Category Archives: travel blogging

Kerala Blog Express, pt 3

If you haven’t yet, read part 1 and part 2 of this series in order to get caught up on how my journey to Kerala, India came about.  

This trip will be different for me in several ways. First and foremost, I will not know the language at all. The closest I’ve come to his was in the Gaeltacht in Ireland (where English could still be heard, and I had a guide) or in Turkey (where I couldn’t eavesdrop on local conversations, but my English, French and Arabic were more than enough to understand others and make myself understood.)  I will be accompanied by representatives of Kerala Tourism who speak English so I am sure all official events will be translated for me, but the window for spontaneous local interactions outside if the mold has gotten that much smaller. This means I will have to devote more energy than usual towards putting myself in a position to see beyond the veneer and meet regular people.

Speaking of the veneer, this trip will be quite unlike what most people experience in India. For one thing, I will be in the richest state in all of India, a place where even major cities feel small and familiar. There will be less crime, fewer people, and a generally different vibe than most people associate with the subcontinent.  Beyond that, I am going to be on a government-sponsored tour with the intent of promoting tourism. Their goal is for me to have a wonderful time and tell everyone in the world about it, which means that they have a vested interest in keeping any unpleasantness away and keep everything in line. That being said, I’m used to state-sponsored trips and funding the real beneath the veneer.  

I plan on talking about their attempts to keep the veneer intact. That’s their job and there’s nothing wrong with that, but my job is to dig deeper and be upfront wig my audience about all my experiences.  Additionally, in my opinion, the logistics of being on a sponsored trip are a major part of this experience, so you can expect to hear about them, good and bad.   I feel that transparency is the least I can offer to all of you who are not only readers, but supporters who voted and promoted me into this trip in the first place.  

In light of that, here’s another dose of transparency for you.  Many people have been asking me what it means for the trip to be sponsored.  Answer: they’re paying for me to be there.  But how exactly does that work?  I don’t have all the details yet (that seems to be the trip motto) but here’s what I know so far:

What Kerala Tourism is paying for:

  • Accommodations
  • Meals
  • Half of the cost of my round-trip flight, up to 700 USD (to be reimbursed)
  • On the ground transportation (coach bus)
  • Transportation to and from the airport
  • Entrance into various attractions

What I will be/have been paying:

  • Personal expenses like souvenirs and booze
  • If I were traveling solo before or after, that would be on me.
  • The other half of the round-trip airfare
  • My medications (ugh, antimalarials, how I loathe you)
  • My visa (10 year, multiple-entry tourist)

I mentioned that not only do I think the mechanics of a sponsored travel blogging trip are interesting, but I feel I owe it to my supporters to be really up front about everything, since I wouldn’t be going on this trip without all of you.  To that end, while I have said thank you in person, on facebook, and via text to everybody who let me know they voted or promoted me, I’d like to send all my supporters a little slice of India in the form of a postcard as a way to say thank you.  So, if you supported me and would like to recieve a postcard from my trip, send me your address!  You can use facebook, DM on twitter, text me, or if you don’t actually happen to know me all that well (internet strangers and future in-laws, I’m looking at you!)  you can email it to me at harrington [dot] delia [at] gmail [dot] com.  I’m looking forward to getting to thank you all personally and to navigating the Indian postal system!

Some people have voiced concerns that this trip could be an elaborate hoax, or could go wrong in some way.  Honestly, most trips can and do go wrong in one way or another, and that’s often when they’re the most interesting.  I’m quite used to getting myself out of tricky situations at this point, so I don’t think there’s much I can do other than hiding my emergency cash and keeping my head on a swivel.  I also think worries like this overstate the safety and predictability of other kinds of travel.  A big university name can do a lot of things, but it can’t change whether or protect against pickpockets, no matter how reassuring the study abroad website is.  And you wouldn’t want that, anyway.  Life without complications and intrigue would be completely boring.  Personally, I think it’s when we assume nothing could possibly happen to us that we are most at risk.  That’s largely formed from my experiences and those of people I know, that most  thefts abroad (and at home) happened when people were in traditionally safe tourist situations and let their guard down because of it.

