The Desire to Journey

Posted in Featured on November 9th, 2009 by Caryn B. Davis

Dorothy said “There’s no place like home.” It turns out, Dorothy was wrong.

I’ve always been a perfect dichotomy of myself; endlessly conflicted between home and travel, between my desire to journey and my desire to put down roots. But anyone who knows me knows that I live for travel. These nagging questions are always in the back of mind: Where is my next trip? When is my next trip? How will I finance it? How will I be able to set up my life so I can travel more and work less and spend at least 3 months a year overseas somewhere?

I thought, after working in 9 countries in one year (I will get to the particulars of that in a minute), that my desire to journey would be cured once and for all, but that was not the case. In fact, while lying in a hammock fashioned to my bungalow on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, I had an epiphany I could not ignore. It demanded I quit my corporate video job and seek employment that would pay me to travel. It was 1998, and by this time I had already been to 23 countries and a lot of them solo. (By the way, solo travel can be wonderful. It’s often easier to meet locals and fellow travelers because it’s less intimidating to approach one person than a couple or a group which often results in amazing experiences like being invited to family dinners or traditional festivals.) Anyway, I had sold everything I owned by this point three times over to help fund my trips. And each time I returned to the states, I had to buy it all back when inevitably I had to find a job and a place to live. That was becoming very tedious.

So when I returned from my allotted one week Costa Rican vacation to my very boring corporate job (yawn, yawn), I subscribed to the International Employment Journal. (These were the olden days when people found jobs in the classified section rather than online.) I was getting quite discouraged wondering if I was ever going to manifest my dream because for the first 5 months of my subscription, I found no jobs for which I was qualified. The very last issue had a tiny ad for a Media Producer with Orbis International (www.orbis.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating blindness worldwide. I could not contain my excitement when I applied, or when I was offered the position. In fact I was busting at the seams, staring with disbelief at maps, marking all the wondrous places I would be going. Finally!

My job was to create teaching videos from eye surgeries that were performed onboard the Orbis DC-10, a wide bodied airplane that had been literally converted into a flying eye hospital. There was an operating theater, a recovery room, a communications center, a conference room, a laser room, a classroom located in what was once the first class section of the airplane, and a TV station which is where I worked.

Every three weeks for one year we changed cultures, customs and languages whenever we landed in a different country. I was part of multinational crew of twenty-five doctors, nurses, bio medical engineers, flight mechanics, translators and support staff. In 1999, I visited Cuba, Morocco, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, China, Philippines, Hong Kong, Burma, Bangladesh, and yes; I did get paid for it!

Here’s how it worked. Every Monday a team of doctors and nurses headed to the local hospitals and picked 20 patients for the week. Because Orbis is first and foremost a teaching facility, volume surgery was not a consideration. Often, people were chosen based on their condition and what a particular team of doctors wanted to learn about that condition. World renowned surgeons joined us in the field to volunteer their services a week at a time. Local doctors would fill the seats in the first class section and watch the surgery live on a big screen. They could communicate with the surgeon and ask questions while the surgery was being performed.

There were 11 cameras throughout the aircraft offering varying views that were broadcasted through the TV station and recorded onto video tape. (Again, this was the olden days before DVD. It was also the days when you had to read the manual instead of going online to discover why your equipment wasn’t working. You could not call a Sony technician to come and meet you in China! We had so much equipment in the edit suite and control room that we had about 2000 pounds of wiring. If something was malfunctioning, we often had to trace those wires to see which were faulty. It was a starting point anyway. Armed with schematics and manuals, we were often able to resolve the problem.) After the operations, I would edit the footage, and the surgeon would add his / her commentary. We then donated all the tapes to the local medical community.

That year, I slept in 44 different beds in hotels throughout the world. I absolutely love hotel rooms. I love the little shampoos and individually wrapped soaps and that someone makes your bed for you everyday. I love living out of one bag and knowing that I need nothing else. I love simplifying, being resourceful and being able to carry all my belongings on my back. That is true freedom. I still retain my one bag policy today where ever I travel and it’s always carry on.

Now in 2009, after exploring a total of 34 countries, I have lost count of how many hotel beds I’ve slept in. But I haven’t lost track of the amazing adventures I have had or how travel has thoroughly enriched my soul and my life. This is one of the many reasons I have decided to start this travel blog. I realize that traveling is a skill I have become quite adept at. On a practical level, I would like to share some of my favorite places and encounters, tips on packing for traveling light and traveling well, and how to find great deals. On a personal note, traveling has changed my life, and without it, I do not think I would be the person I am today.

