Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Anti-Bucket List

Some people see it as a challenge, others find it to be an entertaining conversation starter. It's all over my Facebook feed, people talking about their Bucket List. Travel websites endlessly list places to visit and things that we must do before kicking the proverbial bucket. Because otherwise you just haven't lived. That's too much pressure! Today I offer you a different perspective. Don't wait. How about a "do now" list or a "living list." Or what if, dare I say it? No list at all.

Pick your jaw up off the floor. Clean up all the coffee you spilled all over your desk. It's ok I'll wait.

Seriously, I don't have one. No Bucket List here. Sure there are places I want to see, things I want to do, but I don't keep a list. I do this for a couple of reasons. The first and probably the one that rules my life is that I just never buckled down to plot it out, and if I did, I can no longer find the napkin or scrap of paper it was written on. It's not my fault great ideas find me when all I have is a golf pencil and a bar napkin. The other more eloquent reason for my lack of list deals with spontaneity and freedom. By not having a list I am not ruled by checking things off when I do them. Instead, if someone tells me about an awesome place, I just go. If I happen to stumble upon a new place while wandering aimlessly in a city, then I can just be present in the moment. Plans are meant to be changed, and travel is meant to be malleable in both what we decide to do and how we allow it to impact our mental and spiritual selves.

Small church in Znojmo
One of the unexpected benefits of this way of operating was revealed to me on a recent trip to the Czech Republic. My original plan included hopping all over the place. I had about ten days to work with, and my first thought was to pack in as much as possible. How many countries could I set foot on in that time frame? I drove myself crazy trying to determine the best itinerary. At one point, my plans included stomping through five different countries in a two week period. It just doesn't make sense. Eventually I went with my gut and a series of recommendations to spend the bulk of my time in Prague and four days in Mikulov in the south. It was simple; it made sense. But it didn't stop the bucket lister to creep back in. "Vienna is only 2 1/2 hours away," it whispered, "why don't you do a day trip?" I tossed aside the idea of listening to Mozart while eating Viennese pastries and hopped on a train in the opposite direction. What I found was a stunningly beautiful place that I had all to myself: the town of Znojmo. It was completely off my radar, and it never would have made it to a Bucket List. But it has catapulted to the top of my best travel memories list. A list that I think is infinitely more important than a list taunting me about all the things I haven't yet done.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Hiking Philosophies

Maybe I'm just making this all up, but I really think that there are two schools of thought when it comes to hiking. The first group trudges through the terrain with astounding displays of physical fitness. Somehow they are able to see every rock and navigate hanging branches without looking like a swarm of bees is attacking them. They move quickly like gazelles, able to take in their surroundings with eyes darting in every direction. Somehow they reach the destination whether it be mountain top or waterfall with energy to spare to play a round of ultimate frisbee or splash carelessly at the base of the falls.

This group is not me. I belong to the other hiking philosophy. I am all tortoise exhibiting no physical prowess, and instead I do my best to focus on not falling to my death. I like to break frequently for water and to admire large leaves or strange looking bugs. I listen for new sounds and wonder if I'm hearing monkeys or frogs in the trees. While walking, my head stays focused squarely on the ground for fear that I will trip, which I often do even if my gaze never leaves the earth. My energy comes and goes in spurts as does my breath, and when the destination is reached, I plop lazily on the nearest flat rock to admire the fruits of my labor. I have a snack and reach a meditative state as I watch birds with blue wings swoop overhead and a butterfly the size of my head flutter past. I like the alone time.

It's hard when these two types of hikers converge as they did today at Pico Bonito National Park in Honduras. The former want to go, explore, and play, while I want to think, reflect, and absorb. I feel as though I'm not going fast enough, and they feel like they are constantly waiting. And in an effort to keep up, I hit a slippery rock the wrong way and careen to the ground. Don't worry, I'm ok. I got right up and continued onward until I was comfortably sitting in the taxi taking pleasure in watching the pineapple fields on both sides of the road.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Spending My Thoughts with Positive Currency

"Compassionate people are geniuses in the art of living, more necessary to the dignity, security, and joy of humanity than the discoverers of knowledge." Albert Einstein 

Sometimes you can go days upon days hearing about nothing but violence and the terrible things that are happing all over the world. Today, on September 21, it might be no different. People are fleeing Syria in search of a safe place to live only to be denied by government after government because their countries are "full." Others are being sold into slavery. Still others are ignoring it all not because they don't care, but perhaps because it is just too much to deal with. It is too much to deal with. The world can be a scary place.

