10 COUNTRIES IN THE PAST NINE MONTHS
HERE’S WHERE I STAND
Okay. Here’s the deal. I’ve spent the last seven days writing daily for the Greece blog and have made it a point to check in each day to update my log and jot down any stories or specific memories for the blog before they escape my memory. And I’m doing so, I’ve managed to write a blog that is quite long and very detailed. But today is Saturday in Greece which means it’s Friday on the mainland and I have to finish this blog post tonight before I send it over to my assistant to edit and publish by tomorrow morning. I’m currently on the roof of a massive ferry boat going from one island to the next and am two vegan edibles deep (taken as preventative measures for gnarly sea-sickness,) and as I lay here, literally lay horizontally on a thin padeo separating me from the filthy concrete floor of this crowded passenger ferry floor - I can’t help but think about how bored and bothered I feel by the post I’ve written over the past 7 days and how bored and bothered I feel by SO much of the travel content I’ve seen on social media over the past few months.
Nothing I’ve written about traveling through Greece, and very little of the travel content I’ve seen on social media in the past few years, seems to be really real. It doesn’t really seem capable enough to possibly captivate just a fraction of the beauty and the mediocrity and all else in between that this world has to offer. So I think I’ll mix things up a little this week.
Greece has been spectacular so far. Marissa and I sat at a port side cafe this morning (while eating hearty bowls of pasta at 11 am) and counted back the days since we arrived to Greece. 9 days. We’ve only been here for nine days?! Is that even possible?
Nine days in Greece has felt more like three weeks. And I’m not entirely sure if it’s because we’ve done so much in such a short period of time, or because we have been in an ongoing race to escape the crowds of tourists since we arrived nine days ago. And it’s not just Greece, I’m so saddened to share. Since January of this year, I have spent one month in the Hawaii before spending one month in the Philippines, followed by two weeks in Sri Lanka, three weeks in Bali, two weeks in Australia, three months back in Hawaii, two days in Colorado, one week in Portugal, one week in France and 4 days in Italy before flying to Greece. The tourists. are. everywhere. Or so it seems. Trust me, I know, I’m one of them.
But it’s not just seeing so so so many tourists that upsets and confuses me. It’s the cities, countries and culture that are being manipulated to be something they’re not because of the tourists visiting. I can’t help but to feel saddened for Greece and the consequences our travel and consumption (and possibly over travel and over consumption) have had on these islands. Greece reminds me so much of Hawaii. Too much of Hawaii maybe. Once a quiet, laid back and cultured group of islands rich in native tradition and ancient belief, Greece is now being hit with hundreds of thousands of tourist flying in and out from all corners of the world each and every single week. Greece is being hit hard. New hotels, restaurants, cafes and spas are being built around every corner. Monsanto has recently arrived to Greece and more products/food/water are being imported and shipped in each day. I’ve only visited five Greek Islands so far, but have personally witnessed this beautiful culture confined and conformed on each island so far. And I can’t help but notice that things seem to move in the direction of “Greeks out, tourists in”. And it feels all too familiar with the drastic change I’ve seen in Hawaii over the past five years.
We made it an effort to prioritize the low key, lesser-known, quiet coastal cities and small beach towns in Greece. We spent our first week on an island so small you could drive from side to the other in 15 minutes without passing more than 5 cars. But when you did pass those 5 cars, 4 of them were rental cars and at least three of those cars had GoPros or selfie sticks shoved out the window.
I felt a bit uneasy within the first few days in Greece. Every corner we turned was crowded with overdressed tourists asking their friend/partner/parent or stranger to take a photo of them. Every church, white wall and swinging chair was occupied with someone being photographed or captured on film. Are we even admiring the sunset? Are we looking with our eyes? Or through the screen of an iPhone camera lens? Are we enjoying this moment? Are we present here in this moment? Why did we all come here in the first place?
I couldn’t help but wonder.
Full Disclosure: I run a travel blog and popular social media account. I’m not perfect. I’m so far from being perfect. I know this. I snap dozens of photos (sometimes hundreds) each day and document a large chunk of my life online through various platforms. I have habits that need to be readjusted. But I am sort’ve at this point right now where whatever I post and publish online is read by thousands of people, and I can’t help but feel CALLED to share these thoughts and ideas with you all. Reminders to myself as I strive to personally improve as a traveler and as a public figure in the social eye. And maybe some reminders that will resonate with you as well.
THOUGHTS ON THIS
I want to travel quieter.
I want to speak, plan, control and disrupt less so I can see, feel and listen to more.
I want to leave each place knowing it’s in a better state than it was before I arrived.
I want to leave feeling cultured, confused and curious to see more.
I want to always be increasingly compassionate for the local people, places and things I come across while traveling.
I want to spice things up.
I want to visit new places and feel like I’m not in America surrounded by the same people, eating the same food, buying the same souvenirs, taking the same pictures as everyone else around them.
I want to experience a place.
Really, truly experience a place.
I want to be spoken to in foreign languages that inspire me to learn more.
I want to take the local bus or walk the back alley and get lost in the places not pinned on my google map.
I want to check into an accommodation or sit down at a restaurant and not hear first words out of my mouth be “can you please tell me the WiFi password?”
HERE’S WHAT I’VE LEARNED SO FAR
Time moves slowly and travel is especially sweeter when it’s done so quietly and intuitively. Allow yourself to arrive somewhere and simply take things from there. See what feels right for you once you land. If a certain location or area excites you, inspires you and leaves you wanting more, spend time there. Plant some roots. Even if it’s only momentarily. See the town, meet the locals, find your favorite sunset spot and go there for a few nights in a row. Enjoy it. Experience it. If a certain city or country doesn’t feel right, simply adjust. Relocate. Even if your itinerary tells you something different. There is no right or wrong way to visit on city or country. It can be messy, unexpected and unexplained. You have no one to explain anything to other than yourself.