I began traveling 29 years ago with my first real trip to the Bahamas at age 17. Since then I have visited:

1. New Zealand (twice)

2. Cuba

3. Morocco

4. Jamaica

5. China (twice)

6. The Philippines

7. Burma (I refuse to call it Myanmar)

8. Bangladesh

9. India

10. Italy (twice)

11. Hong Kong

12. England

13. Turks and Caicos

14. St Thomas

15. St John

16. Virgin Gorda

17. Cooper Island

18. Tortola

19. Bahamas

20. New Foundland

21. Nova Scotia

22. Puerto Rico and Culebra (3 times)

23. Mexico (3 times)

24. Belgium

25. Switzerland

26. Germany (3 times)

27. Holland

28. France (twice)

29. Portugal

30. Luxembourg

31. Costa Rica

32. Dominican Republic

33. Israel

34. Norfolk Island

But my list continues to grow and grow and grow. I haven’t been to Ireland, Iceland, explored England sufficiently, Alaska, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia, Australia, Fiji (except in the airport), The Cook Islands, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador or the Azores. These are on the “must see before I die list” and then of course there is the secondary list called “I’d like to go if I can but I can still live with myself if I don’t”.

I am as off the beaten path as one can get when it comes to traveling. My interest is in experiencing the authentic culture and true nature of a place as opposed to visiting typical tourist destinations. I am a traveler, not a tourist. I journey, I don’t just visit.

I have one strict rule which I am embarrassed to admit I broke on a 2008 trip to Portugal with a visit to Lisbon: I don’t do cities. To me, they are all the same; crowded, noisy, and with areas besieged with pick pockets and the like, where you have to remain alert and on guard. Unless there is a cultural reason for going like to see a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork like Michelangelo’s David in Florence, or a specific museum like the Louvre in Paris, or the architecture in the Alfama in Lisbon, I see no reason to go. (The Alfama was very disappointing and I would not recommend it. It is the oldest part of the city and the only section that was not destroyed by the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. It is home to Fado music which can be heard in the bars and restaurants. But is very dangerous and you can not freely move about, especially at night. People will rob you at knife point or gun point just to steal your money, jewelry and camera. Physical violence is not really a problem; just your random muggings.)

The Lisboans are hip to the fact that Fado music is popular and that tourists will pay a hefty price to see it. So most of the restaurants we ate in had horrible food, where we got food poisoning and crappy service. But if you absolutely must visit Lisbon, I would stay in Belém which we discovered on our last night there. It is a historic neighbor about a 15 minute trolley ride from Lisbon located right on the water. It feels more like a large neighborhood than a city, with great local restaurants, interesting architecture, a botanical garden, a maritime museum, a palace and a coach museum with ornate carriages from the 17th-19th centuries on display.

Personally, I enjoy the small villages and rural countryside where I might be fortunate enough to still catch a glimpse of old world traditions that have not yet been rendered obsolete or spoiled by technology and over development. In L. Saint Marten for example, which is directly west of Lisbon near the Spanish border, we saw farmers and widows donned in traditional black that still used cart and horse to get around.

TIPS ON PACKING:

So back to the beginning. I decided to start this blog to share my travel experiences and tips, and will be doing so with each blog. Here is the first rule of travel: Take one bag only. Here is the one exception to this rule: If you are traveling through two different climates in one trip, you might need 2 bags or one large bag because of bulk. For example, we had friends who visited Japan when it was winter and then went on to Thailand where it was the equivalent of summer. Remember, packing is both an art and a science. Here is what I do.

Often I am traveling in late winter to a warm climate. I wear my down jacket, and a pair of sandals with heavy socks in the car, then leave the down jacket with the car at the airport and carry a hooded sweatshirt for warmth and rain or the like, and a denim jacket which can be worn with pants or a skirt. I also remove the socks upon arrival and do not put them on again until we fly home. This way I only have to take 1 pair of shoes. I bring sandals with good treads in case we have to hoof it. I pack my clothing carefully, making sure all the colors I choose can be mixed and matched, thus going well with whatever top or bottom I have on.