Of course, if someone were to run a scam or otherwise mess with us, doing it to 27 people who spend their time writing on the internet is a terrible idea.  What, like we’re not going to tell everyone about it, complete with pictures and video?  I actually think most businesses and employees we encounter will be bending over backwards in hopes of a good, high-traffic review, to the point that all our reviews will need to be taken with a grain of salt since I doubt we’ll be treated like average, anonymous travelers.  If something weird does happen, I can always just leave.  I could fly back home, hang out with the other KBXers or go find Janine or several of the other amazing people in nearby areas who have offered to put me up if I come through their way.  After all, life is a grand adventure or nothing, and I’m going to choose the grand adventure every time.

Now you guys know everything I know about this trip.  I fly out of Logan on Friday evening, stopping in JFK and then Dubai.  I’ll be posting short updates to instagram and  twitter until I get my hands on some wifi, when I’ll be able to update this blog and my brand spanking new facebook page.  If you are interested in my writing (here or otherwise), photography, or travels, please consider liking the page.

See you on the other side!

Top image is via Kerala Tourism

Kerala Blog Express, pt 2

Where we last left off, I had finished the contest in 30th place (only 25 would be selected) out of over 600 registered participants from over 80 countries. But somehow I had been selected to be a finalist, so I started lining up my logistics, like applying for an Indian visa and going to the travel clinic. I opted to apply for the 10 year, multiple-entry tourist visa. I figured even if the trip didn’t work out, I now have a good excuse to go to India for up to six months at one sometime over the next decade. There have been worse downsides.

The Kerala Tourism folks were urging me to buy a plane ticket (one of the only financial commitments I had to make, for which they will reimburse me half the cost) but I wasn’t completely sold yet. For one thing, they haven’t been the most forthcoming or clear with logistical information, owing in part to English not being the first language of my liaison. Beyond that, things got a bit more complicated on the way to making the financial commitment to join the trip. I had two different job offers at different stages of the planning process. The first was during the voting. When it became clear I was going to receive an offer, I felt deceptive for continuing to solicit (or even passively receive) votes. But I was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In at the time and remembered an axiom of hers: don’t leave before you leave. She was referring to ramping down work in anticipation of one day becoming pregnant, but in its own way the saying still applied to me. I didn’t know for sure whether I was going to be offered the job, and while it sounded perfect I didn’t know what the offer details would be, so I couldn’t really know if I would accept. Until I had a solid job offer in place, what would be the benefit of slowing down my campaign?  Besides, wouldn’t it be a pity to lose out on India for a job I didn’t end up getting?

I’m glad I stayed in, because it turned out the job wasn’t the best fit in spite of my high hopes.  In the wake of that disappointment I was happy to have something to look forward to.  The second job was a much longer process, starting in October and culminating in an offer a couple of weeks ago. The process was slow, but the more I learned about the position the fewer reservations I had, until it became clear to anyone who I spoke to that it would be an amazing opportunity.  My only worry was that I would have to give up India in order to go. Of course if it came down to a job or this trip I knew I would have to pick the job, but again there was no guarantee that I would receive an offer, or that it would even have an effect on India.  In the end, time forced my hand and I bought a plane ticket, running the risk of having to eat the cost.

Luckily, I not only got the job, but they were incredibly understanding and were flexible on the start date, allowing me to go to India and start work when I’m back.  Though it was painful to keep my plans quiet, I had to wait until both my start date for the job was solidified and I had absolute confirmation from Kerala Tourism.  I’ll start work April 1, and I couldn’t be more excited about the position!  I’ll be at the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School, working as a Program Assistant.  My main focus will be event planning their symposia, workshops and two major conferences for international scholars (particularly from the developing world.)

