q & a — (kind of edited, but not updated) as of 9/08.
: : : What Is This?
This is the live travel journal of a perpetual pilgrim (“sol”) as she, equipped with backpack, blog and her sense of Wonder, continues to wander aimfully across the continents…
: : : How did it start?
It started out as a quest to pursue a “personal legend”; a term coined by Paulo Coelho in one of my favorite fables “The Alchemist.”
“…whoever you are, whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth. To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.” – “The Alchemist“, Paulo Coelho
Of course, I don’t feel as if I know anything, let alone my “mission” on earth. And over the course of these last seven years and 40-something countries, I’ve come to realize that “it” is less about going somewhere than it is leaving everything you know.
The “path of the pilgrim” is a rite of passage. It taught me self-reliance. It unearthed my buried passions. It opened the books on service learning, universal languages, eastern philosophy, experiential education and personal myth that I searched for, but never found, in my textbooks at university. The world and its 6 billion employed messengers and metaphors, have, together, grounded my respect for the intelligence of nature and humbled me both as an American and as a human being.
I do not have inspirations of being entertaining or popular, making money, or enlightening anyone. I’m just documenting my travel adventures and the meandering thoughts the accompany them, and inviting anyone interested to ponder along with me.
THIS is simply a way of combining three of my greatest passions: travel, writing, and the web, into one channel through which I can tap, play, and outlet that which I believe to be the right hand of the universe: creativity.
: : : What was your life like before the trip?
My life before “the trip” was spent checking off a list of the acquisitions that people around me (family, culture, society) told me I needed to have in order to be happy. I think of that period of my life (ages 14-21) as years of blindness: I just felt around in the dark and let the people and objects I bumped into direct my path. I certainly wasn’t unhappy. I just had no goals or passions or interests of my own and so I was fine with putting my faith in the path that society prescribed for me. I’ve since realized that I sort out a lot of my life by walking down paths that lead to dead ends; it’s just my slow process of learning. So when I had everything I was told would make me happy, but still felt an emptiness of enthusiasm, I realized that the path prescribed me was a dead end. I wasn’t angry with that path; I was appreciative that it had walked me to the realization that I was simply done with one road and ready to turn onto a new one.
: : : Why did you decide to go?
I wanted to know what would remain if I left everything behind. I wanted to life’s edges and corners – coldness, warmth, pain, blindness, rain, surprise, bliss, confusion, anger, dizziness, fear, buoyancy. I started to contemplate the idea of traveling for a year in Central America, and only at the first ponder of the idea, I began, for the first time in a long time, to feel something. I felt nervous and I felt wicked and I felt brave and I felt afraid. And that’s how I knew I was doing something that I needed to do. So I bought a ticket. I had a job at the time and I didn’t even tell my boss. I just bought a one-year-return ticket and let all the details sort themselves out on their own.
: : : How long ago did this start?
In 2001, I bought a plane ticket to Costa Rica and sat down with my boss to tell him I was taking a month of vacation from work.
“No you’re not.” He said.
“Yes, I am.” I told him.
(very long pause)
“No you’re not.” He continued. “You have two weeks of paid vacation that you’ve already used. This is THE most critical time for this company. It is unfathomable that you take leave right now. Maybe in six months we can consider some extended vacation. But right now? Absolutely impossible.”
I think it was that confrontational day that my self-erected wall of “life rules” came crashing down, along with the authority in the words “impossible”, “unfathomable”, “absolutely” and “no.” There are so many “rules” of life to which we simply subscribe, without questioning. We have so many freedoms that we never exercise simply because we’ve never tugged at the phantom-chains that bind them. The first time “I could never” turned into “Hey! I just did!” — life irreversibly changed. Why? Because for one, I figured out that this world, this society, this system, didn’t really care about my individual life; I had broken “the rules” and the gates of hell did not open and consume me, I wasn’t arrested and sent to jail, my parents didn’t ground me, my friends didn’t disown me, and my boss didn’t fire me. I had slipped right through the societal-cracks and landed on two free feet. My “silly notions,” “dreams” if you may, were perfectly real and attainable — and I had every right in this world to move my free feet and take pursuit of them.
So in December of 2000, at age 23, I resigned from my position as Senior Editor at CollegeClub.com and bought an open-ended ticket to Guatemala, whereupon MercuryFrog posed the following question:
“Why don’t I build you a site so that you can write about your adventures and share them with your online community as you experience them?
