Top 5 Tips for Hippie Travel

Electric blue roads twist and turn, offering an escape from the gaudy chaos of flying beasts and bug-eyed monsters running rampant over a city enveloped in flames. Where do those roads lead? No one knows exactly. But that’s the best part of the journey.

In a vibrant burst of rainbow colors, this scene plays out on the exterior of the ‘79 Volkswagen T2 Transporter that Aaron Neilson-Belman, a freelance web developer and photographer from Canada, has transformed into the ultimate hippie mobile with the help of Toronto-based graffiti artist Alex Currie.

Aaron Neilson-Belman’s hippie van with artwork done by Toronto-based artist Alex Currie, aka Runt. [Photo by Aaron Neilson-Belman]

Aaron Neilson-Belman’s hippie van with artwork done by Toronto-based artist Alex Currie, aka Runt. [Photo by Aaron Neilson-Belman]

Reminiscent of the psychedelic, Day-Glo bus that took Ken Kesey and his Merry Prankster’s “furthur” and “furthur” from San Francisco to New York in 1964 and down through Mexico while Kesey dodged drug charges in 1966, Neilson-Belman’s van will be turning heads the same way the Pranksters did during a year-long trip from Canada to South America for a project he calls the Hippie Man Van.

Neilson-Belman is one of a growing number of travelers who are tapping into a nostalgia for hippie era adventures, a trend that’s being exploited by the descendants of the original Pranksters with the upcoming restoration of the Furthur bus. But today, you don’t necessarily need a bus or a van of your own. Now, budget travel options are making it much easier for travelers of all ages to see the world and capture the free spirit of the pioneer hippies who set out in search of themselves, finding more than they ever bargained for in the culture and history of faraway places. Rather than letting 9-5 jobs and a false conception of the “American dream” run their lives, the hippie counterculture proved that there is much more to explore beyond the four walls of your cubicle–you just have to be up for an adventure to find it.

Chronicled most extensively in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Kesey and the Pranksters, who are widely accepted as the original hippies, gave a big middle finger to the conformist American society lingering on from the conservative ‘50s by heading out an acid-fueled adventure across the country with their stated destination simply being “furthur.” Painted across the front of the bus, this became the mantra for their trip and has remained the name of the iconic bus that the Kesey family is currently raising money to restore.

 

The moss-covered original Furthur bus patiently awaits restoration. [Photo by Jason Johnson]

The moss-covered original Furthur bus patiently awaits restoration. [Photo by Jason Johnson]

Headed by Ken’s daughter-in-law, Stephanie Kesey, the restoration is the first project for the family’s Furthur Down the Road Foundation. With the launch of their website, furthurdowntheroad.org, coming soon, the Kesey family and a group of original Pranksters hope to bring the spirit of the hippies back with an open forum for people to share their own experiences with the bus, as well as restoring the bus for many more adventures to come.

“Furthur, more than just about any other symbol, physically represents the sweeping changes that came over our world in the 1960s,” said Furthur Down the Road board member Jason Johnson. “We think it’s important to inspire people for years to come to consider those changes and their importance to all of us. We want everyone possible to have a chance to connect with this incredible, whimsical, and important piece of 20th Century art.”

Celebrating freedom of thought and expression, the Pranksters believed that the destination wasn’t just a physical place, but a state of truth that could only be reached through the expansion of one’s own perception of reality. Although psychedelic drugs also altered their reality, the Pranksters’ adventures on the road expanded their awareness of the world in a way they had never imagined. The act of travel itself seemed to have the power to expand their minds by introducing them along the way to different people and places.

“I read Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as a 23-year-old stationed in Hawaii,” Johnson said. “I was on an island, and, as an Army officer, was constrained by a set of rigid rules. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test–and it’s depiction of the Pranksters–made me think, ‘Wow! Here’s a group of people who really did something original. Really jumped into life with both feet and took some risks–in a very positive way.’ I saw the lesson in that.”

Taking a risk of his own, Neilson-Belman will embark on a yearlong journey in his own hippie mobile this August, starting in his hometown of Toronto and making his way all the way down through South America. Through various social media channels and his website, hippievanman.com, he hopes to inspire others to share his adventure and savor the freedom and focus on the here and now that the open road allows.

“I have a ton of fans who say, ‘I wish I was doing what you’re doing’ and I always see tweets saying, ‘It’s my dream to drive across the country.’ I always just think, ‘Why can’t you just do it? If you want to do it, you can make it happen,” he said. “We’re not in the ‘60s still, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”

After a motorcycle incident that took almost a year to recover, Neilson-Belman experienced his first bite from the travel bug when he used his insurance money to take a 4-month backpacking trip through Europe. “I know it sounds cliché, but it really was a wake up call,” he said. “It made me appreciate the small things, like being able to run. Just all the things you normally take for granted.”

So when he finally came across the classic VW van he had been dreaming about for years in the classified section on Craigslist a few years later, he knew it was something he couldn’t pass. “The price was right so I just said, ‘I’ve always dreamed of having one so why don’t I just do it now while I’m young?’” he said.

Again looking to Craigslist, Neilson-Belman placed an ad in the ‘Creative Gigs’ section, asking for someone interested in doing a psychedelic mural on the van. When he heard back from Currie, a celebrated muralist who has been voted best graffiti artist by Now magazine on five separate occasions, Neilson-Belman knew he had found his man. He gave him free reign over the design, which turned out to be a combination of Currie’s uniquely crafted characters and winding blue roads to represent the road trips that the van would soon adventure on.

