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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Traveler's Rites of Passage

"Travel sparks ideas and friendships."

- Todd Carmichael
Traveler, Explorer and Coffee Guy

Just recently Lonely Planet, a well known and respected travel guidebook and review publishing company, put up an excellent article on what they referred to as The Traveller's Classic Rites of Passage. Me being well, me, I had to see how I measured up. (I'm the kind of guy who opens the next issue of Conde Nast Traveler and proceeds to analyze how my own history on the road compares to the current issue. "Been there, been there, yeah. Saw that. Did that. Crap, wanna do that...")

The article, written by contributor James Kay, posited eight travel experiences or scenarios -- both good and bad -- which mark a Traveler (I use the singular L, they use the double) as an experienced one, having "passed their rites". My kind of article, I thought, and I read through, comparing my background with what Mr Kay considers essential experiences to be considered "seasoned". Not that I'm competitive, but when it comes to seasoning I want to be a piece of Christmas roast rather than a McDonald's hamburger. (Yeah, yeah. I wanted to make a point and got carried away...deal with it.)

The article's a fun read and pretty much spot on, with one notable exception from my point of view.

Obviously this prompted me to take a look at my own travel experiences and credentials in the lighting Lonely Planet chose. That in mind, here are my own thought. I've experienced a lot, and reported quite a bit of it here, but let's see how I stack up against the Lonely Planet Traveller's Classic Rites of Passage.

That special place 

As the article states, there are any number of places which hit you hard and make an impression. But only one, in the grand scheme, is "that one". A place which hits you and stays with you. It's a rite of passage because it means you've had enough experiences to truly have something to compare it with. Looking back over a multitude of options, if something stands out it's really The One.

For me it's Hanalei Bay, north shore of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. More than any of the other paradises I've found, it's the one which stays with me. Haunts me in a way. Ask me, at almost any time, where I want to be right now, it's likely going to be Hanalei Bay.

And, as it is with almost anyone's "Special Place" it's not easy to describe actually why it's mine. Yes, there's an amazing verdant beauty. Yes it's next to a spectacular part of the Pacific Ocean. There are things to do, so it's not out in the middle of nowhere, but getting away from it all is merely a five minute drive. The people are laid back and friendly.

It's just...special. And for me it's "The One".

(Oddly enough, I will note I wouldn't want to retire there. In a way that would lessen its impact on me, I think. I want to keep it a treasured experience, not an everyday one. It's like a fine wine. If you drink it at every meal -- well, not breakfast -- it's no longer special.)

The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign

Hoboy. Yeah. Turbulence. I have to say that for me, as for millions of other fliers, turbulence is not a welcome experience.

Fortunately, as the article notes, severe turbulence is an extreme rarity. I have, of course, experienced mild turbulence. Heck, anyone who flies into Phoenix airport in the summertime has experienced mild to moderate turbulence just as a habit. (The desert thermals are pretty rough a good percentage of the year.)

Fortunately I've never experienced severe. But more than a dozen times it's certainly been close.

The travel bug... not that one, the other one

Another "hoboy". I've been here enough times in my life to know it's not a pleasant thing. Food poisoning and other travel-related maladies are not fun to deal with, particularly since the vast majority of the time is consumed from doing things you came there to do. My wife had the unfortunate experience of being so ill on one trip to Hawaii's Big Island that we had to forego a planned swim with the manta rays -- one of our life-list items that fortunately got checked off during a subsequent visit.

On another such adventure, I (and my father in law) suffered at the hands of poorly cooked sausage while attending a trip to the Bay Area. I succumbed around 2am, but he was spared until 8 or nine the next morning....right as we were departing for an eight hour drive down the coast. There's nothing more miserable than food poisoning on a road trip -- it necessitated a replanting on our drive to accommodate frequent stops along the way. I was in hangover mode, but my father-in-law was suffering through the worst parts, and did little more than lay prone in the back seat, trying to sleep.

