Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fly Brother's Fly-By-Night Dime-Store Travel Philosophy

Photo by barb 11

Lately, I've been reading through traveler extraordinaire Chris Guillebeau's The Art of Nonconformity, an inspiring multipurpose blog encouraging people to live, work, and travel outside the box. With posts like "Why You Should Quit Your Job and Travel Around the World" and the downloadable "A Brief Guide to World Domination," Guillebeau seems to have found that elusive je ne sais quoi that allows him to jaunt off to far-flung destinations at a moment's notice (being debt-free and having operated several successful small businesses being a part of that je ne sais quoi), and he's willing to share the knowledge of being your own boss, traveling the world, and improving our planet to anyone who's open to non-conventional wisdom. Each one, teach one.

Anyway, I recently read a post titled "Developing Your Own Philosophy of Travel," in which Guillebeau describes his motivation for and styles of travel. His current goal is to visit every country on Earth (nearly 200 sovereign nations) before his 35th birthday, and he's well on his way to accomplishing that goal via round-the-world plane tickets, finagled stop-overs, and a rainbow of sleeping arrangements - from airport floors in Texas to fleabags in Ulaan Bataar (that's Mongolia, folk) to the overpriced Le Meridian in Malta. And he got me thinking about my own travel philosophies, those objectives, habits, rules, and stimuli that drive me incessantly to the nearest international airport whenever time and income allow.
  • As I've mentioned countless times on this blog, I'm drawn most strongly to Latin American cultures with a very visible African element, particularly in terms of music and dance: the Spanish Caribbean and Brazil most notably. I also like cities with large Afro-Diasporic populations - London, Paris, Toronto, Montreal, and the States-side stalwarts NYC, DC, ATL, and MIA. Basically, I like to see myself reflected in the people when I travel. And I like to travel under the radar, where if I don't speak, people don't know I'm not from there.
  • That doesn't mean I limit myself to the lands of salsa and samba. Within the next five years, I'm trying to hit Mozambique, South Africa, Ethiopia, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tanzania in the Motherland. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Turkey. Hong Kong. Australia. Papua New Guinea. India! And, of course, wherever a cheap last-minute plane ticket takes me.
  • I'm a true urbanist: the bigger the city, the better. Give me a week in Sydney over a week in the Outback any day. Not that I'm averse to hiking or outdoor activities (I quite enjoy rafting), but the humthumpbuzz of an urban center stimulates more of my senses than the whistletweetshush of the campo. I enjoy museums and mass transit and people watching at the mall. I would, however, make exceptions for natural wonders like Ayers Rock, Victoria Falls, and Antarctica.
  • I like to spend an entire week or ten days in a city (more, if possible). It's a great way to see sights and stake your claim on a neighborhood or local routine for a short while. I like getting lost among the crowds and making my way "home" or getting to know the waitstaff at my corner breakfast nook. After a few days, I start to notice commuting patterns, discover hidden delicacies, and sometimes even get to indulge in a nice romantic fling (I have, in Paris, Havana, and London).
  • I don't like hostels. I'd rather stay in a 1-star matchbox that's reasonably clean than at party-central for a gaggle of 20-something, boozy backpackers. No thanks. There's also CouchSurfing.
  • I haven't done my first round-the-world trek yet, but I'm planning one soon. I could be an airline network loyalist, racking up the frequent flier miles with SkyTeam or Star Alliance, or I could go with Airtreks or Air Brokers to get the cheapest deal (as low as US$1700, taxes included). Either way, I get geet (as they say in Atlanta) whenever I think about jetting ahead of or against the rotation of the Earth.
  • I try never to check a bag. My size-13 tennis shoes often hinder that little plan, especially on smaller planes in South America.
  • On trips to developing countries, I try not to take photographs of people, especially folk doing heavy lifting or unpleasant drudge-work. I mean, I'd be pissed if somebody snapped a Polaroid of me struggling to balance a 50-pound basket of trout on my head. Don't take a picture, you me carry this!
  • I am a travel crackhead: I've been known to spend my rent money on a plane ticket. Not recommended (but I don't regret it).
  • I'm usually a loner; I like to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I do enjoy trips with my friends or other travel companions, but mostly when they're also experienced travelers and are keen on doing their own thing for part of the trip. We don't have to be together every waking minute: we can spend our afternoons making independent memories that we can share with each other later at dinner. Besides, there's too much inadvertent cock-blocking that can happen when you travel with other people.
My travel philosophy, in two words: Do you. Cuz I'm damn sure gon do me.

What's your travel philosophy?

Fly Brother
welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment below and/or click


Ms. Wooden Shoes said...

I'm with you on hostels. A few years ago, my 14 year old brother (at the time) and his friend came to visit me in Holland. I decided I'd take them to a few other places kinda close (Germany, England) and we'd stay in hostels, so that they could learn how to travel on the cheap. PSYCHE!! I got a look at that hostel in Germany, did a 180 and found the nearest Crowne Plaza. I knew I was way past the point of hostels and they would have to learn how to travel on the cheap on their own time.

Nikita said...

