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James Michael Dorsey's Bio

James Michael Dorsey
James Michael Dorsey

James Michael Dorsey's Articles for Transitions Abroad

Climbing Kilimanjaro in Kenya Listening to the Silence
An adventure shared by James as he visits a Maasai tribe in Kenya and returns transformed
Monk in Myanmar Jungle Karma: How a Blind Musician in Cambodia Taught Me to See
James visits a jungle in Cambodia and meets a wise blind musician. The man plays a unique instrument which he offers as a gift, which results in seeing life anew.
Monk in Myanmar Going in Circles in Myanmar
Taking the circle train from Yangon, Myanmar offers an entrancing inside view into a fascinating country.
Antigua, Guatemala Antigua, the Soul of Guatemala
Venture into the world of magical Antigua, Guatemala, where ancient Mayan ritual and culture remains at the core of the city.
Whale in Mexico The Whale Keepers of San Ignacio
The story of a unique community in Mexico with whom James has worked for many years.
Mekong river Bagan Rising
Over 1,000 ago Bagan — in what is now Myanmar — was created as a sacred city and is now an untouched archeological site. The author takes you to a spiritual place of beauty tourists and Buddhists come to revere.
Mekong river Life on the Mekong River
The Mekong River flows through parts of six countries, carries much commerce, and is where people live colorful lives. James Michael Dorsey paints in words and images an iconic region.
Adventure Travel with Tuaregs in Mail Among the Blue Men: Travel, Ritual, and Adventure with a Tuareg Nomadic Tribe in Mali
A nomadic tribe in Mali graciously invite an adventurous author into their clan, where he witnesses their unique rituals and lives.
Maasai tribe Walking with Markus
Markus, a warm and generous host, generously shares a glimpse into the material and spiritual lives of a Maasai community in East Africa.
Genghis Khan shrine in China The Spirit of Genghis Khan: The Stone Monoliths of Kanas, China
An exploration of the origin and meaning of sacred stone monoliths in Northwestern China, from the era of the legendary historical figure Genghis Khan — shaman and military leader.
Early mankind in Tanzania The Hadzabe of Tanzania: Visiting My Own Ancestors
How often are you allowed into a clan who live as did early humanity, able to observe and even asked to participate in primordial rituals that represent the essence of our existence? The entire experience is described vividly.
An exorcism in Burkino Faso The Accidental Spirit: Experiencing an Exorcism in Burkina Faso, West Africa
A very rare first-hand experience by an westerner who becomes accidentally involved in an exorcism during a traditional ceremony.
Haida Totems in Canada The Haida Monumental Totem Poles
A visit to a remote archipelago on the Northwest Coast of Canada where the Haida Nation creates the last of the free-standing totems.
James Michael Dorsey is an award winning author, explorer, photographer, and lecturer who has traveled extensively in 46 countries. He has spent the past two decades researching remote cultures around the world.

He is a contributor to Transitions Abroad and frequent contributor to United Airlines and Perceptive Travel. He has also written for Colliers, The Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, BBC Wildlife, World&I, and Natural History, plus several African magazines. He is a foreign correspondent for Camerapix International and a travel consultant to Brown&Hudson of London.

His latest book, “Vanishing Tales from Ancient Trails” is available on all major bookseller websites. His stories have appeared in nine travel anthologies. He is a nine time Solas Award category winner from TravelersTales, and contributor to their “Best Travel Writing, Volume Ten.”

He is a fellow of the Explorers Club and former director of the Adventurers Club.

Vanishing Tales from Ancient Trails

My Kind of Travel

By James Michael Dorsey

Most of us have been or will be tourists at one time or another. Some of us will venture on to become travelers, while fewer still will become explorers.

Many people draw no distinction between the three, but as one who has wandered the earth for four decades, I can speak with some authority regarding the differences—none any better or worse than the other, but each with unique nuances. The differences can only be drawn by the intensity with which we travel.

