Five Ways to Keep Traveling at Home

As I reflected on in “You Can Go Home Again,” not all travelers choose to stay on the road indefinitely. In the end, most of us come home again. Almost always the choice to go home again isn’t about a dying interest in experiencing places around the globe but is instead about the happiness we also find at being home. In the end, being a traveler has very little to do with how many stamps are in your passport and much more to do with having curiosity about other places and other people, a desire to experience the new and the unusual, and an interest in expanding your perspective.  Travelers remain travelers even when they’re rooted at home. Sometimes in the re-entry process, however, we can lose track of how we can maintain our traveling spirit when we’re at home. Here are five tried-and-true ways to keep the adventure of travel alive even on terra familiar.

1. Try out the local ethnic restaurants.

For me, food is an integral part of any trip. I love walking into a place packed with locals, scanning the menu and the plates of those around me, and then diving into a plate of regional specialties. When I’m home one of the things I often miss most about a place is a particular taste, whether it be perfectly ripe mango or boerewors straight from the grill. For us Americans, we have the great fortune of living in a melting pot, where authentic ethnic restaurants abound. To find the good stuff, you’re going to have to dust off your sense of adventure, because it’s usually not located on Main Street. Instead you’re going to have to duck into nameless hole-in-the-walls and see what the guy in the truck on the corner is serving. You may have to order blindly off a menu written in a foreign language or just point at something that looks good. Hey, isn’t that exactly like eating in a foreign country? Perfect. With an extensive enough search, you’ll probably find some fried plantains or a bowl of pho or a meat pie or a plate of Malai kofta that lives up to your memories.

Where to look: Start your search online by seeking out local food blogs and message boards for foodies.

2. Join a foreign-language conversation group.

If you’ve traveled extensively in one country or area, chances are you picked up some language skills or improved your fluency. Unfortunately, the phrase “use it or lose it” applies directly to such skills. Speaking French is, unfortunately, not like riding a bike. It doesn’t just come back. So keep your language skills alive and well by finding a local group of linguists who share your love of the language. Groups speaking everything from Italian to Urdu can be found in cities around the world. In addition to getting to practice your language skills, you’ll also get to meet people with a shared interest in the culture of the countries that speak your language. It’s the perfect way to connect with people who  might actually care to hear your travel stories!

Where to look: is a good place to start looking for such groups in your neighborhood.

3. Play tourist in your own town.

It’s easy to settle into a routine at home and forget that there are cool things to explore right in your own backyard. When we’re traveling, we don’t hesitate to check out museums, picnic in the park, hike the nearby trail, go swimming in the lake, attend a performance, or get tickets to a sporting event. So why not do that in your own hometown? Dedicate one evening a week to trying out something new at home or spend a whole weekend as a tourist, seeing your town as a visitor. To really get into the spirit, book a night at a local hotel or B&B and pretend that you honestly don’t know a thing about the area.

Where to look: Stop in at your local visitors bureau to find out what they recommend to out-of-towners. There might be something on the list you haven’t heard of.

4. Volunteer with a program serving immigrants.

Imagine actually trying to move to one of the countries you visited on your travels. Imagine trying to find somewhere to live, learn the language, get a job, get your water and electricity turned on, register with the proper authorities, and so on and so forth. It wouldn’t be easy, would it? A friendly face who could help guide you through the entire process would be most welcome, don’t you think? As a traveler, you obviously have an interest in people and cultures and making the world a better place. So what are you waiting for? You don’t have to go to Korea to teach English or Africa to build schools. There are probably people in your own neighborhood struggling to learn the language or trying to figure out how to enroll their child in the local school. Consider teaching an ESL class or asking how you could help local organizations helping immigrants and refugees.

