The Dangers of Technology…and Why I’m Offline for the Next Week

Technology can be awesome.  The very fact that I log into this WordPress.com account and use social media to publicize these blog posts is evidence of my technology use!  I’m at that age where I still remember using the card catalogue at the library, the game ‘pong’ which was really exciting, carrying around my WalkMan (the newest, coolest invention), and learning to type using old typewriter textbooks.  I remember my first email sent, my first ICQ conversation, and the very first journal article I could access from my pyjamas at home.

Technology is awesome.

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How did I get to be so lucky?!?!?! 

But it’s also the reason why we are often staring at a screen rather than the sunshine, replying to work emails when we should be eating our dinner, and taking a picture with the purpose of sharing rather than capturing.

You can imagine what this does for travelling…we see individuals through our camera lens rather than our eyes, we spend more time capturing beauty on film rather than sitting, enjoy, and discovering.  How many friends have gone unmade because we were too engrossed in social media or conversations with those back home?

Some interesting info for you:  more students now go home early during overseas internship placements now in comparison to pre-email times.  Why?  Because rather then engaging in the host community, these students spend their time thinking about home.  A new home cannot be made when we spend all our time focussed on our old perceptions of ‘home’ (a blog for another time!)

So I love technology.  I use technology.  My work revolves around technology.  But I also recognize the dangers of technology.  The way we stare at a screen instead of each other; the way we keep ourselves attached when we are trying to disconnect.

 

On May 3rd, Ken and I are celebrating our second year anniversary.  Ken is the absolute best person in the world: he makes me laugh harder than anyone else, he’s my number one encourager and support system, he offers the wisest advice, he listens, he’s kind, he’s the best travel partner, he makes the most mundane task (i.e. house cleaning) fun, he’s brilliant, he’s talented in countless ways, he’s the handsomest…the list goes on…

So on our week away I am doing what I encourage everyone to do from time to time:  I’m completely unplugging.

No blog. No email. No Instagram. No Twitter. No Facebook.

Just me, Ken, and the Maldives.

So dear readers have a wonderful week!  When I am back my first post will be an update on travels through the Maldives…and all the ways that unplugging helped our time away and our travels together!

Happy travelling,

Leah

 

The Art of Listening

It’s fairly obvious when someone is being a less than stellar listener.  Maybe it’s the fact that they ask you a question you just answered.  Or their constant glancing at their phone while saying “uh-huh” in a completely uninterested manner to your story.  So we go about our days knowing when people aren’t listening well to us…but do we recognize when we are being poor listeners?  Do we ever reflect on our own style, patterns, and understanding of effective listening?

Listening, true listening, is an art.  It takes more than our eyes, our nods, our ‘uh-huhs.”

It takes more than a mere understanding of words.

It’s a complex communication form that requires us to involve all 5 of our senses to not just grasp, but better understand, the person.

If we want to understand another culture, we have to be better at listening.  We have to learn to recognize body language.  We have to learn to assign new meaning to old symbols.  We have to learn to put aside our own attempts at conversation to really understand.

There are 2 ways in which we listen:  we either listen to understand or we listen to respond.  This is not my idea, by the way – I listened to a fabulous Tedx Talk by Katie Owens that described the art of ‘active listening’ (watch here if you’re interested).

And how often are we listening to respond?  We are formulating our next sentence, our next story, our next big argument.  Rather, if we listen to understand, we aren’t formulating anything in our head.  All of our attention, all of our focus, all of our senses are engulfed in actively listening to the person across from us.  Thus, when we do have time to respond thanks to a gap in conversation, we have a question to ask that progresses the conversation, or we have our own story/idea/statement that reflects upon what was just said.

So task 1 – be a better listener.  Stop listening with the intent of responding and, instead, listen with the intent of understanding.  How many arguments would be limited if we all took this to heart always?!

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Anyone else think of Psalty’s song “Listen” from their childhood when they think about this word?  I’m always shocked by lyrics I remember from songs I heard 24 years ago…

Okay, so at this point maybe it’s nothing new to you.  And maybe you’re wondering how this idea ended up on an experiential travel blog.

Here’s the crux:  if you’re experientially travelling, your desire is to better understand the culture through which you are sojourning.  Understanding requires listening.  “Better” understanding requires “better” listening.  So we need to listen better.  And we need to listen differently.

