Category Archives: Spiritual travel

Luxury Travel on a Backpacker’s Budget

“The best things in life are free. The second-best things are very, very expensive.” ~ Coco Chanel

You can experience the wonders of luxury travel on a backpacker’s budget.

How do I know?

Because the most luxurious time in my life was spent traipsing through Asia for 13 months with nothing but a backpack and a laptop.

Let me explain.

By luxury travel, I’m talking about the energized, eye-opening kind of travel that makes your heart burst out of your chest and your soul dive headlong into the present moment.

Sure, there might be a fancy hotel room involved, or a tropical drink sweating in the palm of your hand, but those things aren’t the point. Those things aren’t what makes travel luxurious.

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True luxury can’t be bought. Oh sure, you can spring for a stay at an all-inclusive resort, guiltily tip your dedicated waitstaff as they tidy your 16-bedroom beachfront bungalow, or enjoy wine tastings on a yacht made of diamonds.

All of that’s well and good, but none of it is enough to make you feel luxurious in your mind and your heart.

True luxury is time. True luxury is freedom. True luxury is a break from stress, responsibility, and the cares of the world.

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There’s nothing more luxurious than freedom.

 

While traveling long-term in Asia, I experienced true luxury travel even though I was more “flashpacker” than luxe traveler.

By working as I traveled and carefully choosing midrange hotels, I experienced the luxury of having money for the first time in my life.

  • I ate out every single meal
  • I stayed in high-rise beachfront hotels
  • I stayed in riverfront bungalows
  • I had my laundry sent out
  • I even splurged on the occasional massage or mani/pedi!

…and all of this on a budget of about $15-$25/day.

But the perks of being an American traveling in South and Southeast Asia had little to do with the threadcount of my sheets or the view from my hotel room.

Simply having the free time to travel and the money to see, eat, and do whatever I wanted was easily the most luxurious experience of my life.

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True luxury is being able to afford meals and restaurants you never could at home.

 

Now, in order to experience this kind of luxury travel, choosing the right destination is key. I could probably have never gotten away with this in Europe, or North America, or even in pricier Asian cities like Shanghai or Ho Chi Minh City.

But by choosing destinations that were more affordable, I was able to live as luxury traveler on a budget of about $15/day.

Da Nang: The most luxurious budget travel destination in Southeast Asia

Da Nang is as beautiful as Vancouver BC except sunnier and cheaper.

Da Nang is as beautiful as Vancouver BC except sunnier and cheaper.

Da Nang, Vietnam is one of the best luxury travel destinations on the planet, regardless of your definition of luxury.

There are scores of resorts that line the coast between China Beach and Hoi An, and they run the gamut from $200/night hotels to $10,000/night luxury villas.

But Da Nang is truly decadent because of the possibilities for backpackers and midrange travelers.

  • The beautiful beaches lining China Beach are free and open to the public. If you’d like to drink or dine somewhere posh right on the water, you can enjoy happy hour for less than $10 USD.
  • There are amazing outdoor seafood restaurants everywhere in Da Nang. They offer fresh-caught, live seafood in all shapes and sizes. Customers get to point to their lunch and enjoy ice-cold cans of Bia La Rue while their lobster is being boiled to perfection. You can have a seafood bonanza for two for less than $15 USD.
  • Monkey Mountain commands a skyline that overlooks a glistening city of bridges and sparkling architecture. It’s free to explore the mountain and there’s only a nominal cost to gain entrance to the Lady Buddha statue (Vietnam’s tallest!), which guards the East Sea like an angelic Madonna.
True luxury travel: feeling free on a Vietnamese beach in a weird outfit.

True luxury travel: feeling free on a Vietnamese beach in a weird outfit.

Luxury abounds throughout the world, but it’s possible to experience luxury travel without breaking the bank.

For me, the true mark of luxury lies in the freedom of low-cost living. Being able to truly relax and enjoy each destination is infinitely more luxurious than any yacht or swanky resort could ever be.

What does luxury travel mean to you?

 

 

Don’t F*$! With Mother India

I was 22 years old and on my way to sit in the Vipassana meditation course in Jaipur, India. It was spring of 1997. I had been traveling in India mostly alone for a few months by this time.

I was feeling resistance to the impending 10 day meditation, and I had an hour before I needed to be in the main meditation hall for the commencement of the course. I decided to distract my nerves by walking through the forest to the chai hut about 20 minutes away.

When I got to the grubby little roadside hub where the nearest rural village gathered to drink chai and wash clothes in the river, there were several young men sitting on the bridge, eyeing me as I walked past.

It was the same ignorant stare of base male desire that I experienced every day in India…on the bus, in the street. I had learned to ignore it.

But this time, something in my intuition perked up. These boys were latching on to my energy. I felt nervous about walking back to the meditation retreat alone, which entailed a 15 minute stretch through rural forest.

I bucked up my courage and went for it. As soon as I walked back across the bridge, I had a flash of knowing. These motherfucking dumb peasant punks were going to follow me.

Sure enough, I could sense that after I had passed, all three nonchalantly got up and started walking after me…keeping about 30 paces behind. I walked with quick determination, my fury and concern growing.

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As I could hear their approach, I started to fill with rage….and a strange involuntary reflex started to occur inside me.

Time slowed down. With every step I took, I could feel power coming up through my feet out of the Earth…coiling inside me with powerful wrath. It was as though the power of the goddess Kali was sucking up from the hot lava center of the Earth through my feet…steaming into a pressure of rage and power.

I felt them getting closer, and I KNEW that they were going to grab me and drag me into the bushes.

I walked faster, the contained fury filling me up with every step. As I sensed one of the men coming right up behind me, suddenly a flood of pure primal anger spewed forth like lava from the depths of the Earth and raged up through my body like a Volcano.

I felt a hand grab my shoulder…I spun around and – TIME STOPPED. One of the two men was grabbing me. His two friends were right behind, laughing and heading toward the bushes. Their intention was crystal clear. The ignorance of their gesture filled me with primal rage.

With one deep inhalation, my spirit suddenly inflated like a cobra, and with an exhaled PRIMAL ROAAARRRRRRR, for an INSTANT, I manifested as GREAT GODDESS KALI in her MOST WRATHFUL FORM.

The man’s first impulse was to raise his arm to hit me, but in a split second, his face changed. A look of sheer horror shot across his face.

His eyes became wide and his face became white with fear.

Kali was a language that his peanut-sized brain understood. In that moment, he SAW the GODDESS.

He turned on his heel and sprinted away for his life. His friend’s hadn’t seen my shape-shifting transformation, so they had one-second of confusion…looking at me, then looking at him running away. As he was the alpha of the group, they quickly decided to follow in his footsteps, and they all packed off with their tails between their legs, running as fast as they could go.

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I turned on my heel and walked on toward the Meditation Center, shaken by the experience, and sat in complete silence for 10 days through the incredibly healing experience of the Vipassana meditation.

May God bless S.N. Goenka for his commitment to teaching the medicine of meditation.

May all ignorant beings awaken to the intelligence of the Universe.

May all mothers teach their sons to respect Goddesses in all forms.

May all women be protected from abuse and violence, and have access to the innate strength that dwells within.

May all beings be free of suffering and fear.

