Posts Tagged ‘philosophy


Five Things You Can Lose To Make Travel Easier

Note: This post cross-posted from my self-hosted blog.

One of the questions I get asked a lot is what sort of things a person can do to make it easier to travel or lead a nomadic lifestyle. My answer is usually that the biggest change you can make is in the way you think about your personal belongings. To be a nomad, you must think like a nomad. If you look at virtually any nomadic culture, you will see that they do not generally have much. When you have to be able to carry your life around on a cart/camel/caravan, you learn to really pare down what you “need” in life. I have a separate post coming soon about how I went from having 3 truckloads of belongings to 4 plastic bins of them, but I felt I should write about some of the bigger things that can really tie you down, that you should consider getting rid of if you are interested in leading a more nomadic lifestyle. These are not easy, and they’re all things that society claims that we “need” in order to have a “good” life, so be prepared to do some reevaluating of your own values. Anyway, here you go:

  • Vehicles. Admittedly, in most places in America, vehicles are a necessity if you want to be able to have a job/buy food/go anywhere. My response to that is this: avoid those places. There are plenty of places in the US that have good public transportation systems that aren’t astronomically expensive to live in like NYC, and you should be able to find somewhere that you can live without needing to own a vehicle. The internet has made it easier than ever to be car-less; with services like Zip Car, you can now get a car on-demand if you want to head out on a weekend road trip. Why to lose it: Between vehicle payments, insurance, maintenance, and property taxes, vehicles are expensive! Not only that, but once you have one and have invested so much money in it, you’re likely to be loathe to get rid of it. If you have a vehicle and want to spend an extended amount of time abroad, you will have to either find someone to look after it for you or you will have to sell it (most likely at a loss). What to do instead: Live in a city with at least moderately decent public transportation (a good bus system will do). Invest in a Zip Car membership and a bike. If you absolutely must have a vehicle, look into getting a scooter or a small (250cc or below) motorcycle. They don’t take up much space, are often eligible for free parking, are far cheaper than a car to both purchase and maintain, they get great gas mileage (even a larger motorcycle like our 750cc Ural gets around 30mpg, and a small bike or scooter may get over 100mpg), and they maintain their value much more than cars and are easier to sell. Being “Car Free” does still cost you some money (a bike, a zip car membership, taxis, etc), but in the end it is far less than what a car would cost, and if you decide to move abroad, you don’t have to worry about having something expensive and complex to sell. In not buying a car/vehicle, you’re effectively buying your freedom.
  • A House. One of the major causes of the current recession is the havoc that has been wreaked by a largely-unregulated lending industry, with particular blame on mortgage lenders. Americans place a tremendous amount of self-worth on someday owning a nice house with a white picket fence and a swing in the front yard. This is really just social conditioning. People in most of the rest of the world do not feel the same drive to own their own housing that Americans do. Even in Europe, it is not unusual (or stigmatized) for families to rent their housing well into their 40s, and in places like Asia, many folks never own their own place. Why to lose it: Housing is one of the main assets that ties a person to a particular place. Not only are houses expensive (maintenance, fees, taxes, mortgage), but they also have a sort of magnetism that ties their inhabitants to them. Once you are settled in one place and are financially and emotionally committed to it, you are less likely to want to change your circumstances. What to do instead: Apartments are great in that you are only committed to them for a limited period of time, and even if you need to break that contract, the cost is comparatively small. Thanks to places like Craigslist, it is no longer difficult to find a wide variety of rooms, apartments or even houses to rent, and many of them can be surprisingly flexible about lease durations. If you want to be really hardcore and plan on spending most of your time on the move, rent an indoor, climate-controlled storage facility (about $50/month) for the belongings you aren’t taking with you but you really want to keep (bedding, off-season clothes, etc) and rely on the kindness of friends, family, and couchsurfers. Remember, home is where the heart is.
  • Debt/Credit Cards. One need only look at the wonderful blog Man VS. Debt to see what you can do when you don’t have debt hanging over your head. For many, this will be the most difficult to get rid of, but it is also the item likely to cause the most profound change. Society has managed to convince us that we need credit cards because we need to buy things we can’t afford in order to keep up with the Jones. Why to lose it: If you don’t have debt payments to make, you only need to make enough money to survive, and that opens up a lot of options. Also, the only person who benefits from debt is the credit card companies. Period. What to do instead: Stop caring about having stuff. Some people advise you to think about whether or not most people in the rest of the world do without your purchase, but that’s a little too detached for me. Instead, before you buy something, think about what you will do with it if you go abroad. If it’s going to have to go into storage, think long and hard before you purchase it. Also, don’t buy for the future; if it’s not something you are going to use now, you don’t really know if you need it, right? (Exceptions are off-season clothing that is on sale, etc.) If you have a lot of student loans hanging over your head, look into programs abroad that will make payments for you while you are abroad – the Peace Corps is excellent about this – or find work while you’re overseas. Another option is to sell your belongings, if you have them. It’s stuff you’d probably have to put into storage anyway, so why not make some money off it instead?
  • Pets. I know that having fido or fluffy gives you something to look forward to at the end of the day, but pets are pretty much a no-go for nomads unless you have someone who stays back home to take care of them. Believe me, I love animals – I’m a professional dog walker and I have had around 30 pets over the course of my life – but I also am acutely aware of the limitations they can place on your mobility. Why to lose it: Unless you want to put your animal through the emotional trauma of being pawned off on your friends or relatives for extended periods of time, having a pet is not a good move for a frequent traveler, nor healthy for the animal. What to do instead: Buy a plant (when pawned off on a friend, these become gifts, rather than burdens). Become friends with the dogs at your local dog park. Offer to pet sit for people. Spend more time outside your home.
  • Contracts. In particular I am thinking of things like work-duration contracts (you agree to work for them for 1 year, etc) and things like cell phone contracts. Contracts are the ultimate representation of restriction, but they hide this by often offering benefits (a guaranteed job, a cheaper phone, etc). Why to lose it: By their very nature, contracts punish you for making your own decisions. Want to leave your job early and work somewhere else? Well, you’ve broken your contract and now lost a reference. Want to get a different cell phone carrier before yours sucks? It’s going to really cost you. Contracts claim to help you, but in reality, there are generally very few benefits to signing anything that restricts your free will. What do to instead: Find a job that does not require you to work for them and only them for a specified duration, or alternatively, offer to work for a reduced rate in exchange for not being bound to a piece of paper. For things like services, find out if there is a “pay as you go” option as can often be found with cell phones.

