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Editors Note:  This article was originally sent via email on February 21, 2020 to Pomelo Travel Subscribers.  Some references may be outdated, but the heart of this message is just as important now as it was then. 

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Are you in quarantine? Here’s something positive! I’m inviting you to observe a special holiday with us this year. 

Nyepi, or the “Day of Silence” is part of Balinese New Year’s ceremonies and falls on March 25th, 2020. 

We’ve chosen to observe it as a company and I invite you to participate wherever you are by silently meditating, fasting, and taking a break from technology!  This year, as most of you are in quarantine, you’ll actually be able to easily participate with us! 


Every year we unite as a company alongside the Balinese and step away from our work to spend a day in silence. I think it’s important to come together as a society and reflect in silent meditation. Bali is a great example of this. The results for their society are beautiful, as I observed last year. 

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In the days leading up to Nyepi there are many ceremonies.  I took this photo after a village performed the Melasti ritual at Batu Bolong beach.

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What is Nyepi?


Long-time subscribers may have realized by now that I have a special fascination with Indonesia, and Bali specifically. In Bali, they celebrate Nyepi.  It is a day of silence, fasting, and meditation observed once a year. Activities all over Bali stop. The international airport, shops, and bars close.  The roads are empty and beaches deserted. No light or noise (TV, music) is to be seen coming out of your house. Internet and electricity is even shut off in some places. There are Pecalangs (traditional Balinese security men) on patrol to make sure nobody breaks these rules. Can you imagine if this happened in the United States?  I could never imagine this happening, until this year watching us respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

It is meant be a period of self-reflection: a day to make and keep a balance between nature and your actions, your inner and outer self.  While westerners begin the New Year with parties and noise, the Balinese start the New Year with silence. Many of you reached out last year asking how it feels to be part of Nyepi in Bali, so I wrote a 10+ page article about my experiences. You can learn more about Nyepi in Terra Ignota magazine.  



My Invitation


We want to invite you to participate in Nyepi with us, wherever you are. If you can, drop all electronics, travel, and regular activity and devote yourself to a day of silence. It doesn’t necessarily mean no talking – just slowing down enough to reflect on your life.  

As a result, our offices and customer service will be closed March 25-26. 




Live differently for a while,

Chris Muhlestein
Founder, Pomelo Travel

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Photo by Pomelo Subscriber and former employee, Holly Frogley, on one of our many trips to Southeast Asia 

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As the travel world nearly comes to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our focus here at Pomelo is changing.  We’re not encouraging travel from March until at least the beginning of August, but we do want to remind you that the future will be bright!  We won’t stop sending flight deals, and here’s why: the world needs something to look forward to.  This moment will pass and the world will begin connecting in new and remarkable ways.  I think we’ll wake up at the end of this pandemic with a renewed desire to connect in the physical space.  We’ll crave connecting face-to-face with other cultures, and want to re-engage with our travel dreams after long restrictions. We’ll celebrate all aspects of life and culture.  

 In light of this, I want to explain a little more about Pomelo Travel and our ambitions.  


 

It’s not just about flight alerts 

Pomelo Travel was born out of a few months of self-reflection back in 2014.  I was, in some ways, frustrated with the way our society was headed and constantly thinking of what I could do to help solve some of the societal ills I saw in Utah, USA. I had just spent several months living in rural communities across Asia & the Middle East with my Sociologist uncle, Dr. Ralph Brown, who kindly mentored me on topics in rural sociology.  We spent much of 2010 – 2013 traveling together.  Rural communities, I found, had different challenges than bigger, more industrialized parts of the world. Often limited resources, opportunities, or lack of cultural recognition by the government led people to live much differently than their neighbors in nearby larger cities or villages.  As I got to know people, my outlook on life changed dramatically. It’s one thing to see how others live on the internet, but to talk with them, live with them, and eat with them is a much different experience.  

 I had little expectation for what I would encounter in places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Jordan. For example, I quickly found that the people in rural northern Thailand were open, connected to each other, their community, and lived with a certain happiness I hadn’t seen before. People were simply happy…  joyful even!  We would eat together into the late hours of the night, laughing about the things that happened that day, with no regard for time or what was happening the next day.  As people went about their work in the villages we researched, I would see villagers stop to talk with each other, in no hurry. In fact, they would often stop and talk to us, even if they were in the middle of agricultural work, not bothered by the fact that maybe they should be working!  This was remarkable, coming from a culture that values busyness and a certain degree of separation between strangers. To Northern Thais, a good conversation seemed much more valuable than economics.  It wasn’t “time is money,” as you often hear in the USA.  To them, life obviously had other priorities. Life moved at a pace I was unfamiliar with, and it took me some time to adjust to the new pace.  Some villagers joked, it’s “Thai time!” when they were late to an appointment.  As inefficient as it was, I began to see certain benefits to this new pace of living.  On the surface people seemed more relaxed, and not quite as plagued by the modern ills of our society:  anxiety, depression, domestic violence, heart disease, and more.   

