A lot is made of the alternates while travelling. Try this hike instead of the Inca Trail, since it’s less crowded. Track chimpanzees in Uganda instead of gorillas since it’s less expensive, but I’ve always wondered if the alternates truly measure up. We set off to hike Mount Elgon in Uganda to figure out how travel alternates measure up.
Few things can harsh a traveller’s Zen more violently than getting sick on the road. It can be difficult just to get around and meet your needs in a strange place, but doing so when you’re sick is even more challenging.
To that end, my resolve was pushed to its limits when I came down with a mystery illness during a trip to Uganda. Having pushed myself physically with hikes in the Rwenzoris and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and whitewater kayaking on the Nile, I felt strong and in good shape for our 4 day climb up Mount Elgon, but an illness nearly flattened me.
|Gentle herbivores is right.|
Photo credit: Google Images
But as the years passed by the dream returned. Upon seeing blue giant morpho butterflies in the Costa Rican jungle, I remembered just how much the mountain gorillas of East Africa inspired me as a child. Now over 20 years after that dream first occurred, I found myself perched precariously on a steep jungle hillside in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest wondering if I would in fact see an endangered mountain gorilla that day. The day had started with an all too early wakeup call at 4am to make the over 2 hour bumpy drive from Lake Bunyonyi to Bwindi where a few hundred mountain gorillas call home.
|“Gorilla tracking is easy.” Said no one ever.|
|Then things got even harder.|
“Time to go!” Stephen ordered and we all stood up and shuffled along behind him.
|At this point I was speechless.|
|Pictured: a Belgian about to be slapped by a silverback.|
|And what a dream it was.|
|Enjoying a quiet soak between bike rides|
Ever since, I seek those quiet and still moments as much as I crave adventures. I’ve learned that there is peace to be found in the stillness just before cresting a wave in whitewater rapids, or plunging into the ocean in SCUBA gear, or racing a bike down a steep, dusty hill. The quietest moments are easy to overlook but worth celebrating nonetheless, as they will stay with you as long as you keep them close.
1) Pays Dogon, Mali
|Yup, I cried.|
After three days of hiking in semi-desert heat and eating dried out “cliff bread”, I was awarded with this superlative sunset from the top of the Bandiagara escarpment in Mali’s Dogon Country, which is one of the most unique and memorable places I have been.
2) Nungwi, Zanzibar
|Inspiration can be found at home too.|
|Sunset and a storm. Two of nature’s best shows in one!|
|Being up early is relatively easy when this view greets you.|
|Oh, and the sunsets were pretty great too.|
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.
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
I haven’t been able to write for a couple weeks because real life has interfered with travel blogging life. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I write about travel because I love travel. And I travel, not to escape my real life, but to enhance it.
While I occasionally envy those travel bloggers who have made a career of it, I also appreciate the freedom to disconnect both while I travel and live real life.
When I was much younger, I dreamed of being paid to travel. Travel can be so expensive and I thought that getting paid to go overseas would mean that I could have awesome adventures all the time.
I learned a valuable lesson early on while doing a semester abroad in France during high school, which was that although I was in France, I was still in school and had real responsibilities. It wasn’t a 3-month long backpacking trip, it was real life.
Again, after grad school I did an internship in Mali where I lived real life in a place that was very different than what I was used to. Of course I had some time to be a tourist and take in the sights and sounds of bustling Bamako and enjoyed many weekend escapes in nearby towns, like Siby. But at the end of the weekend, I still had a job to get back to. When you travel for work, you travel on someone else’s dime and someone else’s time. With that in mind, there’s something to be said for travelling on your own time and terms, even if for me it means that I don’t get to travel all the time.
|Bamako: a very exciting city to live real life in.|
There’s also something to be said for loving your real life as much as your travelling life. There’s a lot of glamour attached to quitting your job to travel the world, but I can’t help but think that the money needed to travel has to come from somewhere.
For me, finding a balance between the good life at home and exploring as much as possible is key. Doing so means that I get many trips and blog posts to look forward to, and there is Zen in that.