30 October 2005

September Urban Camping Spots

September's urban camping spots started with my friends from the cool summer house emailing to ask if I wanted to urban camp at their place while they were in Dublin for the first 4 days of September.

Then I started staying with the couch surfers.

I have class in Amsterdam on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (and Fridays), so it's convenient to stay in the city on Tuesday nights.

The first Tuesday of the month I urban camped in Amsterdam with couch surfer Antony; the second Tuesday with couch surfer Koert; the third with couch surfer Roy; and the fourth with classmate Mei.

I stayed over at Carol's house a few times and urban camped at her house when she went to London for a long weekend.

My friend, Bill, has moved to the center of Rotterdam so it was nice to camp/crash at his place twice instead of going all the way to the other side of town where I was working and camping in my studio during the rest of the month.

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29 October 2005

Taking the Purge Plunge

When I was about to leave my job and start my study, Colleen wrote me an encouraging email starting with "Plunge ahead!"

I read the whole message and wrote back, starting with, "Thank you for saying 'Purge on' ..."

She wrote back saying, "I thought it was so interesting you wrote 'purge on' (I had written 'plunge ahead') -- yes, this process is as strong as purging -- I think of purging as cleansing, I guess."

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28 October 2005

Designing the Perfect Nomad Pack

Recently, I ran into Mariell Wichards as she set up sewing machines in her new studio annex.

Ever curious, I asked her what she was doing.

After she showed me her line of leather handbags, I begged her to come upstairs to my studio.

I wanted to discuss the nomad pack.

Years earlier, when I showed the original prototype to my friend Jason, he said, "That's great. You've got everything you need, but you can't find anything in there."

The second version, the Kipling backpack that I now own, was slightly larger, but it still held all of my nomadic necessities in a chaotic heap in the center.

The third version I made for the ThreeDayTrip show.

It's a black shoulder strap bag where the front flap unzips to reveal each item strapped to the inside wall of the bag.

It was specifically made with Jason's comment in mind.

As Mariell and I discussed the weaknesses of version three, I showed her the evolved fourth version of the nomad pack that I now carry.

The Kipling bag that I love now holds various smaller bags that divide up my urban camping stuff into sensible groupings.

Mariell liked this concept best and suggested we make a shoulder bag that would unzip to reveal the smaller bags lined up in filing cabinent fashion, each with a fancy but functional tag to label its contents: kitchen, office, bathroom, bedroom, living room.

As we each got a bit excited about the project and I showed her the minimalist contents of my pack, she said, "Don't you have any emotional items in there? It's all functional stuff? No, sentimental items to bring with you?"

I've felt guilty about that ever since.

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25 October 2005

The Nomad Pack

I created the nomad pack for my most mobile of times; however, variations of it still accompany me even when I'm not being very nomadic.

I want to feel at home wherever I go, so my small Kipling purse/backpack contains a tiny bit of anything I might need while exploring the urban jungle.

When friends need a tissue or an aspirin, I'm like a supermom. Or when I pull out my pocketknife or city map, I'm more like a big girlscout.

The nomad pack symbolizes my ideal of being truly mobile.

I want to be able to just get-up-and-go with my turtle shell. So, it's no surprise that I had another 'I found my people' experience when I discovered Doug Dyment's One Bag site where the opening page reads:
How to Travel Pretty Much Anywhere - for an Indefinite Length of Time - with a Single (Carryon-Sized) Bag.
Curious about the contents of Dyment's turtle shell?

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24 October 2005

Useful or Beautiful

When I stayed at Colleen's house, I saw the following quote on her bulletin board, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." -- William Morris

It's another approach to non-accumulation.

Other findings that resonate with me in terms of streamlining and traveling light:
  • John December's Live Simple Site is a modern Walden.

  • Reading the article about the man who was rescued after four months of survival at sea reminded me that we can live with a lot less than we realize.

  • The September 2002 Simsara newsletter on Vipassana meditation has a reminder to be careful what you carry.

  • Sheri Hostetler's poem, "Instructions" asks what are the few things we really need to carry with us.

  • Andrew Postman's article, 'Good-bye to All That examines why we accumulate.

  • "Domestic Imperfectionist," Dan Ho, reduced his possessions down to about 55 things because he became disgusted by societal obsessions with unstudied style and trade-up-manship.

  • Doug Dyment's popular One Bag site used to have an opening page that read: How to Travel Pretty Much Anywhere - for an Indefinite Length of Time - with a Single (Carryon-Sized) Bag.

  • The backpacking light movement offers a bumpersticker that says, "He who dies with the lightest pack wins."

  • Material World photography exhibit at O'hare airport in Chicago contrasts the possessions of statistically average families from 30 countries.

  • Joan Juliet Buck determined in her article, "Stuff Happens," that her connection to the past through loyalty to her possessions meant that she was living a "scrapbook" instead of a life.
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23 October 2005

All My Stuff

My friend, Marci, gave me an article by Andrew Postman called, 'Good-bye to All That: What one writer found when he rid his basement of a lifetime of possessions (Hint: it wasn't the basement floor)'.

It was on pp. 71-75 of the July 2005 edition of the magazine, Real Simple.

Postman lives in a four-story Brooklyn brownstone with his wife and two kids.

After eight years of accumulation, they rented an 11-feet long by 6-feet wide by 4-feet high dumpster to help them get rid of 264 cubic feet of their basement stuff.

Through the experience, the author comes to the conclusion that we are not our stuff.

Having written the article months after the purging process was completed, he remarks that not only does he not miss what they decided to throw out, he can't even remember all of the items they threw out.