I leave for Kerala on March 7th (not arriving in Trivandrum /Thiruvananthapuram until the 9th), and come home March 26th. In between we’ll be road tripping throughout the state, stopping to spend time on beaches, stay over on a house boat, see a tiger reserve, and visit an area renowned for training elephants. The itinerary that’s been shown to us bloggers is still pretty sparse, but I think that’s more a reflection of Kerala Tourism’s communication skills than what they have planned.  I will be expected to blog, photograph, and post to instagram, twitter and facebook while away. Kerala Tourism will be paying for the vast majority of my expenses, including a data plan for my phone and wifi in all hotels.

I have kept it somewhat quiet, but this comes at the end of a long couple of years, which included a year of various levels of unemployment, a job so bad my doctor recommended I leave for health reasons, the sudden, violent death of a young friend, and a variety of other life pressures including applying to hundreds of jobs and sifting through the legal aftermath of working at a job that went sideways.

There have of course been highlights, among them two trips to Cuba, all my coworkers (temporary and permanent), getting more involved with activism at Hollaback! and BARCC (Boston Area Rape Crisis Center), spending more time with my cousins, a family trip to Ireland (expect posts when I return from India!), my brother’s engagement, and other family successes like the birth of my cousin’s awesome baby.  It’s not all bad by any means and I’ve been lucky to have a good, though not the most centrally located, support system, but it has certainly been a long couple of years. I am more than happy to be moving forward and saying suck it to 2012 and 2013.  2014 feels like the payoff for a 2012 spent in a tailspin and a 2013 spent with my nose to the grindstone, and so far I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

I leave you with my itinerary and the promise of a third post tomorrow.

Day 1: Guests arrive at Kovalam -Overnight stay at Kovalam

Day 2: Proceed to Varkala -Overnight stay at Kovalam / Varkala

Day 3: Proceed to Alleppey -Overnight stay at House Boat

Day 4: Full Day at Kumarakom-Overnight stay at Kumarakom

Day 5: Proceed to Thekkady -Overnight stay at Thekkady

Day 6: Full Day at Thekkady -Overnight stay at Thekkady

Day 7: Proceed to Munnar -Overnight stay at Munnar

Day 8: Proceed to Athirappilly -Overnight stay at Cheruthuruthy

Day 9: Full Day at Kalamandalam -Overnight stay at Cheruthuruthy

Day 10: Proceed to Punnathur Ana Kotta -Overnight stay at Wayanad

Day 11:Full Day at Wayanad -Overnight stay at Wayanad

Day 12 : Full Day at Wayanad-Overnight stay at Wayanad

Day 13: Proceed to Bekal -Overnight stay at Bekal

Day 14: Full Day at Bekal -Overnight stay at Bekal

Day 15: Proceed to Cochin by Train -Overnight stay at Cochin

Day 16: Full Day at Cochin-Overnight Stay at Cochin

Day 17: Departures

You can read part 3 here!

Kerala Blog Express, pt 1

If you’re reading his blog, you have probably heard of (and voted for me for) the Kerala Blog Express, a first of its kind travel blogging trip through the Indian state of Kerala, sponsored by Kerala Tourism. In case you haven’t, or if you’re curious about what’s happened since voting ended, here’s the whole story. Or at least, the whole story up until I go to India. This post got long quick, so it is part 1 of 3.  You can read part 2 and part 3 by clicking the links.

On Christmas morning I woke up to an email inviting me to enter a contest for one of 25 spots on The Kerala Blog Express. I get emails about travel contests often enough, but to be honest some seem scammy and others just seem unrealistic for me to win. I’m a hobbyist travel blogger with a small (but wonderful and extremely attractive) following, as well as unorthodox content areas and article types. I rarely post listicles or reviews of hotels and attractions, instead writing longer essays (with relatively few photos) on less-fun topics like the harmful effects of travel, inequality, and political turmoil within the countries I visit. I also have one of the few blogs written by someone who is explicitly a feminist and an activist, someone who chooses to attend rallies and pretests, someone who loves to talk about the three cardinal sins of polite conversation: religion, politics and sex.

