TRAVEL MEM­OIR

How Buffy Cram found

Elle (Canada) - - Story Board - By Buffy Cram

Wan­der­lust doesn’t mean you’re lost.

n my 20s, I lived in count­less cities, in 10 coun­tries, on seven con­ti­nents. The short­est amount of time I spent any­where was six months and the long­est was two years. Per­haps I in­her­ited this wan­der­lust. As a kid, I loved noth­ing more than to look at a map of North Amer­ica with my dad and hear about his hitch­hik­ing days. Or, per­haps it stems from the fact that I grew up go­ing back and forth be­tween my mom’s and my dad’s houses ev­ery Sun­day. By the age of four, I had learned to love the rit­ual of pack­ing a suit­case and the prom­ise it held of a fresh start.

I was 18 the first time I went over­seas. My best friend was vis­it­ing rel­a­tives in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, and asked if I wanted to tag along on a one-year work­ing hol­i­day. So in­stead of head­ing off to univer­sity, I wait­ressed un­til I’d saved enough money to buy a back­pack and a round-the­world ticket. I had no idea what I was do­ing or what I wanted from life. All I knew was there was a lit­tle voice in­side me whis­per­ing “Go!”

My year in Aus­tralia was ex­hil­a­rat­ing in all the ways you might ex­pect: By the time I reached Cape Tribu­la­tion, on the north­east­ern coast, I had tasted ex­otic fruits, swum with dol­phins at sun­rise and had some­thing of a re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence while watch­ing a minia­ture sea horse bob,

The au­thor hold­ing a starfish

in Ja­pan in 2007

A walk on the beach in To­dos

San­tos, Mex­ico, in 2011

per­fectly cam­ou­flaged among the co­ral on the Great Bar­rier Reef. It seemed im­pos­si­ble to me that there wasn’t a grand de­sign to ev­ery­thing.

The jour­ney was also frus­trat­ing in ways you might ex­pect: I slept in mouldy, cock­roach-in­fested rooms, was robbed by fel­low hostellers and nav­i­gated the in­evitable best-friend breakup once it be­came clear we had dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties. (She wanted to go club­bing; I wanted to go scuba div­ing.) But the deeper lessons didn’t hit me un­til I re­turned home to Van­cou­ver Is­land and tried to fit back into my old life. It was like try­ing to wear one-size-toos­mall shoes. Months of hos­tel-liv­ing, con­stant mo­tion and hav­ing to judge cir­cum­stances in a heart­beat had changed me. For one thing, shar­ing nightly meals with people from Fin­land, Kaza­khstan, Turkey and Bel­gium had broad­ened my world view. For an­other, all that liv­ing off my wits had put me in touch with my in­stincts. Be­fore Aus­tralia, my in­ner voice spoke in whis­pers, but now it was per­fectly au­di­ble. Back­pack­ing was a fast track to spir­i­tual growth. I came home know­ing ex­actly who I wanted to be: a trav­eller and a writer. It’s a path I haven’t strayed from since.

In the fol­low­ing decade, I lived all over North, Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, in var­i­ous parts of Europe, Asia and the South Pa­cific. I trav­elled as a stu­dent, tak­ing ad­van­tage of my univer­sity’s ex­change pro­grams, and then as an ESL teacher. Be­tween trips, I al­ways re­turned to Canada to see fam­ily and friends and save money. I usu­ally had the in­ten­tion of stay­ing put, but, soon enough, I would feel the urge to travel again. The de­ci­sion to leave home was never h

NOMADICpur­pose.

easy. My life­style drew as much crit­i­cism as ad­mi­ra­tion. (One friend still refers to it as my “mov­ing prob­lem.”) And not hav­ing the money to main­tain a home base in Canada was un­set­tling, to say the least. At times I wanted noth­ing more than to own a book­shelf, a blen­der and some fluffy bed­ding. But the gifts of travel kept me go­ing: In Buenos Aires, I fol­lowed in the foot­steps of Borges, writ­ing in the same cafés he had, while work­ing on my own short fic­tion; in Fiji, I helped a group of teenagers stage a near-per­fect ren­di­tion of the mu­si­cal Grease. Even the dif­fi­cult mo­ments were in­valu­able. In Seoul, I once tried to ex­plain to my stu­dents how my favourite thing in the world was to spend all day hik­ing along a par­tic­u­lar river back home and then to float back down, sun-kissed and ex­hausted. They couldn’t com­pre­hend what I was say­ing. “Why is the river so big?” they asked. “Is it in a mall?” It wasn’t un­til I swam in their favourite river at Lotte World, a theme park the size of a small city, that I un­der­stood their con­fu­sion. They couldn’t imag­ine swim­ming in a Cana­dian river any more than I could have imag­ined 30,000 people crammed into a con­crete one. I was sud­denly home­sick. For the first time, the lit­tle voice in­side whis­pered “Go home.”

