Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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I should have gone right to bed when I arrived at the hostel in Shanghai, China late yesterday afternoon. During the week prior to my departure I’d had a total of perhaps 20 hours of sleep; in the final three days, only four hours. So much remained to be done and I was running out of time. As I counted sown the final 48 hours I learned that RBC Bank had arbitrarily canceled one of my two debit cards on my checking account and an insurance company informed me that a refund they’d promised me would not be forthcoming. I fought those battles successfully, but that left other crucial things undone, forcing me to stay up around the clock on my final night, trying to check everything off my to do list. Just as I thought I might make it, the Internet went out for two hours. In the end, I finished what I could and just got on the plane. Everything else would have to wait.

Despite being dead tired, I couldn’t sleep on the plane to Chicago, and during my three hour layover I was afraid to sleep for fear I would snooze right through the call for my connecting flight. No worries. There would be ample time to catch up on my sleep during the 14-hour flight to Shanghai. Wrong. Perhaps I was too excited by the prospect of my first visit to China, but sleep simply would not come. Two bad movies and three worse meals later, insufficiently wrapped in a postage stamp-sized blanket to ward off the frigid cabin temperature, I was wriggling in my not-designed-for-comfort airline seat, trying to find a comfortable position for the final three torturous hours.

My intention to hit the sack immediately after checking in evaporated instantly during the taxi ride from the airport, which carried me past Shanghai’s stunning skyline along the Huangpu River; as darkness fell and the lights of the city winked on, I simply could not control my urge to explore. In my sleep-deprived state I hunched into my backpack, grousing about the unaccustomed weight of a tripod I had decided to haul along on this trip. Four blocks later I climbed the steps of  The Bund, a wide elevated promenade that runs for a mile along the western shore of the Huangpu River, and gazed across dappled waters that reflected myriad gold, red and purple neon-lights that outlined the skyscrapers of the city’s famous skyline. My decision to carry a tripod suddenly seemed inspired.

Shanghai’s stunning skyline on the east bank of the Huangpu River

West bank of the Huangpu River, along Shanghai’s famous Bund pedestrian rivetfront walkway

After taking my fill of photos I walked south along The Bund to Nanjing Road East, Shanghai’s premier pedestrian shopping street, intending to walk only four blocks of its 3.4-mile length on my way back to the hostel. I turned the corner at the eastern terminus of Read More

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I went to see the new movie Eat, Pray, Love a couple of weeks ago. The movie wasn’t fabulous, it wasn’t even as good as the book, but it threw me into reminiscing. Nearly four years ago, like the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, I too made the decision to abandon my existing life and job to travel around the world for six months in pursuit of my true passions of travel, photography, and writing. The book had just been released at that time and I read it from cover to cover during the 36 hours and three layovers required to get to Vietnam. I remember being intrigued by the fact that I had previously visited India and would be going to Italy and Bali on that trip, meaning I would be retracing the steps of the author.

My situation wasn’t exactly the same as Gilbert’s. I wasn’t coming out of a divorce or a bad relationship. But I was spiritually bereft. I had built numerous successful careers in corporate environments, only to abandon them to search for something that would make me happy. I knew deep down that corporate life, with its appurtenant stress and soul-sucking politics was not for me, but I kept returning to it because it paid the bills. By the time I’d turned 50 I was a lost soul. I didn’t know who I was, but I knew I had to find a way to make myself happy, to escape from the endlessness of it all.

At the conclusion of my six months on the road I decided to recreate myself as a travel writer and photographer which, frankly, were the only things I’d ever really wanted to do. Now, four years later, I’ve accomplished that goal. I travel 9-10 months per year and have no permanent home. Although I do not suggest that this life is for everyone, one part of my process – the six month career break – was a valuable tool that can benefit anyone. It is not uncommon for Europeans and Australians to take mid-career breaks; employers in these countries seem to understand that employees return to the workplace renewed and brimming with new ideas following such a hiatus. Unfortunately, in the U.S. the mid-career break is not an accepted part of our culture, but there is now a movement afoot to change all that.

Join us and find out how to take a mid-career break

Two weeks from today, on September 14th, the developers of the website Briefcase to Backpack will hold a FREE series of events in major cities across the U.S.and in Canada, titled “Meet, Plan, Go!” With the goal of Read More

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As the crow flies, I was only a mile or two from the beach, but it might as well have been a thousand miles away. Despite ominous skies and the threat of rain, I climbed into my lemon yellow kayak, pushed off the ramp and slipped into Graham Creek. Silently gliding through slate waters, I navigated narrow twisting channels bordered by tall wire grasses that reflected subtle green mirror images on the unstirring water. Giant pines loomed over the dense vegetation like overarching staves of an ancient church and I paddled in silent reverence, awed by the overwhelming stillness of the place. My guide, Captain Chris Nelson, interrupted the hush to point out a cormorant at the edge of a marsh and a great blue heron standing stately in a high tree branch. As if on cue, the heron took flight, its beating wings echoing across the waterway.

Mirror images of Ingram Bayou

Half an hour into the paddle, the stream untwisted itself and emerged into Wolf Bay. According to Chris, dolphins are often spotted in the bay but they were hiding on that particular day, Read More

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Like most Americans, I was mortified by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer. My stomach turned when I viewed the underwater photos of oil gushing from the breached well and I felt helpless, wishing I could help in some way but knowing there probably wasn’t anything I could do. Then, a few weeks ago, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism invited me to visit the area as part of their first ever press tour. Since I had long wanted to check out this part of the country I jumped at the chance, but I was anxious about what I would find, given the devastating images of destroyed marshes and glops of oil floating atop beds of sea grass that had been continuously flashed across the TV screen. To my great delight, I found stunning white sand beaches and crystal clear water. I also found a community that, from the very first day oil showed up on the beaches, made a commitment to tell the truth, believing it would be far better for visitors to be aware of the situation before arriving.

Can’t see the above YouTube video about the aftermath of the oil spill in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama? Click here.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are dependent upon tourism and fishing, thus their economies have taken a double whammy during this disaster, since large portions of the Gulf were closed until recently and local fishermen missed the first part of the shrimping season this year. Fortunately, the fishing grounds have Read More

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What do you get when you cross a donkey with a zebra? A zedonk, of course! The owners of the non-profit Chestatee Wildlife Preserve near Dahlonega, Georgia got a big surprise recently when their mama donkey gave birth to her mixed breed foal. Since she was born with striped legs and a solid body, they named the baby Pippi Longstockings. The foal has attributes of both donkey and zebra. Though she sports stripes, she is much less skittish than a zebra and seems not to mind all the attention she is getting.

Can’t see the above YouTube video about the baby Zedonk born at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Georgia? Click here.

Chestatee Wildlife Preserve is a non-profit wildlife animal rescue operation that is set up like a zoo so that visitors can enjoy their residents. The facility is open to the public 7 days a week Read More

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I’ve feasted on shrimp all around the world, but Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama have, hands down, the most delicious shrimp I’ve ever eaten. I arrived last night and promptly dug into my first helping at the Gulf Island Grill; today I had a shrimp Po’ Boy for lunch at the Beach Club and this evening I had broiled skewered shrimp at Live Bait restaurant in Orange Beach. I’m here as a guest of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, enjoying four days on this lovely coastal barrier island and checking up on the status of Alabama beaches following the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Gulf Shores Beach - pristine white and free of oil and tar

Fort Morgan Beach on the western tip of Gulf Shores

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