Is the World Really Ready to Open Up?

“COVID-19 highlights how truly interdependent we all are. How reliant we are on cooperation, communication, and compassion to successfully combat the virus. It highlights how important it is that we work together for a sustainable recovery that delivers for our economies and our planet.” Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

After completing our two month trip through Greece, I really felt the world was ready to open up again. We made travel connections seamlessly, complied with all of the Covid mandates, and were fully vaccinated. With only a few hiccups, all of our connections with trains, ferries, planes, and taxis were smooth and enjoyable.

Not so for our planned trip to Iceland.

My two college friends and Ron and I were looking forward to our 10 day trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. The first sign that maybe this Aurora Borealis bucket list item was not to be, was when Virgin Atlantic canceled our trip in July. “No problem,”I told myself. They notified me in plenty of time, refunded our tickets, and I rebooked flights on Icelandair, who partnered with Jetblue.

Then, Jetblue canceled our connecting flights to Iceland and I rebooked a second time. This flight was cheaper because I booked Iceland as a layover and we would end up in Sweden. We were excited because it would be our first time in Sweden.

Things began to spiral out of control when Sweden closed its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens. So I rebooked again, although it was disappointing that we wouldn’t get to visit Sweden because of Covid restrictions.

A week before we left, I checked the seat assignments on Icelandair…only to discover that the Jetblue connecting flight from Iceland had been canceled…and no one informed me. I scrambled to book yet another flight. I kept telling myself, “You are a seasoned traveler. You’ve got this!”

Meanwhile, six days before we left, Jean was in an accident and totaled her car and she canceled her flight to recuperate. While helping Jean, I wrote to Icelandair everyday asking for a refund for the Jetblue leg of our trip. I was a little frustrated, but we still planned on going.

On Sunday, the day before our flight, Chris called. ”I have bad news. Very bad news,” she said. “All of my flights are canceled.”

I thought about what Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, said about our reliance on cooperation, communication, and compassion to successfully combat the virus. I expected cooperation and communication from the many cancelations we had already experienced. Surely, Jetblue and Icelandair communicated frequently. That comforted me into believing that all was well and just Ron and I could continue with our plans to go to Iceland.

As we waited for our first flight to Atlanta from our tiny regional airport, a large man with a Trump mask wrapped around his neck stood behind us at check-in. The airport staff reminded him several times to wear his mask. Like a third grader who thought he could pass notes unseen, he looked around to see if anyone was watching, and if no one was in his peripheral vision, he removed his mask. Another couple nearby pretended to sip on soda through straws, and puffed up like cocks waiting for battle at the thought of someone reminding them to wear their masks.

We arrived in Atlanta and spent the day walking around the airport and waiting for our late afternoon flight to JFK on Jetblue. The departure board said our plane was delayed by an hour. We anxiously counted the number of hours needed to catch our 8:30pm flight to Iceland. We’ll make it in time. No worries. We still had an hour in JFK to catch our flight.

Things began to get real, when after boarding, the pilot said we were delayed because he had to fill out more paperwork and have it approved. Another 45 minutes passed, and now it appeared grim.

Our only hope was that Jetblue would notify Icelandair of at least 7 passengers’ late arrivals and they would hold the plane for us. The flight attendants couldn’t tell us what gate the Icelandair flight left from, nor could they help us in calling Icelandair and asking them to hold the plane for us. They told us it was a short distance from terminal 5, where we arrived, to terminal 7 where we departed. They told us not to worry, that we would be there on time. They didn’t know!

When the Jetblue plane landed at JFK it was 8:15 pm. We were seated near the back of the plane and our only hope was to try to run to the front of the plane before everyone left their seats. We made it to the middle of the plane, where a woman harassed me and screamed nasty things at me for blocking her path to get her luggage from the overhead bin. Luckily, she was seated in the middle as she snarled and lashed out at me. I had no place to go. I was trapped in front of a crazed woman. I tried to explain that we would miss our connecting flight if we couldn’t get to the front of the plane and we only had 5 minutes to get there. She continued howling at me and I finally shouted, “Shut up, just shut up! ” She rose with her hackles up and teeth bared. ”Fuck you, ” she shouted as her husband tried to restrain her. I was horrified! I’ve never been in a fist fight before! Ron tried to keep everyone calm.

I discovered much later, after looking at my pedometer, that terminal 5 and terminal 7 were separated by a skytrain and almost one mile of walking. I ran behind a much younger woman who appeared to have experience in running marathons. I was proud of the fact that I could keep up with her, although it did worry me that I might have a heart attack on the way. I lost her when Ron and I took the skytrain and she didn’t.

At 8:30 pm, we caught up with another couple we met on the plane who were also going to Iceland. The check-in counter of Icelandair was empty and the plane had left. We all shook our heads in disbelief. We were only a few minutes late. Why was there no communication between Jetblue and Icelandair? Why couldn’t they hold the plane for 7 people whose plane was delayed? What do we do now? Where was our luggage? This was turning into one big clusterfuck!

The airline reservation agent at the Iberian Airlines desk told us to demand a night at a hotel from Jetblue. ”Don’t let them deny you your rights to a hotel room,” said the agent. He must have seen this one too many times. I told him not to worry that I could be a bitch if I had to be. He laughed, and called Icelandair and told us to go to the office to see if they had our luggage.

At Icelandair, we met up with another couple who had missed their flight and a young medical geneticist who was on his way to Munich, Germany via Iceland. We were all tired, hungry, and frustrated with the lack of communication and lack of cooperation. The couple said they really would miss seeing the Northern Lights if they couldn’t go, and I said (trying to be funny) that I would miss the Penis Museum. The woman looked at me with a strange look. I think she thought I was crazy, until I described the Penis Museum in Reykjavík, and she was intrigued.

Noreen, from Icelandair said she would look for our luggage and she sent us to see Rudy in the pit at Jetblue. What in the world? I felt like we were already in a big cockfight. What was the pit all about? It was past midnight before Rudy and another airline agent got us a hotel room and Icelandair found our luggage.

