Welcome to the living record of our travels in Europe
The Grand Tour became a popular rite of passage for well-to-do Europeans during the mid-17th through 19th centuries. A standard itinerary through France and Italy was designed to educate the travelers in art, culture and the 'roots of Western civilization'. Society's goal was to develop the tastes and manners of the up-and-coming bourgeoise; personal enlightenment was a secondary benefit.
Largely funded by colonial exploits or aristocratic entitlements, the historic travelers had nearly unlimited budgets and indulgent familial connections.
This is where we depart from history:
Though we likewise seek enlightenment through experience, we are neither European nor especially well-to-do. Thus, we've embraced the avant-garde ideals of resourcefulness and experimentation to embark not on the Grand Tour of the past, but the Avant-Grand Tour of the present.
With this website we hope to share the distinct triumphs and tribulations of doing very much with very little.
Who are these vagabonds?
After spending my youth in a neighborly mountain town where nobody got away with much of anything, I became intrigued by the anonymity and complexity of cities. The ability of millions to live in the same place and somehow sort the inevitable human complications into institutions and systems which, for better or worse, persist continually awes me. Though the quiet of Colorado is where I feel most at home, I find the urban collisions of individuals and cultures a wellspring of creativity. By some alchemy it seems when enough people gather to get at the same thing (prosperity) rather than divvying up the fixed sum so each has less, more is made.
I'm blessed with a family that indulged my curiosity with childhood trips to Mexico, Thailand, Italy, Hawaii and a handful of contiguous states, as well as a group of friends who devote their weekends to exploring the wilderness areas of the American West and beyond. As a member of Engineers Without Borders, I've also had the privilege of spending a couple summers in Central East Africa developing water projects.
Apart from a longing for novel landscapes and forms of expression, my travels are largely motivated by a passion for the 'necessary' arts; especially architecture and cuisine. In my experience, the most authentic articulations of culture and place are often those not intended as articulation at all, but sustenance.
As a little girl, I fell in love with old things. Or as I recall adults telling me, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Anything secret, hidden or buried gave me the guilty pleasure of discovery.
I didn’t become an archaeologist, but with films produced by the BBC, chivalric romance novels, National Geographic calendars, cups of tea with cream and worldly home-cooked meals I did begin to entertain the idea of living abroad. In the process, I nurtured my will to find my true self through my reactions to unfamiliar places and situations.
My family encouraged such dreams by taking me to Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada, the Bahamas and on road trips throughout the U.S. When the opportunity presented itself in college, I gratefully took off to study abroad in Florence and quickly caught the itch to see more of Europe.
Over the next few years spent earning my degree from Naropa University, I began saving money and fantasizing about where it might get me. I accepted odd jobs completely estranged from my artistic inclinations, providing technical support for a credit card processing company, working as a barista, cooking overhyped health foods at a gym café and selling equally overhyped clothing at a fashionable boutique. With the help of my family (who generously allowed me to join the ‘Boomerang Generation’ and move back home for a year to save on rent) I was able to work up enough funding to realize my juvenile aspirations.
As a jewelry designer, writer and photographer I hope this journey will help me to refine my personal niche. I would love to unearth ancient secrets, make and bury some new ones of my own, meet future friends and colleagues, embark on culinary adventures, get lost and achieve that particular humility that comes along with forgetting oneself in an exotic place.
When will we be voyaging?
Having recently graduated from our respective universities, the choice of what to do next felt like it was really ours for the first time. 'Settling down' wasn't appealing yet and the liberty of the unknown beckoned. Instead of seeking comfortable jobs we weren't awfully excited about, we opted to load our belongings in two backpacks and chase the horizon.
We departed the 1st of September, 2014, and plan to continue traveling until the end of September, 2015. However much of our itinerary is unfixed, and if we can pull together more resources or find work overseas we may continue to roam past that date. Of course, this is not a one-off ordeal; the greater aim is to travel as much as we can throughout our lives, to never stop learning. With the goodwill of the universe and our friends and family we will always be on some chapter of the Avant-Grand Tour.
How have we managed to realize our excursion?
To be frank, slowly. We've both worked and saved for years while in school, at times holding down three jobs a piece while studying.
We aim to stay moving for a full calendar year, which means that by European standards our budget is fairly strict - about €30.00 per person per day. Fortunately, the age of information has provided us many unprecedented resources. We've been able to find cheap airfare leveraging web services such as Skyscanner and Adioso; Airbnb has proved our saving grace with regard to finding affordable lodging; insightful guides published by LikeALocal and others have led us toward cheap, quality food and entertainment.
Adapting our schedule to economic advantages has also been essential. Willingness to stay in a single place for a month or more at a means significantly decreased rates for accommodation and fewer transit expenses. Visiting during the off-season and staying in un-gentrified districts has similar boons. Happily, these adaptions also allow us intimate and nuanced experiences.
Work-stays coordinated through HelpX have further extended our trip, as well as introduced us to incredibly hospitable individuals.
Where will we go?
For now, Europe. Challenging the preconception of the continent as among the most expensive destinations is part of the fun. Our minds and agendas are open to whims that may arise, but we do have a bucket list of locations with special relations to our personal interests in art, architecture, culture and cuisine: Barcelona, Granada, the Greek Isles, Athens, Istanbul, Berlin, Prague, Paris, Florence, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, London, and Edinburgh to name a few. We are also delighted to consider suggestions! A wise man once said that while a tourist sees only what they came to see, a traveler sees what they see.
Why are we committed to locomotion?
First, because the world is big; every place is a singular synthesis of geography, climate, culture and history. The spectrum of civilization is near infinite and we feel it would be naïve to guess at our ideal roles in the scheme of things without at least testing the possibilities. Plus, it so happens all that variation is stunningly beautiful.
Second, because the world is small; the advent of information communications technologies and relatively affordable air travel has made exchange more rapid and thorough than ever before. We believe to operate as an informed citizen of such a global culture, one must be aware of circumstances beyond his or her nation.
Third, because we had to; a love of travel is exactly that - love. Restlessness can't begin to explain the compulsion. Some of you reading will undoubtedly understand, and we expect some of you won't, which is just as well. Whatever your inclinations, we hope this website will either help to quench your thirst for the unfamiliar or help you comprehend the appeal.
Ultimately, because coming home is not the same as having never left. Friends and family, we miss you dearly and look forward to returning with new stories to share, new ideas, and newfound appreciation.
Whether from the back of an elephant or an armchair, never stop exploring.
Michael Salka & Chelsea Nattiel Sherman