February 6, 2013

Everybody's got traveling shoes


---- — WEST CHAZY — Rob and Jaki Roy inherited traveling genes, which, in part, led them to establish Earthwood Building School in West Chazy 32 years ago.

Rob cruised with his parents through Haiti and Panama as a lad of 12. He still recalls the beauty of the tropical flora and fauna and a magical-lit sky. Jaki’s first adventures were with her four older siblings along the River Dee in her native England. When she was a teen, her parents sent her to France to improve her French.

In their latest book, “The Coincidental Traveler: Adventure Travel for Budget-minded Grown-ups,” they recount the roots of their experiential journeys, solo and together, and those of friends and family around the globe.


Quoting Paul Theroux in AFAR magazine’s May/June 2011 issue, they write: “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been; travelers don’t know where they’re going.”

They heartily embrace Theroux’s sentiment and came up with five philosophies to achieve travel goals:

▶ Getting to really know the country we are visiting, and its people.

▶ Doing exciting and adventurous things.

▶ Being good ambassadors for our country.

▶ Traveling responsibly, having a minimal impact on the planet and the places we visit.

▶ Traveling inexpensively.


If your travel plans center around a Hilton hotel or a Cunard cruise, Rob and Jaki are a little too authentic for you. Consummate backpackers, they prefer hostels, guest houses and couch surfing.

They just returned from a 15-day sojourn in the Virgin Islands.

“It’s a very expensive place,” Rob said. “We were able to keep it affordable and stay with friends on St. John who invited us and do some couch surfing on Water Island off St. Thomas. We went to You put up a profile telling about yourself and read the profiles of people you’ll like to surf with. It’s free accommodations. It’s against the rules to charge anyone.”

Rob and Jaki put feelers out to five people, and three responded. They listed their interests: building, travel, megalithic stones, music and books.

“People found our profile attractive, and they wanted to meet us,” Rob said. “We started with one fellow two nights on Water Island. Another lady, in the midst of moving between apartments, said ‘I want to meet you.’ She met us as we got off the ferry on the other side. She took us to an excellent local deli where we had fish sandwiches.”


Friends recommended Ivan’s Stress Free Campgrounds on Jost Van Dyke, the smallest of the four main British Virgin Islands. There, they stayed in an 18-square-foot rudimentary, simple cabin, Rob said. 

“Even that was $65 a night,” he said. “That’s expensive for us. That’s cheap for the Virgin Islands. You don’t get anything cheaper than less than $150.”

Guidebooks such as “The Lonely Planet” are gems for locating low-cost accommodations as well as word-of-mouth from other travelers.

“We use guidebooks a lot,” Jaki said.

“We research before we live, and it’s not entirely a surprise,” Rob said. 

In the Virgin Islands, they went snorkeling 18 times.

“That’s one of our passions,” Rob said. “We went to the mango forests on the edge of the water. We saw turtles, eels, lobsters, squid and little tropical fish. The Virgin Islands exceeded our expectations. On St. John, 70 percent is a national park. It was purchased by Lawrence Rockefeller. He fell in love with it and purchased large tracts and donated more than 5,000 acres to the U.S. government.”


Since almost everything is imported, food is expensive.

“We stay with our friends, and we treated them to meals out,” Jaki said.

“We also contributed to groceries,” Rob said.

“When we go out snorkeling, we take sandwiches to the beach for a picnic,” Jaki said.


They cultivate close encounters with locals and like-minded travelers, a far cry from the way most Americans experience other places and cultures.

“Americans are missing the boat when they travel,” Rob said. “We saw 5,000 people on one of these big cruise ships in Road Town. The street along the bay is full of souvenir shops and tourist traps.”

One or two streets back, there was a charming old street with nicely colored, typical Virgin Islands-style buildings, a museum and a wonderful bakery.

“I feel sorry for cruise-ship people rushing around,” Rob said. “There’s a difference between tourists and travelers.”

Rob and Jaki wrote “The Coincidental Traveler” to show a path not

commonly taken.

“We have great experiences with local people,” Rob said. “That is not what will happen if you stay in a gated hotel in the Dominican Republic or get off the cruise ship for an hour.”


“We have more fun,” Jaki said. “We’re on an adventure, and something unexpected happens.”

At Gertrude’s, located on the main beach, Rob and Jaki engaged in conversation with a couple from Hudson, N.Y. To return to Ivan’s Stress Free Campground, Rob and Jaki had to pass through a forested area. Their fellow New Yorkers offered to take them back in a dinghy.

“He takes us to this half-million dollar yacht,” Rob said. “There were other couples from New England sharing this really expensive yacht. The 10 of us are drinking ‘painkillers,’ a local drink with coconut and other fruit juices and rum. We’re having a great time on board. That was something unexpected that happened. They extended themselves to us. We picked up on that.”

In the book, this is covered in Chapter 3: “Cultivating Coincidences.”

“You have to put yourself in the position for serendipity to happen,” Rob said.

Email Robin Caudell:

TO LEARN MORE WHAT: "The Coincidental Traveler: Adventure Travel for Budget-minded Grown-ups," by Rob & Jaki Roy. COST: $16.95 PUBLISHER: Earthwood Publishing Company, West Chazy. AVAILABILITY: Conroy's Organics; Cornerstone Book Store; Bill's Bait & Tackle in Brainardsville; and Earthwood Building School, 366 Murtagh Hill Road, West Chazy. CONTACT: Call 493-7744. RELATED TALKS: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, Chateaugay Town Hall Theater, 191 E. Main St., Chateaugay; for reservations, call 497-3126. 7 p.m. Feb. 21, Alice T. Miner Museum, 9618 State Route 9, Chazy; for reservations, call 846-7336.