We met the Russian shuttle driver at the pick-up spot. He was grouchy and asked us if we were with American (Airlines). Apparently, our hotel was full of disgruntled American Airlines customers whose flights were canceled. The Russian was not pleased! After we arrived at our hotel, I asked Ron if he tipped him. He looked at me and laughed. Of course. I was afraid not to tip him!

Ahhh! At least we didn’t have to spend the night in the airport. Ron looked forward to a hot soak in a tub to relieve stress. Unfortunately, there was no tub in our room, and to make a bad situation worse, there was no water! We had to call a maintenance man!

We slept fitfully, hoping that we could be rebooked the next evening on the one and only Icelandair flight at 8:30 pm. We had to have new rapid antigen tests because of the 72 hour requirement. Rudy in the Jetblue pit told us that Jetblue had a free Covid testing clinic and we could receive the rapid antigen test in the morning before our flight.

We were still unbelievably hopeful to make it to Iceland, although the signs were all pointing to us going home. Another Russian driver picked us up at the hotel in the airport shuttle. This one was the ying to last night’s Russian driver’s yang. He took us to the clinic outside of terminal 5 to get our Covid test. But wait! Something was eerily wrong. The metal doors were chained. No sign saying the clinic was closed…nothing. The Russian driver told us to walk a little further to the next entrance. He followed us slowly in the shuttle. That gate was chained and closed, too!

This felt like a dark, grim cloud hovering over us. I had lost almost all hope of going to Iceland. Our trip was doomed from the beginning. There were signs all along the way!

The Russian dropped us off at Jetblue and we went to the pit again to find Rudy. The pit was packed with what looked like refugees being processed, so we found a supervisor who, at first, didn’t believe us when we told her the clinic was closed. She asked a security guard, and he confirmed it was closed. She called the clinic number, but never received an answer. Finally someone standing in line told her it was election day and all the offices were closed due to elections. Sigh! We were not able to get a covid test and the only one available in the terminal was a PCR test. We would not get immediate results, and it would cost each of us $210.

I started to cry! I was tired, overwhelmed, angry, and frustrated at the inefficiency and lack of communication between the airlines. I just wanted to go home.

Bye bye Icelandair.

Lloyd, at the Delta check-in counter was very sympathetic to our plight. He booked us on Delta to Atlanta that afternoon, then we had a short flight the next morning to reach our home.

Once again, we had to run to catch our Delta flight. A pilot was behind us and I asked him if he was flying to Atlanta. He was the pilot of our plane! I was overjoyed and babbled on with relief about how Delta had helped us get a flight out of Nicaragua during the civil revolution, and how Delta had gone out of their way to help us with several other problems, including our botched Iceland trip. I wanted to hug him! We were loyal Delta customers!

When we boarded the plane to Atlanta, we both were filled with relief, until the pilot announced that the door to the airplane wouldn’t close and he had to call maintenance. We just turned to each other and laughed.

We used to love flying. Years ago, when we were dating, our favorite date spot was the Pittsburgh airport. We could sit in a terminal restaurant, drink milkshakes, and watch travelers arrive and depart. We knew then that traveling was our passion. We long for those carefree traveling days.

NPR describes the decay of customer service as skimpification. “It’s all about maximizing profit now. The economywide decline in service quality that we’re now seeing is something different, and it doesn’t have a good name. It’s a situation where we’re paying the same or more for services, but they kinda suck compared with what they used to be.”

Kinda suck is an understatement. I think we have both developed Post Traumatic Stress syndrome from this unbelievable set of circumstances leading us to cancel our trip to Iceland.

The decay of the service industry blinks in neon warning signs everywhere. Airlines put customers who call them on hold for hours. Restaurants, bars and hotels are understaffed and stretched thin. The quality of service seems to be deteriorating everywhere, yet we pay the same or more and the buzz phrase for the deterioration of services is “ It is because of Covid.”

But, to stop the degradation of the service industry and tales such as mine, we need to work together. Times are hard during Covid, yet for a sustainable recovery to help our economies, we need cooperation, compassion, and most importantly, accountability.

We need to stop blaming Covid for the lack of quality we encounter daily in the service industries. Service workers problems are all of our problems. A good society shows compassion to its workers. It demonstrates to each and every worker that they are ”worth it” and pay them a living wage with decent health benefits.

A good society helps us fulfill our goals and our dreams, whether they be travel oriented, education, family, or any other goal we strive to achieve.

This pandemic has shown us how truly interdependent we all are and for the sake of our wold economies and our planet, we must be able to work together to combat this virus. This tale, fraught with anxiety, has shown us that we are still very leery of traveling. Traveling during covid is not for the faint of heart.

Do you think the world is really ready to open up?

The Paradox of Tourism

“As I see the world, there’s one element that’s even more corrosive than missionaries: tourists. It’s not that I feel above them in any way, but that the very places they patronize are destroyed by their affection.” 
― Tahir Shah, House of the Tiger King: The Quest for a Lost City

We were in a grocery store in Rhodes, Greece and struck up a conversation about tourism with the local grocer near our Airbnb. He told us that tourism had picked up considerably since Greece opened their borders to vaccinated tourists. In fact, everywhere we went in Greece, the locals were appreciative for the tourists. As the local grocer said, “ Tourism is our factory. Without tourism we barely survived this ongoing pandemic.”

Indeed, Greece was doing everything right to encourage tourism. We had to show our vaccination cards to enter all enclosed spaces like museums, restaurants, and gift shops. All the residents wore masks and encouraged social distancing and the locals were eager to make our stay fun and enjoyable. Safety was foremost and we were comfortable traveling on all forms of transportation.

Yet, tourism overwhelms popular areas, such as the monasteries of Meteora and devours and destroys the traditions and cultures that made the areas popular in the first place. Soon, all popular attractions are geared to tourism, they all begin to look alike, and the culture is lost forever.

Therein lies the paradox of tourism. Are we loving popular attractions to death? Take for example the monasteries of Meteora. Meteora means “suspended in air” and in the 9th century, hermit monks seeking isolation and solitude scaled the steep vertical walls and lived in caves in the rock formations.

By the 14th century, Meteora had become a popular ascetic community and more hermit monks arrived to avoid the violent Turkish invasions. They constructed a small monastery with a rope ladder that they could pull up when they felt threatened. Soon, more than 20 monasteries were built and the hermit monastic communities flourished due to such factors as isolation, serenity, and safety.

