify his concept in an illuminating way. Poised and ready with my notepad, I asked my mom sitting next to me at the IUPUI convention center what she knew of Zimmern.

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Why I Moved to New York City

Why I Moved to New York City

Composing somewhere around 30,000 feet, I'm completely immersed in the inevitable pool of realization. After a childhood in rural Indiana, an academic pilgrimage throughout the state, and 50 countries of exploration later, I'm finally settling on my first independent living situation.

I chose out of a sea of laudable contenders a city that for years seemed too self-praising for my tastes. I've never encountered anyone who feels as conflicted about New York City's energy as me, but emerging from the self-made pit of doubt and prejudice, I came to the exciting conclusion that this massive metropolis is where I'm supposed to be. It's safe to say I no longer roll my eyes at the "cool girl" city in the classroom of America.

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Reviewing Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent

Reviewing Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent

Bryson writes the book, not for foreigners hoping to learn about rural America, but for those Americans themselves who are open to ambiguous sarcasm poking fun and awareness at their familiar lifestyles. He takes massive swings to the extreme, describing an acidic inner monologue at times, but successfully remains open to and enamored with the eccentricities of the American people and this vast land. As much as he finds certain aspects of small towns laughable, he finds the same things endearing. He's an outsider looking in, while remembering his insider mentality from the days of yore. He holds these memories dear. Sounds familiar.

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Che and Jack Agree. It's All About Movement.

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. -Robert Louis Stevenson

In the last two years, I read two books I found interesting (though not astounding) by two men with fetishes for movement. I found their stories ones I would only enjoy vicariously, but I definitely related to their desires to be on the road. Reading both of these at times I was myself on the move, maybe this is why they resonated.

Today, I wanted to highlight some of of their passages. Please welcome Che Guevara and Jack Kerouac.

Che Guevara on Movement

[The following are excerpts from Che's Motorcycle Diaries.]

It is there, in the final moments, for people whose farthest horizon has always been tomorrow, that one comprehends the profound tragedy circumscribing the life of the proletariat the world over.

Before Ernesto (a.k.a. Che) was conducting guerilla warfare across Latin America, he was motoring across it as a spry 23 year-old with a passion to move. This passion, as I recall reading this on my Big Journey, was the catalyst for his narratives as well as their downfall. While some of his adventures were exciting and exotic, some of his daily jottings were as thrilling as, "We drove all day Tuesday and found a little place connected to a restaurant to crash for the night. The next day we got up and fixed La Poderosa and rode all day until we found another place to sleep." Riveting.

There we understood that our vocation, our true vocation, was to move for eternity along the roads and seas of the world.

The real appeal for me was the idea of jetting across an expansive and diverse continent like South America. He crossed the Andes, met up with the Amazon River, and drank his mate in between long excursions on the open road.

What we had in common - our restlessness, our impassioned spirits, and a love for the open road.

Ernesto blazed these numerous trails with his friend Alberto Granado, but unsurprisingly, he met many people along the way with which to relate his impulses. While on my own excursions, I've often pondered the connective thread between all wandering souls, and though I think it's got to be more detailed and profound than his above description, I think Che is onto something.

What do we leave behind when we cross each frontier? Each moment seems split in two; melancholy for what was left behind and the excitement of entering a new land.

Are we that move the ones most lost or most in tune with the nomadic nature of man?

Jack Kerouac on Movement

[The following are excerpts from Jack's On The Road.]

We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one noble function of the time, move. (Part 2, Ch. 6)

This is word-jazz, a book that makes the classics list and calls for a straight-through reading session. This novel was more favorable to me when I read more pages in one sitting, because it has a flow, almost like reading Virginia Woolf for its realtime, stream of consciousness rhythm. Just as Jack rode stripes across the continent, he blazed through his own narrative, moving faster than his headlights.

Why think about that when all the golden land's ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see? (Part 2, Ch. 6)

I admire Kerouac’s drive to find an honest and original form of expression, just like Van Gogh. For me, that’s what makes this book a classic.

What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. (Part 2, Ch. 8 )

Reading this novel while on the World Traveler Intern, his descriptions like the one above made so much sense. I couldn't process the speed and activity of each day, but I kept leaning forward awaiting the next day. It was about a whirlwind, not the simple digestion of one experience.

They have worries, they're counting the miles, they're thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they'll get there--and all the time they'll get there anyway, you see. (Part 3, Ch. 5)

Profound, Jack.

Our battered suitcases were were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life. (Part 3, Ch. 5)

Jack was impassioned by the constant change. I think my brain starts to trip around when I think of a stretch of road as symbolic of far more than the pavement ahead.

What's your road, man?--holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow. (Part 4, Ch. 1)

Though Jack's antics and tendencies went against the accepted norm in America at the time, his passion to do so was very American of him, buzzing around the country "nutty with independence."

Behind us lay the whole of America and everything Dean and I had previously known about life, and life on the road. We had finally found the magic land at the end of the road and we never dreamed the extent of the magic. (Part 4, Ch. 5)

Any lasting thoughts from you on movement and the road? Are you a fan of movement for movement's sake, or are you the anti-Kerouac/Guevara? Does this method of living and traveling make little sense to you? Let's get conceptual here.