See, when you are talking to your spouse or your partner or your friend and half-listening and half-texting and half-thinking through your next story to talk about…you’re probably doing an alright job of understanding because you know that person.

Insert a new context, a new country, a new language, a new culture…you can’t assume that you do understand.  In the most obvious sense, we might miss meanings through incorrect words.  In a much more nuanced sense, we need to be fully aware, with each sense open, to grasp all that is around us.

Let me give you one illustration:  HEROES.  You can learn a lot about a country by looking at their recognized heroes.  Hero is the same English word to all of us, and yet the meaning that word takes is quite different (in cross-cultural communication speak this is what we would describe as assigning a new meaning to an old/shared symbol).  By listening for these differences, we can get to know a country much better.  Examples of noted Canadian heroes?  Terry Fox, who attempted (and died having almost completed!) to run across the country with one artificial leg to raise money for cancer research.  Tommy Douglas, who created our universal health care system.  You can glean so much about Canadian values and beliefs just by listening to our understanding of the word “hero.”

In cross-cultural communication we focus on non-verbal vs. verbal communication and ways to communicate when a common language is unavailable.  In my view, we would all do well to equally focus on our listening skills.

Let’s not just listen to respond.  Let’s listen to understand.

Happy listening and happy travelling dear readers!

Leah

 

 

Enjoying Life’s Simple Pleasures 

I’ve had the amazing opportunity to have travel as part of my work or, when a student, as part of my studies. For most peoole, travel is part of vacation. 

Regardless of your rationale for travelling, it’s important to use the time away from home to enjoy those little things in life – you know, smelling roses and all those deep meaningful expressions we know but often forget to consider or implement. 

We’ve somehow placed being “busy” on a pedestal such that simply enjoying life for its beauty has been forgotten. 

How to travel experientially? Take time. Be mindful. Feel each moment. Relax. 

Enjoy! 

What are you doing today to enjoy life? This picture exposes that moment for me…. 

  

Using the Gift of Travel to Hone Your Inner Creativity

2015 was marked by an uprising in “creativity study.” Books including Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller “Big Magic” surfaced as a call to return to our own lost creative roots.  Adult colouring books gained in popularity as people realized that the simple artistic pleasure they had as a child can help achieve peace and mindfulness in adulthood.  Creativity is important for all of us and in 2015 we started to really grasp this realization.

I think there are 2 major things going on here:

1 – People are sick of being plugged in all the time.  Whether working, networking, or entertaining ourselves, always being plugged in takes away from the joy of simply being.

2 – Our society is slowly coming to realize that not everything should have, or needs to have, economic value.  Paying for a colouring book and pencil crayons makes no actual economic sense – but it’s a pleasure to do.

I am always fascinated when people talk to me about this blog and, rather than asking me about the ideas or stories, they ask me about my business plan: what are my economic goals and intentions?

Sure, if I suddenly make millions from writing this today, that would be amazing.But the truth is I love travel, I love writing, and I love exploring and reflecting on “experiential” and “reflection” as concepts. This blog is an opportunity for me to share that creativity and that passion. It’s also an opportunity for me to ensure I’m being creative.

This little point does not make me unique.  How many times does a student tell someone their major or thesis topic and, rather than being asked why they chose that area of study or what interesting concepts they’re learning, they are asked, “so what can you do with that?!”  How often we belittle the process and the creativity and turn our focus to the bottom line?!

Half of you reading this are loving this idea of creativity.  The other half are thinking “I am not creative – I am logical!” Creativity is a value-laden term. Sadly, we right-brained, artistic folk have stolen this word, leaving the purely left-brainers to think this doesn’t apply to them. But creativity is in all of us.

It’s not just poetry and design and music and drawing.

It’s the person who uses their creativity to problem solve.  It’s the person who solves math problems and science dilemmas with such ease because the challenge makes them come alive. It’s the person who is focussed and creative enough to draft the rule book.

Ask yourself – “what did my nine year old self do in my free time?” There’s a very good chance this will shed light on your our creative side.

This subject has become a huge passion of mine over the last couple of years. I had realized that my primary school days of getting all Cs and Bs for my art class projects meant that I labelled myself as being “not good at art.”  I realized one day, and I don’t remember how or why, but I realized that I was a woman in her 30s who never painted or drew (despite a pull towards these activities) because I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to be doing these things.