But this contest would have twenty-five winners, not just one. There also were only a few people signed up already, and I thought I could keep pace with them. After all, I had been approached to enter, and others (I would soon learn) were not, so what was the harm in entering? I filled out my application and was accepted into the contest, and started soliciting votes. I started by posting in all the Facebook communities I was part of–various clubs and trips–and did quite well. I eventually moved on to messaging people directly, after I felt my generic posts on my news feed had reached just about everyone they could. I also posted requests to twitter, although that never yielded much, and wrote about the contest in my blog. I tracked my progress both by obsessively checking the contest website and with bit.ly’s stats on my link. Several times the voting website crashed, and people frequently got in touch to express they had trouble voting. It was frustrating to see I had almost twice as many clicks as I did links, meaning there were some serious problems with voting.

Asking for votes was definitely hard, and I felt like a pushy jerk most of the time. But I felt like voting wax only supposed to take a minute or two, and the reward was pretty huge. I have also always been the kind I person who shares the articles and triumphs if my friends, who fills out your qualtrics surveys for class, who votes on your band for contests, who answers questions about Northeastern and travel more fit for an advisor or travel agent. What’s the point of a vast network of amazing friends if you can never call on them for help? It was pretty amazing to see the votes come in. Unfortunately the contest website doesn’t reveal who the voters are, but I got texts, facebook posts, emails and messages from all over the world, from friends and family, people I travelled with or know from high school. It was pretty great to hear from people from every segment of my life who were voting and re-posting the link, including folks who work with my mom or my future-sister-in-law’s family who have never even met me yet. It was a humbling experience, both to see how intense the other bloggers are, but even more to see so many people lend me their time and support.

Unfortunately, the contest, always a bit vague on the criteria to win and the closing time, was extended an additional 5 days. That doesn’t sound like much, but it allowed bloggers with bigger followings time to register and blow most of us who had been in the top 25 out of the water. It kind of freaked me out how there were people able to get more votes in a day or two than I had in weeks, especially when I clicked on some entrants’ social media networks and saw little to no publicity of their voting link. This made it even harder to swallow that the data on how often my link was clicked and how many votes I had were so far apart. I also didn’t even realize when the contest ended, because Kerala Tourism never specified a time or a time zone, just a date. I also hadn’t been able to campaign for votes too effectively the last 2 or 3 days because I had sent too many messages from my facebook account. Whoops. Though I assumed I had lost, I checked in on the Kerala Tourism twitter account and #KeralaBlogExpress hashtag every so often, out of curiosity. It seemed everyone was a bit confused, and the judges were tight-lipped.

A couple of weeks after the contest ended (and I was in a so-close-I-can-almost-taste-it 30th place) I was informed that I was in the short list, and asked if I was still interested. I was shocked I was still in contension, but several people who watched the contest closely suggested some of the contestants who amassed so many votes so quickly (seemingly without having to ask for them) may have been disqualified. My plan was to stay in the running as long as I could until I had to put money in, and make a real decision then. I’m guessing they widened the short list in case people couldn’t attend the changed dates of the trip, and also to reflect that blog content and blog audience were factors in the contest, not just votes. My content is definitely different, and I understand why they wanted a diversity if audiences. If they just had the typical top 25 travel bloggers, their audience would be quite small because of the reader overlap, in spite of their sizeable numbers overall. Having diverse blog subjects also means a diversity if posts (and potentially diverse publications picking up stories written about/during the trip.) A food blogger brings in a whole new audience not usually reached by, say, the solo female traveler audience.