Where to look: A good place to find organizations doing good in your area is

5. Take a class to learn something new.

Part of what makes travel so exhilirating is the fact that we’re always being confronted with opportunities to try something new. We’re also more likely to say yes when we’re traveling. Ride a bike 20 miles to see a waterfall? Why not. Give rockclimbing a try? Sounds fun. Learn to cook the perfect pad thai? Hell yeah. When we travel, opportunities like these often throw themselves in front of us. Whether it be though other travelers’ raves, a flyer on the hostel bulletin board, a note in your guidebook, a post on someone’s blog, or a tout in the street, we find out about all kinds of fun and sometimes crazy things to try. At home, the opportunities aren’t always so in your face, but they’re there. From French cooking to yoga to whitewater kayaking to marathon training to speaking Mandarin to wilderness safety to container gardening to scuba diving, there are classes out there and ways for you to keep learning and trying new things, even if you sleep every night in the same bed.

Where to look: Check with your local community college or adult education program, ask at REI or your local sporting good’s store, and read the bulletin boards at local bookstores.

Any other ideas? What do you do to keep the travel spirit alive at home?

You Can Go Home Again

As we sat in the transit lounge of the Seoul airport in October 2009, existing for a few hours in the in-between, in the interim between our round-the-world trip and the life that awaited us at home, my thoughts went only in one direction: home. I thought of catching up with my family and friends. I thought of the jeans that I hadn’t wiggled into in a year. I thought of homecooked meals and good Tex Mex and a refrigerator stocked with cheese. I thought of the adventure of moving to a new city, one that we had never even visited before. Perhaps it is because I am a person that tends to look forward rather than backward, or perhaps it was because the round-the-world trip was not yet far enough in the past to be worthy of reminiscence, but either way, my mind did not flit to memories of our adventures or pull up images of favorite moments. After one year on the road, I was ready to go home.

Fast-forward to February 2010. We are deep into winter, snowed-in in the south, which everyone knows is worse than being snowed-in in the north, where at least people are prepared. After a year of full-time summer, winter is worse than I remembered. It is cold, dreary, gray. It seems like it is always dark. Some days, I open my bookmarks page and pull up all the travel blogs I had so loved to read in the run-up to our trip and in the year we traveled. I try to make myself read, but I can’t get into it. Though there are certainly travelers, who like us, have taken a substantial trip and then returned home to other adventures, it seems to me, in my state, that everyone has become a “digital nomad.” What I take away from everything I read is that a RTW trip is not enough; what real travelers do is cut all ties and live their lives entirely on the road. We came home. We go to work. We spend Friday night running errands at Target. I feel like we failed. For months, I try to figure out where we went wrong and how we can join this crowd of digital nomads.

Jump ahead to Summer 2010. I get to go home to Louisville every month. I go shopping with my mom and laugh at my dad’s jokes. I road trip with my brothers. I share enormous pieces of chocolate cake with friends. We read haikus at Jeff’s sister’s wedding. We grill out and then sit with friends on our back porch and talk until even the cicadas have quit singing. We eat hamburgers and watch the Durham Bulls play under the ferocious North Carolina sun. We go to the farmer’s market and chat with the men and women selling us yellow lemon heirloom tomatoes and rounds of goat cheese. We try out new recipes in an effort to keep up with the okra and cucumbers taking over our garden. We ride our bikes down the Tobacco Trail. In short, we rediscover the pleasures of the ordinary, of growing roots, of having a place we call home. We renew friendships and make new ones and remember how it has always been the people, and not the places, that make our time on earth count.

It takes almost a year, but I return to the blogs. I read the words again and hear something different this time. This time I enjoy reading the blogs for what they are, accounts of travelers of all different types trying to figure out their place in the world, offering suggestions and ideas but not claiming that their way is the only way. I have accepted the fact that it is okay to like your job, even if it’s not the type you can take on the road; that there is no weakness in wanting to be close to family and friends; that adventure can be found anywhere so long as you keep your mind open and adapt the personality of a yes man. I have decided that you can love home and love to travel, that the two are not inherently contradictory. A year after our plane touched down on American soil, I realize that not only can you go home again, but also that’s it okay to do so.