India is a powerful entity. Traveling there as a woman is very risky. One must have a strong psychology and sense of street smarts. If you don’t have it when you go, you will definitely have it when you leave.

Don’t take Mother India lightly. She is Life, and She is also Death. Most of all, She is MAGIC.

Don’t Fuck with the MOTHER.

Elsa Bella

 

Elsa Bella is a world traveler who currently runs The Jaguar Project, a conservation project that protects the habitats of jaguars throughout Central America. You can join in saving the jaguars by clicking here

 

Gratitude in 365 Days of Travel

It’s amazing how the idea of gratitude can change so drastically.

Last Thanksgiving,  I was grateful to be embarking on an adventure to Nepal that I thought would last a few months, tops.

This Thanksgiving, I’m celebrating 365 days abroad, and a year that has changed my life in ways I never could have imagined.

Last year, I was grateful for my snazzy new boots from DSW.

This year, I’m grateful for things like hot water. And my health. And having shoes in the first place – any shoes at all. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll probably never outgrow my deep-held appreciation of a really great pair of knee-high’s. 

But the difference – after experiencing abject poverty and limitless kindnesses and the feeling of knowing the world to be good, and safe, and filled with love – is that now I’m not grateful for the boots themselves.

I’m grateful for the means to buy them. 

What’s more, I’m grateful for the feet within the boots –

….feet that have taken me across 6 countries and countless cities in the past year.

….feet that have managed to march me away from all of my preconceived notions.

…..feet that have taken me a step back from my former life, and step forward into something new.

I’m grateful for all of you. 

This community is what drives me to keep writing, keep exploring, and keep telling stories. 

In the past 8 months, The Happy Passport blog has morphed from a personal travel blog to a platform that shares YOUR greatest travel tales.

It is with deepest thanks that I hand over the reigns to you, the reader.

For if I’ve learned one lesson besides gratitude this year, it’s to listen more than I talk. 

What are you most grateful for today? 

Let me know by leaving a comment below. 

Happy Thanksgiving,

Rebs

 

His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Zanskar

The Dalai Lama just waved at me with his piece of bread!

I excitedly pick up my own piece and wave it back at him, showing that we’ve already received the traditional chapati in our seating section.

He chuckles and gives another little wave, acknowledging that he has understood me.

After completing my ten day trek through Zanskar, I was told that the Dalai Lama was about to arrive in the area for three days of teaching. 

I’d been staying in a monastery built into a cliff for the past three days. It was located in a quaint village a few hours away.  As if that experience wasn’t cool enough, I then watched as His Holiness arrived this morning in a helicopter and was greeted by hundreds of his own people, the Tibetans.

There were villagers of all ages, many of whom had walked great distances to arrive, and the assortment of traditional clothing was impressive to see.

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Though I was lucky enough to see him speak in my hometown in Oregon several years ago, seeing him speak at this small outdoor venue amongst his own people was definitely more impressive.

Once we watched him arrive, everyone crowded into their sections around the stage. Hundreds of monks sat in lines upfront, and the traditionally dressed villagers crowded behind them.  

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The half dozen foreigners in attendance got to sit up front right next to the stage the Dalai Lama was presenting on, simply because we needed an English translation (lucky us!). 

Occasionally, His Holiness would look over to our section, say something in English, and wave. I couldn’t have been luckier to be so close.

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As he began his presentation, he first touched on the fact that everyone, not just Buddhists, needs to understand religious tolerance, compassion, and love for all in order for our world to function.

He also talked about the fact that in today’s world, we need to become “21st century Buddhists” (or whatever religion you are) which, he explained, means forgetting the ritualistic acts that no longer hold meaning in order to focus instead on truly understanding and practicing what you have been taught.

He then went on to address his own people, and though I couldn’t understand the Tibetan literature, sitting so close to the Dalai Lama surrounded by chanting villagers in colorful headdresses and robes seemed the perfect combination for happiness.

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Though I am no expert on Buddhism, I can’t help but admire the message of peace and love Tibetan Buddhists bring to the world.

After traveling through the Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh areas of India, I can say that without a doubt the Buddhist areas of Ladakh and Zanskar have by far been my favorite.

After hearing the Dalai Lama speak, it is no wonder these people live devout, peaceful, and spiritual lives as it is obviously the way to happiness.

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Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old female traveler currently cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Highlights from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's recent talk in Zanskar:

1. "Everyone, not just Buddhists, needs to understand religious tolerance, compassion, and love in order for our world to function."

2. "In today's world, we all need to become 21st century Buddhists" - in other words, scarp meaningless rituals and focus instead on deeper spiritual understanding and practice.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

10 Best Travel Books You’ve Never Read

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that most of my favorite books just so happen to be some of the best travel books in the world.

I was in love with travel before I traveled. I was a nomad in the womb, inspired to roam before I could walk.

In creating this list and thinking of the best travel books I’ve ever read, I found that these stories are less about the destinations visited by the characters and writers, and more about the inner journeys undertaken by those doing the globe trotting.

With that in mind, here are the 10 best travel books to get you inspired, keep you moving (and moved!), and show you how travel really can change your life.

10. THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist is the story of Santiago, a poor shepherd boy on a quest to find his Personal Legend. In the book he journeys throughout Spain, to Morocco, and to Egypt, but it is in reaching his final destination that he finally finds himself (plus there’s a super romantic love story woven into this little parable – I’ve probably read this book a dozen times and never tire of it!)

9. THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS by Elizabeth Gilbert

I am a huge, huge, HUGE fan of Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) – to the point where I pre-ordered this novel months before it came out because I was so excited to devour it.

Needless to say, my favorite writer did not disappoint! The novel tells the life story of Alma, a brilliant 19th-century scientist who lives on a Pennsylvania estate and spends her life studying mosses.

Sounds kind of boring, right? That’s where Gilbert’s brilliance comes in – she sends Alma on a round-the-world journey to Tahiti, where she meets a man who may very well be the sexiest person in literature (his name is Tomorrow Morning. And he’s a 6-foot tall Tahitian Adonis. And sometimes I re-read the book just so I can be close to him.)

8. WHAT I WAS DOING WHILE YOU WERE BREEDING by Kristin Newman

I was first drawn to this travel memoir by the hilarious title, but what made me decide to buy it was the fact that Kristin Newman is a TV writer.

Having spent 5+ years working in entertainment in Los Angeles, I’ve seen firsthand how cutthroat and challenging TV writing can be, especially sitcom writing. You have to think on the fly and be brilliant while surrounded by 12+ executives and fellow writers, who are all throwing out ideas a mile a minute.

Given the time and solitude to craft her own travel tales, Newman crushes it. Her own book summary is better than any I could write, so here it is:

“Kristin introduces readers to the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests who helped her transform into “Kristin-Adjacent” on the road–a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier version of herself at home. Equal parts laugh-out-loud storytelling, candid reflection, and wanderlust-inspiring travel tales, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a compelling debut that will have readers rushing to renew their passports.”

7.  ALEPH by Paulo Coehlo

We’re sticking with the Hollywood theme but heading to Cannes, France, for the annual international film festival.

Coehlo stays in one place in Aleph, but leads you deep into the belly of the beast in Cannes, where murder, greed and deception can’t be escaped, no matter where you turn.