I feel like my voice is a valuable one to have in travel blogging and aboard the Kerala Blog Express. I do my best to peel back the layers of a people and a place in order to see he complicated and longstanding interactions between race, class and gender, to see how their history has lead them to where they are now, the fissures in their national dialogue, and the origins and importance if culture beyond their superficial expressions. I plan on commenting quite openly on how my status as a sponsored travel blogger affects my trip in order to b transparent, but also because I know he world if travel writers is fascinating to outsiders. I also feel that if we value the examined life, that means examining our leisure as well as our work. Travel has an impact on an area, and to ignore that is to burrow into our privilege in a most unpleasant way. We can’t lament how tourism destroys environments, mindlessly siphons off local culture, and perverts the local economy without looking inward at our own behavior. I am not perfect by any means, but at least I’m trying to learn and improve.

Early on the morning of February 26th, Kerala Tourism tweeted the image above and the confirmation that I would be part of the Kerala Blog Express. But what happened between everyone thinking I lost and that victory tweet? When do I leave? Where am I actually going? What’s this other big news you may have heard about? Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3!

Help Me Win a Sponsored Trip to Kerala, India!

Help Me Win a Sponsored Trip to Kerala, India!

I am currently in the running to win a sponsored trip to Kerala, India.  The top 25 travel bloggers with the most votes by January 10 will get to go on a two week trip via coach bus from Kasaragod in the north to Trivandrum in the south of one of India’s most interesting states, often known as God’s Own Country.  At the end of the trip is a Meet Up of the winning bloggers and local writers, which sounds like an amazing way to learn about India from a local perspective and make great new connections.  The trip is sponsored by Kerala Travel, so I’m sure the winners will get to see the absolute best the region has to offer.  Another exciting aspect is that the Travel Bureau will be taking input from the winners when designing the itinerary.  If I’m lucky enough to be one of the winners, I’ll be looking for tips from all my readers who have been to India.

If I win, you’ll be getting a heck of a lot more blog posts, photos, tweets, Facebook updates and instagram updates all about my travels.  I have never been to India and it has always been on my list, so this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Of course, my opinions will all be my own, (like anyone ever thought I could resist the urge to speak my mind!)  If I win, I want to hook up with the local chapter of Hollaback! to learn more about their street harassment reality, and how the atmosphere has changed in the wake of several high profile sexual assaults.  I would also love to learn more about the languages and religions of India, as well as its long history, and what makes Kerala different from the other Indian states.

If you have a minute, please vote for me here by logging in with your facebook account.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a way to vote without facebook.  Thanks so much for your support, and I hope I’m in the top 25!

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Why We Stay Home

There was a lot of backlash over what “Nomadic Matt” wrote on HuffPo about a month ago, and a whole bunch more backlash on post by Mike Barish on Gadling.  And I can understand why–there are a lot of assumptions inherent in both pieces, and people don’t like feeling judged.  I’m not mad at Matt, I just think he got it wrong, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which Mike considers paths that are different from his.  When I stay home, I’m not “choosing money” (or even long hours).  I choose my parents, my boyfriend, a hometown (and city) that I love.  I choose First Communions and first steps, 80th birthday parties and free movies in the park. 

Matt writes of the elation that comes from a new world around every corner.  One of the things I have noticed in myself, and one of the things I’m most proud of, is that I have more wonder and whimsy in my everyday life because of travel.  I am a little jaded to “the big reveal,” to the simple notion of being in a different country or or on a different continent, but I find joy in all the tiny wonders, beauties and mysteries around me, no matter if I’m in Boston or Benin. 

I feel sorry for Matt–his home is not special to him.  For me, Boston is still a place with new neighborhoods to discover, shows to see, books to read and people to meet.  Boston is also where I learn.  I learn about me, and about other cultures and places and languages.  I think part of my love of home, and lack of Travel Constantly Bug, is my travel style.  I don’t care about the Full Moon Party in Thailand, and I don’t want to spend only a couple of days in each place.  I don’t want to just party, meet people in hostels and move on.  It works for a lot of (vocal) people, but it’s not the only way to do the travel thing.  When it comes down to it, That ain’t my style. 