When you let your travels unfold before you, rather than laminate them in a set in stone itinerary - they will be more memorable and meaningful. Be open and willing to accept change and discomfort while you travel (and also in your life.) The uneasiness is often the most powerful catalyst of growth while traveling. If plans change, flights cancel, or someone falls sick, accept it as an opportunity to reveal your most patient and flexible chilled-out self. Don’t stress. Never stress while traveling. It does absolutely no good what so ever and is most likely the one thing you wanted to leave behind when you came on this trip in the first place. Also, no one really likes that one person who micro-manages every single last detail of the trip. Trust me, the girls and I overheard a woman do this to her group of traveling companions over the dinner table the other night “we have to go to this bar on Friday so we can order this cocktail before we eat dinner here on Saturday night and then we won’t be hungover when we wake up at sunrise to do this, this, this and this all before 12 noon on Sunday morning.” I felt overwhelmingly exhausted just listening to her.
Travel isn’t jumping from one Instagram location to the next. This is a HUGE learning lesson I’m currently enduring. Travel is not Instagram. Travel is not Instagram. Travel is not Instagram. I remind myself this daily. You do not have to go somewhere just to take a photo of it. You did not come here to make your social media look interesting or aesthetically pleasing. You do not have to individually geo-tag and link every single destination you visit. Please. Please. Please. Remember that. Before your taxi or local bus dropped you off here, this was someone’s home first. This is someone else’s home. They must live here when you leave. It is not a travel destination for them. It is their home. Let’s not send out an open invite to hundreds of thousands of strangers on the internet each day. Treat their neighborhood as you would your own hometown. There is Earth beneath all of this. These resources and elements can only handle so much. This land can only sustain so much. Be mindful of this.
Your trip abroad doesn’t have to include ticking off all of the same boxes as someone’s holiday vacation. It can be whatever it wants to be. And you can always come back here and visit again next year. Let your travels be loose around the edges. You’ll last longer, I promise you. Travel can be sleepy, slow, emotional or lonely. It’s your own. You came on this trip to further connect with yourself and the new environment in which you would be experiencing - not check in and selfie at all 33 BuzfeedWeekly travel recommendations. Be present. Be willing to adapt. You may not “hit up” every single suggestion on your best friend’s boyfriend’s cousin’s recommendation list for two weeks in Brazil. But that’s okay. You can come back. You will come back if it’s meant to be.
Your travel should be your art. It should be creative, colorful and entirely your own. Jam pack it with incredible adventures and moments of presence. Or keep things simple and slow. Rent a funky air BNB in the woods and spend your two week’s vacation there - rather than flying to Bali because “literally every single person you know has already been and you can’t believe you haven’t gone yet. What are you doing with your life?”
Spend money. Or budget. Whatever you gotta do - just do it with gratitude and know that you have perfectly enough for everything that’s meant to be paid for. If you spend money while traveling, or are comfortable being really free with your finances - enjoy it. It is your own. Whether you spent $5,000 a week traveling or $500 a month, make sure you spend your money on things that are worth paying for. Is this purpose benefiting this place or these people in some way? Is it contributing to something I want to see more of while traveling?
Be mindful of the mark you leave behind. This is so crucial. This earth is not ours. These oceans, mountains, rivers, cities and coast are not ours. Leave nothing but your memories behind. Be mindful of what you bring and what you buy. Can you pack your own water bottles, as to avoid having to buy one for each member of your family when you arrive at the national park? Can you buy fresh fruit at the local fruit stand to avoid buying Starbucks at the airport when you arrive? Can you make sure you properly dispose of ALL of your trash while out on the trails for the day? Can you be more mindful of your carbon footprint? Can you be more minimal with your waste? Can you pick up someone’s trash that they may have accidentally leave behind? Can you leave the beach/park/venue with more garbage than you brought in? Where can you improve as a traveler? How will you inspire others to do the same? What can you do that many others may not think of doing?
Finding new ways to give back to a vacation destination is the ultimate cherry on top of any adventure abroad. Don’t let yourself get intimidated by the widespread array of options available to you. It doesn’t have to be difficult or hard. Here’s how you can get started.
Look up a local beach clean up or park clean up in the town or city you will be visiting. Search google or Facebook. Send some messages, reach out to a few people online and see where you can lend a helping hand. Get involved in some way. Even if it’s just for a few hours.
Look up a local orphanage or woman’s shelter to make a donation to. Even if you don’t know a single woman or child in the whole country. It usually is as easy as writing a quick email (or sending a Facebook message) saying that you’d like to make a donation to their organization. “What can I send or drop off?” Often times these places are desperate for common products such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, tampons, socks and groceries. $100 (or less! Or more!) can go a long way for these individuals.
Research an animal rescue sanctuary or animal rehabilitation center to make a donation to. You can share your time or share your money. This is an especially fantastic activity for families or parents traveling with children to do! Show them first hand that they can spend their spending money (or mommy and daddy’s spending money) on souvenirs and cheap toys, or they can use this money to help feed, house and support their favorite animal at the shelter. It’s a powerful connection to make at a young age.
Don’t have the extra money to make a donation yourself? Start a GoFundMe or CrowdRaiser while traveling. Choose one thing you’d like to contribute to while living or traveling abroad and get busy. Use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote your cause. It can be for ANYTHING that you cherish as a beautiful part of your travels. Choose a local school that neighbored your AIR BNB, a woman’s birthing center that you walked past every morning on the way to the market or a non-for-profit organization that you read about in the local newspaper. Doesn’t matter if you raise $20 or $2,000. You’re giving and sharing more than you would have been able to on your own.