On the other hand there are the infrequent moments of humor. Such as the moment I was lying uncomfortably on the bathroom floor at the Westin Maui, lamenting life itself, when I noticed the brand name of the toilet lid was "Church". I imagine somebody had a good laugh over that wholly appropriate brand name.

The overnight bus journey

While Lonely Planet insists this is a rite of passage, I don't agree. In my entirely humble opinion I believe it's simply having an adventure while on a bus trip. Not a tour bus, as they would suggest, but on a bus ride that is memorable for perhaps all the wrong reasons. 

Such as the local transit bus trip we took in Tijuana, Mexico, from a side street in the tourist area over to the border crossing back to the states. As gringos we were the only people on board. The rest were a number of locals who would board and/or depart as we traversed the city. It was an excellent way to see the town, and all said and done a good way to "go local" as we like to say. 

On the other hand, the woman in the seat next to my ten year old niece really did have two chickens in her lap, and the heavily sozzled guy in the back row who was periodically sampling from a bottle of...something...was very friendly. (Not inappropriately, just drunkenly. A very happy man.)

Our constant reassurances to my niece that she was safe -- and just enjoy the adventure -- didn't do the trick, and we found ourselves, a day or so later, explaining ourselves to her mother. It wasn't any sense of danger her mother feared, she trusted our instincts. It was the inevitable call from the girl's father -- the subject of a pending divorce -- which caused the heartburn.

My beautiful launderette

Doing laundry on a trip is essential. It enables you to pack lighter and still retain a fresh scent. On extended journeys we trundle our goods down to the local laundry and pop in our quarters/pence/euros, oftentimes finding ourselves in the company of both locals as well as fellow travelers. 

Who knew?

The nightmare dorm mate

Being married and traveling frequently with my wife this rarely happens any more. But one of these times I'll relate the work trip I took to San Antonio for training in which an anticipated workmate/roommate called me up -- after checking in -- to surprise me with the news that I would be in my own room without him. 

That was pretty cool, right up un

til the moment he explained that he expected me to fork out half the cost of his room to make things even. (The company was paying for the combined reservation.)

A short yet terse conversation ensued, and he ended up footing the bill. On the other hand, I didn't wake him when I got up to watch the spectacular lightning storm which erupted around 2am.

Life in balance.

Breaking up and making out

I've never really been one for hooking up while traveling, but for me a good portion of travel is meeting new people and spending important time with friends and loved ones. A suitably romantic time with my wife is certainly a major point to any trip we take together, and there are definite bonding times with friends.

I will note that while traveling we have ended up meeting people who have become lifelong pals as a result of good times on a cruise or on a specific adventure.

It's not quite the same as "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas", but is a healthier and less threatening philosophy when it comes to my marriage.

(And going back to my pre-marriage days...well, that stays in Vegas.)

A moment of epiphany

This is the key "Rite of Passage".  This is the one which truly marks the transcendental moment, where the traveler "Gets It" and becomes a Traveler.

Travel is about epiphanies. You can see it every season of THE AMAZING RACE. The discovery. The sudden light bulb of revelation that we are all on this planet together, all part of a greater whole.

I genuinely believe that the most well-rounded people are the ones who throw themselves into a discover of "other-ness" by investigating other cultures and appreciating the differences among us. It doesn't have to be a world away, sometimes it's just visiting neighborhoods different from our own. Getting to know people different from ourselves.

Think of how great this world would be if we embraced the infinite diversity and infinite combinations of people we meet instead of fearing strangeness. Fearing the unknown.

Obviously I'm an American, and proud to be so. On the other hand that does not make me inherently better than any other nation or person. What makes me a better human being is appreciating everyone and everything I find, even if it's completely alien from my own experience.

That moment of epiphany...that moment of revelation...can only come from being open to enlightenment. Open to that flash of understanding, that moment of epiphany.

And that is what makes a Traveler out of a traveler.


  1. I had an overnight bus trip once when I was 18 years old. It led to an epiphany, if you want to call it that. Unforgettable. Ah, youth.

    Thought-provoking post, Mr. Traveler.