Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

This young girl was responsible for distributing fresh-baked bread to guests at an Ethiopian wedding in Lalibela, Ethiopia, to which I received an impromptu invitation when I walked by

The tiny village of Neakutoleab came into view as I left the Monastery Church of Neakutoleab. Music wafted down from the top of the hill. “Want to go see what’s happening?” my guide asked. “Absolutely,” I said. I struggled up a steep dirt path to a concrete house painted in brilliant primary colors and rounded the corner to the front door. A group of men stood outside, sipping local brew and dancing to the music. Their Sunday-best suits were draped with the white gauzy shawls that Ethiopian Orthodox Christians wear to church and their heads were bound up in turbans made from the same material. “It’s an Ethiopian wedding!” my guide exclaimed.

Before I knew what was happening, the joyful men dragged me inside and presented me to the bride and groom. The young couple wore navy blue capes over their gauze shawls, and jewel-studded bronze crowns sat upon their heads. They welcomed me with broad smiles and motioned for me to sit down at the head table with them. The young girl in this photo, who was responsible for distributing fresh-baked bread to the guests, shyly handed me a piece. Read More

Orthodox Christian priest at Monastery Church of Neakutoleab in Lalibela, Ethiopia, shows me 500-year oldMiracle of St. Mary book, printed on goatskin

An Orthodox Christian priest at the Monastery Church of Neakutoleab in Lalibela, Ethiopia, shows me the 500-year old “Miracle of St. Mary” book. Both the text and illustrations were done by hand using plant-based inks on goatskin parchment. The Monastery Church of Neakutoleab was originally built inside a natural cave by King Lalibela in the 12th century. Though the original structure was destroyed by Muslims in the 16th century, the church was rebuilt in 1936 using local limestone and red rock.

While the church is newish, the implements used in services that are still performed every Sunday are ancient. Among the treasured pieces kept at the Monastery Church are an 800-year old Orthodox bronze cross and censer. Also among the treasures is the rare and irreplaceable 500-year old manuscript shown in the above photo. Read More

Perhaps the question I’m asked most often as a digital nomad is, “How much does it cost to travel full time?” It’s a question that, after 11 and a half years of traveling around the world, I am eminently qualified to answer, but up to this point have avoided. I began my travel-blogging journey in early 2007 when I purchased a six-month around the world flight through the Star Alliance program. At this point, I still had a house I was trying to sell and was saddled with huge mortgages on several properties. Obviously, my expenses would not be the norm for most, so offering advice at that point wasn’t possible.

Eventually, I sold my house and moved into a small apartment in Florida. For the next 2.5 years, I traveled (mostly in the U.S.), returning to my home base between trips. In November of 2009, just as my blog was beginning to earn money, I decided to head overseas again for an extended period. But the modest income generated by my freelance writing couldn’t begin to pay for long term travel and a home base. Since I was rarely home anyway, I decided to give up my apartment and became a true digital nomad, returning to the U.S. occasionally to visit family and friends.

Barbara standing in a field of Lavender in the French region of Provence in July 2016

Barbara standing in a field of Lavender in the French region of Provence in July 2016

Those were lean years. I stayed in family-owned guest houses or hostel dorms with four to eight bunk-beds to a room and shared toilets. I chose hostels that provided free breakfasts and, when the management wasn’t looking, stuffed my pockets with a roll, butter patties, and perhaps a piece of fruit for lunch. For dinner I bought groceries and cooked in the common area kitchens, or grabbed a slice of quiche at a bakery. I rode buses, ferries, and trains rather than fly. But again, I was painfully aware that most people are not interested in staying at the cheapest hostels and sleeping in dorms with 15 other people. Read More

Thai women dressed in Lanna attire carry traditional paper umbrellas as they bicycle to Thapae Gate in the Old City of Chiang Mai, Thailand, during the Songkran Festival

A highlight of the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is the cycling parade of parasol-carrying ladies dressed in traditional Lanna attire. From the top of their head to the tip of their toes, they exude elegance. Their long lustrous black tresses are swept up into elaborate buns and decorated with cascades of fresh flowers. Ankle-length silk wrap skirts and cropped, high-necked jackets are topped with a silk sash. Pearl and gem necklaces, earrings, and hair ornaments are added, as are traditional paper umbrellas, handmade for just such events. Read More

In mid-April each year, Thailand celebrates the Songkran Festival, Thai New Year. While festivities occur all over the country, the most lavish celebrations occur in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Held over a four or five day period, Songkran begins with a monk blessing and alms-giving ceremony, followed by the presentation of Songkran queens and a full program of cultural performances.

The pomp and circumstance of the Songkran Festival are appreciated by all, what everyone really looks forward to are the water fights. Read More

People celebrate Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand, by soaking one another with water guns, water canons, or even by pouring buckets of water over one another

Thai New Year is celebrated with a four or five day holiday that falls in mid-April each year. The holiday, known as Songkran, is celebrated throughout Thailand, but Songkran in Chiang Mai is celebrated with true abandon. Festivities kick off at 6 a.m. at Thapae Gate, where Buddhist monks offer a blessing and join an alms-giving procession. Residents and visitors line the plaza, eager to place a gift of food, drink, or flowers into the alms bowls of the monks. These offerings are transported to the various wats (temples) around town, where they are used to feed the community of monks. Buddhists believe that offering alms earns them merit in this life, reducing the possibility that they will have to be reincarnated in another life. Read More