 

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Eating dinner with a friend and his family in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2013

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 A lot of those experiences were almost ten years ago.  I was a wide-eyed wanderer, ready to soak up any experience and squeeze any value from it.  I’ll admit — I was naïve to some of the challenges people had in the rural communities I visited (and lived in!), as any traveler is.  Living in a rural, economically challenged corner of the world isn’t always as worry-free as it may appear when first visiting.  The more you travel, the more you realize the world is nuanced, more complex, with unpleasant realities hiding just beyond sight.  

Even then, some of what I experienced was true.  Life was different there, and what I learned from my first few years of traveling changed the way I live, even today. I discovered something beautiful, and it infused my life with flavor! I live slower, I eat differently, I spend less on trivial things (so I can save to travel, of course!), I’m more spiritually minded, and much more connected to people that have different cultural backgrounds than I do. Travel made me ask myself difficult questions, but the answers I’ve found fill my life with purpose.  

 Those experiences led me to start Pomelo Travel.  I wanted to give others the chance to experience something like I had:  long international trips, with the chance to slow down and understand a different culture.  We started by offering home stays and internships in Southeast Asia, which was a lot of hard work, but the results were rewarding.  Each customer felt like family, and they each had personalized, unique trips!  These weren’t packaged tours: they were on-the-ground experiences, where we were eating with local people, living with them, and learning with them.  It was some of the happiest days of my life, and I think many of them would say the same thing.  I want to keep the spirit of those trips alive in what we do now.  


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“I wanted to give others the chance to experience something like I had:  long international trips, with the chance to slow down and understand a different culture.”  – Chris Muhlestein, Founder Pomelo Travel 

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Can travel improve the way we live? 

 My curiosity and desire to understand the world has led me on many trips, both before I started Pomelo and after. Even after years on the road, one of the ironic truths most of my close friends know is that I often enjoy being home more than traveling. The calm, meditative movements of home life, and connections with family and friends, keep me grounded and happy.  

 While that is true, what is also true is that I also want to push myself to understand and experience new ways of living.  I like connecting to people that think differently than I do.  I also love being outside, and a trip is a great way to live under the trees, in the weather, and in the sunshine of life. This motivates me to leave home and explore.  

 I’ve always been curious; how can travel improve the way we live?  

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Spending time with a Beduin family in their tent while doing research in 2010.  Northern Jordan

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I would be the first to admit that travel can be complete selfishness.  Just check out the travel section on your discover page on Instagram for a taste. We love to show others where we’ve been, to post constantly, and elevate our social status by traveling.  Now, I’d argue that traveling is just as much a sign of social status as owning a Porsche, living in a multi-million dollar home, sporting a designer hand bag or an expensive watch.  It’s one way to be seen, especially with the advent of social media. You can only post about your car, or your house, so many times, but you can post about your constant traveling with a perfectly edited photo every day of the year, always being seen doing something.  This is discouraging to me, both for the well – being of the traveler and the well-being of our planet.  To me it’s a certain vanity that we haven’t quite come to understand it’s complete impact.  

One must only take a trip to Iceland, Bali, Hawaii, or even Los Angeles to see what this kind of tourism has done to our economies, ecosystems and happiness. The Faroe Islands, a small archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean between the UK and Iceland, even closed down for a few days to tourism to clean up the mess left by the increase in tourism.  Local residents in these tourism hot spots must deal with unprepared and uneducated tourists infiltrating even the most rural parts of the country looking for a photo, or an experience they have seen on social media. Of course, they allow this because of the boost in economy, but that doesn’t make it any less concerning. A few posts by a celebrity, or ‘insta famous’ person can change the way entire countries live. Or, in my case, a cheap flight alert with prices low enough can lead a few thousand people to a place they are totally unprepared for.  This trend can impact rural communities and lifestyles are transformed.   

I feel responsibility for this.  

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Tourists overwhelming the Golden Circle in Iceland. Photo by Chris Muhlestein, 2017

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Paradoxically, travel can also do so much good.  Tourism improves conditions in certain places. It boosts economies. It educates us. It brings the people we travel with closer together.  It exposes us to new cultures, new food, and amazing experiences. It’s fun! It gives us hope, and something to look forward to. Often a single trip can be the highlight of our lives.  

But can it also be a selfless act, simultaneously improving our lives and the lives of others?  

If it can, how can Pomelo be the leader in a new, better kind of travel?  Can travel still improve the way we live? The answer is an unequivocal yes, but the path to get there might not be so simple.  