This book is dark, juicy, and disturbing, with Coehlo’s usual spiritual reverence nowhere to be found.

6. THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES by Ernesto Che Guevara

Confession: I definitely watched the movie (starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal….siiiiiigh) before I read the book.

But the film inspired me to go to the source, and I’m so glad I did!

While reading Che’s memoirs of his journeys throughout South America, you can actually see the evolution of spirit on each page. His excitement and youth deepen the more he travels, the more people he meets, the more injustices he sees.

This book is the perfect example of how travel forces you outside yourself, how it strips you of selfishness and helps you see the interconnectivity of all things.

5. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac

On the Road is a beatnik classic that’s raw and real, surprisingly funny, and totally freeing. Kerouac’s prose makes me want to be a complete vagrant and train-hop my way around the world.

He had no money, absolutely nothing, and still managed to not only travel all over the U.S., to Denver and California and New York, but managed to write a book while he was doing it.

On the Road shows the creative power of travel to inspire, even when you’re on a budget so low it’s inside out.

4. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY by James Redfield

Reading this book was my very first spiritual awakening (of course it’s about a journey into the rain forests of Peru!)

Traveling to Peru through this book opened my mind to incredible spiritual ideas I had never before considered – ideas about energy, about things unseen, and about my growth as a human being and a spirit on a quest for enlightenment.

This book is pure magic for the soul-seeking traveler.

3. 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY by Rebekah Voss

I’m including my own book here as a gentle reminder to READ it after you download it from this site! (And make sure you’ve opted in to our email list so you can get your free copy!)

It’s packed with ways to see the world for cheap, to make money traveling, and to stay abroad for free.

Here’s what Daisy from Amazon had to say about it (and Daisy should know – she’s one of the Top 10 reviewers on Amazon!):

“This book is the BEST and MOST PLANNED OUT book that I have ever read regarding HOW TO TRAVEL WITH NO EXCUSES!

Rebekah has a passion for traveling and she found ways to make that happen for herself. In this book, she shares with the reader how she did this herself and in laid out list of preparations BEFORE attempting to travel.

Things like: Sell the house, sub leasing the apartment, selling car, selling furniture and SO MUCH MORE! She even explains that you can sell a tablet, phone or a laptop and the money you will receive will pay for food in India for ONE MONTH! Then she even goes on to suggest more tips on how to save money to prepare for this trip.”

Enter your email address below to get your free PDF copy, or go to Amazon if you prefer to read on your Kindle or get a hard copy version.

2. LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE by Laura Esquivel

Travel to 17th century Mexico and bring your appetite – this book is a dramatic, erotic love story told through actual recipes passed down from the author’s great grandmother.

War, love triangles, forbidden sex and familial chaos is set against the backdrop of rural Mexico in the late 1700s. This is another book I’ve read about 20 times because the love triangle between Tita, Rosaura and Pedro is so delicious!!!

1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I avoided reading this book for years because the marketing made me think it was super fluffy chick lit.

Imagine my surprise when one of my smartest, sophisticated, well-read friends insisted I pick it up.

I have yet to put it down, and it’s currently serving as a source of inspiration for my forthcoming travel memoir and for my life in general.

After a miserable, soul-crushing divorce, Gilbert plans a year-long RTW journey to Italy, India and Indonesia. Her hilarious writing makes her poignant spiritual realizations all the more profound when they pop up unexpectedly throughout the book.

If you only read one book from this list, make it Eat, Pray, Love.

What are the best travel books on your bookshelf (or in your Kindle?)

What travel book has completely changed your life? 

Ye Olde Disclaimer: If you buy one of these books on Amazon after clicking a link from this site, I’ll get a small commission. (Please and thank you, I need to pay for my pho!)

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Travel Yoga in a Rice Paddy in Vietnam

Travel yoga can be a challenge, especially in remote locations or areas that simply don’t offer yoga classes.

Luckily I’m spending the summer in Hoi An, a town that has managed to create a perfect balance between touristy offerings (waxing! Western-style lattes! Fast WiFi!) and authentic Vietnamese culture (coffee! plastic chairs! swimming in your pajamas!).

That means that yoga studios don’t dot every corner like in over-touristed Luang Prabang, but the yoga classes that are offered here in Hoi An are dynamite.

Stephanie of Hoi An Yoga in Hoi An, Vietnam invited me to do “rice paddy yoga” just outside the city.

The surroundings were gorgeous – you really are in the middle of rice fields, and on the way there I biked past many people working in the paddies. They were wearing traditional hats, raking the land with rusty tools, the whole nine yards.

I had never done yoga outside before, and being able to breathe fresh air while watching the sun set over the river was a truly spiritual experience.

When you’re in Hoi An you can book with Stephanie by visiting http://HoiAnYoga.com.

Click play now to check out my yoga adventure:

Have you ever done yoga in a strange location before?

How do you keep up with your yoga practice while traveling? 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to our email list to follow my solo female travel adventures and get your FREE travel guide, 175 Ways to Travel Today.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Travel yoga is a great way to stay fit on the road - you can do it inside during bad weather and outside during great weather!

2. Travel yoga in Asia is a lot cheaper than yoga back home - $5-$7 per class instead of $10-$15 per class or more.

3. In Hoi An, you can do yoga on the beach and yoga in a rice paddy with Stephanie from Hoi An Yoga.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Free Tibet: Let the Voices of Oppression Be Heard

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Living in a place with so many Tibetan refugees, reading the Dalai Lama’s autobiography Freedom in Exile, and then hearing him speak during the famous and important kalachakra practice here in Ladakh has prompted me to do some research into the fascinating country of Tibet and it’s devastating and unfortunately ongoing downfall.

The Dalai Lama was exiled to India in 1959, where he has since lived as a refugee with over 100,000 other Tibetans.  This exile came about after having tried to negotiate with the Chinese government for a decade once they began their disastrous take-over of Tibet in 1949.

At just fifteen, the fourteenth Dalai Lama was faced not only with the prospect of becoming the spiritual and governmental leader of six million people, but also with the impending doom brought on by the invading Chinese army and the thought of war.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army invaded during the 1950s in order to “peacefully liberate Tibet,” a ruse ridiculous on every front because a) Tibet needed liberation from no one, it was its own free and happy country, and b) because the following fifty-five years of torture, execution, and war have proven that China’s intentions have been anything but peaceful.

At the beginning the fighting was kept to a minimum in Lhasa as to keep the Dalai Lama in the dark as to what was really going on. Gradually, horrific stories emerged from the countryside where the Chinese had completely taken over.

During years of war and oppression the PLA destroyed thousands of monasteries and tortured, imprisoned, and slaughtered thousands of innocent lives in the most brutal ways imaginable.

Along with increased amounts of violence, the cultural revolution then imposed laws against religion, free speech, and virtually every other aspect of the Tibetan’s traditional lifestyle.

Though they tried to fight back, they were untrained, lacked ammunition and weapons, and were overwhelmingly outnumbered by their obviously much larger oppressor.

Tibet, which had been independent for decades, suddenly found itself engulfed and overtaken by its powerful and ruthless neighbor who would stop at nothing to conquer its people and culture by force.

