Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

An Extraordinary Life: Hobo Nora Chucks “Normal Life” For The Adventure Of Full-Time Travel

March 26, 2010

Since deciding to chuck all the trappings of a so-called “normal” life back in 2006, Nora Dunn has been traveling the world and chronicling her experiences on her blog The Professional Hobo.  Seeing as how this is an extraordinary experience an awful lot of people aspire to, I thought it’d be interesting to look at the full-time vagabond life Nora’s created for herself to see what we can all learn about living out our dreams:

Hobo Nora Vagabond

Hobo Nora

What prompted you to do this? Does this lifestyle choice reflect a deeper philosophical outlook?

I was on the brink of my 30th birthday, running a successful financial planning practice in Toronto when a long string of illnesses finally made me realize I was burning the candle at both ends.  One day while feeling especially trapped by the super-busy lifestyle I’d created, I thought “I just want to retire!”

I wanted to explore the world. I wanted to climb mountains. I wanted to do humanitarian work.  There was so much I wanted to do, I didn’t even know where to start.  But the one thing that I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to be able to do half those things on my list if I waited 30 years for a more conventional retirement to get started.

What kind of resistance did you encounter once you decided to do this, both from others and from the voice in your head?

For as long as I can remember, the voice in my head  had been telling me I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.  So when I made this decision, it was finally happy!

As for everybody around me, I encountered almost unanimous support. There were some people who just couldn’t understand why I’d want to sell everything and travel the world, but the most common reply was “Oh wow! I wish I could do that.”

How has the reality of this experience measured up to your expectations?

Measuring any of my experiences that way is pretty difficult.  I “expected” Costa Rica would be my first destination, and I’ve yet to make it there.  Instead, serendipity has led me to new places over and over again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  My life is constantly evolving and it actually exceeds any expectations I could have set going in.

What has been the best part of the experience so far?  What has been the worst?

Some of my best and worst experiences have been one and the same. Twice in two years my boyfriend Kelly and I found ourselves caught up in natural disasters, including the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Burma (Myanmar) and the worst bushfires Australia has ever seen.

But even though these might seem like negatives, they actually became high points as we spent our time volunteering full-time with the relief efforts.  To fully understand what I mean, you can read the complete stories of our efforts with the Burma cyclone relief and the Victorian Bushfires on my blog.

You’ve been in Australia for some time now—do you still consider yourself a wanderer or have you begun to settle down, maybe without realizing it?

Hobo Nora full-time travelComing off the cyclone relief efforts in Burma, the Victorian Brushfires, and a week in the hospital with Dengue fever was all pretty exhausting, so we’ve been happy to stay in one place for a while.

Right now, Kelly has been lured in by a rewarding job that will mean using this area as a home base for a bit.  But I’ll be doing some solo traveling around Australia, New Zealand, and Europe and will return just in time for both of us to uproot completely and find a new place to explore next year.

What advice would you have for someone who was thinking about following a similar dream?

Do it! Okay, for a minute, I thought of leaving it at that, but here are a couple of more specific pointers:

  • Put your financial house in order before setting out. Juggling debt on the road is hard, unless you have enough money coming in to both make those payments and pay for your travels.
  • Speaking of money, you need to find a way to earn a location-independent income if you want to make long-term travel financially sustainable.  Once you figure this out though, you’ll have the freedom to live—and work—just about wherever you want.

You can also follow Nora’s exploits on Twitter @HoboNora.

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Bungee Jumping Bonus: What One Young Woman’s Leap Of Faith Can Teach Us About Living Life To The Fullest

March 5, 2010

While this website is filled to overflowing with stories of  way-cool once-in-a-lifetime adventures, read between the lines and you’ll discover everything here is really intended to promote the larger idea that life was meant to be lived to the fullest.  Which is why I wanted to introduce you to Mary Thompson and let her tell you the tale of her first bungee jump.

In many ways her experience might not seem that unusual.  But what really impressed me is the way this plucky young woman didn’t let her fears stand in the way of having an extraordinary experience she’d always dreamed of.  Let me know in the Comments section below if there’s anything in here that you can relate to!

