On the first week of 2018, I began a year-long project of trying something new every week and writing about it. I named it The Unbridled Path, in reference to moving away from the concept of a bridle path, or a much traversed equestrian trail, and embracing a life dedicated to finding my own way.
Since much of my 2018 has been spent away from my native California, I’ve tried many new things in far-away regions: think kendo in Kyoto and rock climbing in Meteora. Although some of these adventures were one-timers, some have become hobbies…or at least something I try, and will try, wherever I go.
Even if you, as a traveler, don’t find yourself drawn to trying a new leisurely pursuit abroad, continuing your already-beloved hobbies can prove insightful. If you like hiking at home, try climbing Fuji in Japan. If you’re musically inclined, take a lesson with a native instrument in each country you visit. A runner? Taking a neighborhood jog every morning is one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with new surroundings. If you’re a yogi already familiar with correct posturing, take a class in the local language – you’ll quickly pick up words like ‘inhale,’ ‘exhale,’ ‘right,’ and ‘left.’
Because of my project, I’ve found things I never would have tried otherwise. Here, we’ll dive into three specific hobbies I started or tried while abroad, and how any Dame Traveler can take on a new hobby.
During my 4 weeks on the Greek island of Lesvos, I was desperate to find a ceramics class. I had never used a wheel before…and perhaps my last time interacting with clay was as a Girl Scout back in the ‘90s. But the islands are known for their ceramics, and I saw beautifully designed bowls created by locals on every street.
My guesthouse manager Kasia did some research and found a local potteress in the nearby mountain town of Stypsi. I found digging my hands into clay and crafting something of my own to be an extremely grounding experience. It felt intimate in a way, like I was truly connecting with the depths of the Earth. And that this clay was local – from Crete – made the experience even more enlivening.
I went on this trip as one of 17 digital nomads, so I asked if anyone else in the group wanted to come. Tam, another writer hailing from the UK, accompanied me to both classes in Elektra’s workshop – the first, to mold our bowls, and the second, to paint them. In the interim, Elektra fired our creations, and at the end, she personally delivered our painted, glazed, and twice-fired items to us. Since she spent many years in Australia, our communication was flawless and I could ask all the questions my clay-loving heart desired.
I didn’t want my ceramics journey to end, so later in the summer, in South Korea, I found a class through Airbnb Experiences. Because it was a one-part class dedicated to making items of my choice, I didn’t have the opportunity to paint the little vase and herd of two chubby sheep that I made from Korean clay. I could have taken someone else’s finished item, but as attached to my sheep as I was, I was fortunate enough to be staying in Seoul long enough for Nina to fire and glaze the herd. I picked them up after one week and we live happily ever after.
Tip: Ask locals for advice on classes – I never could have found the Greek workshop on my own. They’ll know where to look and will likely be able to direct you to a reputable person that speaks English.
On the same trip, I tried out photography in an informal way. It wasn’t an activity I set to do as part of my project, but I had just been inducted into Instagram (#latecomer). A translator from France let me use her Canon EOS Rebel T2i and Sara, a trip facilitator, lent me her Canon Powershot G5 X, if those names mean anything to you!
I learned from another girl, Randi, about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO – terms I had never heard before this trip. With these cameras in hand, I played with the Lesvos landscape and learned that I loved to capture locals, everyday life, architecture, and animals in moments of time.
In Japan and Korea, I continued this informal experiment, leading to my trying a film camera for the first time in Seoul, this time as part of my project. In my photography lesson, I walked around Seoul with a professional photographer and used a roll to take pictures of everyday life.
Tip: Leverage your connections…perhaps a generous acquaintance has equipment you can borrow. If not, try something new with a friend.
Horseback riding is not a new hobby for me, but in Greece I decided to try it out for the first time internationally. I contacted Rita, the owner of Ippos Riding School, and set up a first lesson. Fast forward four weeks, and I had taken seven lessons and three excursions around the area via horse.
What really warmed my heart was that six other digital nomads friends I made in Greece came riding with me – they either took lessons or went on an excursion, and five of them had never been on horseback before!
Rita’s farm is small and modest, but I had found a gem: she is an excellent instructor that communicated to me in a different way than I was used to. Even more importantly, she takes good care of her horses. I felt a special connection with two of them, Athena and Erik.
When I came back to California, my instructor of 20 years immediately noticed a difference in some subtleties of my riding. These were things that, although my trainer could spot, Rita encapsulated in techniques and ways of instruction that easily translated over to me. One of the main reasons I want to go back to Lesvos is to ride with her and her horses again.
Tip: If you want to try something that involves ethics (like animal care) and potential danger, look for a reputable instructor. I’ve seen many beachside and roadside riding excursions all over the world, but no matter, the activity, try not to patronize anyone that isn’t interested in best practices. Travel insurance is always a good idea, too.
Every hobby, no matter how widespread it is, has a different flavor unique to each locality it’s practiced in. You will learn not only learn the subtleties of whatever craft you attempt, but each location’s approach to it will give you special insight into both the art and the culture…even if it’s as simple as meditating or walking up a mountain.
With the rise of mainstream offerings like Airbnb Experiences in many countries, it’s easy to find activities that are offered in English, but also try asking locals! If in need of direction, you can post on Facebook groups dedicated to traveling and search out expat communities. There are many activities that aren’t advertised, and supporting good-hearted locals in their crafts is all-around beneficial.
Our small globe is becoming as well-connected as ever, so it is highly possible that you can navigate whatever adventure calls to you with a gifted teacher, or a guidebook. May all your dreams come true, and may you learn from your own unbridled path.