“Your attitude is good you know” said chairman Mao in 1954 during the Dalai Lama’s visit to China. “Religion is poison. Firstly, it reduces the population, because monks and nuns must stay celibate, and secondly it neglects material progress.”

Mao had greatly underestimated the Dalai Lama who, though he thought parts of Marxism were great (equality for all), knew that material progress was not what counted and that the abolishment of religion would destroy humanity.

In 1957 the situation worsened when China forced monks and nuns to have sex in public, formally ending their vows of celibacy, while the army beat, starved, and raped thousands of others.

This lead to the 1959 Tibetan rebellion during which the Dalai Lama fled to India. China had requested the Dalai Lama’s appearance in secret and without body guards to a celebration, and when the people of Lhasa found out, thousands upon thousands arrived at his palace to protect him.

This was the official beginning of the uprising, which was spurred into action two days later when the Tibetans took to the streets declaring their independence. Then, a week later when the Dalai Lama fled into exile, the Chinese opened fire upon his palace and his people, killing tens of thousands over the coming days.

Nearly thirty years after China had invaded it attempted to get both the Dalai Lama and many of his fellow refugees to return to Tibet.

China wanted to show everyone that it was doing well after the atrocities of the cultural revolution began to leak out to a horrified world. The government wanted to prove that Tibet had indeed progressed under its regime and that it’s people were “as happy as ever.”

The Dalai Lama, being slow to trust China after everything it had done, sent out many delegations of people in order to see what was truly happening in his country.

The delegates, including the Dalai Lama’s brother, were mobbed by thousands of sobbing Tibetans in every village they passed through which caused great distress to the Chinese authorities. Though the spirits of his people were not yet broken and the oppression had united them like never before, his delegates came back with films, photos, and stories that depicted how ruthlessly and systematically the Chinese had worked to destroy their culture.

There were years of famine, countless human rights violations, and the deaths of thousands of nuns and monks in concentration camps.

Sure, there were more hospitals and schools, just as China had promised, but not for the native Tibetans to use, only for the invading Chinese. Progress in his country had flown backwards since the Chinese had come and the Dalai Lama knew it was critical to appeal to the Western world for help, an attempt that sadly didn’t amount to much.

By the 1980’s China had begun its last phase in its conquest of Tibet, one that is still going on today.

In order to wipe out the Tibetan culture by sheer force of numbers, the government has been offering compensation (higher wages, housing…) for Chinese willing to move into Tibet.

Because of this there are more than twice as many Chinese than Tibetans residing in the region. They have deprived the natives of their resources, have ruined the environment (in some cases beyond repair), and have overtaken Tibetan culture by restricting the people’s lives in every domain.

It is now said that there is more of the Tibetan culture left in India where the refugees have settled than in their own homeland. Even to this day  in Tibet, religion, the Dalai Lama, and anything to do with the old Tibet are strictly forbidden.

2008 marked the largest protest for a Free Tibet in over fifty years. Six thousand Tibetans were arrested or beaten for possessing a picture of the Dalai Lama, waving a Tibetan flag, or showing that they are still Tibetan in any way. 

Since 2011, there have been over one hundred monks and nuns participating in self-immolations as well as other protests in a desperate cry for their oppression to be acknowledged. 

In response, China has tightened its security and brutality against the people in their conquest to completely eradicate their culture.

Since 1951 over one million Tibetans have been killed, with over 6,000 monasteries destroyed.

Tibet and it’s people are literally being whipped off the map through routine and widespread torture and oppression, and along with North Korea and Syria, Tibet is ranked as one of the most repressed countries in the world.

The Dalai Lama has traveled around the world in a way none of his predecessors were able to do and has used this opportunity to spread his global message of peace and compassion (winning him the noble peace prize in 1989).

For the last 45 years, he has tried to make the world aware of the devastating situation still happening today in his homeland.

Tibet is nowhere close to being free unless something drastic is done, and even if that happens soon, one can only hope that all of these years of violent oppression haven’t completely destroyed the Tibetan culture to the point of no return.

As the Dalai Lama himself says, “My countrymen and women are today in grave danger of becoming nothing more than a tourist attraction in their own country.”

Shirine Taylor is a solo female backpacker cycling around the world. This post originally appeared on her blog, awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

photo courtesy of National Geographic

Have you traveled to Tibet?

Would you travel there given the situation?  Is “ethical travel” in Tibet possible?

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Women of Nepal: At home in the kitchen

The family knew that Christmas was the Achilles’ heel of Westerners.

There were a few scattered festivals and parades throughout the town, but they were all presented in a way that lacked the cheer of the season.

A lone, Charlie Brown Christmas tree guarded the entrance to an alleyway on Lakeside Drive, and a handful of restaurants hung a few extra lights in honor of the season.

Many wrote “Happy Christmas” or simply “Christmas!” on the chalkboard signs that served to entice customers to enter, but besides the copious amount of mulled wine Chris and the brunette had enjoyed together, there wasn’t much that felt like Christmas.

And so Christmas was the family’s chance to unwrap her, unwrap the mystery of the writing room, find out more about the man who came to visit in the mornings, about the days at a time when she’d disappear completely and sometimes call them to say she wouldn’t be returning, but that of course she’d still be paying for the room.

The wife had prepared a special dinner – dried buffalo meat as an appetizer, followed by an extra special dahlbat with curried vegetables and potatoes and a beautiful, rich yogurt that may as well have been a dessert.

The brunette brought a handle of Red Stag at the husband’s request – it was his favorite, expensive.

Chris had managed to find a bottle of red wine which had definitely turned, but that him and the brunette drank anyway, painful sip after painful sip.

The husband talked about American music, then American movies, then American books.

The wife hid in the kitchen, periodically appearing to disperse more and more food. The sons were lost in a football match on the tiny television set, and the husband eventual lost himself in the bourbon.

And so it was that the Christmas dinner belonged to the two of them alone, surrounded as they were by an entire family, a silent family who spoke to each other and not to them, a wife who, as was custom, never joined the table to impart in the meal she’d just so painstakingly created.

And all they could see on this, this Christmas Eve, was each other, laughing across the table. Laughing, eating and drinking as the only two people on earth, until the yawns of the family forced them to retire to the brunette’s guest room.

“You make it feel like Christmas” said the brunette, and Chris’s heart swelled in his chest, ripe to burst.

They sat in the little alcove created by a table and two chairs, their stockinged feet upon the table, him smoking, her drinking, both marveling at how the wife never joined them.

“I feel bad she never ate! When does she eat?”

“It must be perfectly normal. It must be a woman’s duty, a wife’s duty.”

“It’s slavery. Indentured servitude. I’ll have none of it” he said.

“You’re such a feminist,” she said.

“Can you imagine slaving away for hours then standing by and watching while everyone else gets to eat, and no one even thanks you?”

“But to her, it’s honorable. To her, she is acting as a good wife. It’s only when you tell her something is wrong with it that she becomes dissatisfied.

And that’s what we do, isn’t it? Go around the planet telling people they she be dissatisfied with their lives, that they should want plasma screen televisions, that they should be discontent unless and until they have all the things we have, all the things we think we need to be happy.