We took a small group van tour to visit the monasteries…which became the highlight of our two month travels through Greece. Our guide told us that today, six of the 24 monasteries are still active. Of these, four are inhabited by men, and two by women, while each monastery has less than 10 inhabitants.

In 2019, over two million tourists visited the monasteries. Most of the monks leave during tourist season for an unidentified retreat in Northern Greece. Can you imagine two million visitors tromping through you house?

I hoped to experience a spiritual renewal during our visit to the monasteries. I was surrounded by breathtaking and stunning vistas. Yet, with the presence of countless tripods, selfie sticks, lens attachments, and postcard/souvenir stands, being here became a disappointing spiritual surrender. I felt like I was forced to see what others saw, a kind of collective perception and that is not what I wanted at all. I began taking pictures of all the tourists taking pictures. I guess you could say it was a religious experience done in the tourism kind of way.

Tourism permits tourists to escape accountability. Together with thousands of other tourists, we are in a kind of suspended state of immunity and have access to freedoms we normally wouldn’t have in our home communities. It is almost like we are given a license to be stupid. We touch everything that is not supposed to be touched. We take photos of things we are not supposed to take. We pocket rocks and pottery shards we are not supposed to steal. We dress inappropriately in places that demand more respect.

For example, the monasteries have strict dress codes. Women are supposed to wear dresses or skirts below their knees. Men are to wear long pants and long sleeved shirts. Before our trip to the Meteora monasteries, we went to a flea market in Thessaloniki to buy a long skirt for me and a jacket for Ron since he only packed short sleeved shirts. People recommended a sarong that I could wear over my leggings, and I brought that along on our tour as well.

I looked over the long lines of tourists waiting to buy tickets to enter the nuns’ monastery. Very few of them had appropriate clothing. I was surprised that people entered wearing shorts with a towel wrapped around their waists. No one said anything. It was apparent that we were given a license to dress inappropriately. It boggles my mind to think of our levels of arrogance and stupidity. We are rewarded and suffer no consequences for our lack of respect in places foreign to us.

Tourism is an enigma. Why do we feel that we have the god-given right to intrude everywhere? Why do we feel the right to impose our culture, our language, our thoughts and beliefs on people who have graciously given us an opportunity to take a short peek at their cultures and traditions? And then…why do they accept our misgivings, our errors and misguided ways? Is it economic? Does money talk? Is tourism really a deadly sin?

Tourism has its pros and cons. I hate to sound like a Debbie downer because I, too have been a part of the ‘army of foolish tourons’. I have taken advantage of my ignorance as a tourist and I have been taken advantage of by foreign scammers because of my ignorance.

I have no answers for the tourism paradox. My only advice comes from making stupid mistakes and learning from those mistakes

Should tourism be restricted to a certain number each day? What happens to an area when there is no tourism? Should popular tourist areas invest in other , more sustainable businesses and restrict tourism? What kind of education, if any, should we teach to be better tourists and leave no traces behind? I welcome your thoughts.

Travel in the Time of Covid

“Having an open and honest dialogue about how we are approaching safe and ethical travel right now is paramount.” – Sarah Dandashy, an award-winning travel influencer and founder of Ask A Concierge

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way we travel, possibly forever. Traveling during the pandemic is a highly personal decision, where we must ask ourselves the ethical and moral questions of whether or not, how, and where we should or should not be traveling.

Is traveling during a pandemic safe? Should we post photos of our travels on social media? And how do we deal with travel shaming and judgments from our friends and family if we choose to travel?

After we returned from Mexico in March 2020, I posted a beautiful photo on Facebook of our driveway early in the morning as we were preparing to go senior grocery shopping at 6 am to 8 am. I was dressed for battle in my mask, gloves, and with hand sanitizer. The responses I received on Facebook were puzzling. They questioned why I left my house, or why I didn’t order my groceries online ( which at the time our local grocery store didn’t have). I was travel shamed for only going to the grocery store. Can you imagine the travel shame others experience for vacationing domestically or abroad and posting their photos on social media?

Shame causes people to become defensive, angry or shift the blame to other people. I can understand that because I made judgments (and still do) during this everlasting pandemic. Although I keep my comments to myself, I wonder when I look at social media photos of unmasked people attending a baseball game, or lounging on a beach in Puerto Rico, or attending their child’s basketball games in a crowded gym, if they are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid, or have been tested.

It is natural to feel jealousy, fear, and anger toward those whom we perceive as not following the rules and want to make them feel bad. But, making people feel bad in a shameful way is not the answer. It does nothing to help the situation; it only increases the resentment.

In the fall of 2020, we crossed the country to Yosemite National Park on a four month Covid camping adventure. Vaccinations were not available, but we felt we could isolate, socially distance, and wear masks to stay safe. We even prepared our Covid bag that contained everything we would need to sanitize our environment and safely camp and travel.

We had a wonderful and safe adventure. I posted daily photos of our trip on Instagram and Facebook. I knew that we were doing everything within our power to stay safe. When we arrived at our son’s house in Yosemite, we got Covid tests and Cory and his fiancé, Tina, were tested as well. We never tested positive. We were taking all the necessary precautions and following the CDC guidelines.

So, is travel safe? When Greece and Iceland were the first two countries to open to vaccinated travelers, we jumped and purchased flights for both countries. We have been fully vaccinated since the beginning of March, 2021. We followed the CDC recommendations and by late spring and early summer, it looked like Covid infections were steadily dropping. We, like so many others, gradually weaned away from wearing masks and were anxious to eat in restaurants, travel, and begin a “normal” lifestyle again. We thought travel was inching its way to normality.

Then, the Delta variant arose, like a zombie from the dead. We still felt protected, but we began to wear our masks indoors and avoided large crowds. Our flights were canceled or changed. We worried about traveling internationally and were constantly checking the entrance requirements for Greece and Iceland.

But, most of our friends continued to travel. Photos of trips to Greece, Iceland, and Europe appeared on social media. Travel shaming ramped up! We were so confused! With only a month until we traveled to Greece, we began to worry that maybe we were making the wrong decision to go, not out of our safety, but the safety of others around us who were still unable to get vaccinated.