Pomelo Opens The Door 

For me, Pomelo has never been about how many people I can send on a trip, or where people go, or how many subscribers we have, or how much money we make. It’s not even completely about travel, for me.  It’s about improving the lives of our subscribers.  Travel may just be one way to do this, depending on the way we travel.  Here at our virtual office, we live by the notion that travel can – and should – be approached differently.  This unprecedented time in the travel industry allows plenty of time to explore our fundamental beliefs, and hopefully provide a unique service to you.  

There is no single ‘right way’ to travel.  There are so many different types of people, with an infinite amount of travel styles. That’s the beauty of our flight alerts – you can use them however you want.  They open the door to new experiences.  

We, as a company, are going to focus on a few ways travel can improve your life.  Some areas of focus may be:   

  • Travel as a way to connect with new cultures 
  • Travel as a way to connect with your family
  • Travel as a pilgrimage, as a spiritual journey
  • Travel as a learning experience
  • Travel as a way to help others
  • Travel as a way to connect with ancestors

 I want to explore this topic with you, together. I want to hear about how travel improves your life.   How has it improved your life?  Write me a letter: info@pomelotravel.com 

Address it to Chris, if you want me to see it.  I hope this provides context to our operations, and I especially hope you all are healthy and looking forward to a brighter future.  

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Above: A Pomelo Travel group after a long summer of work at an Orphanage in Thailand. 2015

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Above: A Pomelo Travel group in 2015 floating down the Mekong River in Laos

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Chris Muhlestien visitng former students near Chiang Mai, Thailand 2014

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Above: A Pomelo Travel group visits Angkor Wat in 2015

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Above: Dr. Ralph Brown in Jordan, 2010.  He inspired most of what we do here. 

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Editors note:  Would you like to travel from the comfort of your own home? Check out our new magazine!

 

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Dear Pomelo Travel family,

 As a valued Pomelo Travel subscriber, I just want to express my gratitude for you and the trust you place in us to provide helpful travel advice.

 As news about COVID-19 (or coronavirus) continues to unfold, we want to provide current, helpful information that allows you to prepare for your next trip responsibly. We’ve created a helpful page with travel resources in response to the virus. We are constantly monitoring world events with your safety in mind and rely heavily on information from the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the US Department of State when making travel decisions. While the ultimate responsibility to travel safely is yours, our team is dedicated to offering you the resources necessary to make these decisions.

For information about what COVID-19 is, what you should know, and further updates surrounding the virus, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Health Organization.

If you need specific information regarding the current COVID-19 situation in a specific country, including any current travel advisories in place, please refer to the US Department of State.

Given the latest updates from these organizations, and the global level 4 travel advisory, effective Tuesday, April 7, 2020, we will not be sending flight deals that depart between March – July 2020. 

While airline operations continue, we want to do our best to offer you useful resources that will promote awareness, lessen fear, and ultimately reduce the spreading of the disease, which, in turn, will hopefully reduce the risk of your flight plans being changed or canceled. We’re optimistic that the spread of this disease is temporary, and that travel will resume as normal soon.

In the meantime, you can expect to see great flight deals with departures from August 2020 through the early months of 2021 (as far as the booking calendar extends). We will be continually monitoring new travel advisories as well as new information issued by the CDC and WHO and will adjust the deals we send out when necessary.

Please resist the impulse to travel while sick. It may be a great opportunity to book deeply discounted tickets to unexpected places that aren’t deeply affected by the virus. The tickets you purchased for travel before the COVID-19 outbreak may not need to go to waste. We encourage you to move forward with your travel plans after consulting the resources provided on our website, if you’re comfortable. We want you to be informed and aware, not afraid — knowledge is power.

If you feel hesitant to move forward with your travel plans after referring to the resources we’ve provided — most US airlines as well as some international airlines have fee waivers in place directly related to COVID-19 for both new bookings as well as existing reservations, allowing you the flexibility to book with confidence and to change or cancel your reservations as needed. You can refer to their direct websites for that information as it will be airline-specific.

We understand and acknowledge the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak and can only hope that the resources we’ve offered will help you to make the most educated decision that is right for you.

If you have questions about your subscription, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team is ready and waiting to help. Please email info@pomelotravel.com with questions. 

For all of us here at Pomelo Travel, we believe that travel is an essential freedom that can change our lives for the better —  It connects us, gives us something to dream about, and makes our society better. This moment will pass. With the right awareness, preparedness, and perspective, we can move forward together without fear. There will still be plenty of great travel options for 2020 and beyond. Keep an eye out for deals!

Thank you so much for supporting us. We’ll continue to work tirelessly to provide great travel opportunities for you.

 

Sincerely,

 

Chris Muhlestein

CEO & Founder

 

For latest news regarding our flight alerts as conditions change, check this page.

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