As you can see, by choosing not to have these things, you are also choosing to reject large portions of the status quo. You know what? That’s okay. Not everyone needs a house, car, spouse, two kids, desk job, and a golden retriever. If the white picket fence isn’t your dream, then why bother picking up all the trappings? Live your own vision, not someone else’s. To do any less is to shortchange yourself at life. Do you want that? I doubt it.

In the interests of disclosure, here’s how I stack up against my own advice:

  • Vehicle: None, though I am on the title of our Ural sidecar motorcycle. I am supremely lucky in that I am able to use Marc’s car without having it be a ball and chain around my own leg. If I were not able to use Marc’s car, I would put more effort into getting our Ural running daily, or I would find a job that I could use public transportation to get to.
  • Housing: Marc and I live in an apartment now, but prior to this and prior to Korea, I lived for a year via the storage unit/couch method I described above. I had minimal costs, I was able to visit people and places I had never seen before, and I got to know many of my friends far better than I had known them previously. In an entire year, there were only a couple nights that I had to actually sleep in my truck, and it wasn’t the end of the world.
  • Debt: This is the #1 issue I still struggle with. It took me years to finally learn that I didn’t need more stuff, and thankfully this lesson has largely stuck. I still have a reasonable amount of credit card debt to pay off, but it was largely accrued while I did not have a job. But, debt is by far the largest stone I carry, and it’s pretty much the only thing that prevents me from being able to get up and go work in low-paying countries like Vietnam and Mongolia. I’d sell my belongings, but I already did that, two years ago, and I didn’t sell them, I gave them to charity. The only two valuable things I own are also the two items I need to make a living: my computer and my camera equipment.
  • Pets: Marc and I have two cats, but I would not have gotten them if I were living alone. Marc’s job does not permit him to travel with me (unfortunately), so I have a built-in pet sitter that the cats are already familiar with.
  • Contracts: My job is blessedly free of a contract, and I have a tendency to seek out work that is often temporary in nature (retail, waitressing, freelancing, etc). In Korea, I did have to sign a one-year contract (breaking it means deportation), but that’s not unusual when working abroad, and I consider that to be an exception. As for other contracts, the only binding thing I’ve signed in recent memory is my iPhone service from AT&T. I would not be able to do my job without a GPS-enabled phone, and there are none available on a pay-as-you-go basis, so this is a sacrifice I had to make. Thankfully, iPhones can be made to work in foreign countries, so it’s not a total loss.

Listen and See

I like to go for walks in the evenings here, after work.  At that time of day, the light is usually beginning to gain that slightly golden tinge that signals the beginning of the winding-down of the day.  Jindo Eup, the town, is in a valley and the sun sets behind one of the mountain ridges a few miles from town, and so the sky stays light for quite awhile after the sun is no longer visible.  Most of the farmers are finished with their work for the day, so I can wander around un-harassed among the little dirt roads that crisscross the fields like a fishing net, with my camera on my back and my ipod piping music into my ears.