In his book “Creating Space”, Ed Cyzewski shares his own journey to creativity where he realized: If I wanted my creativity to thrive, I had to remove the parts of my life that were not creative – even if they were neutral in and of themselves” (Loc. 48).

You know when you are “removed”?  When you can take yourself out of your everyday rituals and focus on either figuring out, or being, creative?  When you are travelling!

When you’re from away everyone and everything you know.

When you don’t have a constant wifi/3G connection.

When you don’t have all those office projects to think about (or, even if you do, you can’t do a thing about them anyways!)

Use travel as an opportunity to rejuvenate your inner creativity.  Remember – whoever you are, wherever you are – this applies to you!

Happy travelling…and happy creating!

Using Rituals to Fight Jetlag & Stay Healthy

A quick google search of “the importance of daily rituals” brings up everything from Huffington Post articles to self-help book suggestions to 10/20/25 steps to a happier you.  These publications are all different, but the premise is the same: daily rituals are proven to keep us happier and healthier.  And by ‘healthier’ I, and these articles, mean physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Daily rituals are thus important all the time, but especially when we are travelling.  Why?  For two key reasons:

1 – Travelling sets us in new environments where we are more prone to be unhealthy, and

2 – If we are happy and healthy, we are better travellers and travel partners.  Ergo, we can get the best out of trip AND ensure our travel partners get the best out of theirs as well.

So here’s what you need to do…

YOU need to figure out your daily travel ritual.  And then you need to do it.  So, first, figure out what daily ritual makes you happier and healthier.  Because mine aren’t yours.

So…

  1. Decide if you’re a morning/afternoon/evening person.  Chances are, that’s where your daily ritual needs to fall.  I am a HUGE morning person.  If my morning is a little ‘off’ (i.e. I don’t have my tea, don’t do yoga, don’t do my devotions) then my entire day isn’t as satisfying and productive as it would have been otherwise.  So pick the time of day that is most important to you, where you work the best.

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    Green tea in Sri Lanka!  My day is so much better if it starts with a beautiful cup of green tea.

2. Think about what you need to happen in your everyday life (i.e. while not travelling) to keep that day and time functioning optimally.  Are you a coffee addict?  Are you lost without a little quiet time?  Do you need to go for that mid-afternoon run?  Are you a drag without a siesta?   Note it.

3. Ask your spouse/roommate/best friend/parent what they notice about you.  If I’m feeling anxious, it is KEN who reminds me that doing yoga will make me feel better.  Ask the person closest to you and your daily routines to ask you what you need for a happy, healthy day.  You might have forgotten something.

4. Now here’s where we move from the awareness to the strategy.  I love self-help books because they teach you lots of fancy tidbits about living life optimally.  You know what else is great about self-help books?  They’re fantastically easy to read!  Yes, unless you actually IMPLEMENT these ideas all you have is a little awareness of yourself.

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I always need some time for quiet, personal reflection at the day’s end.  What did I learn today?  What can I do better tomorrow?

So…how are you going to actually ensure that you FOLLOW THIS ROUTINE WHILE TRAVELLING?

Because here’s the thing:  if you are able to recreate your daily routines in a new environment, you will feel more comfortable, more settled, and more relaxed faster.  In turn, you will sleep better, feel more energized, and maintain the health and happiness that you had back home.

So the fourth and final step is the longest and most important.  It’s where you look at your daily ritual needs and figure out what you will need to apply them in your new setting.  For example, I always travel with my yoga mat.  Then there are no excuses not to do yoga.  I will probably make up an excuse anyways, like when I’m tired and jet-lagged, and then Ken will lovingly remind me that I always feel better after doing yoga.  I may or may not whine anyway and continue napping rather than doing yoga…but I digress…

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I love my Jade Yoga Travel Mat!  Check out my review here

The point is that you need to articulate these personal needs and then do everything in your power to make sure that you can fulfill them.  Because if I don’t have a yoga mat, it’s going to be much harder for me to do yoga.  If I bring it, I’m far more likely to do it, if only because I know that I used precious baggage weight on lugging it here!

I will also travel with green tea if it is questionable if where I’m staying will have some. Or I’ll buy it in the grocery store upon arrival.  I also must bring a journal so that I can jot down reflections at the day’s end.  Or when I have the opportunity to sit on the beach or in a little cafe.

So…what do you need to get you through the day?  Reflect on it.  Note it.  And figure out how to implement this into your daily routine while travelling.  Bring what you need, do what you can, and stay focussed.