And we do it not for them, but to convince ourselves that the pursuit of stuff is worth it – that the endless chase has some sort of purpose.

The most offensive person to the American ideal, the enemy of the ideal, is the person who is perfectly happy living a simple, quiet life without a car, without a nice house, without ego, without identity.

Shova is no one special. And Shova is happy as a clam. Her happiness defies everything we’ve been taught about what happiness should look like.

Happiness is waking early, lighting a stick of incense, and giving thanks for all the days that have brought you to this one.

I see the beauty in her eyes when she looks at her husband with pure adoration, and the tenderness with which he looks at her. And the honor and esteem she feels having cooked a wonderful meal her family enjoys, whether they say thank you or not. I see a woman who is thriving, at the top of her game, a woman who is living the dream.

We have decided there is no honor in her position, but she doesn’t know that, and because she doesn’t know that she is happy.

It is the greatest cruelty in the world to force your reality onto someone else, to say ‘See? What you have isn’t nearly good enough, you should be devastated.’

And I think that a lot of the time, that’s what we do when we come into developing countries trying to ‘help.’

But you know what? For all of our Western medicine and flat screen TVs and technology and individualism, all of our efforts to “fix” the “Third world,” it is our countries that are filled with miserable people.

People whose egos run their lives, people who are never content with what they have, people who have to schedule kid-time into their smartphone app, people so spoiled and stuffed with poison that they pay other people money so that they can eat less food, people who abuse themselves for decades then expect doctors to be able to fix them, people obsessed, obsessed, obsessed with fame and success, people who resent the famous and the successful, hypocrites who strive to be beautiful then hate those who achieve beauty, people for whom the best is never, never, never enough.

And me, and you, and all of those people could learn a thing or two from a woman breathing in and out, breathing life into her nostrils each morning as she lights her incense, with a song in her heart and on her lips, more than content with her lot, perfectly grateful to be of service, aware of the perfection of her position in the world, certain that she is blessed by her God and certain she is fulfilling his calling.”

He had listened to it all as he always did, letting her spew her ideas into the air of the room, watching her as whatever entity was speaking spoke through her. And he loved her fully and completely then.

“I still say she should open her own restaurant” he said softly, smiling.

She threw a pillow at him, laughing.

They regarded each other for a moment until she removed herself from the visual embrace, stepping out of it on tiptoe.

“You have to leave” she said suddenly with no explanation.

“Ok…” he tilted his head, confused. What had he done to offend her?

“It’s late” she said in way of explanation. A bullshit explanation.

He didn’t budge from his perch, and she sighed and stood up and began pacing the floor, backing her hips away as she’d done every night when they’d parted under the constellations.

“You have to leave because if you don’t leave, we’re going to make love, and I can’t. I just can’t.”

By Rebekah Voss. This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Nepal’s Holi Festival of Colors

As my face is gently smeared with color for the fourth time I suddenly think “Oh! So that’s how it’s done.”

While foreigners viciously throw the powdered color used to celebrate Holi Festival, the Nepalis smear it on your face. gently, with reverence. And I’m trusting them to know how it’s supposed to be done – it’s their holiday after all.

As I parade down the street with my group of friends, we are continually smeared with paint and shot with water guns. This mix of water and color creates a sloppy yet beautiful mess all over our faces and clothes. And little do we know, this is just the start to the crazy festival of colors known as Holi Festival. 

The screaming and singing confirms that we are close before I can see the thousands of colorful Nepalis dancing in the square.

We have followed the crowd, which has led us into the heart of the city to the scene of a bustling party of extreme proportions, and of course, color.

As we try and make our way through we are “attacked” from every side. Being a Westerner, every Nepali wants to smear their own handful of power on your cheeks no matter how covered you may already be.

It’s hard to make any progress when all you see are green, red, and yellow hands in front of your face, but I don’t mind. Today is all about the experience.

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A group of young Nepalis pull us into a dancing circle, and we suddenly find ourselves learning to dance as they do, the music pounding in our ears.

It’s fun, but as I prefer to watch, I quietly sneak out to the sidelines to observe.

Around me there are thousands of young Nepalis laughing and celebrating, and I realize that a city has rarely looked as alive as it does today.

Though smearing color may be the purpose of this gathering, it also looks like a perfectly good excuse for a day off to party, get together with friends, and celebrate life. It’s the buzzing atmosphere that makes this day feel so special.

We sit down to eat at a small outdoor restaurant and watch as children run up and down the street chasing each other with water and color, mercilessly pouring both down on their friend’s heads. What a festival indeed.

I have always seen documentaries of Holi Festival depicting this infamous color-throwing Hindu holiday, but I never thought I would get to experience it for real.

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Though I knew the holiday took place in India, it didn’t occur to me until I saw it with my own eyes that it would also be celebrated in Nepal. 

Being smeared with the powder myself fulfilled my lifelong dream of partaking in the chaotic festival of colors. Creating and receiving a mess has never been so much fun.

Have you experienced Holi Festival? Where? Would you do it again?

by Shirine Taylor a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Holi Festival takes place in Nepal as well as India, Bangladesh, South Africa, and many other countries around the world

2. One part of the Holi festival involves getting smeared head to toe with brightly colored paints, throwing paint at friends and strangers, and using water and water guns to liquefy paint powders

3. You probably don't want to bring your camera or smartphone to Holi Festival!!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Solo Travel Challenge: How to eat alone without feeling awkward

What is the biggest thing stopping you from indulging your fantasies of solo travel?

For many women, it’s not money, time, safety issues, or feeling overwhelmed with the details of planning your trip.

If you’re like a lot of people out there, you’re afraid of solo travel because you’re afraid of feeling lonely, and because you’re afraid of feeling awkward.

If you travel solo, you’ll have to do things like go out to dinner alone, go to museums alone, and engage in all sorts of activities that you’d normally do with a partner.

Solo travel is awesome for so many reasons, but namely because when you travel solo, you end up getting know a really incredible travel partner that you’ve probably been ignoring for years – you.

But you won’t realize that until you’re on the road, and my job is to help you get on the road already.

If you’re like Karen, one of my VIP coaching clients, the fear of eating alone is enough to make you scrap the whole trip altogether.

It’s sort of like not writing a novel because you’re a bad speller.

With that in mind, here is your handy dandy “spell checker”  for eating alone in restaurants when you travel solo.

1. Use your phone or bring a book

Your smartphone can serve as your dinner companion if you’re terrified of simply sitting at a table with no one to talk to. A book serves the same purpose.

In those awkward moments before your meal arrives, you can connect with friends and family on Facebook or dive into your favorite novel. This will keep you feeling connected and less lonely while eating alone.

2. Chat with the waitstaff

Almost every single one of my friendships with locals has begun in a restaurant.

Chat with your waiter or waitress – they’re friendly and they’ll have fantastic stories for you about where they come from and what life is like for them.

Then, go back to that same restaurant or café every day. Before long they’ll remember your name, and each time you return you’ll feel like you’re going to visit friends (which you are.)

Awkwardness = crushed.

3. People-watch

I hate to break it to you, but no one is looking at you and thinking “Oh how sad and pathetic, that woman is all alone, it must be because no one loves her and she tried really hard but just couldn’t get someone to join her for dinner.”

