#DoYouIndie November Challenge: Experiences are Priceless

Welcome to day two of my Bootsnall November writing challenge!  It’s not too late to jump in and join the fun!  If you are a traveler or aspire to be one, writing answers to these questions may just inspire you to take that (next) journey!

Question 2: How is having experiences better than having possessions?

Funny, this was such a powerful realization when I returned home from the trip – my stuff was completely suffocating me. Being at home, I am struck every day with how much time, energy, and money I spend maintaining our stuff, whether it is cleaning it, repairing it, storing it, using it or trying to give it away!  Your stuff truly tethers you in place, and letting it go definitely frees up time and money.  And, as Jen Miller eloquently writes in her post on Bootsnall, aren’t those the very same two things that people yearn for as a means to travel?

Traveling with few worldly possessions is so liberating.  I love that our kids learned to live one year with only what they could carry, and though they missed some things, it was pretty much a non-issue. Whatever I missed (e.g. my boots) was quickly forgotten as we headed out on a new adventure, to see a new place, or as we met people that seemed to own even less than the few items we were carrying with us.  Having less stuff made us mobile and more spontaneous.  Although there are many examples, I remember one day in Croatia, where we made an 11th hour decision to take an overnight boat to Italy, rather than staying in Split.  We stashed our bags in a locker at the port, and headed out to tour around the city on foot for the day.

Taking only photos, leaving only footprints...

Taking only photos, leaving only footprints…

Part of this lack of need for things is directly tied to how simple life is when we travel. For the most part, we are transient observers as we travel. We aren’t enrolled in sports, or working in a job where we require a professional wardrobe. If we were more entrenched in the locales where we traveled to, we might need more things – a bike or car, a more permanent bed, dishes to cook with (or an array of spices), clothes to weather us through multiple seasons.  But for the most part, when we travel, we are passing through, carrying only a few items, willing to pay a little more for the travel size, or to buy shampoo more frequently as we run out. Who cares if we have only one swimsuit or one pair of pants if we spend only a day or two in a locale and then move on, making it all new again to those around us? And when we seemed to really be missing something, we could usually find it locally, make it, improvise, or fill our time with experiencing the world and people around us, rather than with worrying about our stuff!

Paintball in Naples for David's 14th birthday. Thicker clothing would have been great, but the bruises eventually faded!

Paintball in Naples for David’s 14th birthday. Thicker clothing would have been great, but the bruises eventually faded!

Daily, the six of us will have a moment where a word such as “tour” or “bulging” will bring a flood of laughter and outpouring of recollection.  Sometimes it is just a knowing glance by one of the kids if they see something that reminds them of one of the many places we visited.  The best part is that it doesn’t take traveling together to create these shared memories – it just requires being with someone; giving time instead of material items as gifts.   Easier said than done when we are at home with the many distractions and temptations to buy gifts and the ever-present lack of time.  However, part of what I loved about traveling is that when it came to giving gifts to one another that year, we had no other choice but to get creative and give something that wasn’t going to weigh down our backpacks.  Birthdays found us paintballing in Naples, Italy; or taking a cooking class in Luang Prabang, Laos; or hitting a museum and catching the latest blockbuster movie in Wellington, New Zealand.  On Vivian’s birthday, Jon and I got up at sunrise, and collected shells, flowers, and vines from the beach with which to wrap her modest “gifts”.  While we were searching, we found a little sea sponge that we also gave her as a gift.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget that morning as long as I live, and I’d be willing to bet that Vivian will remember her gifts that year possibly better than any other,

Viv's beach wrapped treasures for her 7th birthday in French Polynesia

Viv’s beach wrapped treasures for her 7th birthday in French Polynesia

In summary, my short answer to today’s #DoYouIndie question is that possessions and experiences are in a constant tug of war.  “Stuff” generally detracts from your life, taking your time (that might otherwise have been spent on people you love), money, and energy; while experiences enrich your life, giving you a spiffy return on your time investment, filling up your soul and creating stronger bonds with your people.  If it weren’t for all those darn airplane flights and bottled water, you might even be able to say that experiences gained through travel help reduce your footprint on the earth!  Still paying off that debt one reusable shopping bag at at time….

Bootsnall challenged us to give away three things today.  For me, it was a bunch of stuff that has been sitting in our garage, neatly stored on shelves for 12 years (!) and now hopefully finding new purpose in someone else’s life, and bags of gloves, hats, and winter clothes of mine that are going to a women’s and children’s shelter called Mary’s Place.