Funny that you mention being averse to hostels. I was totally down for the low budget travel thing until my trip to Mexico City last year- when I walked into my hostel room and was greeted by the overwhelming stench of feet (emanating from the size 12 or 13 shoe left by a wayward Aussie who was sleeping off a hangover) and the smell of body odour and alcohol (emanating from our lovely culprit). The room also turned out to be infested by mosquitoes so I spent half the night with my pillow over my head, trying to tune out the incessant buzzing (which drives me nuts)!

One-star is totally the way to go. And sometimes the most economically sound way as, when you are travelling with at least one other person, the halved cost of a room often ends up cheaper than a hostel bed!!

So what's my travel philosophy?

Two words: "Just GO".

lynne said...

Love, love love this blog! I found you on Farsighted Fly Girl. I tend to travel alone, go to movies alone etc Don't wanna hear no whining & I agree with the whole cock blocking thing. I haven't done the extensive travel you have but I am a free spirit and spent ten days in the Netherlands - alone last January.
Check out my blog:
Go to January 2008 for the AMS tales... good stuff!

Now I'm gonna go explore more of your wonderful blog and that of your links too!! Love the whole expat thing.

A Cuban In London said...

'As I've mentioned countless times on this blog, I'm drawn most strongly to Latin American cultures with a very visible African element, particularly in terms of music and dance: the Spanish Caribbean and Brazil most notably. I also like cities with large Afro-Diasporic populations - London...'

Well, I guess I'll be seeing more of you, mate. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Fly Girl said...

I'm with you on all your travel points, Bro. Big cities, populations where I can see myself reflected and no hostels! Because I work as an arts critic, my travel philosophy involves going places where I can experience and analyze the culture. Spots without museums, colorful festivals or easily accessible cultural rituals are places that most likely will never see me.

Fly Brother said...

Thanks for the comments, folk. It's heartening to know I'm not alone in my semi-bourgeois disdain for hostels. The movie didn't help much, either.

Lynne: I'm checking you out.

Cubano: You're linked.

Erin said...

The hostel thing said, you'd better be around the beginning of June to come stay at embassy-required niceness in Cartagena! I'm still bitter at Avianca for last weekend.

MDUBB said...

No you're definitely not on your own when it comes to shunning hostels.

The only down side to the hotel is that you can get stuck in your room if you don't find a good place to chill or meet some interesting people.

Anonymous said...

Loved this post!

My travel philosophy? - Just go with the flow

Vakker Kvinne said...

The first time I left the States and went to England as an exchange student, I made a few promises to myself 1) always take public transportation, 2) wear whatever my heart desired (even if I didn’t fit in with the locals) and 3) to eat whatever I want to no matter how fattening it looked with my American eyes. Points one and two helped me meet people who ultimately let me sleep on their couches when I moved to Europe in 2005 to live (and I say Europe in the general sense because when I left Arizona and moved here, I had no idea where I was going or where I wanted to live-I just knew I wanted something over here .. .. ..).

I met people on buses and trains that I kept up with, that encouraged me to leave AZ and let me sleep on their couches for months without paying rent. Point three helped me stay socially engaged and actually helped me lose 30 lbs. in six months without trying (because I ate what I wanted and did what felt good and natural-not what I was “supposed to do”-but that is a whole other blog posting!). I just think traveling is about doing what feels good FOR YOU-whether that means staying in hostels and eating McD’s everyday or staying in a local B&B and living on pancakes. Have your experience and try to enjoy it.

All three points helped be get paid work as a travel guide writer and helped me get my first book published. As I say, have your experience and enjoy it.

I’m not one for wildly exotic locations (by my own definition), but as a European resident for the past 4 years, I do try to go somewhere new every once in a while. Somewhere I’ve never been and somewhere that makes me have to stretch myself and get in touch with something new. Sometimes that means I don’t leave Europe or North America.

I agree in general about the hostels but there are always exceptions. I’ve “backpacked” through Europe alone twice, and noticed that not all hostels were the same. Some of the ones in the “hot spots” were basically crash pads for the drunk and stupid, but some weren’t. My guy (who is older and had never stayed in a hostel before) and I stayed at the Bax Pax hostel in Berlin, but stayed in one of the apartments on the top floor. They messed up our booking somehow, so we actually stayed in the biggest apartment the hostel had. This place was equip with a fully stocked kitchen, dish washer, private bathroom, sleeping area that fit 4 adults very comfortably and had some amazing views over Museum Island. A lot fo hostel I n major European cities have these-single or double apartments-because so many people try to move to the cities without knowing anyone and need a place to live for a while. Or maybe it’s because German families travel as cheap a possible and live self-catering accommodation.

I’ve also twice stayed at the only hostel on Ischia (tiny island next to Capri in the gulf of Naples) which had a walk on balcony and views to the sea. The owner was amazingly friendly and the hostel just a stones throw to the beach and amazing restaurants (the kind where no one speaks English but the food smells makes you want to slap someone).

My guy and I recently got a SUPER gonga deal on a three-star hotel in London via hotwire. We paid less for the two of us per night for a nearly new hotel room near Camden Lock as we would have paid in a backpackers hostel in central London. 66USD per night!!! and basically 5 minutes walking from the London Jazz Cafe, Whole Foods (yes in London now-let all the expats in Norway say hooray!!!!!), Starbucks and of course Camden Lock market.

My 2 cents.

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