A Business Insider article reported, “In July, US airlines saw more than 700,000 passengers per day over the July 4th weekend, a figure that has continued to climb in recent weeks. On August 2, 799,861 people passed through a TSA checkpoint. Yes, these figures are down compared to the same time last year, but the numbers don’t lie. People are traveling, whether we agree with it or not.”

There is no zero-risk situation for this pandemic, unless we stayed locked in our home, and that was never an option for us. We have always been calculated risk takers. For us, the research, advice, and information we received from scientists, health experts, and infectious disease professionals indicated that we could proceed with caution. That is what we intend to do.

I trust science. I don’t believe that I am being selfish in traveling or that it increases the risk of spreading the virus. I think our domestic travel during 2020 and the spring of 2021 has shown us that we can travel safely, protect others by wearing our N95s and KN95s, and socially distancing, and that vaccinations will keep us from getting seriously ill.

I live in Tennessee, where our governor signed an executive order banning mask mandates for our schools! Our hospitals are overrun with pediatric cases. Covid infections are off the charts! Everything is wide open with no masks, no social distancing, and a “Don’t take away my freedom” attitude. Sigh! But people criticize me for traveling to countries that actually take precautions for international travelers?

We are realizing that we’re in this for the long haul and we can live a somewhat normal, enjoyable life and still be safe and keep our risk to a minimum. The problem is everyone’s version of safe is relative, and that is why the travel shaming occurs…out of fear. We can’t live with fear and we will always be cautious jumpers into the unknown.

We leave next week for Greece. Our bags are packed with hand sanitizer, medical masks, face protectors, Clorox wipes, and of course our vaccination cards. We received a QR digital code from Greece to identify us with verified vaccination cards. We aren’t required to be tested before we leave, but we may do a quick antigen test for the safety of others.

We submitted our vaccination cards to Delta Airlines and they are digitized for our travel and verified by the airlines. That is the best that we can do without a unified digital vaccination pass in the US. We will receive the boosters when we return in October. Ethically we agree with the WHO when they say, “This profound global inequity [booster shots for all Americans] would not only be a humanitarian disaster, but also a significant long-term risk for Americans, as scientists agree that accelerating global vaccination is the only way to prevent the formation of deadly new variants.”

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, which represents the travel and tourism industries, “174 million global jobs related to the industries have been lost since the onset of the pandemic.”

I believe that international travel can safely and cautiously restart. With appropriate Covid protocols such as, masking, hygiene, testing, social distancing, and most importantly vaccinations, travel can take place with acceptable risks.

I believe that all travelers should be educating others as to how to travel safely during the time of Covid. Instead of travel shaming, we should encourage safe and responsible travel because we are in it for the long haul. Travel will never be the same again. This is our new normal. Happy and safe trails to you.

Are you traveling internationally during the pandemic? How do you stay safe?

The Symbolism of Doors

“She scoured the Earth, wandering and ravenous, looking for doors. And she found them. She found them in abandoned churches and the salt-rimed walls of caves, in graveyards and behind fluttering curtains in foreign markets. She found so many her imagining of the world grew lacy and tattered with holes, like a mouse-chewed map.” 
― Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January

I developed a love for the beauty and fascination of doors when walking through the cities, ruins, and country villages of the world. Doors always attract my attention wherever I go. Weatherworn, small, stained, paned, big, rock…it seems that they all beg to be opened or at least to wonder about what lies beyond the closed doors. What stories do they tell? What history, culture, and experiences lurk in the dark recesses of each door?

Doors have always been referenced and symbolized in imagery, paintings, quotes, tales of new beginnings, closure, or transitions. They fascinate historians, photographers, and artists. There are messages to decipher in open or closed doors and symbolically doors create analogies for spiritualists, psychologists, and teachers…like, “When one door closes, another opens.”

Doors continue to symbolize many elements today. Let’s start with entrances.
Open doors symbolize willingness to explore, to open oneself up to new discoveries. It invites us to investigate. My husband is excellent at investigating new entrances in our travels.

Transition and metamorphosis are the most common ideas represented by the symbol of the door; it is a passage from one place to another, between different states, between lightness and darkness. It is abandoning the old and embracing the new. A door is often used to symbolize the passage from one world to another in religion, mythology, and literature. For example, in ancient Egyptian tombs, doorways were built to allow free passage of the soul from the earthly boundaries. Christians place crosses above doorways to keep out evil spirits. And horseshoes with the open end up are hung above doorways to symbolize good luck when entering a house.

A threshold is the sill of a door and many cultures attach special meaning to a threshold. A new bride is carried over the threshold, symbolizing movement from one stage of life to another. A threshold can also be a boundary and point at which two places meet. It is where two worlds come together and provide a point of passage. Symbolically, it can be associated with rebirth and leaving the past behind. To me, it means movement, whether through the passage of time, or the processes of life we all pass through.

Just an interesting artistic door
But, putting all deep symbolizing aside, I enjoy taking photos of doors simply because they are interesting and artistic. All countries have beautiful and unique doors! The last door in this group is a photo of our Airbnb in La Paz, Mexico.
When we were in Portugal, I had to buy a door knocker in the shape of a hand because it was so prevalent on the doors. In Colombia, I searched everywhere for a metal gecko door knocker because every house had a different knocker on the door.

An ending or a statement
Closed doors can represent rejection, protection, secrecy, exclusion, and imprisonment. They can make a statement like the warning to tourists in Croatia and the house covered in words of warning in Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. Just as a door that’s an entrance represents a beginning, a door that’s an exit represents an end.

Doors can be symbolic structures that signify important events in our lives, changes in life processes, new beginnings, and meaningful closures or ends. Doors can also represent spiritual, religious, historical and cultural events. Or doors can simply be fascinating photography objects.

I will continue to scour the Earth, wandering and ravenous, looking for doors. Doors increase my awareness and keep my mindfulness in the present. Looking for doors makes me happy and they are always reminding me to pay attention to my world and connect with life.

Do you have a fascination with doors?