Antarctica. Dream Destination? Yes. Mine? No.

When Audrey and Daniel from Uncornered Market pulled the trigger and hopped 0n board a boat to Antarctica last year, I eagerly followed along. The penguin photos! The incredibly blue icebergs! The stomach-churning trip through the Drake Passage! Every morning I pulled up their page with high hopes for a new post. They brought Antarctica to North Carolina for me.

Now I’m eagerly awaiting posts from Pam at Nerd’s Eye View from her upcoming Antarctic adventure. In fact, when I’m browsing blogs, I rarely pass up a post about Antarctica. There’s something about its remoteness that gets me. Perhaps it’s also the simple fact that in this 24-hour news cycle world, Antarctica hasn’t yet been talked to death. It’s not everyone who has been there.

Yet, when I make lists—both on paper and in my mind—of places I just have to get to, Antarctica doesn’t make it anywhere near the top of the list. Sometimes this surprises me. It’s my brain and my list, so I know I shouldn’t by surprised, but I am. There is a section of my brain that champions Antarctica, chants its name over and over, and then, when I don’t listen to it, tries to reason with me.

My brain has a lot of good reasons.

1. I like penguins.

True. But then again, who doesn’t? If you can resist their ridiculousness, then I think you most likely have a relative named Ebeneezer.

2. It’s changing rapidly. Again true. And rapid change has always been a strong reason for me to visit places. When I decide where I want to travel, I try to weight my destinations toward places that I think will be dramatically different if I wait five or ten years to visit them. That’s why Mongolia is high atop my list, while Australia languishes away toward the bottom.

3. I love dramatic scenery.

Wow, my brain really knows me. Right, again. Patagonia brought me to my knees and not just because the hiking was hard. I swooned over the dark mountains capped with blazing white snow. I shot photo after photo of the rapidly changing sky. I spent hours and hours just staring at a glacier. I bet that Antarctica is all of that raised to the power of ten.

4. I am drawn to adventure.

Well, duh. I did choose to teach middle school students in Greece. I think that says it all, but for bonus points I also rafted the Nile, rappelled down a waterfall, took a microlight over Vic Falls, sank a kayak in Lake Malawi, and removed all of my own leeches in Malaysia. Antarctica is pretty hard to beat on the adventure scale.
And the negatives, well, really they’re not the reason. They’re just minor little things, things that don’t matter a bit if I really wanted to go Antarctica.

1. I don’t like cruises. Okay, I’m lying. The truth is I don’t really know if I like cruises or not, because I’ve never really been on a big boat cruise. I liked my catamaran cruise of the Galapagos. I am pretty darn positive I’d hate a Celebrity cruise around the Caribbean. But I’m also entirely certain that an Antarctica cruise is like neither of those. Has anyone ever been on an Antarctic cruise with karaoke? I’m simply curious.

2. I don’t like cold weather.

Well, that’s true, but I don’t hate it as much as I claim. What I hate is the inactivity of winter in all of the places I’ve ever lived, where so much as one snowflake will put life on hold for a good three days. I’ve had plenty of fun in cold climates, and hey, isn’t that Antarctica’s charm after all?

3. It’s expensive. Indubitably. There is no denying that a trip to Antarctica is expensive, but there are less expensive ways to do it if you really try. Plus, I’ve said before that some things are worth the price. The Galapagos certainly was. I bet Antarctica is too.

No, it’s not any of these silly things that are keeping me from planting Antarctica smack at the top of my list of places to visit. What makes me hesitate on Antarctica is the lack of people.

As much as I love penguins, unique places, dramatic scenery, and adventure, none of those have ever been the reason why I fell in love with a place. The one common denominator that ties together all of my favorite travel experiences is people. The stories that stick with me and the images I pull up time and again are of local people and the moments I shared with them.

