How to Hack your Way to Travel Zen

As anyone who travels knows, time and money can be the biggest hindrances to getting out and enjoying the experiences that you dream of having. In my experience, finding the time to travel can prove to be more challenging than raising funds for adventures. This is because there are all sorts of “travel hacks” that can be used to keep costs low when travelling, but pesky adult responsibilities can get in the way of hopping on the next plane.

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Travel Zen in Africa

Few places in the world have ever inspired as much awestruck in me as Africa. Not only is the continent huge with an incredible diversity of ecosystems and culture, it is a friendly, beautiful and otherworldly place. I have had the tremendous fortune to spend time in countries in West Africa, East Africa and North Africa and I cannot speak highly enough of the experiences.

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The Zen Travellers Manifesto

The awesome folks over at BootsnAll Travel are hosting the 2015 Indie Travel Challenge to encourage travellers to think about what inspires them to roam and to share their learnings with others with the #DoYouIndie hashtag. By answering thought-provoking questions posed by BootsnAll, travellers are reflecting on and sharing why they travel, how they got started, and what there is to do in their hometowns. Today’s challenge is to come up with your top ten values for life and travel in order to create your own manifesto. Continue reading “The Zen Travellers Manifesto”

Finding the Zen in Travel Regrets

There is a certain glamour associated with not having any regrets.

This glamour.
Photo credit: www.themetapicture.com 

But regrets should not be treated as something to be avoided, rather they should be seen as lessons learned. This is very important when considering travel regrets since the stakes are high when travelling. Time is money, parts are unknown and strangers are everywhere, so it is easy to have regrets for many reasons. For example, not avoiding a dangerous place even though you’ve been warned and having your things stolen, not going to that place even though it came highly rated, or conversely, wasting money on things that were not worth seeing despite being highly rated. Despite the negative feelings associated with regrets, they come with a lesson and it’s our role as Zen-minded travellers to figure out what that lesson is.

Any self respecting traveller knows that learning lessons while on the road is a constant, so I’m sharing some of my travel regrets and the lessons they brought with the understanding that I’m sure many more lessons are in store for me as I continue travelling.

1) The crucial importance of details
I am typically someone who is in the middle when it comes to details. So I think I am slightly more observant than the average person, but not Type A about things either. This tendency was both a strength and a weakness when Philip and I planned a roadtrip to Colorado from Alberta one summer. After missing out on tickets to Austin City Limits which had a killer lineup that year, we followed the bands that we wanted to see all the way to Red Rocks in Colorado. Both Neil Young and Crazy Horse and My Morning Jacket were playing a day after each other. Instead of seeing them at the festival, we decided to drive to beautiful Colorado to see them at what we now consider an unrivalled venue. My Morning Jacket played the first show, and our minds were blown. They are an act that are consistently good live, who play for hours with seemingly impossible energy, so imagine our disappointment when we learned that they had played another set the night before with no song repeats. If we had just dug a little deeper and imagined the most perfect concert scenario ever, we could have seen a wonderful band play most of their songs live in back-to-back concerts at arguably, the world’s greatest music venue. Damn. Our only solace is at least one MMJ show at Red Rocks is enough to keep a person floored for years.

Red Rocks. Best. Venue. Ever. 

2) The crucial importance of compatibility
I’ve had the luck to travel both solo and with a crew,  and I have learned that I usually prefer a crew. To me, there is nothing like being able to turn to someone in your crew and know that they are thinking the exact same thing when you see something amazing while travelling. That being said, I have learned that some people are just not travel compatible. For example, while trying to travel to Coachella one year with Philip and some people I hadn’t travelled with before, compatibility became very important. We learned that while some people may be fun to have the odd beer with, going on a trip to a music festival with them is another thing. Our planning and travel styles differed greatly and ultimately Philip and I decided that we would have more fun travelling without them than we would with them. While I regret having something as fun as planning a trip to a music festival end up mired in drama, it was worthwhile to learn that respecting your own style will always guarantee you having the most fun.

One of Coachella’s iconic stages.
 Also a very clear example of  how taking pictures at a concert is a waste of time. 

