| By Janis Gingermountain |
Spring is here, with its sense of freshness and promise, and summer is not far behind. You want to have a new experience, so you’re perhaps pondering going on a journey. You could go alone, with a friend or significant other, or in a travel group. To make your trip special, here are a few things you might consider.
1) Your physical condition. Remember, you are likely not too old, too shaky, or too decrepit to go. You can figure things out on a cane, a walking stick, or even a scooter. Don’t try a skateboard. It’s probably best, if you are an unsteady traveler, to join a group and go with a friend who could give you a hand from time to time. A small ship voyage would be ideal.
Bent over or tired while traveling? Rest your back on a solid mud wall in the medina of Fez, Morocco. You have to anyway, to avoid the loaded donkeys barreling through. You can find a picturesque back rest most anywhere, and you’ll be glad you’re there.
2) Whatever you do, travel light. Take only a toothbrush, a dollar, and your passport. That’s what Sister Jose Hobday did. Wander the streets of your chosen country and depend on the hospitality of others. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be a nun. Even forget the toothbrush: some cultures use a twig! I may be only kidding, but seriously, don’t take any more than a small suitcase or backpack on wheels. All you need are two pairs of zip-offs, a turtleneck, three t shirts, a jacket, one pair of sturdy shoes that you’ll wear, poncho, socks, underwear, a water bottle, and your toilet articles.
3) My friend Ree wears a vest with lots of pockets for essentials such as camera, passport, meds, pen, small notebook, tissues, glasses, and money. You will add shells, stones, prayer cards, candle stubs, and other sacred treasures you’ll pick up along the way. Remember not to stash anything alive or edible.
4) Every place you go has a shimmering sacred spot. This is the advice of Phil Cousineau, sacred travel guru extraordinaire. Don’t miss that spot, whether it is a tiny chapel on a Greek island or a community bread oven in the Turkish countryside. Hmmm, what could be more sacred than a gelato shop in Rome? You will find your spot every day, and they will be unforgettable.
5) Just hang out wherever you go, and seek out opportunities to connect with interesting people. Ask questions of the park ranger in Nepal, who can name every bird around. Learn about Egyptian customs by sitting in a little gift shop with its proprietor and drinking mint tea. Visit a school and teach a bit of English in a class.
6) Eat where the locals go, whether it’s a falafel sandwich at a Cairo fast-food shop or a baklava stop in a Turkish village. How about a bowl of tom kha in Thailand? Or a fat potato-and-pea-stuffed samosa in Nepal? And the list goes on.
7) Keep a journal. On the way to your destination record your hopes and dreams for the trip. On your way home jot down what you learned, who the most interesting people were, what the best food was.
Don’t write down everything diary-style. Rather capture cameos of your days, make sketches, glue-stick in mementos and other bits and pieces you find. Bring hidden things to light. Describe that old woman in Machu Picchu sitting on a boulder sucking on a sucker. Sketch that Peruvian curandero engaging in his ritual of blessing. Focus on an old Mexican man in a white sombrero playing his wooden pipe.
8) Learn a little of the language. Hungarian is one of the toughest languages in the world. But you might be able to manage “Yol regret kivanook,” “Good MorningOr in Turkey, “Merhaba!” Or in Burma, “Minglabar!” In Botswana “Dumela.” In Greece, “Kalimera!” “Shokran,” “Thank you,” will earn you smiles in Egypt.
9) Become a temporary local. Find a local newspaper or newssheet in English, and find out what’s going on that day or week. Look for events you can attend: perhaps a school folk dance, an environmental gathering, a street tour of a city, a cooking class. Look for peace and justice groups and movements. In Burma we joined up with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, a group trying to rid Burma of the then-repressive military dictatorship. In Morocco we dialogued with women trying to bring change to women’s lives.
Mark Twain said, “Twenty-five years from now (we should live that long!), you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Take his words to heart, and plan that dream trip now. You’re ready, aren’t you? Step out with a smile and reach out to the world. You’ll never be the same again.