I promise no one is thinking that. (And if they are thinking that, they’re dicks and you wouldn’t want them in your life anyway.)

Why?

Because people aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.

If they are thinking about you, they’re most likely wondering what that confident, independent woman eating alone thinks about them as they sit with their significant other, envying you your freedom.

4. Have a cocktail

There’s nothing more romantic than a mysterious woman sitting by herself in an exotic location sipping a cocktail and watching the world go by. It’s pure sex on a stick. You must try it.

(Wine works too, but so does some kind of delectable coffee or tea concoction. Anything that comes in a fun glass. Milkshakes count.)

5. Don’t

As in, don’t eat alone.

During solo travel you never really have to eat alone unless you choose too.

I enjoy eating alone because I like to actually taste my food and enjoy the sensory experience of eating, but also because I’ve come to enjoy my own company.

I don’t have to be involved in a conversation every second of the day because I’m not trying to cover up some uncomfortable pain that I haven’t yet dealt with.

When you travel solo, you’ll get to that point to, but until you do, try eating with strangers.

I’ve already written about this phenomenon, but when you dine alone in a foreign country, people tend to invite you to eat with them. It’s happened to me countless times, and it will happen to you too.

In addition to invitations to join someone’s table, I’ve had countless people approach and ask to sit with me.  And I’ve always said yes.

Which means that you can feel free to approach people and ask to join them.

You might say “Hi, I’m so-and-so, I’m from XYZ country, do you mind if I join you?”

People will say yes because people are terrified of appearing rude. Then you’ll charm them with your sparkling personality and everyone will be glad you were brave enough to break the ice.

Bon Appetit!

The fear of solo travel is all the more reason to choose solo travel.

If you’re uncomfortable eating alone, going to the movies alone, or traveling alone, know that you’re not alone.

Most people are scared of the same things, which is why it’s rare to see people eating in restaurants alone, which is why you think you should feel awkward about it.

But here’s what’s actually going on – if you’re scared to eat alone, it’s means you’re either

a) terrified of what others think of you, or

b) terrified to be alone with yourself and your thoughts

In  either case, the remedy is to launch yourself into solo travel headfirst, watch the discomfort as it arises, and begin to ask yourself questions like “Why on earth do I care if a couple from Germany who I’ll never see again thinks it’s sad I’m eating alone?”

When you choose solo travel and eat alone, you make a statement to the world and to yourself that says “I am enough.”

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Use your phone or bring a book.

2. Chat with the waitstaff.

3. People-watch

4. Have a cocktail and be mysterious.

5. Don't eat alone - ask to join someone's else's table or say "yes" when someone asks to join your table.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

The (Very) Long Road to Chitwan – Part 2

The armed guard watches from his high tower with a mix of curiosity and disgust as I vomit for the third time. I wonder if he’ll descend from his high perch to give me a fine or a ticket of some sort. As my body purges itself yet again, he seems to lose interest and lets his gaze gently return to the vast fields and forests of the Chitwan National Forest. “Just a little farther” says Deepak, wanting to get me home already, wanting to make me well. Yes, I understand, but if I get back on that bike and that bike gets back on the rocky road, we’re going to have an episode from The Exorcist. It’s full-blown food poisoning – from the flies, from the dahlbat, from no soap anywhere, ever. I am knee-deep in the dried grass of an open field that connects one part of the forest to another. A river cuts the field in two, rolling gently beneath the bridge Deepak is begging me to cross. “Just a second” I call, trying to puke as quietly as possible. This is so embarrassing.

How am I supposed to be an irresistible sex goddess with vomit on my chin?

My head throbs, and I bend from the waist in agonized anticipation of the next round. This waiting period is the purgatory of food poisoning. Through the fog of this hot, shamed, disgusting mess, my eyes suddenly focus on a small, speckled insect crawling on a leaf in front of me. The wind is threatening to blow the insect away, but it marches on, determined to get to the top of the leaf if it’s the last thing it does. “How beautiful” I think, as I fertilize the grass with the contents of my stomach yet again. In this moment – this hot, uncomfortable, worst-case-scenario moment, with its abysmal timing and strong indications of a miserable 24 hours to come – I have found beauty. I think of all the times in my life where everything appeared to be OK. When there was food in my belly and I had a warm place to sleep, friends that loved me, and all of my bills paid. And somehow I still managed to find cause for complaint everywhere I looked. My mind could not accept the acceptable, and I made war upon myself over and over again for 29 years of my life. And here I am, for some reason wide awake in this moment, a moment that would be very easy to resist and hate and complain about. I mean, out of all the days to get sick, I get sick on the day I’m meeting his mom? I get sick on the day I have to ride on a motorbike for 6 hours? I get sick during my possibly only chance to experience life in a Nepalese village? But my curious heart is filled with nothing but this bug. I see it, I see its beauty, and I think absolutely nothing  – I sink deeper and deeper into nothingness, the freest state I’ve found. And I’m nothing but grateful. Not for the illness, but maybe for the illness because it’s showing me that my own happiness is not dependent on external events. My happiness comes from within, and no amount of food poisoning in the world can shake what’s rightfully mine. This is the feeling of presence, of freedom from past and future. This is what Eckhart Tolle is talking about, what the monks of the world seek by trying not to, what Jesus was saying when he said he was the “light of the world.” The light of this world exists now, not just in the insect on the leaf, but in the attention I’m able to pay it in this God-given gift of now, in presence that cuts through the din as light shattering the darkness. 60 seconds ago I was retching, 60 seconds from now I may be again. But for now, for this eternal moment of now, all I can see is a perfect creation making its way across a leaf blowing in the wind. For part 1 of this series, click here.  This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

True beauty, true peace, can always be found in the eternal moment of now (even in the midst of a gnarly case of food poisoning).

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Travel Rebel: Far Western Nepal Part 4

“Travel is rebellion in its purest form… We follow our hearts. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We only own what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We sometimes choose to never come back.” 

I’m running down a narrow path through the trees, leaping from rock to rock in an attempt to follow a young girl with pigtails who is leading the way.

Giggling as she runs, she is agile and confident on the small rocky path, scampering down the hillside like a goat.

She takes a sharp left turn up what looks like a wall of steep rock and within seconds is perched on the top, waiting for me with a grin. Her cheap plastic sandals don’t stop her. In fact, I don’t think anything could.

I turn around to look where she has led me and find a two story mud hut, a typical house in this region of Far Western Nepal, where the cows live in the bottom of the home and the family lives up top.

There is a small boy with torn shorts and a dirty shirt, and a girl wrapped in a small shawl waiting to join our fun.

far-western-nepal

It’s 7am and the sun is beginning to light up the valley 2,000m below, announcing another beautiful day in the foothills of the Himalayas.

There are birds chirping and I hear the distant sound of a crying goat, but besides that, the hilly mountainside is peaceful and quiet as it always is.

We take off again, running through a field of yellow flowers on a muddy path towards the next house. There is a beautifully wrinkled elderly Nepali women adorned with a large bull nose ring and a colorful headscarf sitting on the ground amongst five or six goats.

She looks up, her toothless grin turning to surprise when she sees me. She hardly has time to ask who I am before one of the children is tugging me along again.