I dislike that Matt painted the world as full of either full-time travelers and those who choose money/monotany.  I am not at home because I am too poor, too boring or too unimaginative.  I’m not home because I love money, or even because college is making me.  I am home precisely because I choose to be, because I love it.  Everyone who knows me knows I don’t generally do anything I dont feel like doing.  I certainly could be abroad now, on co-op in Egypt or France.  I could be applying to another semester abroad in the spring.  But I’m not, and I don’t regret it. 

We all have different priorities, Matt.  Please don’t assume that mine are flawed just because they are different from yours.

Ten Things No One Tells You About Study Abroad

  1. You will have at least one nervous breakdown.
  2. People don’t really want to hear that much about your trip30 seconds or less will do.
  3. Other countries are really not that scary.  The people are pretty much just like us–they just dress, talk and act different, and eat different food.
  4. Some days, it will suck. This is because it is real life, not an extended vacation.  So laugh and keep moving.  Even if you have to fake it, you probably won’t notice when you stop needing to.
  5. You will spend too much money.
  6. No matter how carefully you pack, you will have brought too much, and still manage to have left behind something you totally miss
  7. It’s harder to adjust to life back home at the end of the trip than life away from home at the beginning.
  8. Everyone gets in.  Well, pretty close to it.
  9. Everyone lies about how perfect study abroad is.  Study abroad is awesome, but not perfect.  I promise, your friends don’t post pictures, blogs or status updates about feeling overwhelmed, having trouble making friends, or being ridiculously homesick.  No one wants to admit “defeat” especially since everyone else’s time seems so perfect.  But everyone is having their rough days, too.
  10. You will, in fact, spend the same amount of time on facebook and watching movies/television as you did back home.

Why I Travel: A Sense of Clarity

Reflecting on Pico Iyer’s Why I Travel, the many ensuing responses, and the current political climate in the US, I thought I would try my hand at it. 

I’ve noticed that often, people try to hijack my travel experience and use it to reinforce their world view.  “Oh, you must have loved Cuba–but I bet you’re so happy you live here with all this stuff and where we’re all FREE!”  Or, “Oh wow, you must have loved Cuba, getting to see how awesome a country is even though it’s not capitalist and America’s trying to keep it DOWN!”

I generally don’t feel comfortable responding in the affirmative to either statement.  The “you must really love our wealth/infrastructure/freedoms” people are right, I am happy to live in a country with pillowtop matresses, good water pressure and wings whenever I want them.  But their statement almost always contains an inherent pejorative of wherever I’ve just been, a sense that it was a lovely/educational dalliance, but now I was back in the REAL world, the good one.

On the other hand, the business about seeing places so different from America, without our “rampant consumerism, corrupt politicians and danger around every turn” does ring true–a little bit.  There really are other ways of carrying on life and a country, ones that are far less selfish and just as succesful.  But these views tend to put the rose-colored glasses on for foreign countries.  And let’s be honest, if I won’t wear them for my own country, I’m certainly not going to wear them for anyone else’s.

I love travel because it sorts the wheat from the schraff.  I get to see other communities where people don’t have the same assumptions as we do here, and see how successful they are in carrying out their lives based on their own values and assumptions.  I get to compare different ways of respecting or interpreting civil rights, and see what I like about different the approaches.

Traveling helps me better see the world for what it is.  To see past the stereotypes, politicians and social constructs that have been ingrained in me (or others) for the duration of my life.  To discover best practices on everything, from recycling to child-rearing to dating to cooking.

Travel doesn’t make me hate America, and it doesn’t make me overwhelmingly happy I live here.  It just helps me see and understand the truth about every community I interact with, including my own.  And the hope is that someday, this aggregate knowledge will help me in my dream of developing communities into places that are better at recyling or child rearing, dating or cooking, no matter where on earth I end up doing that.