My Five Travel Necessities for 2018

 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

– Mark Twain

It’s been a year of considerable travel, maybe the most mobile year ever. Planes, trains, ferries, rental cars, busses, Airbnb, Uber, even something called Bla Bla Car. I’ve used it all getting from point A to point B. From Potomac, MD to San Francisco, a month in Ecuador, another in central Mexico, and three months in Spain, I’ll easily spend most of this year away from home base camp in Jonesboro, AR. Next year already appears a close second.

Packing light and having your necessities close at hand is a learned art. But when you’re away from home for extended times, it’s important having the small things that will at least make you feel at home.

These are five items that never get bumped from my personal travel list:

This RAVPOWER portable charger means no more searching for a charging station in airports, or anywhere for that matter. It stays in my briefcase even on day trips. With an overnight charge of about eight hours, this portable charger with dual stations will give nearly four full charges to a modern smart phone. It goes for about $25 on Amazon and comes in equally handy with this next item.

I’m a cold sleeper and need cold, moving air for a good night’s sleep. It’s been that way since I was a child. At home where night-time summer temps will frequently bottom out at a humid 82 degrees, we keep the AC set at 68. There’s also a ceiling fan above the bed, a high-powered table top fan at bedside, and a big cheap box fan from Wal-Mart about ten feet from the footboard. It’s like sleeping in an arctic category 1 hurricane and I love it.

Obviously not every overnight travel situation sets up this way.

The Efluky 4.5 inch mini USB rechargeable fan is a life saver.  With three speeds, it holds a charge that will last about two hours, or connect it to the RAVPOWER portable charger for about four hours use. Connect it to an iPhone cube plugged into a wall outlet and you have a surprisingly powerful fan that will go all night long. This little treasure pretty much saved my life one stifling night in Oakland, CA, and again one night here in Spain just a few weeks back.

It’s not beyond me to take the cheap route for lunch or supper, especially if I’m tired and just want to go home.  I’ve purchased more than one can of meatballs at local tiendas here in Spain for a keep-you-going snack. It’s nice during those times not to scrounge around for a plastic fork. This one comes from REI and goes for $2 and change. I’ve had it since my first pilgrimage on the Camino Frances. It satisfies me having my own fork!

The only way my Swiss Army Knife doesn’t make the trip is when the turnaround is quick enough that no bags need checking, otherwise it’s standard carry. Two blades, bottle opener, and cork screw I can’t imagine travel without it. Back on that first pilgrimage I checked my knife in a packing tube along with my trekking pole. This link has it about $50, but I got this one for less than $20 at a local Sports Academy.

My Buckshot 2.0 bluetooth speaker is for both work and pleasure. There’s a good bit of audio/visual packed into my on-the-road Pilgrim Strong presentations and volume from the computer or projector just doesn’t get it done. You’d be surprised how much volume this thing emits – plenty for a classroom holding forty to fifty people. I bought this at WalkAbout Outfitter in Richmond, VA but you can get it at Amazon for under $30.

What’s your absolute, deal-breaking travel necessity?

Wherever you are headed happy travels and buen viaje!

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It’s Lonely in Hilton Garden Inn #309

309 and doin’ fine?

It’s hard not blogging.

It’s been just more than eight days since my last post, and since I abhor the blogs that “apologize” for having been away so long, I’ll not do that. My absence was intentional, for a purpose, and I honestly didn’t expect to return so soon.

But I’m alone. On business, in Effingham, IllinoisHilton Garden Inn, my only friend a frisco melt and onion rings from across the street, and I’m bored. So I’ve returned to the blog, my trusted sidekick.

Like my tattoos, this frisco melt, onion rings and malt, sounded like a good idea at the time.

Yes, the break from blogging was by design, for a purpose, and the job at hand is finished, so I’ve returned in my loneliness while in this two-queen, no-smoking suite.

It was a productive eight days. Book-wise I:

  • Completed the first draft of my first non-fiction work with many edits and re-writes scheduled for this weekend.
  • Started production of a 2:30-minute promotional video trailer.
  • Began the website design.
  • Secured domains for the trilogy.
  • Kicked in some extra work to develop a workbook, prayerbook and workshops that will ride the big brother’s coattails.
  • Had a long-awaited conversation with my editor.
  • Hung my head in shame when said editor chastised and ordered me to stop promoting a book that’s months away from publication.

In another area of life:

  • Got new photos of our home construction in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. It’s exciting.
  • Thought about some entrepreneurial ventures down there.
  • Got a couple of business sponsorships on our blog at www.latitudeone.wordpress.com
  • Accepted a gracious invitation from International Living magazine to submit a story about blogging to support our international adventures.

    The “walls” are going up in Cayo, and we’re excited.