So in an age where an electronic screen can take us anywhere in the world instantaneously, why leave home in the first place? The answer is that until you take in the sensory experience of the unique sounds, tastes, smells, images, and imperfections that define a destination, you only perceive a flat facsimile of a 3-dimensional world. You must physically visit, look people in the eye, shake their hands, and respectfully ask, "I want to learn about your life." No guidebook or web search can approximate such direct experience.

Most people first leave home as tourists, be it for a weekend getaway or a prolonged vacation. Tourism can be a respite and refuge from the daily repetition of the 9-to-5 world; getting away from it all to “recharge the batteries,” as my dad used to say. For some, it is a necessary escape from the daily pressures of modern life.

Tours are a popular and good idea for those who have limited time. However, most are by definition hit and run visits to some very special places. Unless you can afford a private guide, you can look forward to 10 minutes to appreciate what you came to see before being herded into an overpriced trinket shop. If you want to spend extra time at a location, it is often impossible, as a schedule must be maintained and the demands of the group frequently supersede the wishes of the individual. On a tour you are at the mercy of multiple distinct personalities, like them or not. If you are traveling alone on a tour, you must often pay an exorbitant single supplement.

On the plus side of such forms of tourism, they do take people out of their everyday comfort zones and present new challenges. Even with the inherent restrictions, tourism is a doorway to expansion and learning, especially smaller tours or tours that offer a bit of time for independent exploration. 

I was a tourist for many years, grabbing my 2-week vacations whenever I could, but the more I took the more I wanted to see behind the surface veneer. That is when I became a traveler. So where are the dividing lines?

The esteemed travel writer Paul Thoreau has been attributed with the following grandiose statement, “Tourists don’t know where they have been and travelers don’t know where they are going.” While on the surface, it might sound as though Mr. Thoreau is looking down his nose at tourists, he is actually spot on about travelers. I would modify his statement to say, “Tourists travel to escape while travelers go to learn.” For a traveler, the journey is as important as the destination, if not more so. Being a traveler means to be in the place and moment, wherever that may be. Travelers seek immersion in the culture, language, food, transportation, customs, and ceremonies. They seek to meet and engage people directly, and for those who have it, spend as much time as possible during their journey. Contact with a local is a better entree to a culture than any guidebook, and invitations to their homes are treasures. Finally, if travelers end up sleeping in a grungy hotel and eating stale food, they are all right with that because they travel humbly to gain knowledge and experience. Greater luxury is an option when returning home.

My preferred type of travel is exploration. In my view, that means going where no one else has gone, be it a physical location or conversation with a local. Exploration doesn’t have to be dangerous or even physically demanding, but it does require stepping off-the-beaten path. When you make a concerted effort to see what has not been seen, you return richer in experience. Personally, the most important part of a trip is what I bring home in my soul; being the first outsider to shake a tribal hand, or knowing you are the only person watching the sunrise from the summit of a ruined temple. No electronic screen can duplicate the thrill of entering a Maasai hut or floating over Bagan in a hot air balloon. Such moments cannot even be defined by words; they must be experienced.

I may never know exactly why I am here on this earth, but consciousness is a gift not to be squandered, and attempting to learn my place in the story of humanity strikes me as a noble quest. My own place can only be found by comparing it to others I meet along the way. The further I go off-the-beaten path, the more I learn about how the majority of people on earth actually live. The more people I meet, the more I define myself as a global citizen. 

I am blessed to be an explorer and to make a living writing about my travels, but the finest part of such experiences can be summed up by a great explorer in the world of art, Pablo Picasso. The artist wrote, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Nothing makes me happier in my travels than to bring the remote world back to those who have not yet set on eyes on such locations, through the medium of my stories.

Remote travel is not for everyone, but some form of travel, no matter how limited, should be, in my view. Who knows? You may even find that you like sleeping on the ground in a mud hut.

The bottom line: If you are able to, there is no finer educational experience than to venture out to see the world for yourself.

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