Bungee Jump New ZealandWhat made you want to do this?  Or, to put it more bluntly, what the heck were you thinking?!

I’m not exactly the typical adrenaline-junkie.  In fact, even though I have stuff like bungee jumping and skydiving on my life list, these things make me a bit nervous and I generally have to be talked into doing them.  While I never thought I’d actually do it, my boyfriend said he’d always wanted to try it so I figured, well, why not?  You only live once and you might as well do the things that scare you a little because they make you feel really alive.

Describe the safety precautions they take — did they actually make you feel more secure?

I researched bungee jumping in general and Taupo Bungy in particular beforehand and I knew they had a great record for safety.  The fact that I knew the general safety procedures by the time I got there also helped me feel more secure. I was still clearly nervous though, so the two guys who worked there started joking around pretending they didn’t know what they were doing.  Which made me laugh even as I was watching them double-checking everything.

Bungee Jumping Taupo BungyWhat was it like to stand on the edge?  Did you look down?

I was only on the edge for a few seconds, long enough to take a photo and count down to jump, but I was thinking, ” I can’t believe this!  I’m really going to jump!”  The only time I looked straight down was when I started to fall forward and by then I was committed!

Did you expect to hit the water?  What was that like?

I told them I wanted to hit the water with my hands, but they said that they couldn’t guarantee it.  I ended up going in up to my waist, which was fun even though I got water in my contacts that made my vision blurry for the first bounce.

What was the scariest part?  And at what point did it become fun?

The scariest part was standing on the edge because your feet are hooked together and the weight of the bungee cord feels like it might pull you off before you’re ready.  It really started to be fun after I bounced up out of the water because then you know it’s all going to be fine!

Now that you’re back home, how do you feel when you look at the photos and video of the experience?

The first couple of days afterwards I looked at them all the time because I still felt such a thrill from actually doing it.  Now I like to look at them because I’m proud of myself and they remind me that I can do anything!

What advice would you give someone who was thinking about doing this?Bungee Jump Adventure

On a practical level, tuck in your shirt unless you want to flash everyone watching you jump!  Other than that, I’d encourage anyone who wants to bungee jump to do it even if it seems scary.  For me, things like this are all about proving you can achieve anything you really want to, and actually doing it makes you feel great!

Mary Thompson is a freelance writer based in Memphis.  To read more of her adventures, check out her Life Is Awesome blog.  You can also follow her exploits on Twitter.

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6 Simple Solutions To The Boring Vacation

February 4, 2010

Let’s face it: Vacation days are precious commodities.  So why would you want to squander them on the same old ho-hum travel destinations and activities, especially when you can have a downright mind-blowing experience you’ll be telling stories about for months to come?Solutions to the boring vacation

Fortunately, all it takes to transform your next getaway from boring to boffo is to make a few minor changes to the way you approach the planning process.  With that in mind, here are six suggestions you can use to help make your next vacation downright unforgettable:

Ditch The Destination Mindset

Instead of focusing on where to go, spend some time thinking about some of those things you’ve always wanted to do.  With some research and a little creativity, you’ll probably find it’s possible to stitch a few of those experiences together into one over-the-top trip.

Spend It Where It Counts

Even if you’re staying at a posh resort, your hotel room is bound to be the least memorable part of your trip.  Better to skip the swanky digs and spend the money you save on a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Don’t Play It Safe

If you want to have great vacation stories to tell, try doing something that makes you a little nervous. You’re bound to discover that A) The thing that seemed so intimidating wasn’t nearly as scary as you imagined, and B) It actually turned out to be one of the most exhilarating things you’ve ever done.

Leave Things Loose

While having a general plan is fine, make sure your itinerary is flexible enough to give you time to enjoy serendipitous discoveries.  If you’re sweating the fact that you need to check in to tonight’s hotel by 6 p.m., there’s a good chance you’ll miss some totally unexpected experience that could turn out to be a highlight of your vacation.

Do Your Homework

I’m all for spontaneity, but I’m also a big believer in being prepared.  Asking questions up front about details like suggested clothing or physical requirements will go a long way toward avoiding unpleasant surprises.

