Five Early Insights From Novice Vagabonders

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In addition to deeper reflections on lifestyle and place, the logistics of traveling–booking accommodations, arranging transport, navigating day-to-day errands–present opportunities to consider how you travel. This is subjective based on your goals, of course. We are certainly “green” travelers compared to other adventurous folks, but after about nine weeks on the road, we’ve got a few insights we’d like to share.

Pack less than you think you need. In late August, we created a staging area on a bed at my mom’s house in Concord, NH, laying out some mono toned quick dry clothing, multiple adapters and cell phones chargers, and everything else we thought we’d need for our journey. My romantic vision of carrying one small duffel bag around the globe soon seemed to vanish by the minute. Even though we seemed to have done alright packing, it could have been a little better.

Among several other items, my nifty orange and gray nylon hammock and our microfiber travel towels can be crushed up into small sacks, but they’ve languished in the bottom of my bag for over two months now. If we end up camping in a remote area on an island, I’m sure they will come in handy.  Probably not going to happen.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to travel light. Dragging an enormous pack full of junk is the surest way to hamstring your flexibility and turn your travels into a ridiculous, grunting charade,” Rolf Potts writes in Vagabonding.

But do pack a tennis ball, eye masks, and earplugs.  These are lightweight and critical items. The tennis ball: Thanks for the tip, mom! After seemingly setting pedometer records during a typical day walking in Tbilisi, rolling my feet on a tennis ball provided serious relief. I tend to have foot, leg, and hip ailments perpetually hound me, so I appreciate this ubiquitous sporting object that doubles as a massage tool.  

Eye mask and earplugs? Nothing revolutionary here, but when traveling, you’ll obviously become exhausted and also find yourself in less-than-ideal situations when you’re seating in the same row as a wailing infant or are your brain is so addled by changing time zones that you need to create darkness and try to summon a nap.

Osprey bags are awesome. I’m not getting paid for this endorsement:). I stumbled across this company  but during a search for new luggage, and it has been well worth the cost for these bags. We carry a 70 and an 80 liter bag; If we venture on a little expedition to a vineyard for a night or two, for instance, then we have more than enough room in either bag to just take one.  The backpack straps can be exposed for use or neatly zipped away, which rocks.

Embrace negotiation. Many Americans, like myself, aren’t often in a position to haggle in our day-to-day lives. But out in the world, it seems like everything can be negotiable. In Tbilisi, there were no taxi meters, so before we hopped in the back of cigarette-saturated cab, I used a combination of gestures and grunts–many drivers spoke little English–to agree on a price. These were low stakes as most rides were $2 to $3 dollars.  When we visited a souk (market) in Sharjah the other week, our new friend Sultan helped wheeled and dealed to help get us a discount on a few items, including a traditional Emirati male robe called a jalabiya.

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Trying on what soon became my jalabiya. Thanks to Sultan for helping negotiate a fair price!

You will be ignorant at times. When you’re traveling, you’re obviously going to make mistakes and not know what the heck is going on. We’ve avoided significant gaffes so far, but we’re ready to laugh at ourselves or just learn and move on. Yesterday, I was attempting to share some bluegrass music with our new acquaintance Sultan–who was giving us a tour of his home Emirate, Ajman. I started playing the music during the call to prayer, which we could faintly hear through the windows as we cruised along a coastal road. Big no-no. I’ve found that people are generally forgiving if you show a willingness to learn and express interest in local culture–this has certainly been true in Georgia and UAE so far.

What have you learned while on the road? In hindsight, what would you do differently relating to travel planning or execution?

If you didn’t see Rebecca’s last post, please check it out–it’s an incredibly powerful reflection on circumstances influencing our current journey.

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