January 2015 archive

↣ Twins that Travel! Q&A

My next wonderful respondent to my Q&A was a set of twins who travel the world part time, I’ve been speaking to one half of the duo, Laura Jopson, when I asked her to describe how they travel, she said ‘at least once a month but can travel from anything from two days (European city breaks) to three or four weeks. It really just depends. We literally try and cram everything in when we can!…We both have careers we really enjoy, outside of travel, so we do both. Which is definitely possible.’ This is such an unusual set up that when I found their Instagram I couldn’t wait to find out more!
So this is Claire and Laura’s set of answers to my Q&A:
Q-    What made you decide to travel? What influenced that decision?
A-     We have always enjoyed travel and fitted it in here and there during school, University and eventually work, but it was never something we focused on completely. But once we reached 26/27 years old, only a few years into our careers, we both realised just how quickly your life can fall into a standard, generally uninspiring, routine of work and home. Time seems to speed up, and weeks and months can easily merge into one! 
 
We realised that we needed to find a way to break the routine and a way to ensure life stayed exciting, different and engaging. Travel was most definitely the answer to this. Experiencing new places, even if it is just a day trip elsewhere, or a weekend break in Europe, seemed to help slow time down, breaking up the routine with new memories, challenges and adventures. It makes life full.
Q-     Were your friends and family supportive of your decision to travel?
A-     Yes, definitely. Our parents worked extremely hard all their lives and realised just how fast life can pass you by. Our travelling has even inspired them to start taking more trips abroad!
Q-     Would you say that you are happier now living life on the road than before, when you lived a more ‘normal’ life?
A-     Absolutely. Perhaps unusually, we maintain quite demanding jobs, whilst juggling travel alongside them. But even this has changed our lives infinitely. We feel more in charge of our lives, rather than trapped in a routine. Our weekends now are spent exploring new places; writing about new places; being more creative with our photography and meeting new friends along the way. Life is richer, more stimulating, challenging and happier.  Travel doesn’t have to always mean a life on the road, it can just mean ensuring you are always seeking out new places, people and things – from a weekend in Paris to four weeks in India! They say ‘a change is as good as a rest’ and this is travel in a nutshell!
 
Q-     What would you say has been the best experience of travelling?
A-     We probably aren’t the most ‘natural’ travellers’. We are natural born worriers and one of us (Laura) has struggled with periods of fairly horrible anxiety. So perhaps travel isn’t the best thing to do? Except it definitely is! Our by far best experience has therefore been learning that travel is something anyone can do, regardless of their fears. Life and the world isn’t just filled with scary people or scary events. But kind, interesting, wonderful people. Travel gives you confidence not only in yourself but in other people, and this is an experience that travel gives us over and over again.
Q-     What has been the worst experience?
A-      Food poisoning. Being sick when you’re away is never fun and always a little tough. I think everyone who is ill when they are abroad will have that ‘pang’ for home and the thought ‘what am I doing here?’ But remember it always passes, however terrible you feel!
Q-      How do you get by financially?
A-      As we mentioned above, we work full-time! Luckily, where we work has very generous holiday allowance, so we can travel almost monthly. But travel doesn’t have to be expensive. With sites like ‘Air BnB’ now offering cheap accommodation in people’s homes, and increasingly beneficial flying reward programmes, travel can be something that you can fit into your life. If travel is what you want to do, then you won’t mind not buying that pair of shoes or spending money on a night out. Put it in your travel pot!
Q-      Do you prefer to go it spontaneously or do you always know where you’re going and what you’re doing?
A-      We are definitely organised travellers. Due to the nature of the way we travel (in between work) we always want to make sure we maximise our time in a place and often this means planning. We love guide books, maps and looking up recommendations. That said, we do enjoy often booking a weekend break at the last minute. You have no time to worry and before you know it you’re up in the air and off to somewhere new! It makes you realise that you always have freedom, however limited you feel, and change is only a plane ride away.
 
Q-      Are yo glad you have company on your travels, do you think it’s doable on your own or is company a complete necessity?
A-      We firmly believe in travelling a way that suits you, in a way that you feel comfortable and happy doing. Social media is full of solo travellers; group travellers; or pairs of travellers and there can be pressure to enjoy and undertake travel in a certain way. But it’s entirely up to you how you do it! We really enjoy travelling together and sharing experiences. But that is just us. Likewise, some people may find travelling with others frustrating and prefer to go it solo. Travel is a unique experience and as much about your personality than anything else. So if you want to brave it alone – go for it! If not, grab your best friend and go. Do it your way.
 