But today is different. Today is the International Day of Peace. While, in many cases, it is a symbolic expression of what we wish would happen in the world, it is a call to action for ourselves. It is a way for us to remember that the world can be a good place, and we can work together to achieve positive goals. It reminds me to continue my work with children around the world even though it doesn't provide a paycheck, and most people don't understand why I do it. Most importantly, it's a way to look at ourselves and think about how we spend our days, how we spend our thoughts.

Today I will spend my thoughts with positive currency. And I'll wake up tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and try to do the same.

What can you do today for peace?
 In the words of Mother Theresa, "peace begins with a smile."
Why not start there?

Find your happy place, take a deep breath, and smile. Have a peaceful day!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reaching Silver Status Part 2: A United Fail

When I wrote my last post about frequent flyer miles I was inches away from being awarded the illustrious silver status from United Airlines. I was so taken in with the idea of gaining more travel benefits that I even opted to pay more for my flights to reach the next level. I had visions of being upgraded on all of my flights, earning tons more miles, and easily being able to keep these benefits for a very long time.

That was about a year ago, and I have been upgraded once. And even though I was flying first class from Seattle to Washington D.C. on a red eye, I was not given a meal or provided with in flight entertainment on my cross country flight, nor did I have one of those seats that reclines into a bed. I did, however, get a drink in a real glass. Woo Hoo! I was infinitely happy that I did not pay any extra money to be sitting there. The service wasn't any better, and I have seen a sharp decline lately in United service in general. I'm hoping that the new CEO will be an improvement.

While it was a bonus to be able to choose a seat in economy plus (extra legroom) upon checkin for my other United flights, there wasn't really any additional benefit of the silver status I had worked so hard to earn. The free checked bag and early boarding were already perks with my United Mastercard.

So was it worth it? I would say no. Unless you are a business traveler or spend beaucoup bucks using your flight-linked credit card and can reach gold, average gals like me will continue to peek through the mesh curtain wishing the kid behind me would stop kicking my seat, pining for the good life in the front of the plane, and paying the lowest fares possible. Because the travel is much more important than the transit.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Travel vs. Transit

Penn Station, NYC
Travel and transit, while they may sound similar, they are, to me, polar opposites but inextricably tied together. As I write this I sit on the floor of gate C75 at Newark International Airport. There are no seats to be found because, as is always true in the summer, flights become delayed, gates change at rapid rates, and a great deal of people who never travel suddenly show up. So I sit on the floor contemplating for the millionth time why I continue to put myself through all of this. I determined that my reasons stemmed from my ever-growing love of travel and my ability to grin and bear the transit. 

Sikkal Train Station, India
It’s a delicate balance that I strike each time I throw my possessions in a suitcase and schlep through yet another crowded city. Right now, my love of travel outweighs my loathing of transit, so I press on. What’s the difference you ask? Travel is full of new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences. It is discovering a place for the first time, or like visiting an old friend. Transit is moving from one place to another, switching planes, trains, buses, boats, or anything in between. Most of it, however, involves a barrage of inconveniences. One after another like whack-a-mole, the difficulties pop up: getting to the airport, checking in, making sure my bag isn't too big or too heavy. Don’t get me started on security. The gate will probably change a couple times without notification, and a sorry looking turkey sandwich is $25! It’s painful, just like sitting in economy, knees squished up to neck-level. Some flights are smooth, and some are not. As Forest Gump would say, it’s a box of chocolates. Arrival includes bloodshot eyes and a disoriented expression while faced with the task of reuniting with luggage and navigating the cacophony of taxi drivers, buses, limo drivers, and many many cars driven by people who appear to be behind the wheel for the first time. If we’re lucky, someone is there waiting, and if we're like everyone else, it may just be the beginning. 