3) Sometimes you will never know if what you did was right
When I was nearing the end of my 5 months in Mali, my affable host mother Fatamatou asked me to join her on a trip to Southern Mali for a religious event. It meant a very long and uncomfortable bus ride, and probably more uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, but also it meant the chance to spend some time with a woman that I had grown to love immensely, seeing a new part of the country and experiencing a truly unique cultural event. However, the same weekend two of my favourite people that I had met while in Mali would be spending the weekend in Bamako and I had the chance to show them the parts of the city I loved. I mulled over it for a long time, factoring in my recent and unfortunate experience with a parasite, and decided that a relaxing weekend in the city I loved with some people who I missed and didn’t get to see all that often was the best thing for me at the time. Now that some time has passed and I am no longer recovering from a parasite, I sometimes wonder if I should have opted to go with Fatamatou instead, since it was an opportunity do so something truly unique while travelling with someone who I now miss dearly. In the end, I think that I needed to do what was right for me at the time, which was to take care of myself and therein lies the lesson. Despite how amazing the experience would have been, I would have been no use to Fatamatou while feeling sick and I made some amazing memories staying home with my friends that I still cherish to this day.

Bustlin’ Bamako

4) Not fighting for what you want
Normally I would be the first to suggest taking a local’s advice, but there are moments where it is worth standing up for what you want to do or see. A few years back, my dad and I travelled to England to see some relatives and cruise around. Our relative took us to the area of Stonehenge but told us that it was “not worth our time”. Instead of paying to go into the site, he told us that he knew of a perfect spot to get a great picture and he would take us there. Once at the “perfect” spot, I realized that all I wanted to do was pay the stupid fee and see Stonehenge up close. I could have sent my dad and great uncle down the road to have an afternoon in the pub together and enjoyed the site on my own. Instead, it is years later and I still don’t really feel like I saw Stonehenge. Finding a compromise would have been easy enough if I had just spoken up.

Check it, I “saw” Stonehenge (sort of)!

In short, the above examples represent so-called travel regrets: missing a concert, trying to plan a trip with people who who have different travel styles, wondering if you made the right choice or wishing that you could do something over. But digging deeper into these regrets reveals some powerful lessons and the most important one is that travel is your time. It’s about you and your priorities and your well-being. No one else can travel the same path as you, so make yours count and be open to learning lessons along the way.

No regrets is right.
Photo credit. www.theoatmeal.com

Top 5 Gift Ideas for Zen Travellers

One of the easiest ways to improve one’s outlook on life is to give to others, and ’tis the season after all. So here you go readers, my first “listicle” (à la Buzzfeed):

Gift Ideas for the Zen-minded Adventure 
Traveller

5) Buff Headwear

Source: naturalrunner.ca
One thing that can harsh a traveller’s Zen is being bogged down with too much stuff. This is where Buff comes in. I’m truly surprised by how much I love my Buff. I’ve used it for extra warmth during cross-country skiing, alpine touring, and hiking Mount Elgon in Uganda. I’ve used it for sun protection at Austin City Limits, while hiking on hot summer days in Alberta and at the beach in Zanzibar. I’ve also used it as a pre-filter with my water filter while hiking in the Rwenzori mountains. Buffs are warm, lightweight, some have a sun protection factor of 50+ and all are versatile. Bonus points for affordability, as most are only around $20. 
4)  Give the Gift of Travel

Research shows that experiences create more happiness than things and there are plenty of ways to gift an experience to a traveller. Discount websites like Groupon and Travelzoo offer deals on hotels, meals in restaurants, and activities that the traveller can schedule on their own. Many hotels offer gift certificates, as do some airlines. In short, it is easy to give a traveller what they would like the most, more travel!

3) Gift Your Points
Have you been collecting Air Miles for years and don’t plan on using them any time soon? What about those points for an airline that may expire soon if you don’t use them? Many reward programs will allow you to transfer your points to an eager traveller who will gladly put them to use. It may seem like a stingy gift, but I know I for one would be thrilled to have them over some special from a big box store any day. 
2) Local Currency

All the monies in the world!
Source: nerdwallet.com

If the resident travellers in your life have been talking about their upcoming trips, chances are they would love to receive some local currency to wherever they’re travelling to as a gift. Not only does it show your travel-crazy friends that you actually listen to them, it can also help to alleviate some of their stress by having a bit of local currency in hand when they arrive in a new place. Also, it  makes it more likely that you will receive a nice souvenir from them in return,  thereby creating an infinite loop of gift-giving happiness and who wouldn’t want that?
1) If you can’t afford to buy them a Go Pro, Go Old School with a Travel Journal

Ibn Batutta’s tomb in Tangier, Morocco

I’ve
blogged before about how I really could have used a Go Pro Hero 4 during certain moments of my recent trip to East Africa. But in the absence of one of those fancy contraptions which I cannot justify buying for myself, a plain old travel journal will suffice to record memories. Gifting a travel journal to your favourite traveller will allow them to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Ibn Batutta whose journal has inspired explorers for centuries. It has the added bonus of making the traveller think of you every time they open it, so if you miss them when they’re on one of their rambles, you could think of it as a gift that guarantees you’ll always be in their heart, wherever in the world they may be.