Q-      Do you think there is a certain level of happiness and fulfilment that can only be achieved by travel?
A-      That’s a difficult question! Everyone is different and has different passions, interests and things that make them happy. Travel is most definitely not always the answer to a happy life. So perhaps ‘happy’ isn’t the right word but instead richer? Once you fall into a routine, life can become two-dimensional.  Grey, maybe? They say that the human brain stops noticing ‘new’ things after a couple of days. You don’t notice the paintings in your house or the colour of the walls anymore. You can barely remember what you wore yesterday. But by going to new places, seeing new people and experiencing new food and smells, your making sure you’re always ‘awake’ and experiencing life in an indefinitely richer and fuller way. Life never gets boring when you travel.
It’s the spontaneity vs. planning that’s what I think sets Laura and Claire apart from the usual stereotype of travellers, and is opposite from what Ben said. It just proves that travel is a very personal thing that is very easy thing to manipulate to your own life so that it meets the needs that you have. I mean, these two manage to juggle their unreputed wanderlust as well has having successful careers! It just proves that you really can do anything when you put your mind to it.
Another thing that really stood out for me was their comment about it not being particularly happiness that comes from travel, but a richness instead, that feeling of a more enriched self that can only derive from having seen the wonderful polar opposites in our world. To have experienced the amount of emotions, to have spoken with the amount of people, to have seen the amount of wonders that people who travel have is surely immeasurable next to anything else.
This interview with Claire and Laura has sparked my imagination back to a quote I saw a while back:
epq quote
I think this quote makes me think of them because they are clearly very much in love with not only travel, but also home, and all the things that a conventional home life can give you, and they are even lucky enough to have a job that they love! So this quote sums them up in my opinion, because they are both inpsiring, hard working, free spirited individuals but also have a good sense of knowledge and are sensible in the way that they cater for travel in their lives, they haven’t had to give up home or their happiness for travelling, they’ve just made it work for them.
To follow Claire and Laura, check them out at http://twinsthattravel.com ! They are brilliant!
Much thanks and love to you both,
Clarissa
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↣ My thoughts on Ben Hurst…

Ben Hurst was my very first respondent to my Travel Q&A sent to a handful of nomadic folk that I found on Instagram. He had no particular previous plans to travel and hit the road after having found his job not fulfilling enough. In recent correspondence with him he has said ‘I didn’t feel fulfilled in my career. I didn’t go to bed on Sunday night in excited anticipation of going to work the next morning. But since I’ve been on my trip, I have to admit that the pure freedom associated with not having a job, not having a family, simply not having much “adult” responsibility in the traditional sense is kind of amazing, at least for the time being.’. So Ben has adopted a nomadic lifestyle after having found the more conventional way of life just not quite enough for him.

I stress at this point that it wasn’t enough for him, specifically him.

There are many people who disagree with this, those who say that travelling like this is used purely as a get out of adult responsibilities. And perhaps to a certain level it is, but it’s not a spiteful get out, it’s just taking a step back and a few years out to assess what you want from life, so that you then have a better idea about how to go out and get it.

Something Ben has highlighted to me is in a book called ‘The New American Road Trip Mixtape’, in which Ben tells me ‘the author explained the concept of “The Grand Tour,” which was a tradition for younger, upper-class Europeans a few centuries ago wherein they would take a year or so to travel the continent and experience different music, language, art, politics, etc. It was considered an essential component of their education, in a way tying together everything they had learned up until that point.’. Now this is just an extremely and pleasantly civilised way of telling your loved ones that you want to take a bit of time out to travel and figure life out along the way. I have just bought the book myself and hope to get to read it soon. The point about these Europeans is a good one, the reasons that they had behind their travels are clearly well thought out and manageable to them. Perhaps I could find one of these people and have a talk with them!

What I admire most about Ben is how he clearly has his head screwed on, he has direction without the need to literally know the direction in which he is going in next. He is proof that you can be spontaneous but also sensible at the same time. And he atleast has said that travel has made him a happier, more outgoing, more aware, and fulfilled person. Which is important for all of us I think. Travel isn’t the answer to everything of course, but it was the answer to a lot of things in Ben’s case.

Another Q&A to come now!

Cheers,

Clarissa

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↣ My First Q&A!