And in other news…

  • Watched Chick-fil-A accidentally pull off the greatest marketing campaign in the history of the world simply by stating its already-known core values.
  • Cringed as Mitt Romney offended nine out of every 10 citizens on the European continent.
  • Followed the story of the Mississippi couple who couldn’t be married in a “white” church because they are black.
  • Read the case a 1950s-era Russian gymnast who makes that she, not Michael Phelps, is the greatest olympian of all time. For the record, I think she’s right.
  • Doubted we’d ever catch China in the medal count.
  • While driving 500 miles to this town, found a cool new Sirius radio station that prompted me to take Iphone notes on new songs to buy as I endangered the lives of many along Illinois I-57.
  • Read a surprise post from my wife today, who said she thought I was neat,

    My Dana.

    and that I had a voice like thunder. Said post substantially escalated my testosterone levels. You can read her work at www.mywindow2theworld.wordpress.com

  • On day-one of business travel, ate a Wendy’s double with cheese for lunch, and a Steak & Shake frisco melt with a vanilla malt for dinner, and fully expect to vomit in a bit.

Ya’ll expect another post soon. It’s pretty boring here.

I guess there’s always the third-floor view of Wal-Mart.

Yes, it’s great to be back on the blog. Even if it is from Room 309.

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Secondary Blog

First, to all the friends and followers who periodically stop by and occasionally enjoy this blog, a very heartfelt, “Thank you.” I appreciate your comments, “likes,” and the mere fact that you would read a word or two that comes from my heart.

Over the weekend www.stevenwwatkins.wordpress.com accumulated 5,000 hits in its first four months. In the blogosphere at large, that’s not a big deal, but it’s significant to me.

Weeks ago, I started a secondary blog that chronicles an entirely different aspect of my life, and when I hit the 5,000 mark, I made that blog public.

Maybe you will enjoy some of that work as well. Please feel free to drop by and visit any time.

LatitudeOne can be viewed at: http://wp.me/2tJ80

Until next time,

Vaya con Dios

Our Relational DNA: It Spans the Globe

This sweet lady sold me a pancho at The Middle of the World equator monument in Quito. She reminded me of my grandmother. The pancho is a rather GQ look if you ask me!

Dana and I had a number of reasons for undertaking a 10-day adventure in Ecuador, but chief among them was to immerse ourselves in the culture.

We knew there would be a number of challenges. We have an elementary grasp of the language, knew we would be traveling in unknown territory and had established only a few on-line relationships with a few American expatriates prior to our journey into Guayaquil and our ultimate destination to Puerto Cayo.

This Ecuadorian group of family and friends was on holiday at Los Suenos del Mar, and as they were posing for a group photo I ran to them to get a photo of my own. They were thrilled that I would want a photo for myself, and we spent the rest of the day, posing for more group photos together and sharing stories about our families.

For certain, there were many challenges, and we embraced them. Some have asked about our takeaway from the trip, and for one, I can say to no small degree that my faith in humanity has been restored.

This group of local tourists had been partying all night. As I walked to breakfast, bleary eyed at 7:45 on a Sunday morning, I was yet to have my first cup of coffee when they insisted that I share in a drink of the local spirits. I couldn’t say no! Viva la Ecuador!

People are good. I believe that again. And our last day in Puerto Cayo confirmed that belief.

This is my new friend, Manuel, and his two young sons. We are tough hombres!

Whoever we are, and wherever we live across the expanse of this globe, we have an innate desire to be relational … and it only takes a single kind gesture to make a lifetime of memories.

The woman at center is an Ecuadorian school teacher. She insisted that her daughter practice her English with my wife, Dana.

Vacation Not – Adventure, Yes

Dana and me in one of our more relaxed moments in Montanita, an hour north of our base in Puerto Cayo.

While we’re not particularly die-hard fans of anything on television today, Dana and I have always been drawn to the CBS reality show, The Amazing Race, where paired couples are challenged daily to travel the world in unknown territories and uncharted waters while the clock ticks away.

Unlike most of the other reality series’, Amazing Race carries a certain sophistication, and the huge benefit of taking people out of their comfort zone to experience a world created by the most creative of artists.

A few months ago when I began thinking about the possibilities for Dana’s 39th birthday, I wanted to create something memorable for her. A new blender and a pair of earrings, just didn’t seem pass the test for her upcoming milestone. She would have well appreciated anything she received, but an experience with a lasting memory was the gift which I sought.

Nearly three hours into our drive from the airport, we came across this scene on the extreme southern coast of Ecuador. At this point, we pretty much knew we were lost, though it’s not an uncommon scene anywhere you go.

A few years before we were married, Dana, at various times, served as a missionary in Mexico, Greece and Morocco. Among the things she’s experienced in her life, those times created some of her fondest memories. Her time in Greece and Morocco was solo, without the benefit of a guide or tour group, and so there’s a proven adventuresome spirit God put in her from the beginning.

So as the birthday possibilities streamed through my mind, I determined to create yet another memory – but this time, one that would be shared. I wanted an experience that would challenge us both, push us outside our comfort zone as a couple, so that every day would be a source of memories for years to come.