What’s Antarctica going to offer me in that regard? Sure, there are some crazy scientists freezing their patooties off down there, and I’m sure they’re nothing if not interesting , but it’s not a strong sale for me.

Now don’t get me wrong. If someone approached me and said they’d like to send me to Antarctica for free, I would hug them (and if you know me, you know I’m not a hugger), do the world’s most ridiculous looking happy dance, share the news with everyone I know, and then immediately start searching for a down parka (and one of those furry Russian hats with ear flaps). And who knows, down the road, I may even pay to go. I have no doubt that Antarctica incredible. None, whatsoever. But for now, with my limited travel budget, I’m content to flip open my laptop, point my browser to an Antarctica blog post, and enjoy someone else’s account of the frozen continent while planning my own trips elsewhere. Isn’t the travel blog world awesome?

2011: A Fresh Start

Good riddance, 2010. Sure, you had your moments. Colombia was fantastic. You can sign me up for another couple of weeks there.

Moments from the Yellowstone roadtrip will forever live as legend. And we proved once and for all, that neither tornadoes, nor torrential rains, nor wind-whipped snow can hold us down (or keep us from sleeping in a tent).

My baby brother graduated from college (what?!). Jeff and I celebrated five years of marriage. We rallied for sanity by going to an insane rally. We watched friends wed and celebrated new life with other friends.

We traveled, not nearly as much as the year before, but to places both familiar and new. I drove over 8,000 miles in Kentucky in the name of research for a new guide book. We began to get to know Durham and the state of North Carolina.

2010, overall, was good to us.

Yet, to be honest, 2010 was a challenging year for me. I felt unmoored. Certain questions hung over me all year. Who am I? Who do I want to be? When we left for our round-the-world trip, we threw off the bowlines. Goodbye job. Goodbye home. When we came back to the U.S.,  I found that I wasn’t certain where I was supposed to tie up.

Did I want to be a writer? And what did that mean anyways? Novels, short stories, travel articles, marketing copy? Did I want to be an editor? Did I want to be a teacher? Did I want to throw in my hat to the travel blogging ring? I had no idea. I hemmed and hawed. I flitted back and forth. I tried this and that. I did a lot of things but not very many of them well. I lacked focus. I’d decide that I didn’t want to do something and then I’d read about someone else succeeding at it, and pride would have me back at the thing I’d just decided against, because if they could do it, well, so could I. I often asked myself “What do you want?” or “Who do you want to be?”, but I didn’t really take the time to answer that, at least not honestly.

In some ways, this blog was that indecisiveness personified. I neglected it. I brought it back. I re-designed it. I ignored it. It crashed. This blog was begun as a round-the-world travel blog, and just as I couldn’t figure out how to redefine myself post-RTW-trip, I couldn’t figure out how to redefine Lives of Wander either.

But I think I’ve figured it out. Both what I want to be and what I want this blog to be. As for me, I want first to be a fiction writer. That’s priority number one. Then comes making a living, which I would like to do through editing (at least until I show up on the NYT Bestseller List or get one of those genius grants!). I love comma splices (or more accurately, I love correcting them). What can I say? And also on the priority list is travel writing. Though I’ve tried to talk myself out of it about 8,372 times this year, I just can’t escape from it. I love to talk travel, read travel, write travel, and just flat out travel. And that’s where this blog comes in. You see, as the title says, this blog is about my life of wander, a life that did not begin nor end with our round-the-world trip, and thus Lives of Wander lives on, though in a new, updated format. I hope you like it. I hope you take the time to explore. I hope you come back and join in the conversation, because even when I haven’t known anything else, I’ve always known that it’s the people that make the journey worthwhile.

[Thanks for your patience and encouragement through this topsy-turvy year. I’m still working through some of the glitches of re-launch, including re-sizing photos and correcting the text that got messed up during the transfer from one host to another. Fingers crossed that by Monday, January 22, I’m up to speed with new, exciting posts about travel and the places life takes me.]