Capture The Moment

By their very definition, extraordinary experiences like the ones we’re talking about here don’t come along every day.  So don’t hesitate to spring for professional photos and/or videos that will allow you to relive the moment every time you look at them.

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Finances, Fitness, And Fear: Overcoming Obstacles Between You & Your Next Big Adventure

January 26, 2010

How to pay for your dream tripIf you’ve been putting off your next big adventure because of the steep price tag, you might want to take a minute to check out this great post on National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog.

The reason I bring this up is because “I can’t afford it” is one of the most common objections I hear when I ask people what’s keeping them from making their dream trip a reality.  But personal experience has taught me that this issue of finances—along with two other frequently-cited deal-breakers I call fitness and fear—are a lot easier to overcome than most of us might believe.

To illustrate my point, I thought I’d take a minute to gently poke holes in each of these excuses in the hope that you won’t let them stop you from having yourself a truly extraordinary experience in the months to come:

Finances

I’m a firm believer in the idea that you don’t need to have been born independently wealthy to live a life filled with remarkable adventures, you just have to be a little more creative when it comes to achieving your goals.  For example, if you lust for one of these posh around-the-world-by-private-jet tours but shudder at the price tag, do a little digging and you’ll find you can arrange your own itinerary using a round-the-world ticket on commercial airlines for a fraction of the cost.  And if it means you have to keep driving your old car for another couple of years to pay off your trip, I’m betting you’ll find the life-long memories you bring home will make this small sacrifice seem well worth it.

Fitness

Look, you and I may never have the physical stamina it takes to summit Mount Everest.  But if you’ve always wanted to take a classic walking tour of the English Lake District and you never hoof it farther than from the parking lot to your desk in daily life, hitting the gym for a few months to get in shape seems like a small price to pay to make that happen.  Also know that many tour operators are happy to make alternative arrangements for guests who feel they may not be up to the more strenuous portions of any given trip.

Fear

Finally, let me assure you that I know a thing or two about overcoming fears.  To use a dramatic example, the first time I did a tandem skydive, the jumpmaster had to practically pry my fingers off the plane’s dash after he opened the door at 14,000 feet.  Once I flung myself out that door however, my fear was replaced by a sense of unbounded joy as I reveled in a sensation that was more like flying than falling.  And, in my experience, this is exactly how fear works: As soon as you make that leap, you realize that the very thing you’d been so intimidated by actually turns out to be a heck of a lot of fun.

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All I Want For Christmas

December 23, 2009

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a hard person to buy gifts for (I can just see my wife rolling her eyes when she reads this).  You see, I’ve come to a point in my life where I don’t really want or need that much stuff.

Over the last decade or so I’ve come to understand what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said:

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

Oh sure, I get caught up in lusting for “the next big thing” same as everybody.  But when that happens, I try to step back and take a hard look at whether I really need this latest gizmo.  And usually I discover I can live quite well without it.

What I can’t do without, however, are opportunities to take full advantage of the second chance I’ve been given, to live my life to the fullest.  Whether that means wrassling with my son on the living room rug (I consider fatherhood to be an adventure unto itself) or jumping out of an airplane.  In other words, I try hard to remember what’s really important.

So, you see, what I really want for Christmas is not more stuff, but more remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventures.  Though they’re pretty darn difficult to put a bow on, they are the one thing in the world that I’ve found has any real lasting meaning for me.

Which brings me to my gift to all of you.  I plan on spending the next 12 months digging up more truly extraordinary experiences and sharing them with you here and on the pages of XTRORD.com.  And though I know not all of them will appeal to everyone, it’s my sincere hope that you’ll find at least a few that will make you say “Man, I’ve always wanted to do that!” and inspire you to live out some long-held dream.

And that, my friends, might just be the greatest gift I could ever get.

Black Friday Blues

November 27, 2009

Just heard an interview with a women who arrived at a southern California mall at 4:30 this morning because she thought joining the crowds lined up for the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving deals would be an interesting “experience.” I’m sure she’s right on some level, though honestly battling the Black Friday throngs for questionable deals on things I have no real use for is one adventure I have absolutely no interest in.