Looking at the stuff of his past sticking out of the dumpster, the self-proclaimed semi-hoarder was struck by the concept of 'enough' and how his concept of enough "should have been satisfied a long time ago."

I don't like to have a lot of stuff, but I'm not too philosophical about it.

I'm not sure yet if I agree with Postman's philosophy about why we accumulate. He says:
"I understand why people amass stuff.

We do it to assert that we, the human race, were here -- an ordering, collating species whose forward-thinking, backward-looking members thought enough of themselves to archive the details of their random experiences in a bid for immortality.

More than that, it reeks of continuity and optimism; it suggests (true or not) that what you do today matters, and that tomorrow matters, too.

It plants your individual flag that says you were here.

It says that, once upon a time, someone cared enough to collect baseball cards, bring back a souvenir from a foreign country, or write a love letter."

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18 October 2005

Rita Again

In August, my Aunt Pam cut out part of her Starbucks's cup, wrote on the back of it, 'Jen, Have you seen this?' and mailed it to me. On the front of the cup, it says:

The Way I See It # 31

'Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy.
Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises.'

-Rita Golden Gelman
Author of Tales of a Female Nomad.
She has had no permanent address since 1986.

Read the whole interview.

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17 October 2005

Can You House-Hitch?

At the CouchSurfing surprise party, I met a fire breather who promised to teach me, the next day, how to spit fire.

We arranged the lesson to take place outside of Claire and Adam's house so that they could document the event on film.

After the session, a huge glass of milk, and several Google searches on the dangers of swallowing lamp oil, Claire asked me what type of books I liked to read.

When I told her that I loved creative non-fiction, she lent me, Round Ireland with a Fridge.

The author, Tony Hawks, wrote a book about winning a bet that he couldn't hitchhike around the whole of Ireland with a refrigerator.

A certain passage on page 182 resonated with my feelings towards options and sharing everything.
"I had learned not to worry; to make my choice and allow things to happen.

For the most part they turned out to be good, and when they weren't - like the night from hell in the hostel - then they were character building.

There weren't any wrong or right paths to choose, just different ones, and where they led was governed by the attitude adopted towards them.

It seemed to me that was true of life also.

"So what else? Well, I couldn't manage alone.

The nature of hitching, especially when encumbered by a kitchen appliance, is such that you are reliant on others.

We may not expect it, but there may come a time in all of our lives when we have to hitch, either physically or figuratively.

It doesn't matter how important, wealthy or talented you are, if your car breaks down somewhere and you are forced to stick out your thumb and hitch, then your fallibility and the fact that you are no better than the next person will become abundantly clear to you.

You need someone else's kindness to take you to safety.

What I was beginning to discover was that signing up to this Trust was as liberating as it was fun."
Inspired to share your car?

Visit hitchhikers.org (English-language site for making plans to hitchhike) or greenwheels.nl (Dutch-language site about getting a subscription to use 'community cars' when you need one.)

Both are symbiotic car relationships!

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07 October 2005

August Urban Camping Spots

My August urban camping spots were as follows:

After the CouchSurfing surprise party, I met up with Sharyl, Carol, Claire and Adam for a drink.

Sharyl invited me to camp at her place, which was conveniently just across the street from the pub.

Not long after that, my friend Colleen invited me to camp at her Rotterdam house while she went to a translation seminar in Utrecht for almost two weeks.

My friend Carol let me camp at her house when she went back to Pennsylvania for a family beach week.

She also let me stay at her house several times when she WASN'T out-of-town, during which time she insisted, "That's not urban camping! That's just 'staying over'!"

For the rest of August, I worked and camped in my studio ... and I'm not the only one doing that either.

A recent search on 'urban camping' resulted in another artist type urban camping in his work space.

...oh yeah, almost forgot, Carol and I camped (crashed) one night in Utrecht at Lorraine's house.

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04 October 2005

Casey Fenton Will Be In Rotterdam

When I learned, last summer, that I would have to commute three days a week for my study, I started looking for options on how I could sometimes stay overnight in Amsterdam.
  • I checked to see if it would be cheaper to stay in a hostel instead of paying round-trip train fare.

  • I checked the Sleeping in Airports site since Schiphol is only a 15-minute train ride while the trip from Rotterdam is one hour plus (two hours door-to-door).

  • I emailed the Amsterdam members of the CouchSurfing Project who had established good reputations.
Staying in a hostel would cost the same as a round-trip train ticket (but save me a lot of time) if I had to be at school for morning classes, since I can only use my train discount card after 9 AM.

I learned from www.sleepinginairports.net that Schiphol is great for sleeping AFTER you check in.

Once you pass security, there are plenty of couches and overstuffed chairs.

However, the airport seems specifically designed to keep awake the 'just visiting' people: no carpeted areas, all chairs have immovable, iron armrests.

Fortunately, about six couchsurfers replied.

As I emailed with them about my urban camping ventures and philosophies, a synchronistic email hit my inbox.

Aldo invited all of us Rotterdam couchsurfers to join a surprise party for Casey Fenton on Friday.

I read the email two hours before the event and met them at the cafe.

Casey Fenton lives somewhere in the USA.

He arranged his travel plans to come through Rotterdam so that he could meet Aldo, the first European to sign on to the CouchSurfing Project.

I told Casey that I enjoyed the coincidence of meeting him during the first week of both my new urban camping venture and my new blog.

He hadn't heard of the term 'urban camping' but thought of himself as an urban camper as well.

As we talked about how much we hated traveling as tourists, I related a comment from a friend who once said that being a tourist was like going to a fantastic place and being quarantined in the bus, and quarantined in the hotel.

We agreed that it is always better to travel and see a place from the perspective of a local.

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