Thoughts of a Memento Hoarder

“I have a habit of being an archaeologist of my own past, a sentimental collector of personal artefacts which may at first glance appear random, but each of which holds a unique significance. As the years pass me by, I find that the number of objects within my possession begins to accumulate. A torn map. A sealed letter. A boat full of paper animals. Each item encapsulates within itself a story, akin to an outward manifestation of my inner journey.” 
― Agnes Chew, The Desire for Elsewhere

The desire for elsewhere has led me to collect mementos of my travels and journeys throughout my life. But, why am I unable to throw any of my mementos away?

“At the end, all that’s left of you are your possessions. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been able to throw anything away. Perhaps that’s why I hoarded the world: with the hope that when I died, the sum total of my things would suggest a life larger than the one I lived.” 
― Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

I have hoarded the world. My collections are stories of my existence. I am hoarding stories of my life, afraid that I will lose the stories if I give away my travel mementos. And will I lose my existence in this world? Do my mementos hold onto my place in this world ever so briefly?

“Hoarding is holding onto what I can’t keep and all the while convincing myself that I can. And in the end, what I’m really hoarding is my need to believe something at the expense of my existence.” 
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Or can my collections be of making order from the chaos in the world? I get nervous when things are in disarray. I like order in the world.

The author describes a collector’s mental state as metaphysical angst…”perhaps because they cannot bear the idea of chaos being the one ruler of the universe, which is why, using their limited powers and with no divine help, they attempt to impose some order on the world, and for a short while they manage it, but only as long as they are there to defend their collection, because when the day comes when it must be dispersed, and that day always comes, either with their death or when the collector grows weary, everything goes back to its beginnings, everything returns to chaos.” 
― José Saramago, All the Names

A good photograph keeps a moment from running away. I make photographs like I make memories. Am I running away from my mortality? Are all photographs a warning or reminder that death inches closer, so we must preserve the moments in suspended time?

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” -Susan Sontag

I am a sentimental traveler, always trying to find a way to keep my trip memories alive in my home. It takes some work to turn travel knickknacks into art, but I have found a couple of organization ideas that would inspire any globe-trotter. I have shadow boxes, travel poster walls, shelves, journals, scrapbooks, rocks and sand bottles, and memory boxes.

But, are these objects I collect a bridge to my past, or merely an illusion?

“We keep stuff in order to hang on to what’s important, but it’s an illusion … These objects are not bridges to the past, they’re bridges to memories of the past. But they are not the past.” 
― Helen Fisher

My colorful and eclectic travel mementos give me joy. Until I began to write this article, I really hadn’t given much thought to my collections, other than…my goodness, every nook and cranny in my house has a memento and a story that accompanies it. What will happen to these things when I die? Who would like my llama toenail musical shakers or my rock collections? Our poor son!

“The items people own reveal something about the owners. Every quaint item that a person selects to surround themselves with has a basic quiddity, the essence, or inherent nature of things. As a people, we assign a value meaning not only to the things that we presently possess, but also to the items destined for one generation to hand down to the next generation.” 
― Kilroy J. Oldster, Dead Toad Scrolls

I am sure I am not the only person in the world musing about my travel mementos and collections. I think I am normal, right? Don’t all travelers collect mementos of their trips?

Are you a sentimental traveler who collects mementos? How do you display them? What will you do with your mementos when you downsize, move, or transition or die?

The Lightness of Packing

On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy. – Spanish Proverb

Excess baggage is a symptom of something we are missing on the inside – a fear that what we bring into this world, except for ourselves, won’t be enough. I learned the hard way that if I didn’t unpack my excess baggage that it would eventually become deadweight. Also, when I packed, I brought too much of everything just in case. Well, the “just in cases” and deadweight tethered me to the ground and left me with the task of finding someone else to carry my bags. It was time for me to lighten my load and enjoy the lightness of packing.

Our planned trip to Greece would be the perfect opportunity for me to learn the lightness of packing. I spent months planning our journey through Greece from airlines both domestic and international, to accommodations, to trains, buses, and ferry schedules, to lists of places we wanted to explore. We are ready….except for packing.

Our REI luggage has been with us on our journeys for years. They are carry on size with a detachable daypack and they can be converted to backpacks, although with the rollers we never used the backpack straps. They are similar to Osprey luggage and I know that our lightweight, easy to pull luggage will probably outlast us.

Along with our luggage, we pack one empty carry on bag each that will return to our home loaded with gifts and inexpensive items we find along our travels. We recently bought packing cubes and used them for all of our car camping adventures because they could be squished between the seats. We always roll our clothes to save room, so the packing cubes will be useful inside our luggage, too.

Notice one of my travel walls in the background? I am going to write a post about how I display the unusual items and photos I take throughout the world. Have you ever seen llama toenails used as a musical instrument? Stay tuned.

Oh, and I think I can remove the Canadian luggage tag from my suitcase, now. Politically, for the last four years of our travels, I identified myself as an adopted Canadian. I am kind of embarrassed to admit it, but it made our travels so much easier.

I read an article by NPR, “15 Things Folks Can’t Live Without In A Pandemic, From Ants To Holy Water”, in which people from around the world took photos of 15 things they couldn’t live without in a pandemic. I thought it would be interesting to take a photo of 15 things I can’t travel without on international trips.

  1. Anti theft purse
    I used to have a small Travelon anti theft purse, but it was too small to hold my iPad, so I bought a Pacsafe purse. It is spacious, and offers RFID protection, plus it has two compartments for a water bottle and a travel size umbrella. And my iPad fits in it comfortably.

  2. Electronics
    I can’t imagine traveling without an iPad and an iPhone. They make traveling so much easier. I download music, movies, and games for long flights. I use Google maps on my phone for directions, both walking and driving. I have many apps for editing digital photos and the WordPress app for writing my blog.
  3. Business cards
    When I visited Japan on a Fulbright Scholarship, everyone handed out business cards. They even had beautiful fabric cases to hold business cards. I bought one, but it remained empty for years, until I found it recently. Now, I have business cards for my blog and can hand out my cards to all of the new friends we make along our paths.