#DoYouIndie November Travel Challenge: The Traveler’s Paradox

Hello again! It has been too long since I last posted, and there are so many reasons for that. The most obvious is that we haven’t been traveling….much. There was that trip to Cuba last spring that I have been meaning to share with you all, but mostly my life here in Seattle has swallowed me whole and the days just fly by, undocumented save for the occasional instagram post (@jonesfam6). Not that our life is no longer remarkable now that we are home, not by a long shot, it is just that there is so little time to remark on it, or so it seems.

As many of you do, I still have an email inbox flooded with travel sites, and one of them, Bootsnall, is doing a one month writing challenge for travelers, both those that have traveled, and those that dream of it. To get me writing again, and to reexperience the passion that I have felt for the journeys we have made, I thought I would partake. So, if this is your thing, and you want to feel the wanderlust and start planning your next adventure, stay tuned….

QUESTION 1: Why did you first start traveling? Why did you continue to travel?


Merzouga, Sahara Desert, watching the sun rise on October 31, 2013

These inquiries have been previously answered on my site, here and here and here, but I will restate them as best I can here. I first started traveling internationally with my husband about a year after we were married. Neither of us had traveled much or far when we were children, and we were curious about the world. After our first 6 week backpacking trip to Europe, with a budget of about $40/day, we were smitten. Two years later, when our credit cards were paid off, we booked a trip to Turkey for 2 weeks, and the next year, to Spain and Portugal for 3 weeks. Seeing other locales and cultures opened up our world, as cliche as that may sound. We saw things at home differently, whether it was reading the paper or a novel, watching the news or a blockbuster movie, or seeing someone in our city, with a map in hand and backpack slung over their shoulder. A paradox emerged, which could probably be called “the traveler’s paradox”, if it has not already been coined by some other writer somewhere. It was this: the further we went, the more we saw, the more we realized how little we knew of the world. To me, it became a little like an addiction, this longing for more, the need to feel and experience the world in person, to see it all.

Lares Trek, Peru, June 2014

Lares Trek, Peru, June 2014

Our child rearing years anchored us pretty closely to home, even though we had made a pact to each other, Jon and I, to travel with our children and see the world with them one day. So when our youngest was born in 2007, we picked a date to take a year off with them, and we tucked it into our pocket like a wish and a secret and present to be unwrapped at some point far in the future. Before we knew it, that date was upon us.  Though it was challenging on many levels, we made it happen, embarking to Iceland and the next 34 countries in July 2013 and returning July 2014. It forever has changed us, individually and as a family. There is much to write on that, but it is off topic. In a nut shell, I traveled first because I was curious about the world. And now I travel because it is in me, the little hands that have held mine in Nairobi, the level gaze that locked mine in Sri Lanka, the weathered hands that gripped the wheel in Bali. All the miles we watched roll by us from the air, sea, and land; the countless stories shared by fellow travelers and locals in destinations all around the globe; the poignant beauty and hardship and opulence and contrasts we were exposed to – it all fills my soul and yet leaves me hungry for more.  Seeing my children struggling over an 16,000 foot peak in Peru, bungee jumping off a bridge, riding a camel across a desert or a stallion on the beach, or snorkeling with a sea turtle – these are emblazoned into my mind and have become part of my tapestry, that I am determined to continue weaving as we travel again. There are so many adventures out there to be had in our beautiful world, our only world. This one precious life that we are given is all that we have, and we have such a finite amount of time to experience it. One life, One world. You only live once, I guess that is my why.