They lead me up and down the small paths on a tour of the dozen or so mud huts scattered up and down this section of the hillside.

far-western-nepal

We come to the road, an unpaved rocky mess, and the race begins. “Ek, duo, teen,” (one, two, three) they yell, before taking off, sandals flying as they run as fast as they can up to the next house.

A small girl, her bare, stick-thin legs poking out awkwardly from her too-small shorts, is waiting for us and waving, eager to join in the fun as well. Her mother, feet and hands died orange with cow dung, comes out from behind the animals and gives her approval.

We fly down the road, all of us running with our arms out like airplanes yelling, “chitoooo, chito, chito, chitooooo” (quickly, quickly) until a beautiful woman with greenish light brown eyes flags us into her field.

She is holding her eighteen month-old daughter, an adorable girl covered in dirt like the rest of these nature-raised children. She invites me into her home, and I step inside to squat beside the small child’s laughing grandma.

far-western-nepal-2

The baby eyes me warily before breaking out into a grin, extending her tiny fingers to grab onto my outstretched hand. The room is filled with smoke as are all of the houses in the area, and the sunlight pouring in from the doorway creates a cozy campfire feel.

There are a few pots and pans to one side, and to the other, a few blankets on the ground. It isn’t much, but it is home.

A small white kitten walks by and I quickly scoop him up and into my lap. He falls asleep instantly, purring contentedly while I wrap him inside my warm shawl.

The young girl grabs for her grandma, and they sit together laughing and cuddling. Their laughter is contagious, and soon all of the children in our gang are playing games, dancing, and giggling around the fire inside the small mud hut.

Far-Western-Nepal

It is an amazing feeling, running through the village with the children, visiting the different houses and cows, before sitting together around a warm fire.

I am an outsider, born into a world so different from their own, but they have accepted me with open arms and enabled me to immerse myself in their world completely, if only for a few days.

This is part 4 of a 4-part series on Far Western Nepal written by contributing blogger Shirine Taylor. 

For Part 1, click here. 

For Part 2, click here

For Part 3, click here

Shirine is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Backpacking with a Purpose

When you think of backpacking, you probably picture yourself traipsing around Europe or Southeast Asia, subsisting on street food and cheap beer, taking 16 hour train rides, and sleeping in bunk beds next to strangers from all over the world.

For the guys of Veterans Trek, two of the most hardcore backpackers on the planet, backpacking has become more than a way to see the world, meet other people, and achieve a deeper understanding of yourself.

Backpacking has become a way to save lives.

 

In August of 2013, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson strapped on their backpacks, laced up their boots, and took off toward the sunset – on foot.

They began in their hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and didn’t stop until they reached the ocean – you know, the one that’s 2700 miles away. The big one. The one in California.

Talk about hardcore – the guys had no support vehicle, hardly any equipment, and never knew where they were camping until the sun went down. There were no hostels, no hot showers, nothing but two U.S. Army Veterans and thousands of miles of open road.

As combat veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, these backpackers were on a mission to heal themselves from the traumas of war, and to help other veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD –  an affliction both of the guys continue to battle daily.

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When local and national organizations heard about what Tom and Anthony were doing, they started to pledge money.

$10,000 if they finished the walk. $25,000 if they finished the walk. None of the funds went to Tom and Anthony personally, but got poured back into veterans organizations like Dryhootch, which helps vets reintegrate into society after returning from deployment.

5 months later, after nearly 3,000 miles, 150+ days on the road, and countless pairs of shoes, Tom and Anthony arrived at Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles to hordes of national press, photographers, and a crowd of adoring fans.

Tom and Anthony found community, comfort, and healing on the road, but a lot of vets aren’t that lucky. According to CNN, a U.S. veteran takes his or her own life every 65 minutes. That’s 22 deaths per day, or 8,030 suicides per year.

But those numbers aren’t accurate. Not all states in the U.S. report veteran deaths to the VA, and many veterans are not registered in the system at all. It’s likely that the numbers are much higher, and that countless men and women suffer the tortuous symptoms of PTSD in silence.

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Tom and Anthony hope to use their backpacking experience to raise awareness about PTSD and its devastating impact upon veterans and their families.

What began as a deeply personal journey of healing has morphed into backpacking with a purpose.

During their 2,700-mile trek, the backpackers were followed by a documentary film crew lead by Emmy-nominated director Michael Collins, the powerhouse behind the multi-award winning film Give Up Tomorrow. 

The production of the documentary Almost Sunrise, which tells the story of Tom and Anthony’s journey, will bring awareness to the plight of millions of American families who are being impacted by PTSD and the after-effects of war.

If the profound impact of Collins’ last film is any indication, Almost Sunrise is sure to inspire monumental change in the way veterans are assisted in this country.

Thanks to the worldwide success of Give Up Tomorrow, a wrongly-imprisoned man named Paco Larranaga was taken off of death row. His life was saved because of a film, and because of all of the people who supported that film getting made.

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It is my hope that your support of Almost Sunrise will be just as effective, and just as powerful at saving lives.

When my brother returned from his year in Iraq, I mourned him as if he’d never come back. The truth was that a part of him died in the war, an innocent part of him that can never be reclaimed.

No matter what your politics are, no matter what you believe about the should’s and shouldn’ts of going to war, we are all responsible for the men and women who volunteer to sacrifice their lives for their country.

Sometimes I ask myself – “Am I willing to give up my life for what I do? Am I willing to die for the book I’m writing? For this website? For an ideal that I believe in?”

The answer, in short, is no. There isn’t much I could imagine willingly risking my life for, and if I found something, I highly doubt that it would be sacrificing my life for millions of people I’ve never met.

I believe in the power of backpacking to change lives, and I believe in the power of this film to save them.

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But this film doesn’t get made without you.

Here’s how you can help:

1. Check out this amazing trailer about the film

2. Share this trailer on your Facebook page, post it on your blog, and share it with your Twitter followers. Copy and paste this link: http://kck.st/1swgjSA

3. Give the guys a few dollars if you have it.

They’re doing a Kickstarter campaign, which means they don’t get any of the money they’ve raised unless they meet their goal.

They only have until Monday, June 9th so if you have a $1 or $5 and the cause sings to you please don’t wait – click here now: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1923228261/almost-sunrise-a-documentary-in-production

Listen, I know there are a zillion of these campaigns going on. I know you probably get bombarded with requests to donate to things on the daily. I know it’s a pain in the ass to get up and go get your credit card and navigate to the site and fill out the stupid form. I don’t like it either.

But I’m not asking for myself. I’m asking for my brother. And I’m asking for all of the “backpacking experts” (AKA soldiers) who have traveled overseas for reasons other than hostels and cheap beer and great beaches.

I’m all for hostels and cheap beer and great beaches. But the reason I’m free to travel and enjoy those things – the reason I’m free to live my life –  is because my baby brother was willing to sacrifice his.

If you don’t have a dollar, you can help immensely by sharing this link with your friends and family: http://kck.st/1swgjSA

Here are some snazzy “click to post” social links as well:

Tweet: How #backpacking is saving the lives of American #veterans @Almost_Sunrise @veteranstrek http://ctt.ec/90HeM+

Share on Facebook

Share on Google+

vt-backpacking-4Thanks for helping to make backpacking bigger than the backpacker.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Between August 2013 and January 2014, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson walked 2,700 miles from Wisconsin to California with nothing but their backpacks.