I’ve been writing to people who I’ve found through Instagram that lead a nomadic lifestyle and posed them with the idea of answering my Q&A, the first person to get back to me was a lovely man called Ben Hurst, he is currently touring America in his VW, and here is what he had to say…

Q-    What made you decide to travel? What influenced that decision?

A-   I grew up the son of a US Air Force pilot. By the time I was your age, my family had moved about ten times. I think moving so often instilled in me a sort of restlessness. Even when I joined the Air Force myself after college, I noticed a sense of anxiety after living in a place for a year or so, like I was ready for something new. Last year, when I decided to separate from the military after eight years of service, I started throwing around the idea of a big road trip around the western United States and Canada based on places I’d always wanted to see and friends and family I had along the way. Another factor in the decision was that I had just finished installing a new engine in my VW campervan, and I could hear it begging to be taken on a road trip. Lastly and perhaps most importantly… I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I figured that traveling would lend a good opportunity for me to reflect and reassess my priorities.

Q-    Were your family and friends supportive in the decision that you made?

A-    My friends were definitely supportive, most of them even jealous. On the other hand, my parents and my former co-workers are very career-oriented. I wouldn’t say they were unsupportive, but I definitely got some funny looks when I told them my plan, which was effectively that I didn’t have a plan. At the time I left the Air Force, I was working in the front office of a large research organization where I supported the senior leadership, most of whom had spent over 30 years working for the government. The desire to drive around the country living out of a van wasn’t something they could easily relate to.

But there was this one guy I worked with – an older civilian advisor who had a love of nature and photography. He was fascinated when I told him what I intended to do. He would take me out to lunch during the days leading up to my departure and pick my brain and ask about my plans and give me suggestions for places to see and books to read. It was really encouraging. More than anyone, he made me feel at ease with my decision to leave a stable career for unknown adventures that may lie ahead.

Q-    Would you say that you are happier now living life on the road than before when you lived a more ‘normal’ life?

A-   It might sound cheesy, but since I’ve been on the road I’ve never felt more consistently excited to be alive. I honestly didn’t expect to derive so much value and fulfillment from traveling, but I’m hooked now. I do sometimes feel a bit of anxiety from the lack of industriousness (that is, being unemployed and not contributing to society in any tangible way), but I know that I’ll probably return to a ‘normal’ life at some point down the road when I either run out of money, lose inspiration, meet a girl, etc.

Q-    What would you say has been the best experience of traveling?

A-    Hands down, it’s the people I’ve met. I’ve mentioned it a few times on my Instagram posts, but the generosity of strangers has consistently blown me away. Traveling alone, I was a bit apprehensive going into the legs of the trip where I didn’t know anyone. But I’ve found that more times than not, simply going into a bar or restaurant and asking the bartender or waitress for suggestions on what to do or see in the area ends up leading to good conversation with them and other patrons, some of whom have ended up becoming actual friends.

Also, Instagram has been a surprisingly valuable tool for connecting with people. There’s a sort of unofficial sub-community on Instagram based on VW campervans. Many of these users have offered to meet up for a beer or coffee, give me a driveway to sleep in, or even go camping together. A common criticism of social media is that it results in people being less social, interacting more with their electronic devices than with other humans. Overall that may be true, but for me it’s facilitated some awesome real-life interactions, and I’m grateful for that.

Q-    What has been the worst experience?

A-   Surprisingly, I’ve had very few negative experiences. I’ve had no encounters with sketchy people that I can recall. There have been a few times when weather has prevented me from getting to a place I’d wanted to see, but these typically came right after spending time in some other amazing place, so it was pretty easy to get over it and move on. There was a time when I got caught in a snowstorm while on a hike in Canada and had to rush back to my van before the trail got snowed out. There was a time when I got charged by an elk in Yellowstone because I was dumb and didn’t keep enough distance while trying to get around it. I still wouldn’t call these bad experiences.

 
I think since I began traveling I’ve stopped perceiving adversity in a negative way, but rather as small adventures and learning opportunities that often end up as good stories to tell. That doesn’t mean that bad experiences don’t exist for me, but so far I just can’t think of anything that I really wish didn’t happen to me.
Q-     How do you get by financially, is it tough to get enough money? Or did you save up enough before leaving?
A-     I was fortunate enough to have a job that paid well and I had a decent amount of money stowed away. Additionally, the Air Force was doing a reduction in personnel at the time I left so I was given a separation bonus, which also helped fund my travels. If I decide to keep this going for a while, I plan to pick up some odd jobs along the way to make some extra money, and hopefully acquire some new skills and meet some cool people while doing so.
Q-     Do you prefer to go it spontaneously or do you always know what you’re doing and where you’re going?