  4. Converter, power strip, chargers, and cords.
    We usually stay in Airbnbs and there are always few wall sockets in the apartments and houses. So, I take a power strip and a converter so I can charge all of our electronics at the same time.
  5. Passports, vaccination cards, and maybe an International Driver’s card
    Of course, our passports must not expire within 6 months before our trips, and there must be blank pages in the passports. Then, we have Yellow Fever vaccination cards, and now CDC vaccination cards for our Pfizer shots. I wish we had electronic vaccination cards to show upon entrance to other countries because it is getting easier to make fake vaccination cards and they are not accepted everywhere. The USA is behind Europe in that respect.
  6. A long scarf
    My scarf is handy for many different things. I can use it as a shawl or light blanket on a long flight. I can wrap and tie it around the tray table and use it as a hammock for my feet so they stay elevated. It can be a head scarf, a beach blanket, or a neck warmer.
  7. Laundry sheets
    Who knew these could be so handy? I used to take liquid pods, but lightweight laundry sheets are much, much better.
  8. Flashlights
    I have several flashlights I take on our travels. I have a rechargeable headlamp, an app flashlight on my phone, and a pen light in my purse.
  9. Compression socks
    You probably think that compression socks are for old people, but we’re old and we are here to tell you they are wonderful for long flights and can even be lifesavers. On an overnight flight to Brazil, my ankles swelled so big that I couldn’t walk.

    When you’re on a long flight (5 hours or more), chances are, you’re not going to move around much during that time. When you’re cramped in a small space and not moving around, circulation between your heart and legs slows down. When circulation slows down, you may experience swelling, tingling, and numbness. The reduced circulation can also put you at risk for pulmonary embolisms and blood clots.
  10. First Aid Kit
    A small bag with bandaids, liquid skin, and ointments for cuts and abrasions. I also have athletic tape for sprains and strains, and Tylenol for pain.
  11. Extra Eye Wear
    I don’t wear glasses, but my husband does. So, we pack extra glasses, and I take extra reading glasses.
  12. Delta Travel Pack
    We are loyal Delta customers. Usually, when we board, we are given a travel pack with ear buds, eye masks, and other little things to make our flight comfortable. I add a few personal things like travel tooth brushes and hand cream.
  13. Portable phone charger.
    I never want to be caught with a low battery and no way to charge it. We use our phones for Google Maps while walking or driving, so I always want to have a charge.
  14. Sims Cards
    Our iPhones are unlocked. When we travel to Europe, we buy Sims cards with unlimited text and calls and usually with 15 GB of data for 30 days. We have used the companies Three and Orange for our Sims cards and both have been easy to set up and use.
  15. Prescription Medicines
    I take vitamins, but my husband has a prescription medicine. He always fills a three month prescription before we travel, because you never know what kinds of delays you may encounter before you travel home.

    The lightness of packing gives me a profound sense of satisfaction. No longer will someone have to carry my excess baggage. No longer tethered to the ground, I think I have a new sense of freedom. And I like it!

    What travel items can you not live without in your travels?

Walk On By?

“Sometimes it’s easy to walk by because we know we can’t change someone’s whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize is that simple kindness can go a long way for someone who is stuck in a desolate place.” 
― Mike Yankoski

I have been musing about the decay of dignity in the United States and around the world. It’s like a cancer spreading worldwide, eating away at the crumbling foundation of respect for our human race. Traveling through numerous countries, I am always confronted with homeless people passed out on the streets, on park benches, and on church steps. Many times with deep ridden guilt, I have avoided them, stepped around them, and walked by them. Occasionally, I give them coins or buy them food. I am sure that if you are a seasoned traveler, whether in your home country or abroad, you know the gut wrenching feelings of helplessness, mixed with realistic fear and always topped with sadness and frustration that I experience when I encounter those who are homeless. It is complicated and there is no easy fix.

When we lived in Nicaragua, we often visited friends in Granada. One day, I saw this Facebook post by the Granada expat bookstore owner. I remember the first time I saw a boy passed out at my feet in Granada, Nicaragua from sniffing glue.  I was horrified, and unsure what I could do to help.What did I do? I stepped around him.  He couldn’t have been older that 10 or 12 years of age. Glue sniffing continues to be a big problem for the young Nicaraguans in Granada. And I am haunted by my response to the young glue sniffers as well as the callous post by the bookstore owner.

Meanwhile, step around him?

We have become a world of stepping around sensitive issues like immigration, homelessness, drug addiction, and poverty. I will be the first to admit that I, too, have stepped around these issues. I stepped around a boy passed out on the sidewalk in Granada. I’ve stepped around an old disabled woman begging for money in front of Pali’s grocery store. I’ve tiptoed around many sensitive issues affecting the people throughout the world. Why?

Maybe it is because of a sense of helplessness, or usually for me, a sense of fear. Maybe it is because it is such a common sight in the larger cities throughout the world, that I’ve become blind to the ugliness of poverty and desolation.

Is that what our world has become? Do we blindly accept the fate of the poor, homeless, and destitute? Do we blindly step around them and go about our shopping as if stepping around a cow paddy? What is wrong with us? Where has our respect for human dignity gone?

What if it were me? Unintended consequences follow those living on the edge of poverty, drug addition, emergency medical conditions, and other catastrophic events like pandemics, floods, fires, and even gentrification where people lose their homes. Knowing that I could fall into despair, makes me wonder what I can do to prevent homelessness or help those who have become homeless due to unintended consequences.

It is no coincidence that we see the densest homeless populations in locations that are also desirable tourist destinations, like in my photos. We saw more homeless in warmer climates than in colder climates, simply because living outside was much easier. Ron and I often say that if we were homeless, we would live in a warm climate near or on a beach.

Tourists travel to warm places to decompress and escape the cold winters. People experiencing homelessness also gravitate to these destinations for the added security, because even if they cannot find any rental assistance or a place in a shelter, they can live more comfortably outside without the daily threat of hypothermia that they might face in more dramatic climates.

Gentrification also plays a part in homelessness. It is “the process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.”

Many individuals experiencing homelessness in these places have lived there for long periods of time and eventually could not keep up with the constantly-increasing cost of living. Home prices and services are too expensive for the average citizen and access to basic necessities is often scarce. Jobs can be limited and many times reserved for skilled outside labor. The hospitality industry, for example, is very competitive; local talent is rarely developed and hardly ever brought into management roles. We know this to be a fact after living in Nicaragua.