Happy Travels!

Leah

 

What Senegal Taught Me About Participating, Not Observing

The whole basis of the word ‘experiential’ is focusing on the doing, not simply passivity.  In travel, it’s the active participation in communities that best enables us to understand a country, its people, and its culture (s).

But here’s the important thing that we all too often forget:  participating shouldn’t just be about you.  If you participate in hoping to only gain something for yourself that inherently puts yourself, rather than the community, at the heart of the interaction.  Rather, if you participate because you genuinely wish to spread love, show kindness, and learn about a community, with the lens of empowerment as your guide, you will give the person with whom you are participating the opportunity to gain from the exchange, too.

I always felt this to be true, but my visit to Senegal really pushed me in a few ways.  Firstly, before I left for Dakar from Toronto, the NGO with whom I was working wrote to inquire if I was still coming – the country was in a state of unrest in the lead-up to the Presidential elections.  So there was forever an air of caution whenever leaving one’s place of residence and travelling.  In fact I had to leave a day early because there was speculation that that airport would be closed.  Thus, I had to focus on truly participate and getting to know people, rather than the very evident brewing conflict.

                              sharing some amazing hysterical laughs with beautiful Senegalese women

Secondly, I encountered two very distinct situations that forced me to step out of my comfort zone:

1 – The NGO with which I was working had, among its many arms, an after-school programme for street youth boys (literally meaning boys who would otherwise be living on the street).  The programme was amazing: games, activities, a place to sleep, food provided, and lessons in French and English language training.  As silly as it probably seems, I really had to push myself outside of my comfort zone to truly participate and engage in socializing with these boys.  Half of this I blame on my own social awkwardness; the other half I blame on my complete lack of tomboy-ness growing up.  When meeting someone my initial reaction is to ask them lots of deep, personal questions.  Teenage boys just want to watch TV and play games.  So, these were the things I had to do if I were to build any sort of relationship with them.

                              me and my mad fussball skills…which aren’t actually mad at all!

2 – The same NGO also enacted a micro-credit scheme in rural areas, mainly for women.  Yay women – these were interactions in which I was better equipped to engage!  And how best to engage with women?  CHATTING & EATING!  The chatting?  Awesome! I could practice my French with beautiful Senegalese ladies. But the eating…Senegal practices communal eating.  A very large circular plate is brought out and the dish is shared, by hand of course, with all sitting around the circle.  Every health warning was lighting up in my ears as I engaged in discussion with these women.  But I had to swallow my pride and my own feelings of doubt to ensure that I gave the women the respect they DESERVED, and to give all of us the opportunity to truly interact!  I didn’t eat much – blaming my poor little western stomach (which is always a good trick by the way if you don’t wish to offend) – but I took a couple of bites, which broke down barriers and enabled us to simply interact and have a great time (see photo evidence!)

           enjoying some rice and milk with my new friends: once you eat together, barriers are broken

So what’s my point? You can’t engage, you can’t empower, and you sure you can’t get to know people if you just observe them.  Breaking down barriers, be it through food, through play, through practicing new cultural norms, are important ways to start!  And as long as it doesn’t go against your values or put you in danger, ask yourself…why not me?!?!?!

Don’t just observe…participate!  People deserve to be known…including you 🙂

 

 

Travel Quotes I Love

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
-Margaret Mead
I love this quote because as I see so much that needs to be changed in the world I’m reminded of the role that I can play in the change, albeit small.
“The journey, not the arrival, matters” 
-T.S. Elliott
This quote pushes me to reflect on the journey: the process, the discovery, the creation.
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Kayaking is one of of my favourite activities in my city: I get to escape for a while and see new sights.  I also get to view sights with which I am so familiar from a new angle (the water)! This really opens my eyes to discovering new things about the most familiar places.  It doesn’t matter if you have a million dollars in your bank account, or only 2.  Travel is a gift in which everyone can partake:  even walking around your neighbourhood and viewing it in a different light is a form of travel.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move”  
-Robert Louis Stevenson
Travel is a passion of mine.  Stevenson brings out the beauty and depth of travel  – whether that’s across town or across the world.  It doesn’t matter where you travel, so much as that you do.
And this final quote, to me, summarizes the most amazing aspect of travel.  Indeed, travel is a blessing.
“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
-Ibn Battuta