A-     This is actually a conversation I had with a friend recently. She’s big on planning, while I prefer to take a more spontaneous approach. At the time, I had just read an article summarizing a psychology study on the secret to happiness. You can check it out yourself, but the gist was that the secret to happiness is to lower your expectations. My opinion is that if you meticulously plan activities in advance, the best that can happen is that your expectations are simply met, but nothing more. It can be frustrating if your plans go astray and focusing on those plans may preclude you from being open to meeting new people or discovering places off the beaten path.

On the other hand, if you have flexible plans and limited expectations, these expectations are more likely to be exceeded. I should acknowledge that not having a job affords me the luxury of time and flexibility, but regardless, some of my most memorable experiences have come from changing what I thought I wanted to do based on suggestions from local residents, or finding places to park my van in the dark and waking up to unexpectedly amazing views, or as I mentioned before, chance encounters with strangers who have ended up becoming friends. It’s probably cliche, but all this just reminded me of that John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Maybe there’s something to that.

Q-    Do you think that there is a certain level of happiness and fulfilment that can only be achieved by travelling?

A-   That’s an interesting question and a tough one. I personally take issue with what I call “travel elitism” – the notion that travel is inherently good for you, that everyone should feel obligated to see the world, and those who don’t are less cultured. To me, traveling is generally a privilege. Sure you can do it on the cheap, but I don’t know of many low-income, inner-city youths who are planning backpacking trips to Europe. I’ve never heard of third-world country residents saving up for leisure travel. So then the question becomes: If you are in fact privileged enough to travel, should you feel compelled to do so? Is there inherent value to travel? Even then, I think about some of my friends and past co-workers who have had no desire for the outdoors or for traveling. But that doesn’t mean they’re not curious or inspired individuals.

With that being said, I’ve personally found a previously unattained level of personal happiness through traveling. And I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t learn something useful about themselves or about the world by getting out there and exploring a bit. Sorry for the tangent, but my wishy-washy answer is yeah, I’d say traveling is generally good for you and affords opportunities for individual growth that I can’t imagine finding elsewhere.

Personally I’ve found Ben’s comments awe inspiring! I don’t have much time at the minute but tomorrow I will be analysing his responses :)

Thanks Ben!

Clarissa

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↣ A change of direction

And so with the new year I have decided to change my essay topic question, instead of focusing on whether travel was running away or running towards something, I am going to focus on the feelings around it instead, changing the question to:

‘Is there a certain level of happiness and fulfilment that can only truly be achieved by travel?’

This question gives me the scope to come to a much more objective conclusion, by pinpointing the emotions ‘happiness and fulfilment’, I can reach a more black and white answer of yes or no to the question, my plan now is to write out sort of questionnaires, first directed at people who have/are leading a nomadic lifestyle and travelling about – to the extreme of travel if you will, and then to people who live a  more conventional life but enjoy travel from the holiday aspects, and then another questionnaire to people who don’t travel, who don’t see the need or interest in seeing the world and their reasons behind this.

From this I hope to cover a wide range of opinions from all sorts of people. The questionnaire will vary a little from each group of people that I will ask, for example, sometimes people who travel nomadically and constantly are doing so on a belief of God or religion, or perhaps they are escaping something, or perhaps just want to see the beauty of the world, and I would like to see how many people fall into each of these categories. Questions like this can’t be posed to someone who doesn’t travel at all and so different questions will be asked to them, for example I would ask their reasons for ‘shying away from the world’, like perhaps it is financially inviable, or maybe they prefer to just read about it without leaving the comforts of their own home.

I have vaguely used the word ‘travel’ in this question on purpose, as travel can be interpreted in different ways and so the question becomes accessible to more people, whereas my previous essay question focused on long term travel, here I can focus on the conventional holiday-for-2-weeks travel, road-trip-up-the-motorway travel, charity-help travel, long term travel, any type of travel!

I’m hoping to get some interesting folks to do my questionnaires – and perhaps you sat here reading this are one of the people that I’ve asked to contribute! So watch this space for some epic tales and forthright opinions!

Thanks so much,

Clarissa

 

 

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