Here is the amount I would take for a 21 day trip to Italy for example, with temperatures about 70-75 during the day and about 55-60 at night. I usually take 3 pairs of linen or lightweight pants which don’t wrinkle easily and dry fast if they get wet from rain or need washing in a hotel sink. I take only 7 pairs of underwear, enough for 1 week. They can be easily washed in a sink as well. I take 2 skirts that are not so fancy that they couldn’t be worn during the day, and not too casual that they couldn’t be worn in a restaurant at night. I take 3 tank tops and 3 shirts, and am able to layer when cold or remove layers when hot. I take a scarf for style and warmth. When packing, roll your clothes. You will get maximum space out of the bag if you do and they won’t wrinkle. I use a small carry on bag with handles and wheels. It is so much better than carrying a backpack and saves your back.

For toiletries I take only the following: 1 toothbrush, 1 full tube of toothpaste, dental floss, soap, small sewing kit, band aides, Neosporin, tweezers, nail file, razor, deodorant, one lotion for both face and hands, Q-tips, hand sanitizer the size of a pen and tissues (real handy when forced to encounter public toilets that are not cleaned with any regularity), hairbrush, hairclip (good for when you haven’t showered), ear plugs (great on the plane for snoring neighbors or bed fellows), Tums (really helpful while getting acclimated to food) and travel size shampoo and conditioner. Some hotels provide them, some do not. Remember it’s not the United States. You can always buy more while abroad without incurring a large expense. The small sizes take up less space and weigh less. I also take sunglasses, a paperback book or two that can be left behind when finished and a Swiss Army Knife for cutting cheese, opening wine and reading the small print on maps with the magnifying glass.

I use an LL Bean Personal Organizer to carry my toiletries. It holds a maximum amount with minimum space and it has a hook so you can hang it on a door knob or towel rack for easy access. You can buy it here: www.llbean.com. It comes in sizes that range from overnight travel to trips lasting longer than 5 days and everything in between.

I don’t bother with make up or a blow dryer but if you must take a blow dryer, make sure it has a plug adapter that will fit the plug configuration in the country you are in. You may also need a converter to convert your dryer from 110V to 220V for example as in Europe. Be sure to check the voltage and plugs before you leave. The same applies to camera batteries and chargers. This website is helpful for sussing that out: www.walkabouttravelgear.com/electy.htm.

I also carry a camera bag backpack, a Tamrac Adventure 7 (www.crutchfield.com) that has 2 main compartments. On the bottom is my camera, charger, batteries, converters, media, etc. In the top compartment I carry my coat, a book, water and my small passport organizer from LL Bean that holds my tickets, passport, money, and credit cards. I like to keep all my important information in one place. This organizer never leaves my sight. During the day I carry it in my camera bag but at night it doubles as my purse when we go out to dinner. The backpack can easily be worn on my back while pulling my small carry on clothing bag.

If you find when you have returned home that you wore everything in your bag at least once, then you did very well. I recommended writing down or photographing exactly what you took, so next time packing will be a breeze.

Lastly, I send myself an email to my password protected website server listing important information like passport and credit card numbers, flight confirmation, hotel information, etc., so I do not have to carry all those papers on me. (Remember, the key is to travel light and every little bit helps.) I can easily access the information if I need it at an internet café.

That’s all for now.  Next Month: Journey to New Zealand and How to Survive a Long Flight. Until next time, safe travels. Enjoy the journey. Caryn B. Davis

The above photographs are from my travels with Orbis to Burma, The Philippines, Cuba, China,  Morocco.

Caryn B. Davis (www.cbdphotography.com) is a commercial, editorial, architectural, marine and portrait photographer with a studio in Chester, CT. Her photographs have been published in over 60 national and international magazines, and she has numerous exhibitions to her credit. Her work has been written about in many local newspapers, national magazines and trade journals. She was also interviewed on WNPR’s “Where We Live” by host John Dankosky about her self-assigned photo essay entitled Chester Stories. (To listen: Log onto www.cpbn.org/program/where-we-live.) Caryn began her career in the visual arts 24 years ago as a Producer/Writer of television documentaries. In addition to writing scripts, Caryn also works as a journalist. Her articles have been published in a variety of magazines and newspapers including Ink (www.inkct.com)and Northeast Boating. Caryn is a member of the American Society of Media Photographers, presents slides lectures, and teaches photography to adults and children. She enthusiastically and artistically photographs people, places and things at home and abroad.