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Lavinia Spalding

Home: Flagstaff, Arizona

Age: 32

Job: Teacher and Writer

Inspiration for traveling: A combination of things: I grew up in a starving artist family and never found the opportunity to leave America (except to Mexico) until college; also my family moved across the country when I was ten and I think after that I always felt a bit uprooted, and in search of a true homeland; also, when I was eighteen, I read Tom Robbins's "Jitterbug Perfume." The main character discovers, before most of the rest of the world does, that the world is round. I still remember the quote that corrupted me: "The world is round. A man can do many things. I am young and free and the world is round, round, round." (Or something close to that). Boy did that resonate. It occurred to me how easy it is to travel, how much easier than in the past, particularly when people still believed the world was flat. We are incredibly fortunate to live in an age when traveling is easy, and it would seem terribly ungrateful to take it for granted by not going anywhere. But these answers are all pretty abstract. The concrete catalysts for my travel life were a college French teacher who talked me into backpacking Europe, and then the fact that I was offered a job after college, teaching in Korea. I had no money to travel and discovered that by taking this job, I wouldn't need any — my employers would pay for my plane ticket and my housing — how could I resist?

Favorite country and/or place to visit: I suppose my favorites are Bali and Lombok. I'm sure there are those who would disagree with me, but I find those two islands in Indonesia offer the perfect combination of all great travel-related things. What I mean is, in every country I've visited, while I've found plenty to appreciate, there have been a few aspects of the place that I haven't absolutely loved (the food in China, for example, or the weather in England). But I find Bali and Lombok amazing on almost every level: people who smile with every muscle in their face, just as warm and welcoming as their climate. Sumptuous food. A faith (Hinduism) that is gentle and exquisite. Unrivaled scenery. Gorgeous snorkeling/diving. Incredible beaches. A shopper's paradise. The culture (dance, music, art) is fascinating. Lots to see and do. Some travelers complain that the Balinese merchants are always "in their face" — I've gotten to know and love the Balinese/Lombok people, so this part of it doesn't bother me.

Memorable adventure: I befriend as many people as possible — other travelers as well as natives. Word of mouth and an openness to meeting new people is, in my opinion, the best way to find the road less traveled. Eight years ago, in the Vatican, my best friend and I met Fabrizzio and Antonio, two young men working at St. Peter's Basilica. They asked to take us out that night. Now, most women would probably have said no to two strange Italian men asking them out. And — most women would not have been driven around to see the (then) recent mafia bomb sites, or the "lovers' point" of Rome (our escorts were perfect gentlemen) which offered an extraordinary view of the city, or to a tiny back-alley restaurant that served some of the most exquisite Italian food I've tasted, or to a monastery on the top of a hill, where we came to an enormous, very forbidding-looking iron door and were instructed to look through the key hole. It revealed nothing except the Duomo, snugly framed in the keyhole, about the size of my thumb, glowing like a miniature nightlight. It was one of the perfect moments of my life.

Vagabonding strategy: I think it helps to have a small personal project or goal while on the road, such as finishing a series of short essays about the place you've visited, or painting one small watercolor a day, or just learning a new skill in each place you visit — whether it's asking the fruit seller on the beach to teach you to carve a perfect pineapple; or learning to play a traditional instrument; or exploring something of the religion. Whatever interests you — whatever part of the culture you want to take with you.

Lessons learned from traveling: I think traveling really opens your eyes to the reality that anything, from a very easy life (a sort of permanent island vacation life), to a totally wild and wacky life, is completely attainable. In my travels I meet countless people with different experiences — people who have lived on a beach in Bali or Thailand or Greece for several years or who have taught in Turkey or South America, etc. The more you travel, the more travelers you meet, which means more and more options are constantly presented to you. As a result, my mind is always entertaining a hundred different possibilities, and I feel less and less responsibility/obligation to return to the "daily grind" of a regular, normal job and lifestyle back in America. Before, it seemed natural to work and save money to attain a goal, but now I see the average person — at least in America — working and working to afford the things that they think will bring them happiness, such as a nicer house or a boat or a vacation or a sports car. But the harder they work to acquire these things, the less time they have to enjoy and appreciate the rewards of their hard work. This is totally normal, but after living abroad and creating for myself the opportunity to travel so much, it just seems disproportionate to what I think is the meaning of life — happiness.

Biggest reward of the vagabonding lifestyle: I think it's the cracking open of your mind, the discovery that things are not the way you always thought they were. You learn to drop so many long-held convictions and habits. For example, I was the pickiest eater in the world before moving to Korea. I used to drive my friends batty — they called me "Sally," from When "Harry Met Sally" because I was so high-maintenance at restaurants. Everything had to be on the side, no dressing, no this, no that. Now there is almost nothing I won't eat. I used to work for Greenpeace and I have a "Save the Whales" sweatshirt, but last month I ate whale — by accident, but still! I've eaten live octopus (on several occasions), grasshoppers, boiled silkworm larvae, cuttlefish eyes, and man's best friend, dog. I am no longer very squeamish.

Advice for travelers: Don't think about it too much. Don't make pro and con lists. Pro and con lists are nothing but trouble. If you think about it too much, you'll just end up staying home and then someday you'll be telling your grandchildren, "I always wanted to do that" instead of showing them photos of the trips you took and giving them advice on where to go. My family and friends often say to me, "I'm living vicariously through you." Don't ever live vicariously. This is YOUR life. Live.

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