An example of this is in Boquete, Panama. We talked to several local people who were forced to move away from their birth homes because a foreign developer bought large tracts of land and built expensive gated community homes for foreigners. The locals moved outside of Boquete and had to take a bus to go back into Boquete to work as maids and gardeners for the foreigners.

With so many factors contributing to how and why people end up on the streets, it’s not surprising that homelessness transcends borders. It is a worldwide epidemic, with an estimated 100 million people living homeless.

So, what can we do as tourists and travelers to help those in need, even if we are only in the area for a short period of time? I have made a list of ways in which we can help, below.

  1. Homeless volunteer programs
    There are numerous programs abroad in which you can make a difference from tutoring homeless children in Colombia, to serving meals to the homeless in Ecuador. These programs are always in need of temporary volunteers.
  2. Homeless people as tour guides
    Although, this raises many ethical questions for me, it is a unique way to provide awareness of the increasing problems homelessness brings for tourists and the local community. Not only do these unique programs offer jobs to the homeless, they also provide a unique perspective by providing stories of their lives on the street, and to change society’s views of the homeless.
  3. Start by asking.
    Walking through a city as a tourist, it may be something just as simple as asking a homeless person what they need. Even if you can’t speak the language, you can see that the person may need a pair of socks, a warm cup of coffee, a pair of shoes, etc.
  4. Respect the homeless as individuals. Give homeless people the same courtesy and respect you would accord your friends, your family, your employer. …
    This may entail giving them food, toiletries, clothing. I rarely give them money, but that is a topic for another post.
  5. just respond with kindness because ….

…our priority of responsible tourism should be to minimize our impact on the world, one act of kindness at a time

…it makes us feel good! That is sure better than walking by and feeling full of guilt.

…you would want someone to help you if you were in need or in trouble.

…you can make a difference in reducing the decay of dignity that exists in our world.

Meanwhile, will you walk on by or lend a helping hand? How have you assisted the homeless as a tourist or traveler?

Get Your Move On

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”-Robert Lewis Stevenson

Life is a love affair with moving, not only moving in the traveling sense, but moving our aging bodies daily. I like to think that combining travel for travel’s sake with daily physical exercise keeps us young and slows the aging process. But what have we found to be the best motivator to keep us moving?

Recently, I chatted with a nurse who works with patients who have COVID. She told me that the biggest factor in her patients getting better is the ability to keep moving because without movement the chances of pneumonia are much greater, leading to respiratory failure and death.

Most people understand the importance of exercise, but as the population of baby boomers over the age of 65 continues to increase, the percentage of people exercising in that age group continues to decrease. According to experts in aging, Estimates show that only 39% of individuals over the age of 65 meet the recommended amount of activity each week (30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week).

The effects on our bodies after living more than a half century on this planet, have begun to take their toll. Arthritis has invaded our joints…I believe it is one of the long lasting effects of Chikungunya, the mosquito borne virus that infected us both while living in Nicaragua. Annoying aches and pains pop up from doing everyday activities. It is more difficult to open jars, climb ladders, and maintain an active metabolism.

I just got used to the idea that wrinkles, age spots, and reading glasses are here to stay! So, what can we do to motivate us and promote a healthy attitude about our changing bodies?

I admit, I am not one to love exercising. I worked out in the university gym in my 40s and early 50s because it was free to university employees. I was motivated by all the young, hard bodies I saw everyday and the cost was free. For my 50th birthday, I planned a trip with six of my girlfriends to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. That was motivation in itself to get in shape. We kicked Dead Women’s Pass on the second day of the hike at an elevation of 13,828 ft.

But, how lucky am I to have a coach for a husband and partner in exercise? Ron motivates me to take hikes and explore the paths less traveled. It is like having a personal trainer at my side 24/7.

With Ron by my side, or generally leading the way up and down the trails, through the woods, and across the lakes and rivers, I am loving our travel/exercise routines. He leads me through the forgotten and overgrown paths and I lead him through the alleys and local neighborhoods in the towns and cities we visit.

We bought an inflatable tandem kayak, which is easy to deflate and haul in our roof top cargo box. We paddle through swamps, lakes, small tributaries, and smooth rivers. Paddling seems effortless and we can get a strong unbeatable rhythm going to keep us moving.

We are fortunate to live in an area where there are many hiking trails and the Appalachian Trail is close. In the spring, we hike searching for morel mushrooms and spring flowers. In the summer, we hike searching for berries and secret swimming spots. In the fall, we enjoy the glorious beauty of the changing leaves and in the winter, the crunch of snow and the tracks of deer and raccoons. Every season the trails change and dress in their finest attire. We can easily get lost in our thoughts and it makes exercise effortless.

When we spent the fall of 2020 housesitting for our son and his fiancé in Yosemite National Park, we took advantage of the trails Yosemite had to offer. Everyday, we would eat a light breakfast, pack a lunch, and head out to explore a new trail in Yosemite.

We averaged 4-6 miles daily on the trails. In two months, we were able to hike at least a mile or two on most of the trails in Yosemite. The trails we missed were the ones closed to fires or maintenance. Hiking in Yosemite when the park was closed due to the fires and Covid, was surreal. We were alone at Tunnel View, and rarely met people on the trails. Yosemite was large enough that we could avoid the smoke depending on the elevation and location of the fires. We checked the air quality daily.

On Halloween night, we hiked the trails at Glacier Point…me in my son’s dinosaur costume. Not only was it a great costume, but it kept me toasty warm at Glacier Point.

We’ve found the right motivation to get our move on! Combining walking, hiking, and travel will keep us motivated and young for (hopefully) many years to come. Realistically, we know that in our Third Age (60-90), it will be harder to stay motivated, but the benefits of moving entertain and excite us in countless ways both physically and mentally.

How do you get your move on? What is your motivation?

Living Like a Local

“If you want to know the place, Go see the local book store.”
― Mahrukh

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, bookstore in Buenos Aires, Argentina

When traveling internationally, I find that Airbnbs offer the best “local” experiences because we are immersed in the community. “Su casa es mi casa” is my motto. My passion is cultural immersion. We become travelers, not tourists and there is a big difference in the impact we can make.

