How Indiana Jones taught me to travel
We didn’t travel a lot when I was a kid. Nobody in our little farming town did. But we did watch movies. More accurately, we watched the same few movies over and over on VHS. This is why I can sing every word to every song in the Sound of Music. The exception was Christmas break when we’d drive out to the homestead of a strange old farmer who had an enormous VHS collection, and borrow 15 tapes to keep us through the snowy two-week holiday. A regular presence in the holiday movie fest was Indiana Jones. I didn’t realize it at the time but as I watched his airplane trace that dotted red line across the map over names like Shanghai, Cairo, Lisbon, Indy was teaching me how to travel.
Here’s what I learned.
Choose clothes that are practical and timeless and that can work everywhere. Alright, a leather jacket in the sweaty jungles of Peru or under the Egyptian sun is a bad call. But otherwise you see Indy wearing the same thing in nearly every scene, khaki pants, a safari shirt with pockets, solid boots and of course his hat. I’m not a hat man. I gave it a try when a friend gifted me a legendary tin cloth packer’s hat from Filson. But I’ve always had hair that is curly until squashed. So hats are out. Generally, however, my wardrobe is tightly edited and works everywhere, and that includes the hard yakka short shorts I inherited in Australia.
A notable exception for Jones is his visit to Venice, where he wears a grey three piece suit. I can’t justify carrying a suit, but if I could, I would wear it to Venice for sure.
NOT LOCAL, COLLOQUIAL
No matter where he goes it seems like Indiana Jones has been there before. He knows how to act in a cafe in Cairo and what to say to a nemesis in Mandarin. He can take his coffee like an Egyptian, and his tea like a German. We’ve always bristled at “Like a Local”. We’re great travelers but there’s nowhere on earth that we are “like locals” except Seattle, and even that designation is probably fading by now. What we are is informed and humble outsiders. We don’t fit in, but we are welcomed because we’re curious and open and savvy enough to learn the codes. We’re not tricking people into thinking we are from rural New South Wales, but we can show up at the local footy match, grab a sausage roll and slip in a few choice cuss words we picked up from our good friend the avocado farmer.
Cussing is a great way to connect, by the way. I always ask taxi drivers in new places what they say when they hit their thumb with a hammer, or stub their toe. Pull that out with your new friends and you’ll get some laughs and some appreciation too. You cared enough to learn how to say “goddammit” in their language. It’s not much, but it’s better than “can you tell me where to find the bathroom?”. Which you should also learn.
Ok ok, we are constantly overpacked, so this is more aspirational. We carry a lot of things that Indiana Jones doesn’t need on his travels. Here are a few of them:
-kitchen knives and measuring spoons
-12 pounds of Lego (real number)
-Guitar, ukulele and keyboard
-our coffee setup: grinder, scale, aeropress, filters, small moka pot for the afternoon cup, and if we’re going to be far from a good roaster up to eight bags of beans.
-a portable clothes steamer
-two laptops, two cameras plus lenses, chargers and adapters for the Americas, Europe, UK/Ireland, Australia
But with all of that in the bags we still do our best to keep things reasonable. We imagine trying to change train platforms on a 10 minute exchange. Can we get this down and up the stairs again before our next train departs? No? Leave it behind.
GET IN PEOPLE’S HOMES
There’s a scene in Raider’s of the Lost Ark where Indy is on the rooftop terrace of his friend Sallah’s house in Cairo. Kids are running around. He looks supremely comfortable. He pulls a knife from his pocket to slowly peel an orange while he and Sallah discuss the excavation. Getting in people’s homes is the biggest hack we have for truly understanding a place, and it’s surprisingly easy to do. For all its faults, Instagram has been an amazing way for us to make introductions to fascinating families. We reach out, ask if we can buy them a coffee and (usually) come away with new friends! We’ve spent time in the homes of families all over the world, and in each case we’ve been given a unique and intimate perspective on family life in that city.
The photos below are from our first family trip to Morocco, way back in 2016. There’s perhaps nowhere we’ve been that gives us that Indiana Jones vibe more than Morocco, where magic and mystery wait behind each carved door. The bustle of Marrakech and the shrouded expanse of the Sahara, the canyons and spires of the Atlas mountains, hard and sharp with snakes of green along the riverbeds, this country whispers hooded secrets and transports you to another world immediately. For the curious, we’re hosting another Family Gathering this November. You can find all the details HERE.