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver


Reuben Centre, and the Slums of Africa

Some of the younger girls at Reuben

Some of the younger girls at Reuben

We went to four schools in the slums of Africa, and it has changed my life forever. I had heard of the slums of India and Africa and had heard descriptions of these places but I guess I never truly understood what it was like.
The drive to the Reuben Centre had me in a state of shock, The roads were covered in a layer of black mud with huge pot holes and bumps throughout it making it almost un-drivable. Along the side of the streets were stands made out of tarps, sheets, scrap metal, basically anything they could find. next to the stands were giant mounds of trash. Trash wasn’t only in those mounds though, it was everywhere. There was trash every few inches, on the roads, the side walk (where there was a side walk), and in peoples makeshift houses and stands. There were also tons of goats and cows just roaming around eating the trash. And among all of this, people. People, who eat here, sleep here, work here, live here. Women dressing the nicest they can and marching off through the mud to go to their jobs. Men in their stands selling whatever they can or burning the trash to cook their food on. Children running the streets or on their mothers backs. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s amazing that these people survive in such an environment, It really gives me a different prospective on the world and the life that I’m living.
After seeing the Reuben Slum I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Reuben Centre, But it was definitely a pleasant surprise. The Reuben Centre is a safe haven in the middle of the slum. It’s basically a village of classrooms. There’s dirt walk ways between flipped over shipping boxes (the classrooms) and in the back a wide open space where theres swing sets and a slide, and toys made out of old tires, which is the play ground. They also have a health center, a sewing room (where they make the uniforms), computer room, and the largest room where they practice their dancing, singing, acrobatics, juggling etc.
Frank, our friend and director of the school had us wear the school uniforms and go to our grades and experience a day in the life of a Reuben Centre student. I’ve never experienced anything like it before, but let’s just say I now know what it feels like to be a celebrity. The kids came and swarmed me, they all wanted to touch my hair, rub my arms, and hold my hands. When I was finally pulled into the classroom everybody wanted me to sit at their desk, so I sat at the one where most people pulled me to. Once I was sitting I lost all sight of daylight when 50 kids formed a den around me and asked me questions about America, my school, American celebrities, etc. they asked me to sing for them and I ended up singing You’re Gonna Miss Me at least 8 times.
When it was “class time” a man walked down the narrow paths between the classrooms ringing a makeshift cowbell and all the kids would pull out their books get into groups and start reading and discussing questions. When they weren’t sure of an answer they would flip to the back of the book and the answers were there for them to look at! I couldn’t help but think about how whenever our teacher goes down to the office for two minutes it’s an all out free for all party, and here the kids at Reuben diligently studied all of class period with a teacher never coming in. I was also thinking about how if the answers were in the back of our math books most the kids in our grade would just mark down all the answers and goof off the rest of the class. The one appearance of a teacher I saw was when a teacher came in and passed out a writing exam and then came back 40 minutes later to collect it. When I was handed my essay paper Bernard my desk mate and good friend tried to explain to me what to do but it was a little hard so I ended up just writing a mystery story on a surprise Birthday party.
After my hair had been redone and the kids satisfied with all my answers,they decided to show me their school playground. To get to the playground we had to pass through the little kid sector. The little kids being younger were not as aware of personal space as the older kids in my grade, so when they saw me they would run up and grab my arm or my hand and yank on it and push and shove each other to get to touch me. The older kids would start yelling at them in Swahili and they would scamper off like mice. The few other brave little souls who would run up got the stiff arm from the older kids who formed a sort of barricade around me. It was slow going to get to the play ground since everyone had come out of their classes and wanted to see the white kids. When we got to the play ground they took me straight to the swing sets which I believe were installed last year and the kids all seemed really proud of them, so I let them push me for a bit, but when a crowd had swarmed around the swing and I was just barley missing some faces with my feet I decided for the safety of all, that swing time was over. I managed to push some of the younger kids before I was pulled away by Margaret, Joy, Jane, Scholastica, and Zum Zum, those were some of the few names I was able to remember out of all of the kids who came up to me yelling their names and testing my memory later by asking what their name was and if I’d remembered. After the swings I jumped rope with the younger girls and boys before going back to class for social studies.
In the middle of social studies Victoria came in to take me to lunch, which we spent at the grill restaurant, in a mall. Frank had ordered something off the quick’n easy menu and had told us we should too, but we all ordered from the lunch menu. Frank’s lunch showed up last out of all of ours and he was really quite angry about it. The waitress tried to give him a free coffee but all he would say is, “No, I don’t want it.” Over and over again stubbornly while the waitress tried to explain it was on the house. Vivian was trying really hard not to laugh at Frank while he fumed about his quick’n easy meal.
After lunch when we returned to the Reuben Centre we went to the biggest room and they were going to put on a performance there for all of us. The performance began with a puppet show in Swahili, and then after a lot of dancing and singing and a family pyramid which the kids loved, they started doing acrobatics. I swear every kid in the school is required to be able to do some type of Ariel handspring or flip.
After their amazing performance we had to say good bye. One girl named Sophia told me to remember her, and the Reuben Centre, don’t ever forget she said. My other friends Vincent and Lily told me, “to tell all my friends in America about Lily and Vincent and the Reuben Centre.” It was a touching moment and a little hard to leave, but I hope to go back one day.

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