About a week prior to her birthday I purchased gifts that would have been adequate enough. They would be nicely wrapped with a loving card, presented at a nice surprise birthday party with a gathering of friends and family … but on one particular day the feeling came across that it just wasn’t enough.

Going back through some research I had done in the previous year, my heart led me to Ecuador. And to make a long story short, within the next 24 hours, the flight was booked, and rental car accommodations were made.

What would we be doing while we were there? I really had no clue. We’ll figure it out when we hit the ground, I decided … and so the adventure took form.

Though I’m not the most cosmopolitan of world travelers, I’ve been around some. Gulf Shores, Cocoa Beach, Bahamas, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, I’ve been there, done that and sipped all the poolside pina coladas a man could ever want.

The 10 days we would experience on the Ecuadorian coast, inland highlands and rainforests would not replicate our “vacations” of the past. We would push ourselves in territory that is literally uncharted. We would not be afraid to get lost, and we would immerse ourselves in the culture of this diverse land and its people.

After 9 hours of driving on what should have been a two-and-a-half-hour drive, we finally arrived at this scene, our base for the week, Puerto Cayo. Beautiful as it may be, the tranquility can be deceiving. This is a fishing village where the average monthly income is $300.

And it lived up to every expectation.

Five minutes after packing the rental car (A Chevy Spark with 9-gallon gas tank, stick shift and approximately 3-square feet of space within its four doors) we were as lost as two people could be. Our first miracle was simply finding a road that would lead us out of Guayaquil, a city of 3.1 million where the roads have no lines, no rules and it’s every man for himself. It was a driving fiasco. It took two hours to find our way out of the city and another 7 hours to get to our destination at Puerto Cayo.  Properly driven, it should have been a two-and-a-half hour leisurely road trip…

I left home with full intention to blog daily about our experiences in Ecuador, but it was not to be. In the beginning, 10 days sounded like a lot of time to read, write and record our adventure, but we realized quickly that every moment was precious. Too many experiences were to be had. Every moment was an investment in learning, and so I took feverish notes as time would allow to come home and share those experiences later.

This is 3-year old Carlos, the nino of Manuel and Ivonne, two friends we made at Los Suenos del Mar.

In the short time we’ve been home (less than 24 hours now) a few people have asked about our takeaway from the Ecuadorian adventure. It’s a hard thing to pinpoint, but to some degree, I can say, in a general sense, my faith in humanity has been restored.

We met and enjoyed time with some bold American expatriates who, over the next few years, will make a huge difference in the Ecuadorian economy. They are entrepreneurs of the highest caliber, and our time with them was well spent.

But we also found ways to spend invaluable quality time with local Ecuadorians who welcomed us with open arms, and even though the language barrier could be a challenge at times, the sharing of a drink, firm handshakes and hugs and kisses, warm embraces and smiles of realized friendships touched our hearts in an unforgettable way.

Yes, God’s people are good, and we find it in His finest creation (that which He created in His own image) around the world.

Over the next few days, I’ll be documenting the specific experiences we shared, and some tips should you ever decide to explore what many expatriates there now call the world’s last undiscovered frontier.

I’ll write about the best ways to travel, food, transportation, Ecuadorian culture, the economy and its potential, people and many other topics. We learned a lot. Some of it the hard way – just as we planned!

At one point in our travels I made a joking Facebook post about one night at dinner when Dana asked me this: “What’s the most amazing thing about being married to me?” All our friends wanted to know my response and so I’ll close by paraphrasing my response to those requests for an answer.

“You all tell me the right response is that Dana has a great heart, that she is beautiful, trustworthy, genuinely good and a bright spot in the lives of everyone she meets. Well guess what? I already know all that. But here’s the real deal.

“We’re not on your typical vacation here, and never planned for it to be such. We’re working with roads and roadmaps that have no similarity or relationship whatsoever, so you can pretty much throw the maps out the window. There are 3-foot potholes about every hundred yards. Donkeys, pigs and dogs dart out onto the road from nowhere. We have only an elementary grasp of the local language. There are no mohitos or cabana boys serving our heart’s every desire. Hot water for a shower happens about 33 percent of the time, and toilet paper is to be treasured. Yes, you’d better carry it with you at all times.

“This is not a vacation, it’s an adventure … and so any girl who would come along on an excursion like this and love every minute of it, is my kind of girl.”

That’s what I said.

Next post: “Day One: What in the World Have We Done?”

Dear Daddy…

 

I was thinking of you at this moment.

For just a fleeting second I was thinking how much you would enjoy this view…then I remembered you see something greater every day.

I wish I could look into your eyes again.

I wish we could embrace and I  could feel your chest against mine. I wish my hands could feel the strength in the broadness of your back.

I wish you could give me some good advice while we sat in the backyard watching the martins.

I just wish I could reach out and touch you again.

I’m doing my best to carry out the things you said. I really hope you are proud.

I wished you were here for this moment … and then I realized you were, but I still miss you so.

I know you are enjoying the everlasting Light in which you now bask. You will show me around won’t you?

See you soon. I love you so.

Steve.