Solbeam.com was born in January of 2001 by the kindness and talent of MercuryFrog. Merc is both the developer and designer of this site, and compliments should be sent directly to him. I don’t know what happened in our past life time together, but I am certainly at the receiving end of some fine karma from my friend, to whom I look forward to returning the blessings in a future day/life. And thank you also to Slava and ThinkHost.com for swooping a silent hand into my life, in a perfect act of altruistic kindness, to support the website and fanciful aspirations of a perfect stranger. I consider the two of you as nothing less than my guardian angels.
Since January of 2001, those of you watching this site have adventured with me through Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, The Dominican Republic, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, China, India, Ecuador, Colombia, Sikkim, Nepal, and Tibet together. We learned Spanish and how to salsa together. We scuba dived off Cayes, in oceans, through Cenotes and into sink holes together. We learned to bartend and danced on tabletops together. We were robbed at gunpoint together. We raved on bay islands together. We battled with hairy spiders, sand flies, lice and scorpions together. We volunteered with children of a dumpster community together. We mediated and fasted at multiple retreat centers together. We hiked volcanoes and watched them erupt together. We got on wrong planes together. We rock climbed together and we boogie-boarded together. We hosted multiple stomach parasites together and suffered countless colds and mysterious skin infections together. We taught English and escaped monsoons together. We got in motorbike and car accidents together. We rode elephants and got attacked by baby monkeys together. We worked tirelessly at Club Med together. We walked 1,200 miles of the Camino de Santiago and Chemin de St. Jacques together. We saved turtles and learned to surf together. We made many trails through the Himalayas together. We were adopted into a Colombian family together. We fell in love with India countless times together. We discovered a passion for Eastern philosophy and spirituality together. We watched the stars and pondered at our place in the Universe together. And we shared multiple sunrises and sunsets together.
You laughed with me. You cried with me. You danced with me. You learned with me. You supported me and you believed in me. I give my ENDLESS thanks to all those of you who keep up with this site and have shared these experiences and emotions with me. Because IT is the only physical thing I have to grasp onto after returning from these adventures. How I could ever give any inch of accurate representation of my travels abroad “over coffee” is inconceivable. “You just had to be there” will have to suffice many inquisitions…but for those of you who WERE there, WITH me, my mind can smile and sigh in relief. I’m not so alone after all. And for that ease of heart and mind, I have you to thank. I may live out of a backpack, but solbeam.com is my home and you, a family.
: : : What did you learn travelling for so many countries?
I learned that borders mean little and that an open mind and heart means a lot. I learned that despite the thousands of dialects, we (humans) all speak the same universal languages: of laughter, music, dance, art, and play, of love for family and of needs for safety, community, health and peace. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where you start, go or end; but that life, like little kids in the mud, will teach you everything you need to know utilizing whatever resources are available, providing an open heart, creative mind and will to learn are present. And I’ve learned that the truth is easy to find; you just have to ask, respectfully, for it and be ready to listen.
: : : Who Are You?
My parents would say I’m the daughter that they gave birth to in Anchorage, Alaska and raised in Portland, Oregon. I’d be the one child that insisted on school in California where, since my departure, they’ve received phone calls about once a month. Behind my back, they whisper to my siblings that they think I’m in the CIA. My high school friends would probably say I’m the “late-bloomer.”; while they experimented with boys, drugs and other freedoms, I was busy hurdling a 3.9 GPA and limbo-ing a strict midnight curfew. In college, I was the “girlfriend.” I dated the same wonderful man from week three of college through graduation day. We ended our relationship to figure out who we were as individual human beings. And when we finally separated and I attached myself, instead, to this question, I looked inside and with gut-twisting fear, encountered total silence.
I purchased a ticket to Europe and returned, 10 countries later, with a few clues as to what excited me in life and just as many hefty credit card bills that needed immediate attention. I fit everything I owned into my car and drove down to San Diego where I had heard that it was 75 degrees year ’round. I landed a job at CollegeClub.com, having no idea that it that would forever change my life; “Travel Freak Becomes Web Geek.” I put in 80-hour weeks (under web cam surveillance) and was labeled “loco” by friends & family and “passionate” by co-workers. In December of 2000, I put in my resignation and purchased a one-way ticket to the world. I have, for the most part, been travelling ever since.
: : : What Does “solbeam” Mean?