As a matter of fact, I’ve long been a proponent of the philosophy that we’re all burdened by way too much “stuff.”  All of which will wear out, go out of style, or just plain get ignored at the back of the hall closet much sooner than we’d care to imagine.  Which explains why one of XTRORD.com’s core principles is that “Possessions don’t last but memories do.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I recommend giving the gift of an extraordinary experience this holiday.  Besides providing your giftee with a day they’ll never forget, you can also take satisfaction in knowing that you’ll be able to avoid the whole hassle of standing in line at the Returns counter when you discover that your friends and relatives already had one.

If you’re in need of some specific ideas for once-in-a-lifetime adventure gifts, here are a few I can highly recommend based on personal experience:

  • Let your favorite guitar hero live out their rock star fantasies (minus the groupies) at Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp.
  • Give her an experience that’s as unique as she is by creating her own one-of-a-kind custom fragrance.
  • Honestly now, what guy (actually, I’m told girls like it too) wouldn’t dig spending the day operating a 10-ton bulldozer or excavator?
  • Top Gun wannabes can take the controls of their own fighter plane at Air Combat USA and go head-to-head with an opponent in full-on dogfights.
  • If you know someone who has dreams where they find themselves flying like a bird, make those visions come true on a tandem paragliding flight.
  • Find out what the whole surfing craze is about with these affordable surfing lessons.
  • This drag racing school is one of the few places where putting the pedal to the metal is actually encouraged.
  • History buffs and aviation geeks will both love these one-hour flights aboard an authentic World War II-era B-17 bomber.
  • If you know someone who enjoys sailing, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll get off on taking the wheel of a genuine America’s Cup yacht.

Give Me Reality Any Day

November 19, 2009

One of our XTRORD.com guiding principles is that “reality kicks virtual reality’s butt every time.”  Which is why I found this new TV commercial promoting travel to the Florida Keys and Key West to be a lot more profound than anybody at the ad agency or tourism bureau probably expected.

You see, as much as I like the Keys—and I like them a lot—what struck me as so right-on about this 30-second spot that spoofs the whole “There’s an app for that” iPhone ad campaign is the idea that all the cutting-edge technology in the world can’t beat getting out there and having a good old-fashioned extraordinary experience.  I mean, really, how can  performing in a virtual rock band in your living room possibly compare with actually getting up on stage and playing your heart out in front of a cheering crowd?

Now, if I sound like a bit of a Luddite on this, well, so be it.  But as someone who’s tried aerial combat in both a computer-generated fighter plane and the real deal, let me tell you there’s just no contest which one I’ll remember for the rest of my days.

One final thought on this subject.  Maybe you believe the virtual reality version of living your dream will have to suffice because your fantasy is just too far out there to expect that you could ever do it for real.  Well, here’s my challenge to you: Use the comment area below to let me know what it is you’ve always dreamed of doing and I’ll do my best to find you a way to make it happen.

While there are no guarantees with this offer, what I can promise you this:  Once you make your long-held dream a reality, the virtual world will never seem quite as exciting again.

Rock Band, Only For Real

September 2, 2009

Some songs are timeless. Like, oh, say the entire Beatles catalog, for example.  Which makes next Wednesday a big day, for reasons that go beyond the numerology implications of its unique 09/09/09 date.

beatles_wideweb__470x420,2First, it’s the day the folks at Capitol/EMI release the first digitally-remastered versions of all 12 of the Beatles studio albums in 22 years.  A team of engineers at London’s Abbey Road Studios spent four years reworking the albums using a combination of the latest technology and vintage equipment to create what promises to be unparalleled sound quality that faithfully reproduces the original analog recordings.

Not coincidentally, next Wednesday also marks the long anticipated release of The Beatles: Rock Band for Xbox 360, PlayStation3, and Nintendo Wii video game consoles.  The game offers more than three dozen vintage Beatles tunes and a number of interesting new features, along with optional add-ons like copies of the Fab Four’s classic instruments.

While all this sounds like great fun, allow me to restate one of our guiding principles here at XTRORD.com:  Reality kicks virtual reality’s butt any dayWhich is why I’d recommend that those of you looking to have an authentic rock band experience check out the programs put on by Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp which pair rocker-wannabes with a wide range of genuine rock star “counselors.”FOTO 11-A

Of all my extraordinary experiences, playing with Kip Winger’s band in front of a sold-out crowd at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium remains one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.  It also proves that—like the Rock Band video game—limited musical ability is no excuse not to get up there and perform!

