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Thoughts after one year on the road

Posted: 2007-08-30 23:00:40, Categories: Travel, General, Work, Free software, Ecology, Cycling, 1074 words (permalink)

Posing for the camera at the Panchgani hill station, India. Having settled down in Helsinki at least for a while, I've had time to think what my long tour in Europe and Asia has given me and what I want to do next. Here are a few thoughts about travel and life in general after spending a year on the road.

Enjoy the unexpected, trust the unknown. Little by little, I learned to plan less and to enjoy uncertainty. I had traveled without a detailed schedule and hotel reservations before, but this time I went one step beyond that. I took roads not marked on the map, arriving in unknown villages just before sunset and got invited in to local homes. Even when I had made plans, I often changed them based on new encounters or feelings about a place. I certainly wasn't the craziest traveler out there and tried to avoid unnecessary risks, but also wanted to get rid of being a control freak. The balance shifted a bit towards adventure, and I enjoyed it.

Traveling alone is not lonely. It was never difficult to find people to talk with, and without a group of friends around I was spending more time with the locals. Of course, the majority of those encounters were rather superficial. To have deeper discussions, one usually needs to spend more time with the person and share experiences. That's the best part of having a travel partner: you can compare thoughts about an event or situation, or just start a topic which is completely detached from traveling. Having traveled both alone and with friends, I still cannot say which is better. I do know that a big group is not the way to go for me.

Travel gives new perspective for ecological living. Environmental protection might not be part of their everyday thoughts, but most people in developing countries live a fairly ecological life. Many environmentally unfriendly habits are also expensive so they simply cannot afford them. Traveling through poor areas shows that hot water is a luxury, air conditioning is rarely really necessary, and that it's easy to live by following the daily cycle of the sun, minimizing the need for artificial light (at least when the days and nights are approximately the same lenght). It can be a culture shock to come back home in a rich country where climate change is in the headlines but a lot of energy is being wasted everywhere. On the other hand, proliferation of plastic packaging and other non-biodegradable goods in the developing world produces another kind of shock. In the absense of proper waste management, residential areas are turning into big landfills and waterways getting polluted. People are used to throwing waste simply to the backyard — it didn't matter earlier but with the new materials it does.

Free software remains one of my passions. I didn't keep myself very well up to date with world news during my trip. To avoid spending all the time in Internet cafes, I dropped many mailing lists and web sites which I used to follow regularly. However, I continued to read the weekly editions of LWN.net during the whole year. That was the best way to keep an eye on what was happening in the free software world. I love the freedom, the community involvement without excluding commercial activities and the good match with mobile lifestyle. I can carry a virtually unlimited amount of interesting applications, information and art in digital form without possessing many material goods, and free licenses guarantee I can share what I have with my friends too.

A full-time job is not the only possible choice. A long break from work gives a good opportunity to think what kind of role should work have in one's life. Before my trip I had a well-paid full-time job, something which is respected and even envied in the society. Now I'm not so sure I want to continue the same way. I'm not alienated from work, but managing my own time as a freelancer sounds tempting. A normal full-time position is not out of the question, but if something is going to take the most of my time five days a week, eleven months a year, I'd better really like it. The standard five weeks of vacation per year may be enough to rest before getting back to work, but it's not long enough to focus on any other big project.

Changing the environment from time to time is good for me. Since I got my first job abroad in summer 1999 (in Geneva), I've never stayed very long in one place. The longest was almost three years in Finland before my bicycle tour — and it was starting to feel too long. I have a tendency to get involved with various volunteer activities and to pick up other hobbies, which are interesting but gradually fill up all my free time. Moving to another country provides a natural cut-off point to leave some of them behind and be ready for new challenges. It's already a way of life for me and it's difficult to say when, if ever, I'll settle down somewhere permanently.

A month, a year or undefined time for travel — all very different. It was obvious already when I left that traveling for a year was going to be different from the short trips I'd done before. I had time to stop for days or even weeks when I wanted, and I created the route plan on the way. What I didn't think about was that traveling for a year is still very different from traveling for an undefined period of time. I met many who were on the road for at least several months but rather few who were roaming around with no end in sight. Those who did, had often given up the notion of considering any single place in the world as their home, which made a big difference. I didn't have my return date set in stone, but it was still clearly a plan for one year. I had rented my flat out for one year, taken travel insurance for one year and, more importantly, it was a one year plan in my mind. I did consider continuing, but decided it was good time to stop for a while. Being constantly on the move is liberating but also tiresome, I need breaks from traveling too. However, it's not a given that those breaks would necessarily be in Finland.

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Keeping up with the news

Posted: 2007-02-05 09:29:56, Categories: Travel, General, India, Free software, Politics, 303 words (permalink)

People often ask me how I keep up with the world news while traveling. The short and honest answer is that I don't keep up very well at all. :) Occasionally I do check out a newspaper or some websites, and my folks at home inform me if something really groundbreaking happens, at least if it is related to the area where I'm traveling in. Friends sometimes tell by email what has happened to them lately and it's always nice to read those mails.

For the traveler who likes to keep up to date, India is one of the easier places. Good quality English language newspapers are readily available, sometimes also in restaurants or hotels avoiding the need to buy the paper yourself. I discovered that the editorials and opinions page of the Times of India is particularly interesting. The articles are also available on the web so I'll share two good pieces with you. One of them is about urbanisation and overpopulation while the other takes on the state of science in India:

I currently don't have a source of general news which I'd check regularly. Browsing the sites of major newspapers would be too time consuming because I'm not connected to the Internet daily and would have to go back several issues each time to get the full news flow. A weekly summary delivered by email would be optimal, suggestions are welcome. I'm still passionate enough about Free software to read the weekly issues of Linux Weekly News, and for some reason I find it fun to read the Ask the Headhunter newsletters although I'm not currently searching for a job. Otherwise my search for information in the net is usually reduced to current practical needs such as visa information and weather forecasts from the Weather Underground.

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