“solbeam,” was my username on CollegeClub.com (the “facebook” of 2000) and the common name by which I was known in that particular (now extinct) online community. “Sol” means “sun” in Spanish. My skin color most likely comes from my Spanish ancestors (rather than the German ones) and in addition to being a complete sucker for sunsets (and rises), the sun holds special significance for me as it was what led me from Oregon to North California, from North Cal. to South Cal., and from Cal. to Central America. When I come to crossroads in life, both figurative and literal, I opt for the path with the most light, the most warmth…the most “sol.” To this day, I answer to, “sol” both on and offline.
: : : Can You Give Me Some Advice on Where to Travel?
I’m sorry, but I do not give out any specific advice or recommendations on places to go for one very good reason: travel is extremely circumstantial. Each person’s adventure is totally unique and completely dependent on multiple factors including, but not limited to: weather, health, holiday, attitude, company, length of stay, and financial situation. If you want advice on specific places to go, I recommend you simply research online (LonelyPlanet.com, Iexplore.com, About.com) or browse the Travel section at your local bookstore. As for travel guidebooks, I recommend both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide series.
: : : Are You Travelling With Anyone?
This is another ambiguous answer. Am I travelling with one person (or friend) for my whole trip? No. If I am not guiding an educational trip, I prefer to travel “alone.” But that’s the funny thing about traveling: by traveling “alone”, you actually meet MORE people. Travellers seek each other out. But what is probably more important, is that on the road, you are surrounded by others who share the same passions in life and who find the same excitement in the pursuit of something “different.” On the road, we’re all alone, all “in between” careers, all “out of our element”, and all vacationing from societal influence. And as wonderful as being “independent” and “alone” and “different” are, there is also something so very special about finding a community of people who share your same tastes at the dining table of life.
: : : Where Are You Going Next?
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. Keep the channel open, follow your heart, and everything else will take care of itself.” – (?)
I love those three words — a “vitality”, a “life force”, a “quickening within” — for they come the closest to describing that feeling that moves me to make the choices I do. My choices and directions in life have become increasingly dependent on that “quickening within” and with each turn taken, Intuition has reaffirmed that my trust in her is secure and worthy. I once saw a sign in a beach town in Costa Rica that read, “A true traveler is never intent on reaching a destination and knows that her best adventures are usually found off the original path.”
Where am I going next? Where omens and opportunity lead me.
: : : Where Did You Get All The Money To Be Able To Travel?
This is the biggest complaint I hear; “I would travel…if only I had the money.”
I pay for ALL my travel expenses.
Please don’t think for a second that I’m prancing around on Dad’s plastic. My parents “taught me the value of a dollar” by letting me pay my university tuition (at a private school no less). Not a chance they were about to finance my world stomp. I still have thousands of dollars in school loans yet to be paid back (one can usually defer school loans for up to three years). Why am I telling you about my financial situation? Because I want to emphasize that anyone who REALLY wants to travel – can.
If you want something, you do what it takes to get it. I saved. I’ve chosen “travel” as my treat. I count my money in days spent abroad. I don’t own a car and I’ve only slept on hand-me down beds and futons. I’d simply rather spend that money on airfare, hostels and road stall food. I understand the trade-offs and have made a choice. Anyone can travel if they want to. All it depends on, is how bad he or she really wants it.
And one of the biggest myths of travel is that it’s expensive. A person can travel easily on $10-30 dollars a day abroad, if you’re keen on bread and cool with dorm rooms. You won’t be a “tourist”; You’ll be a traveler. Your daily expenses (rent, food, clothing, entertainment) in The States surely amount to more than $30 dollars a day? Mostly likely, it’ll cost you less than it does for you to live at home. My costs of living abroad are a fraction of what I spend when I’m living in the States.
In addition to saving a lot and spending little, I always work while travelling abroad. Bartending, volunteering (in exchange for room), working as a divemaster, teaching English, working as a photographer, and guiding tour and student groups are all means that were not only gentle on the savings account, but also rewarding cultural experiences. When I first started working abroad, I didn’t have any experience and knew very little of the local language. All it takes is desire and initiative. You can search for jobs abroad online before you depart (I’ve found three jobs to date through GoAbroad.com), or just go door-knockin’ at all the bars and restaurants in town until you come up with something. And if you’re really looking, something ALWAYS turns up.
I currently work as an “Experiential Education Guide” leading groups of college students on 3-month semesters abroad programs for a brilliant company and intimate family, Where There Be Dragons. I usually work one or two semesters a year and find some type of volunteer work (abroad) that pays for my board during my “downtime.”