I am rarely without my ipod when I am out shooting.  I consider it as much a part of my requisite gear as my extra memory cards, or my lens-cleaner.  It is not that I find it difficult to shoot without also listening to music, but instead I find that music helps me to “see” the moments I shoot, before they happen.  It’s not that I can necessarily tell what is going to happen – it’s that I see the photo I want to take, in my mind’s eye, and then it is merely a matter of finding the right position and waiting for the scene to occur.  Sometimes it never does.  Regardless, people who know me well can sometimes figure out what kind of music I was listening to at the time simply by looking at my photographs.  Similarly, if I don’t have music, my work is often somewhat uninspired, and I generally even have to remind myself to shoot.  To me, my eyes and ears are not just organs for sensing different aspects of the world around me, the two are in fact very inter-connected.

I estimate that I spend, on average, 8-12 hours a day listening to music.  Music has always played a rather large part in my life.  I have spent most of my life surrounded by it.  When I was young, I had a toy which, if you were to rock back and forth on it while sitting on it, it would spin you around.  I would sit on that toy, with an old Sony Walkman in my lap and headphones on my head for hours on end, listening to The Yellow Submarine or Joshua Tree over and over and over again, in an almost trance-like state.  There exist countless photos of me on the damn thing, my blonde hair flailing out in every which way.  In middle school, I got a portable CD player.  I listened to it endlessly in the car, as I had previously with my Walkman.  Not only that, but I began taking it to bed.  I would lay awake at night, listening to soundtrack CDs (my favourites were Last of the Mohicans and Benny and Joon, both of which still top that list to this very day) over and over again, imagining whole stories to go along with the music.  Near the end of middle school, I actually began to sneak out of the house at night to go sit up in my tree house in the middle of the night to listen to music and watch the stars.  I was a weird kid.  Most parents would have been concerned about a 14 year old sneaking out at night to go be with boys; mine were concerned about me falling off the ridge of our roof while climbing around pretending to be a spy at 4am (at least, they would have been, had they known).

I become more observant when I’m listening to music.  My eyes tend to slightly un-focus, and so while nothing is in sharp focus, I get a better general picture of the world, and I notice small things, especially motion, far faster.  My reaction time also goes up incredibly, as does my ability to focus without exhausting myself.  Without music, I get tired after an hour and a half of driving.  With music, I have been known to drive for 18 hours at a stretch (with gas stops, of course).  Without music, the world seems dimmer, duller, less real.  The best way I can describe it is that when I have headphones on, the world feels like I’m in a movie.  When I don’t have music on…it feels like the monochrome world of 1950s sitcoms, only minus the funny neighbors with witty one-liners and the happy-go-lucky postman.  I honestly cannot imagine going through my life without music.  The world I experience when I don’t have music on is interminably dull.  I don’t know how others deal with it, frankly.  Sometimes I feel like the protagonist in Pleasantville; I experience the world in colors, and when you take away my music, I am stuck the real world – in grayscale.  But to me, the grayscale is unnatural, rather than the colors.  Frankly, it’s a miracle I have never gotten into drugs, all things considered.  Maybe music is my drug – it certainly alters my perception of the world.

I recently got a pair of wireless headphones.  Now, I never have to be without my music, as I cook, as I clean, hell, even as I sit on the toilet with my book.  Sometimes I listen to short stories on audiobook as I cook – last night I listened to Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro while cooking zucchini for my spaghetti.  I have taken to wearing them even to bed.  They are cushioned, so they don’t hurt my ears when I lay on them, and this way, I can give the direction of my dreams a musical “nudge” as I drift off to sleep.  The playlist on the computer only lasts about 10 minutes, and it rarely takes me more than half that to fall asleep.  In the morning, I pick them up off the floor where they invariably fall during the night’s tossings and turnings, and stick them back on my head as I prepare for my day.  And so it begins again.

Over the years I have figured out that I can change my behavior in subtle but significant ways through music.  By listening to particular music before I have to complete a given task, I can shift my actions, even my deportment, to be more appropriate to the undertaking.  This has backfired a few times in recent years – after listening to aggressive, confident music, I have occasionally come off a bit too far on the side of self-assured and have been dismissed as cocky.  In general though, it has been a great help to me, and has aided me in getting through some difficult situations.  Usually it comes through in my personality, though sometimes it even has physical influence – in middle school I used to listen to fast music before running in a race.  When I was able to, I almost invariably came in first or second.  When I was unable to, I was somewhere near the back.  The power of mind over matter is truly amazing sometimes.

So, you see, I would have to argue that music has been and still is, quite possibly, the most influential force in my life.  My parents and various friends certainly have all played a major hand, but on the olympic platform of my life, music stands at the top, a gold medal around its neck.



free counters