Andes Mountains from Above
And still we soldier on through nauseating bus rides and missed train connections, cancellations and hassle. Maintaining sanity is a real challenge, but attitude is everything. So as I begin my next round of transit which will involve an overnight flight and a 5 hour stretch waiting for a Greyhound bus, I must remember that there is a new city, new friends, and new adventures ahead. For now, the transit is still worth it. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Kafka Effect

After being in Prague, it's hard not to notice Franz Kafka's influence. Restaurants, cafes, and a multitude of other sites in the city are dedicated to his memory. He's is one of the most well known and talented authors of the 20th century, but this acclaim happened after his life ended.

The more I learned about this celebrated author, the more I realized that his life can be a great lesson to each of us. One of the reasons why Kafka did not become famous until after he died is because he didn't think his writing was good enough to be published. For most of his life Kafka was employed by Workman's Accident Insurance when all he really wanted to do was write. He did write when he wasn't working, but all of his work ended up locked in a trunk until his death. In his will, he asked his friend to burn it all, but his friend decided to publish it instead. He lived with the pervasive idea, as many of us do, that we are not good enough. I call this the Kafka Effect. The more you tell yourself something, the more you begin to believe it. What you tell yourself matters. You can't wait for someone else to recognize your greatness. It must come from within.

The lesson for today is simple, you are good enough, and you can do it.

Would you rather live a safe life that you don't love or take a risk for your passion?

"So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being." ~Franz Kafka

Quote from Brainy Quote

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What is Experteering?

Beyond being a fancy new word, Experteering is a new way of thinking about pro bono international work. The word volunteer used to be the umbrella word for anyone who spends his/ her time helping someone or something else. Now we have words like voluntourist and experteer to describe very different things. In the international world, the mere mention of the word voluntourism can incite heated debates on issues of sustainability and dependence in host communities as well as causing damage to the communities that these volunteers are trying to help. It’s a sticky situation because every year, well meaning people fly to all areas of the world hoping to make a difference while on vacation. The problem is that all the good intentions in the world won’t end poverty, stop human trafficking, or educate a population. The need for volunteers has not gone away, rather the need for skilled volunteers has increased. This is where the beauty of experteering comes in. 

More and more, people are becoming dissatisfied with their jobs, and they are doing something about it. When I left teaching it was a huge step into a black hole. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew I had to go. What I found was that there were lots of people like me who had left lucrative careers in search of a more fulfilling life. Some of them had a plan, but most just wanted to follow their passion wherever it took them. They were the lucky ones. I had no plan and I was lacking in passion, feeling defeated and confused about the next step. I started traveling more, but it wasn’t enough. Then I found Moving Worlds, the matchmakers of the experteer world where organizations around the world are able to find skilled professionals to help them with everything from fashion design to permaculture and everything in between. It’s a great way to find a new passion while still being able to use the skills you have or shake up your life a little bit without ditching your regular paycheck. 

Teacher workshop at Vanavil
Through Moving Worlds I found Vanavil, a small school in southern India. While they were looking for an English teacher, I quickly learned that it was only the tip of the iceberg. I was able to assess the needs of the school and look for ways to meet those needs on the ground. Not only did I teach English, I conducted teacher training workshops, helped to make a computer lab operational, assessed students, and lots of other little things along the way that were very similar to what I did when I was a teacher in the states. Now that I'm back home, I will continue working with the school by writing curriculum and helping with Vanavil's mission of  keeping kids off the streets and in school.Through this work I reignited my love of curriculum development, and I can't wait to explore all of the thoughts and ideas that have resulted from having a meaningful experience in a place that needed me.  Experteering has allowed me to stay fresh in my field while expanding my skills in a completely new and challenging context. 

Take a look at my recent interview with Moving Worlds about my experiences in India. 

If you have questions about experteering or where to start, I would love to hear from you. Post a comment below or message me on twitter @eedowd27.