First Hand Experiences

“You know,” my Dad quipped, “You could just go rent a villa on the coast of Spain and pretend to hike the Camino; write some nice stories, borrow other people’s pictures, no one would ever know, and it would be a lot less work!”

I chuckled at him and kept packing.

Boots, two hiking skirts, a lightweight sleep sack, my journal, and as little else as possible. My stick. I couldn’t forget my stick; the one he hand carved for me and etched with deer tracks, my favourite mushroom, and a face into the knob on top.

I must admit that his words returned to me on more than one occasion, when my feet were covered in blisters, my ankle was so swollen that it barely fit into my boot, and there was sweat dripping from my elbows and my nose on the long, hot, flat of the Spanish meseta.

He was right. I could have picked an easier way to spend six weeks. I could have phoned it in. But then, that’s not what we’re here for is it?

Indie travel is about having our own, first hand experiences

Montana

It’s not about living vicariously through someone else’s. It’s about digging in, doing the work, and coming away with unique memories and life lessons that we’ve earned, with our boots solidly on the ground.

There are almost always easier ways to do things. Tours to be booked, resorts to be stayed in, services to be engaged to lessen the difficult parts of a journey. There are moments when those are worth every penny, and I’m not above enjoying the Four Seasons at Hualalai to the hilt.

However, there are also some experiences that can’t be had without the struggle, and those experiences transcend the credit limit on your Visa card.

  • Exploring parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail by motorbike
  • Camping, completely alone, under an Outback sky
  • Cheering for camel races on the fringe of the Grand Erg Oriental
  • Showering in a monsoon waterfall in the jungles of Borneo
  • Participating in the simplest of cultural exchanges in the highlands around Rantepao
  • Learning to transplant rice seedlings on Don Khong, as thunderheads gather over the island
  • Spending a month of long afternoons learning to weave from a Mayan neighbour
  • Digging clams in the dark at low tide in the Discovery Islands
  • Watching whales breach at Warnambool
  • Laying down the last heavy thing, carried 800 kilometers, at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, in Santiago.

I have a PhD in difficult journeys. You name it: bicycle travel, motorbike adventures, overland bus journey, boat trips down monsoon flush rivers, tent camping deserts on three continents, road trips that measure in the tens of thousands of miles, epic rail adventures, boots, a backpack and little else for months on end. Solo journeys, adventures with friends, but most often with my four children in tow.

 The day after tomorrow we’re going to embark on a totally new adventure, to a place, and in a manner that we’ve never experienced in all of our many years of full time adventuring.

To that end, you can trust me when I tell you how very, profoundly worth it these odysseys are.

As I’m writing this we’re surfing the black ribbon of highway across the mountainous fringe of Montana. This is the fifth consecutive ten hour day in the truck. We’re headed, hard and fast, for the west coast of Canada. My teenagers are driving (and controlling the stereo), their Dad is sacked out on the other end of the middle seat from me, our legs woven together like spaghetti.

It’s my turn to work. The younger teens are sipping drinks and sharing a pair of earphones, commenting on the stunning views we’re blowing past. The day after tomorrow we’re going to embark on a totally new adventure, to a place, and in a manner that we’ve never experienced in all of our many years of full time adventuring.

We’re getting ready to take our first cruise

cruise party 811

Can I tell you a secret? I haven’t been looking forward to it.

I have this preconceived notion about cruises, and the people who take them. I’m not keen on the idea of climbing into a closed container with 2000 of my closest friends and their germs. I have a bit of an issue with buffet food and cleanliness. I don’t love the idea of getting someone’s packaged version of a particular destination. I can’t imagine shore excursions, bus style, with name tags and the whole ball of wax. A floating hotel does not appeal to me. The casino aspect of cruising is something I could almost preach against.

To me, cruises seem like the place that travel goes to die. They seem like a last resort, for some far future day when I can’t be bothered to shoulder my pack one more time. They seem the antithesis of adventure travel, to me.

Judgmental much?

I have this preconceived notion about cruises, and the people who take them.

But then, that’s not the attitude, is it?

Indie travel is about first hand experiences, getting outside of our comfort zones, actually doing the thing instead of just talking about it, reading about it, or thinking we know about it. What does this mean to a girl whose comfort zone is anchored solidly in the highly uncomfortable and fringe edge of adventure travel? Conquering my fears and taking the cruise. With a good attitude.

I confess to a fair bit of quiet (and not so quiet) eye rolling and whinging about this impending cruise. My mantra has been, “It’s about the family time, not the cruise,” which is true, as the catalyst is the 25th anniversary celebration of chosen family.

But that’s kind of a cop out, isn’t it? A way for me to seem self sacrificial in lowering myself to the level of cruise travelers.

But that’s kind of a cop out, isn’t it? A way for me to seem self sacrificial in lowering myself to the level of cruise travelers. The people who know me best have laughed. My blog readers thought the announcement was an April Fool’s joke. And then, I walked an afternoon in Spain with a man who gently, laughingly, pointed out that I needed to get a grip, adjust my attitude and meet this, mentally, as the outside the box adventure that it is, for me. Touche.

With this in mind, the Pacific Ocean looms just over the horizon, and with it one of the last great first adventures I have left: the one mode of travel that I’ve not yet experienced: cruising, to the last of the fifty states that I’ve not visited: Alaska.

I’ve traded last month’s dusty hiking boots for a pair of profoundly princessy, strappy high heeled sandals and an evening gown that sparkles. I’m ready for the first hand experience of the Lido deck, and endless eating. I’m going to try hard to check my judgmental attitude about the carbon footprint, the excess and the waste and the surreality of a floating hotel at the gangway and approach the next week on the high seas with the same intrepid and determined attitude that I brought to that hellish overland bus trip into Laos, or that long, painful day into Molinaseca when I almost hit the wall from the physical pain of the journey. I hope there’s a treadmill somewhere, because if I’m going to be trapped on this ship, I’m really going to need to walk.

I’m going to try hard to check my judgmental attitude…with the same intrepid and determined attitude that I brought to that hellish overland bus trip into Laos.

I’m committed to a lot of things as a traveler, but collecting first hand experiences has to be at the top of the list.

For me, the whole point is the enrichment of my individual life, and the lives of those I travel with. It’s about the collection of memories that will light my path well into the dark days of my twilight years, and the careful stewardship of the very few days I have on this planet.

I have a lot of goals, a lot of dreams, a lot of things I hope to accomplish, but none so important as the careful curation of this one day that I have. I want to spend each day in the collection of first hand experiences, from which I draw the strength to continue building a life of adventure and personal beauty.

What makes the exploits of others a joy to hear and read about is the small slice of perspective that our own journeys have lent us.

It doesn’t matter so much to me what you have done. Or what those I read about have done. It shouldn’t matter too much to you what I have done, either. What makes the exploits of others a joy to hear and read about is the small slice of perspective that our own journeys have lent us. In the tales of others we find the encouragement to reach higher, dive deeper, and continue to pursue first hand experiences of our own.

Read more about what we believe indie travel is all about:

 

manifesto - value first hand experience

Photo credits: Nic McPhee

Featured


Leave a Comment