We shop locally, usually in the neighborhood markets. The variety is astounding and the markets are lively and colorful.

We walk miles through the neighborhoods and take local transportation. In Mexico City, we took the metro everywhere. We enjoyed getting off at every stop, exploring the neighborhood, and getting back on the metro. With a population of over 21 million people in Mexico City, the metro was always crowded, so I didn’t take any photos on the subways.

In Budapest, Hungary we rode the local water taxi up and down the Danube. In Kotor, Montenegro we did the same. The local water taxis were always cheap and plentiful and they docked all along the rivers and lakes in large cities because they transported workers to and from work. Prague had e-bicycles, every large city had local buses, and it was always a mystery where we would end up. Once in David, Panama, we rode the bus just to sight see. We ended up stopping for lunch at the bus driver’s house because we were at the end of the line. The local transportation whether it is a bus, train, chicken bus, metro, taxi, water taxi, ferry, or a horse (yes, we rode horses to get from one location to another in Nicaragua) is plentiful and cheap.

We have stayed in over fifty Airbnbs throughout the world, and although some have surprised us, so far none have disappointed us. We’ve lived in castles, glamper RVs, apartments in high rise buildings, some with crazy tiny elevators we didn’t know how to work, country cottages, and one very unusual Airbnb in Quebec City, Canada in which there was a glass shower in the middle of our living room. The host came every morning to cook us breakfast, so I had to take a very early morning shower before he arrived. Ron paid for our Airbnb at the host’s sex shop the next morning.

Yet, the best experiences we have in living like locals are the connections we make with the neighborhood residents. For example, in Fiji we wanted to see what a Kava ceremony was like. We asked the housekeeper at our Airbnb where we could participate in a Kava ceremony and she walked us to the bus where she took us to the local market to buy all the necessary ingredients for the Kava ceremony. She explained what to look for in picking the best Kava roots, what kind of cups to use, and the basics of the ceremony. When we returned to our house, she performed the Kava ceremony for us. What an amazing experience!

We smoked hand rolled cigars with a farmer in Vinales, Cuba. In Nicaragua, we made Nacatamales. In almost every country we visit, we get our hair cut. My mother had a beauty shop when I was growing up and my grandfather owned a barbershop and I know for a fact that a beauty shop is the best place in the world to see how a local community functions.

We visit local cemeteries, my favorite cemetery was in Havana, Cuba…oh the stories of the dead! In Budapest, we asked our host to direct us to the local bath, where we basked in the warmth of the pools and enjoyed the company of the residents. The local park benches are also a favorite place to get to know the culture. We met a lovely woman in Cuba who worked in the park and adored Barack Obama, and outdoor diners and locals waiting for street food always bring out the best recommendations for restaurants and food.

Living like a local when we travel has been a wonderful experience. I can’t imagine traveling any other way. The key to living like a local revolves around human connections, which provides us with an opportunity to immerse ourselves in other cultures. That, to us, is what travel is all about!

How do you travel? What are your tips for living like a local?

Doors of Perception

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
― Aldous Huxley

During the long pandemic winter of 20/21, I became depressed. I wondered if I would ever be able to pursue my passion for international travel again in my lifetime. I had so many things on my bucket list and such a short amount of time to fulfill them before I wasn’t either physically or mentally able to do so.

I took an online iPhone photography course hoping to improve my mood and restlessness. I hoped it was only a matter of time after our vaccinations that we would be lacing our gypsytoes into shoes and hitting the road again to new international adventures.

My large and heavy digital zoom camera became too cumbersome for travel. I was ready to lighten my load and invest in a new iPhone 11 Pro with three lenses. The iPhone photography course not only taught me many new tricks and tips for editing and shooting, but it provided me with an insightful way of looking at life from a unique and colorful perspective. I craved a new perspective during the drab winter.

Below are some secrets I learned to having the best perspective on life as told through my photography.

1. Life is sweeter when I celebrate little victories.
My photography course encouraged me to find new perspectives. I have over 40,000 photos of our travels on the cloud. I celebrated little victories when I learned how to edit and look at new angles for my photo shoots. I spent the winter editing my memories one photo at a time and it gave me such joy.

A bus stop in Mexico City

2. I opened my eyes up to the beauty in front of me, and celebrated it.
I craved brilliance and color. One day, I took my glass globes into my windowless laundry room, placed a globe on a mirrored tile with a screen saver on my iPad behind it, and started shooting the result. During the pandemic life had become predictable and dull, and I had lost hope for beautiful things as well as admiration for the silly, whimsical things in my life. The results made me giddy. This new perspective changed my mindset.

3. Be here now. I found grace hidden in being where I am.
As strange as it may sound, I found comfort and grace in editing my photos. I was transported into other worlds, other cultures by my focus on my photography lessons. I was in lockdown in my home, but I didn’t care. I didn’t complain. I floated along peacefully in my stream of a new consciousness. I was happy.

4. Consider the bigger picture when forming a perspective on something.
I learned to think of how this one perspective or area of focus holds up within the larger picture or real-world effects. By widening my lens to the bigger picture I began to see things more clearly. Life was a series of connections. We each needed to take responsibility to hold each other up during times of trouble or chaos. This new perspective comforted me.

5. Replace negative thoughts with something more positive.
The sun will come up tomorrow. By focusing on photos that portrayed hope and beautiful sunrises (Instead of focusing on Facebook and the never-ending negativity), I found that my negativity disappeared. It took practice focusing on positive thoughts, but it got easier the more I practiced. I practiced telling myself two positive things about myself each day. Somedays, I congratulated myself on my determination, and most days I told myself how much more confident my new perspective made me feel about my life.

6. Perspectives change. I can control how I see the world by changing my perspectives.
On the malacon in La Paz, Mexico, there is a silver pearl enclosed in a giant oyster shell. I walked by it many times and every time from a different perspective. The view was never the same…constantly changing…and most surprisingly…I enjoyed the ever changing perspective. It was a metaphor for my life. I have control over the perspectives I choose to view and analyze. I strive and work towards finding positive perspectives which give my life meaning and purpose.

How are you coping with the pandemic? Has a different perspective changed you? If so, how?