Mysterious Attraction

August 26, 2009

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why certain places hold special meaning for us.  Places we think of fondly and long to return to, even if it’s only in our daydreams.

Sometimes our attachment to a place makes complete sense, like the tropical island where we spent our honeymoon or the quaint lakeside cottage we remember from family vacations.  And then there are those places we find ourselves drawn to over and over again in a way that defies rational explanation.

107

Pirate Alley in the French Quarter

For me, that place is New Orleans.  Granted, the fact that I lived there in the mid-1980s probably figures into my fondness for the Crescent City.  But I’m also convinced that there’s more to this abiding attraction, this strong sense of connection that remains undiminished decades after everyone I knew there decided to pack up and move on.

I’ve spent years trying to put my finger on just what it is about New Orleans that’s cast this spell on me.  Friends have suggested possibilities ranging from the existence of some sort of Sedona-like vortex to unconscious memories of a past life.  All I know is that The City That Care Forgot has its hook set in me so deeply that virtually everywhere else I’ve been (and I’ve been an awful lot of places) seems relatively soulless and unsatisfying by comparison.

But enough about me.  Now it’s your turn to tell us about a place that you find yourself drawn to again and again via the Comment field below. Extra points if you actually attempt to put the reasons for that attraction into words.  Best comment before 5pm September 1st wins a $25 iTunes gift card.

Good luck and I look forward to hearing from you.

Nine Lives coverNEXT TIME: Dan Baum’s excellent new book Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans is one of those rare non-fiction stories that actually qualifies as a real page-turner.  It’s also the only thing I’ve ever read that even comes close to explaining what makes NOLA so unique.  Check back here this Saturday to read an interview with the author as we mark the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Funny People…Like YOU?

August 6, 2009

ComedyclubDespite the so-so reviews, I can’t help but like the idea behind Judd Apatow’s new movie Funny People. In the film Adam Sandler plays successful comedian George Simmons who gets one of those rare opportunities to figure out what’s really important in life after being diagnosed with an incurable blood disorder.

Besides the fact that I can identify with the whole near-death experience thing, the movie resonated with me on another level.  Namely the fact that I’ve always wanted to see if I had what it takes to be funny on stage.

Now if you’ve ever spent any time in the spotlight—whether it was in a school play or in a ragtag rock band—you know the experience has a certain addictive quality to it.  Even so, the idea of doing a stand-up comedy routine in front of a live audience can be a little intimidating.

Enter the comedy workshop.  For a few hundred bucks, there are a number of schools that will help you find your own unique comedic persona, write and rehearse your own original material, and offer constructive feedback in a room full of other aspiring yucksters.  The payoff for all this hard work is a chance to take the stage at high-profile comedy clubs and do your first set in front of a receptive audience full of friends and family members, a venue  where you’re much more likely to kill than bomb.

If that sounds like fun, check out these links to a few of the nation’s most respected comedy workshops:

ComedyWorkshops.com

Offers an eight-week intensive in Los Angeles that ends with a showcase at the Hollywood Improv.  Also offers one-on-one coaching and a four-DVD set they call Comedy Career In A Box, though we figure trying this in your living room sort of misses the point.

College of Comedy Knowledge

The fact that this program has been running since 1982 says they must be doing something right.  The school takes a more analytical approach to being funny, broken down into beginner and advanced workshops, the latter of which winds up with a showcase at L.A.’s Comedy Store or other local venue.

American Comedy Institute

This New York City-based school meets eight times over a three-week period ending up with a showcase at high-profile venues like Stand Up New York.  A five-day intensive option is available for out-of-towners, along with a one-year in-depth program for those looking to make a career of this funny business.

The Second City Training Center

Like its namesake comedy troupe that has spawned all-star funny people like Mike Myers and Stephen Colbert, this program focuses on sketch comedy and ensemble improvisation.  Classes are offered in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto, and there’s even a semester-long program that offers college credit.  How cool is that?