I re­turned from South Korea con­fused and ex­hausted. I wanted to see more of the world, but, now that I was in my 30s, it no longer seemed sus­tain­able. I started to think I’d been do­ing things wrong for the past decade—that I’d been run­ning away from, rather than mov­ing to­ward, ev­ery­thing. Still, if travel has taught me any­thing, it’s that life has a knack for pro­vid­ing me with what I need, just when I need it. It was around this time I found out that my collection of sto­ries would be pub­lished. Then, the fol­low­ing year, I met my cur­rent boyfriend—a Ger­manCana­dian who has spent his en­tire life bounc­ing back and forth be­tween Europe and Canada. These days, we bounce back and forth to­gether. I main­tain an apart­ment in Vic­to­ria, B.C., and he has one in Berlin. It’s not a tra­di­tional way to live, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s the best of both worlds. We’ve fig­ured out how to have the thrill of travel plus the com­forts of home—the book­shelves, the blen­der, the bed­ding and more. ■

YOU, TOO, CAN TRAVEL THE WORLD. I don’t of­ten talk about my trav­els in day-to-day life, prob­a­bly be­cause I fear com­ing across like an ob­nox­ious Woody Allen char­ac­ter—the type of per­son who, with a sweater draped over her shoul­ders, pep­pers the con­ver­sa­tion with anec­dotes that be­gin “That re­minds me of the time I was in Paris [pro­nounced Pa­reee]....” Or maybe I avoid the topic be­cause, too of­ten, when my trav­els do come up, I get the same re­sponse. “You’re so lucky,” people say. Or, “I wish I could do that.” I’m al­ways taken aback by this re­ac­tion be­cause luck has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with it. Travel is a de­ci­sion, like any other, and if I can do it, with lit­tle-to-no fi­nan­cial means, then any­one can. Here’s how to over­come some of the things that typ­i­cally hold people back from an ex­tended life on the road.

AFRAID YOU CAN’T AF­FORD IT? 1) Find low-cost or free ac­com­mo­da­tion in a monastery (monasterys­tays. com), on a farm (farm­stays.org) or, if you’re feel­ing ad­ven­tur­ous, in the home of a gen­er­ous stranger (couch­surf­ing.org, hos­pi­tal­i­ty­club.org, glob­al­free load­ers.com). 2) Reg­is­ter yourself as a pro­fes­sional house-sit­ter (mind­my­house.com, house­car­ers.com, care­taker.org). 3) Ask for a lit­tle help from your friends by crowd-source-fund­ing your trip (tre­volta.com). You’ll be sur­prised how gen­er­ous people can be when they see you are liv­ing out your dream.

WOR­RIED YOU WON’T MAKE FRIENDS? 1) Find a new so­cial net­work by tap­ping into your des­ti­na­tion’s ex­pat or­ga­ni­za­tion ( ex­pat­ica. com, ex­pa­tri­ates.com, tran­si­tion­s­abroad.com). 2) Join or cre­ate your own din­ner party (meal­shar­ing.com, eatwith­alo­cal. com). 3) Get to know the lo­cals (meetup.com, min­gletrips.com) or in­tro­duce yourself at a lo­cal café.

DON’T WANT TO GIVE UP YOUR HOME BASE? Sub­let to a fel­low trav­eller (Craigslist, sub­let.com, Airbnb or a city-spe­cific sub­let group on Face­book).

Ex­plor­ing the streets ofColo­nia delSacra­mento, Uruguay, in 2008

A swim with dol­phins in­By­ronBay, Aus­tralia, in 1997

The au­thor with herESL stu­dents in Seoul in 2006; the city’s Nam­dae­mun mar­ket, a favourite shop­ping des­ti­na­tion (left)

Buffy Cram’sRa­dio

was pub­lished in 2012. She is now work­ing

on her first novel.

Belly: Sto­ries

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