2. They did it to save lives, and to raise awareness about the growing problem of veteran PTSD in the U.S.

3. Emmy-nominated director Michael Collins followed Tom and Anthony on their journey and is making a film about it. The film is called Almost Sunrise.

4. You can help save lives by supporting the film. Copy and paste this link into your browser: http://kck.st/1swgjSA (or check out the bottom of the post for some nifty "click to post" options).

5. Yes, Tom is my brother, and no, he no longer has that awesome beard. Which is good because I bought him a really expensive shaving kit last Christmas that he hasn't been able to use until now.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

My Life in One Pair of Shoes

It all started when I broke my cardinal packing rule, AKA the Noah’s Ark Edict of 2013.

In preparing for world travel, I only allowed myself two of everything – two pairs of pants, two t-shirts, two long sleeved shirts, two bras, and so on.

The only areas in which I let myself splurge were with underwear and shoes.

I’ve never been as stylish as I’d like to be.  I’m not one of those women that can walk into a store, grab three pieces off three separate racks, and emerge from the dressing room looking like the lovechild of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O.

Maybe it’s because while I greatly admire fashion and the fashionable, I just can’t be bothered to make the effort. I’d much rather sleep in than spend time putting myself together each morning. I’d much rather take a bicycle ride than go shopping.

Or maybe it’s because anything that looks dynamite on a 5’11”, 110-pound fashion model always manages to make me look like I’m wearing a Robin Hood costume. That, or Mr. Potato Head.

Whatever it is, I wasn’t blessed with an innate sense of style.

Unless you’re talking about shoes.

I speak the language of shoes the way other women speak French. I can look at a pair and instantly know if the heel is the right size, if the curve of the arch is tall enough, if the color is a bit too camel-toned.

I could probably pick out a fantastic pair of shoes just by feeling them with my eyes closed.

So when it came time for my great exercise in minimalism, it was easy to give up the fabulous leather jacket I’d never wear during springtime in Southeast Asia, and the cocktail dress that would be painfully out of place in Nepal.

But my shoes? How could I possibly narrow them down to just two pairs?

Nearly 6 months later, none of the four pairs of shoes that made it into my bag that fateful November day are with me any longer. They’ve perished, dissolved into the mist of world travel, sacrificed to unseen nomadic gods.

As the proud owner of only one pair of shoes at this moment in time, I thought it would be fitting to eulogize my fallen comrades, seeing that they’ve carried me some 7,000 miles around the globe and back again.

Shoelogy – Remembering those shoes no longer with us

1. DSW Boots

Beloved reminders of Los Angeles, devoted protector of lower legs, eclectic chameleons for any season

I don’t even remember the designer (see? So not a fashioinista!), but I bought these fantastic over-the-knee leather boots right before I left for Nepal, and refused to leave them behind.

Then I arrived in Nepal, and the sheer fabulousness of these boots seemed to scream “MY FOOTWEAR COULD BUY AND SELL YOU ALL THREE TIMES OVER!”

They were embarrassing, inappropriate. When it came time to leave Nepal for the 85° weather of Southeast Asia, I simply left them in my Kathmandu hotel room.

I hoped the guy who worked at the front desk would give them to his sister or his girlfriend.

It felt so good to be rid of them, like an enormous weight was lifted.

2. Super Cute Chinese Laundry Flats

Humble servants, queens of comfort, examples of that elusive, true beauty to which we all aspire

Yes, they were sort of ballet flats, which I realize is so-five-years-ago but I didn’t care.

They were patent leather in a shade of pink so pale, so understated that it was like wearing an 18th century Geisha on my feet.

During the great boot sacrifice of New Year’s Eve, 2013, I closed the door to my hotel room, thought better of it, opened the door again and unpacked my bag.

I placed one flat inside the left boot, the other inside the right boot.

That way, whoever inherited the boots would be gifted with a little something extra, like being given a new car only to be told “that’s not all – look what’s on the passenger seat.” (In my gift-of-car fantasy there’s always a diamond ring on the passenger seat.)

3. Really Comfortable Hipsterish Brown Sneakers from Sketchers

Champions of long walks, climbers of many mountains, supportive confidantes

I did everything in these sneakers. Hiked the Himalayas. Trekked through the mountains in Northern Laos. Went jogging along the oceanfront in Vietnam.

They were getting old, and kind of smelly, and rather than stink up my hotel room at night I’d leave them outside my door. I was staying in my dear friend’s guest house, and thought it highly unlikely that anyone would want to steal my smelly old sneakers.

Until I woke up one morning and they were gone.

“Mr. Ba!” I said. “Where are my sneakers?”

After a few phone calls and much discussion, it turned out that one of the new staff members threw them in the garbage when he was cleaning my room.

That was the turning point, the moment that lead me to…

4. One Single, Solitary Pair of Flip Flops

Beach lovers, protectors from dirty bathroom floors, whimsical scamps on a mission

And then the ocean ate my flip flops.

It was nighttime, and the moonlight tide swirled in all around me, soaking my clothes and gulping up my remaining pair of shoes. (But it wasn’t my fault – I was justifiably distracted when it happened.)

For a few hours of my life, I was completely and utterly shoeless.

I was then gifted with a new pair of flip flops to replace the ones gobbled up by the sea, and I’ve yet to add another pair to my collection.

I sort of don’t want to.

After all, in Southeast Asia one can perform most required tasks while wearing flip flops, including riding a motor bike, doing construction work, exercising, and working in the rice fields.

Plus, I sort of like having one pair of shoes. World travel has highlighted the importance of traveling light, sure, but it’s more than that.

I used to have this terror of letting go – like if I didn’t own enough shoes, or enough pairs of jeans, I wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t know who I was. I wouldn’t be seen. Ownership gave me an identity, a relationship to the world around me.

“I am Rebekah and those are my jeans, my laptop, my flip flops.”

When you’re sitting on the beach with the ocean sparkling beneath the moonlight and the taste of salt on your skin, you realize that the world has so much more to give you than shoes (or clothes, or a new car, or really good knives).

You realize that instead of making you feel more important, more secure, more together, the shoes have been blocking the moon from your view.

Of course, my shoelessness is infinitely different than many people’s shoelessness, because I can go out and buy another pair whenever I want. That’s not the case in many parts of the planet, as world travel to places like Nepal and Cambodia has been quick to reveal.

While I can’t promise I’ll be a one-shoe wonder forever, for right now it is the thing that is keeping me grounded, and the thing that’s teaching me who I really am – sans baggage, sans fear, sans desire to acquire more and more and more stuff, just for stuff’s sake.

Minimalism is addicting, like getting a tattoo. If it feels this good to own one pair of shoes, imagine how I’ll feel with one shirt? One pair of pants? One pair of underwear?!

Okay, maybe not one pair of underwear, but you get the idea.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Accidentally owning a single pair of shoes has been the most spiritually fulfilling part of world travel thus far.

2. A Shoelogy is a eugoly for all the shoes you’ve lost during your travels. Don’t forget that it’s important to grieve.

3. Outfits that look good on fashion models make me look like Robin Hood.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!