(OLD) 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, wanders 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. But what I do FEEL — is that I must move. Pursue. As for WHAT I am pursuing, I haven’t any concrete idea. Nor am I really all that interested in what prize my hunt may capture. It’s the “pursuit” itself that has thus far enticed me into the last seven-something years of unforgettable adventure through over 35 countries and across six continents. It’s the pursuit itself that ignited my passions for volunteer work, salsa dancing, spanish, scuba diving, Eastern philosophy, experiential education and photography. It’s the “pursuit” that has taught me the lessons on life that I searched for, but never found, in my textbooks at university. It’s the “pursuit” that has humbled me both as an American and as a human being, grounded my respect and understanding for the intelligence of nature, and sparked my spiritual quest, setting fire to both my heart and heel.
You know that feeling when you look up into the night sky and fall dizzy in questions of our place in that space? We’ll I’ve decided to dedicate this life, to seeking and understanding that mystery of being. I don’t really fancy finding answers. I find my fancy in the questions themselves.
Neither do I have inspirations of being entertaining, making money, being popular or enlightening anyone. I’m just documenting my travel adventures, as well as the progressive realizations made on the path of my pursuit, and inviting anyone along for the ride.
There are only two things that I ask of myself in this life; to seek inspiration, and to share it. THIS is simply my way of combining my greatest passions: travel, writing, and the web, to realize that mission.
: : : 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. Why Guatemala? Why Spain? Why by boat? Why by plane? Why here? Why him? Why her? Why then? My choices and directions in life have become increasingly dependent on that “quickening within.” But with each decision, 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.
: : : How it Started
About eight years ago, 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 followed my original itinerary. And when I returned from that life-altering adventure my boss said, “Well. You were right. Everything worked out smoothly, and looking back now, there was NO better time that you could have taken leave.” (Of course, at the time, neither of us was expecting that month abroad to inspire my complete resignation and the purchase of a one-way ticket…)
Regardless, 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. Of course, the first time I challenged those rules, the notion seemed nothing but comical…
“Ha! Imagine what my boss would say if I just bought a ticket to Costa Rica and left for a month!”
“How crazy would it be for me to just quit my job and travel for a year! What a dream!”
“What a silly thought…me? A scuba divemaster? I could never be a divemaster. I can barely swim.”
“How could I ever work as a photographer? I don’t know ANYTHING about photography!”
“I could never spend two months walking 700 miles across Spain!”
The first time “I could never” turned into “hell! 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. Now I take my “silly ideas” more seriously than Newton’s laws of physics. They STILL always start off as laughable, but now that the pattern has been recognized, my giggles quickly transition to a grin and a “oh no, here it comes…” nervous anticipation of an oncoming challenge. Now I know — and can recognize — my most wild but “serious intentions” masquerading in the sheeps’ wools of “silly notions.”
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 “comical” 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?”
My laugh quickly turned into a serious grin.
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.) It should also be noted that Merc is continuously and selflessly facilitating the dream chasing process for numerous individuals *beside myself* and that he has secured his place in the “Solbeam’s Exceptional Human Beings” Hall of Fame.
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 seekingsol.com is my home and you, a family.
: : : 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 *if lucky* — usually only alerting them to my next skydive or adventure abroad. In comparison to my three happily-married and “home-body” siblings, I’m certainly the “black sheep” of the family. My high school friends would probably say I’m the “late-bloomer.” While they experimented with boys, drugs and other freedoms, I was busy pullin’ a 3.9 GPA and a strict midnight curfew. In college, I was the “girlfriend.” I dated the same *fantastic* guy from week three of college through graduation day. While I never, for one second, regret that choice — I currently have a *possibly unhealthy* aversion to relationships and tend to avoid commitments to anything more than a lunch date… made at 11:45.
When I graduated, I spent a few months in Europe and returned with some hefty credit card bills that needed immediate attention. I fit everything that 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 Adventure. I have, for the most part, been travelling ever since.
: : : What Does “solbeam” Mean?
“solbeam,” was my username on CollegeClub and the common name by which I was known in the CC 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, regardless of how more or less traveled they are, I opt for the path with the most light, the most warmth…the most “sol.”
: : : 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 question. Am I travelling with one person (or friend) for my whole trip? No. 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 I’m learning that 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 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 pracin’ 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 bread & cheese. 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. (Please don’t e-mail me and ask me to explain this further or tell me it’s not possible *people often do*. It IS possible, but I really don’t feel obligated to give proofs or find deals for people.)
But without a doubt, it is cheaper for me to live abroad, than 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.”
: : : 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, 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.
: : : 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. “Work=life” is just a faulty equation in my book. 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. 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.
And remember, regardless of the “where’s”, “when’s”, and “what’s” — everything WILL work out. If you miss your train/bus/plane — laugh and recognize that your adventures are never lost, but only changed.
Also, if you do fancy taking your adventure abroad, you might check out my Travel Disclaimer.
: : : 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.”