Last updated: 03:53 PM ET, Sun April 05 2015

Opinion Home | Suitcase Stories' Luxe Life Travel Tales and Tips

  • Nicole Connolly | April 5, 2015 3:53 PM ET

    Some Not-So-Conventional Ways to See the World

    Some Not-So-Conventional Ways to See the World

    Image courtesy of Thinkstock/Wavebreakmedia Ltd

    The way most people travel is old. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the gentry and nobility of England would send their sons on the Grand Tour, usually through France and Italy. The Tour was considered an essential part of every good education; chaperoned by a tutor, the young man would see cultured life on the Continent, maybe pick up a new language, and learn about politics and geography (and, unofficially, about wine and women and gambling and other, shall we say, extra-curricular activities).

    The party on Tour — actually called tourists — often stayed in inns or rented rooms at high end resorts; they took their meals at these early restaurant-hotels, and at the end of their stay paid the innkeeper or maitre d’hotel what they owed based on a previously discussed, fixed, per-night rate. Locals discovered how easy it was to turn guiding these tourists around their city into a very lucrative business. The modern tourist industry was born.

    It looks different, today. Most people’s travel vacations last only a week or two, at most a summer, not the long, meandering, sometimes year-long affairs that the old Grand Tours were. Travel is no longer restricted to the wealthy. Middle class people, working people, now have the means to do a little travelling as well. Women are as free to travel as men, at least in most of the world. But still, the basic arrangement has remained more or less the same: The traveler finds a hotel, which advertises a fixed price per room per night, and stays there. He eats at restaurants, paying the bill after the meal. He may rent a car while abroad, just as the aristocratic tourists two hundred years ago might have rented a coach; he may well hire a tour guide. It’s a very fixed, very formulaic way of travelling.

    But it’s not the only way. Historically we know of men who wanted to see the world, and left home to find it — without the money of an English baron’s son, or the comforts of luxurious resorts and hired coaches. In the Middle Ages, Marco Polo walked, rode, and sailed from Venice to the Mongol court at Beijing, a trip of twenty odd years, in which he slept everywhere from a tent in the desert to the palace of the Khan. In the

    Muslim world, a certain Ibn Battuta did the same, wandering for decades across the known world, braving deserts, bandits, disease. Later on, as the European powers developed their navies, young men in search of new sights and new people — and not a thousand identical hotels and grasping tour guides — would go to sea, spending a year or more on a sailing vessel, threatened by storms and pirates and fever.

    And today? The most adventurous among us can still find dangerous ways to see the world — as photojournalists in war zones, as sailors, as trans-Sahara hikers, or climbers in the Himalaya. But there are many people — many, many people — who are discontent enough with traditional travel to hunger for something more, and not quite insane enough to start a walking tour of Afghanistan. Luckily, these people have options. One is a work-exchange program. Willing Workers On Organic Farms, or WWOOF, allows travelers to see new countries without having to pay for room and board. The traveler works on a farm, necessarily out in the country, often far away from the normal glitz of tourist destinations; they get to meet the local people, work as the locals work, eat as the locals eat, sometimes roughing it outside in bad weather. Workaway and HelpX offer the same type of opportunity, although not limited to organic farms.

    Beyond work exchanges, however, there is also house sitting. The house sitter does not have to worry about hotels, about falling into tourist traps, about expensive restaurants and rental cars. But neither does the house sitter have to worry about roughing it. He or she has a bed, a kitchen, a washing machine, maybe a pet for company; there might be a balcony or a garden to relax in, a car or a bike to see the area from. He or she can meet locals easily, at the local cafes and stores and parks. The house sitter doesn’t merely visit a place, but actually lives it. The house sitter is not a tourist at all, not in the historical sense; the house sitter is a traveler.


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Nicole Connolly Suitcase Stories' Luxe Life Travel Tales and Tips

Nicole Connolly Nicole, along with her husband Michael, left her ordinary life behind for a life of extraordinary travel. The couple left Australia in March 2012 and have been traveling ever since. Nicole has a penchant for all things luxury and this shows in their lifestyle. They may live the life of a gypsy but they certainly know how to do it in style. Their goal is to share their experiences and show others how a life of luxury is possible without the big bank account. Follow their adventures at
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