My best tip is to be aware that there’s a two-tiered cost structure when traveling in foreign countries: prices for tourists and prices for locals. Do you hang out at the places in your town where tourists hang out? Of course not. Those places are unauthentic and overpriced. So try to avoid the package tours and tourist hot spots. Pick a random place that fancies you and instead of sticking to the guide books, study the local language, make friends with locals, and let them be your guides. If you are authentically interested in understanding another culture and country, people will feel it and open their hearts, houses and lives to you. An amazing resource for finding friends in foreign countries is the online community of travelers congregated at www.couchsurfing.com.
Those are my best tips.
: : : How Do You Have So Much Time To Travel?
It’s not about “having” time, but rather “making” time. You just put you stake in the ground and say, “this is what I’m gonna do” and then you do it. No one EVER has “extra” time to travel — at least not before they’re retired. People, time, events will allow you to do whatever you wish – as soon as you make the decision to go.
“The universe always conspires to help the dreamer.” — “The Alchemist”, Paulo Coelho
When I’m abroad, I’m not “on holiday.” Travel is more than a priority in my life; it’s my WAY of life. I have intentions of continuing my travels abroad for many years. Periodically, however, I have, in the past, found myself frequenting a little “Universal Township & Experiment in Living” in South India called, Auroville, in which I love to snuggle down for extended periods of rest and reflection.
: : : Is it possible for a normal person to do the same? Leave a job, family and country and travel the world?
I’m a normal person. I’m actually abnormally clumsy, slow on many subjects, and I bite my lip over the same questions that everyone else does. If anything, that’s my charm: that I’m a single, solo, and normal girl, and I did it. It doesn’t take great courage, but it does take a first leap of faith. My advice to everyone is the same: don’t think about it – just make the decision and start acting like you own it. Make a physical commitment if you can – buy the plane ticket, go the school registrar and ask to defer your next year of university, get the second job you need to save the money. Once the commitment is made, the rest of the details (obligations, logistics, etc.) will sort themselves out on their own. All you have to do is make the decision and take the first step. At least “try on” the decision and see how it feels. If it makes you feel lighter or sparks something on the inside, you’re probably on the right path.
: : : What Advice to You Have For a First Time Traveler?
Let nothing get in the way of your desire to travel. Buy the ticket now and worry about the details later; They WILL fall into place. Travel while you’re young. You have no commitments, your parents are healthy, and you have the back that can withstand a pack and legs that can climb a volcano. This is the only time in your life that you will enjoy staying in dorm rooms or have the gut to drink the locals’ poison into the wee hours of the morning and wake up when the rooster crows at 5am the next day to catch a bus to another country.
One of the biggest MYTHS of American society that I’ve uncovered in my travels is this; “Two weeks of vacation each year is enough.” Two weeks will never be enough. Adequate time for emotional, spiritual, physical and extracurricular development IS necessary in mature adult life too! And this doesn’t mean you have to cross any actual US borders to engage yourself; leave what you know, and you’re travelling. Take time for yourself to discover and develop your passions. You need it. You deserve it. And as Americans, it’s high time we put our foot down and stomped out this socially-supported falsehood that the quality of your life should not be prioritized and fostered. Try questioning “the rules” with your boss, parents, school, etc. Push a little. Pry a little. Stretch a little. Fight a little. You might be very surprised with the results.
If you do fancy taking your adventure abroad, you might check out my Travel Disclaimer.
: : : What’s your message?
That your life is unique and a mystery to be explored. I’m not sure how we can live with sunrises and sunsets and stars and not wonder the big questions that such visions inspire. But I really think these questions should be pondered, individually and with each other. Because they are the most important questions in life and I have a hunch that anyone who asks them, will come, via their own unique path, to the same conclusion. And this conclusion is the answer to most of our (humanity’s) problems. So I guess my message is to engage your sense of wonder and think creatively with your life path; it’s your own to create and color.
: : : How Can I Contact You?
Simple. Send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m a pretty busy girl, but if you send me a note or question, I’ll try my very best to get back to you. (If I’m not stationary in a country, a reply could be delayed by a few weeks.)
Always remember that if you take the initiative to pursue your dreams, the Universe will, ultimately but not always obviously, work in your favor.
I sincerely wish you the best in your physical, emotional and spiritual travels!
“When you step off the edge of the unknown, you will either find something to stand on, or learn to fly.”