“When I first bought the van, I didn’t plan to go to South America,” said Neilson-Belman. “I just bought it and thought, ‘Let’s see what comes out of it.’”

For these ideals, we could all heed some advice from the wandering spirits who set out in search of adventure distinct from the masses. Here are the top five tips for hippie travel:

1.Don’t follow a set itinerary

Go with the flow. It’s all about existing in the moment and letting your circumstances determine your destination. You never know where it could lead you.

For travel writer Kyra Bramble of kyrawrites.com, a day of ditching the regular tourist spots in Cambodia lead to her most mind opening travel experience to date. Setting up travel speakers near the king’s swimming pool in Angkor Wat, she started to give an impromptu circus performance with a large baton she had with her while traveling with a friend. “All of a sudden these Cambodian children started gathering around and I was teaching them how to use the baton. We found pieces of bamboo and rocks for weights and duck-taped them together so the kids had their own,” she explained. “The next thing I knew, the sun was setting and we’d spent our whole day with these kids and it was just great. We didn’t plan it that way, but it turned out to be one of those amazing bonding moments that really made me feel like I was contributing something to their community.”

Instead of booking packages, which are ready-made and easy, or signing up for tours that plan out every minute of your trip, diving head first into an adventure without any set plans provides a challenge that allows you to grow and pushes you to do things you never thought you could do. “There’s a lot more character building and finding out about yourself when you travel this way,” said Neilson-Belman. “Sometimes the challenges when you have to figure everything out for yourself are the best experiences. I’ve grown tremendously personally and learned so much about myself.”

But that’s not to say it’ll be easy.

“There will be points where you’re pulling out your hair, not sure if anything is going to work out,” he said. “When something doesn’t go your way, you have to realize it’s not that big of a deal and just figure out a way to muscle through it.”

2.Be fearless

Fear can be a crippling evil that keeps you from trying new things and experiencing the big, sometimes scary world around you. Don’t let that fear stop you. “The hardest part for people is the unknown,” said Neilson-Belman. “You have to take the leap of faith and believe that you can do it. When I did my first backpacking trip alone, I didn’t know what I was doing. There was a lot of uncertainty. But I just booked a ticket and did it. It can look daunting and scary, but once you get into it, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Say yes to things you normally wouldn’t. “If someone wants to buy you a beer, accept their gift. Sometimes you may think it’s too good to be true or kind of sketchy, but most people are just interested in where you’re from and want to learn more about you,” said Bramble. “Don’t be afraid to let the road take you where it wants to take you.”

3.Live like the locals

Websites like Couchsurfing and AirBnB invite you directly into the homes of native residents in thousands of cities across the globe. “Couchsurfing is great because you can actually talk to local people and get a totally different perspective of a place, as well as insider tips,” said Neilson-Belman. From Miami to Indonesia, he has been surfing since 2008 and has had nothing but great experiences with the site. The craziest? “I stayed with this one guy who was pretty much an alcoholic in Serbia,” he said. “It wasn’t bad—just crazy! It was a very high energy trip.”

If you’re skeptical about staying with or hosting random people, you can still take advantage of Couchsurfing’s local meet-ups and events that connect you with people in the area while taking part in fun activities like a local baseball game or language exchange sessions. “Whether it’s through music, art or your career, you can find people that are interested in the same things that you are through these meet-ups,” said Bramble, who hasn’t actually surfed herself, but highly recommends it based on rave reviews from friends. “You might not know where to find a good raw smoothie or get the best microbrew, so it opens up a lot of doors for those secret experiences.”

4.Travel responsibly

While the hippie van or bus may not be the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation, there are many other things you can do to help cut down on your carbon footprint while traveling. The hippies were all about preserving the environment. “I try to be especially conscious in underdeveloped countries and always try to have biodegradable soaps,” said Bramble. A lot of times the water I’m showering in will be the water that people in that country will end up drinking so I always try to be conscious of that.” She also recommends bringing your own refillable water bottle as it can often be difficult to find recycling options on the go and most plastic bottles end up in landfills. Eating locally will also help to cut down on pollution from imported goods. “Overall, it’s about doing what you can,” she said.

5.Find the cheapest transportation and accommodation possible

Couchsurfing and AirBnB are great options for cheap accommodation, but what about transportation? In terms of booking flights, Bramble suggests checking out Momondo and Kayak to compare prices from a wide range of airlines. Orbitz and Skyscanner are among Neilson-Belman’s favorites. “It’s really about doing your research over and over again,” said Bramble. “You have to play around with different sites to figure out what’s cheapest.” This also works for train and bus travel. “The Euro-Rail is great when you’re in Europe because you can jump on their site and plug in different destinations to see what the cost difference will be,” explained Bramble.

You can also take the Pranksters and Neilson-Belman’s approach of road tripping. He suggests packing in more people to help cut down on costs of gas and driving the speed limit to keep gas consumption in check.

Plus, there’s the fun of decking your vehicle out in total acid-trip fashion to cause a stir the way the Pranksters did. “I think for everyone who sees Further, they can’t help but feel something,” said Johnson. “That in and of itself is positive.” Neilson-Belman got a similar reaction when he first took his hippie van for a spin to Burning Man 2011. “Because of the unique design, you just see smiles on people’s faces,” he said. “You’re getting thumbs up and peace signs—it’s a great feeling.”

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