Tagged with "travel Archives - Page 2 of 3 - Adventure Adikt"
Feb 16, 2016 - Life, Wanderlust    No Comments

Let’s get honest: traveling solo

Today is Valentine’s Day–a day where couples celebrate their love, or for the more cynical among us, a day capitalized on by card makers, candy purveyors, and jewelry hawkers. Despite any appearance I may give, I’ve been coupled up [and mostly happily coupled] every year since I was 19 years old.  My sole year as a singleton, I happened to spend in Italy–a placed designed for romance.  I survived asking for a table per uno when dining alone in Tuscany.  I was treated to a free tour and then some by an amazing vespa driver who decided no one should be alone in Rome, and no one should be alone on their birthday.  Never-mind I was meeting a group of people for a tour the very next day.  What happens in Italy, stays in Italy [you know, at least the non-travel parts].

Overall, I am a private person and just because I choose to be on the internet doesn’t mean my partner does.  I respect that.  My current partner hates airplane travel, and doesn’t really enjoy long car rides– the most distance we’ve traveled together is Florida [about 8 hours in the car together].  And you know what, that’s OK.  That means I have an automatic support system at home.  I have someone to feed the cats and check the mail.  I have someone who can contact banks and such if  I’m abroad.  Sure, we haven’t invented a way to literally ‘reach out and touch someone’ but with technology being what it is, I can video-chat, talk, text, or whatever anytime I’m gone.  And missing someone makes coming home so much sweeter.  And there’s always someone to pick me up at the airport. So, I am not a solo traveler.  Or at least not by choice.  Given the opportunity, I would rather share amazing sunsets or  discover interesting things or go on hikes with someone than do it alone.  But I’d rather do all these things alone than not do them at all.  And therein lies the quandary.

At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

Long-term solo travel is still an uncommon practice in the United States [as compared to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but getting more popular every day] so when I announced my plans to travel around South America for a year plus my news was met with trepidation more than excitement.  Perhaps the main issue was that most of my friends, co-workers, and family had never heard of someone taking a year off and heading off without concrete plans.  Add in the media hype of danger at every turn outside the US borders and I can *somewhat* understand their concerns.

However, sixteen months after leaving, I returned, all in one piece, only having one real story of danger to report. I have since traveled even more extensively, to places where I don’t speak the language, and *somewhat* off the tourist trail. I have not found the media view of danger at every turn to in fact be a fact.  BUT in the early days of planning every time someone told me of ‘something’ happening ‘somewhere’ I wondered if I needed to be prepared for that–whatever ‘that’ may be [‘That’ ranged from the plague to kidnappings to earthquakes].  Eventually I said fuck-it-all, and just went with the fact that I’ve successfully gotten myself ‘un-lost’ on several occasions, have survived natural disasters, and have even managed to disentangle myself from unsavory characters while at home.

DSCF0298

So while safety was always the first thing someone brought up upon hearing my plans, the ‘solo’ aspect was immediately next as in ‘aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?‘ or ‘what if you get lonely?‘ or several other well-meaning but misguided questions. The truth of the matter is that as an only child who grew up in the country instead of a neighborhood full of other kids being by myself is the least of my concerns.

For me, it was always the opposite.  I am/ was worried other people would get on my nerves and I’d have no alone time.  I have since learned that as a solo traveler I can have as much or as little ‘alone’ time as I want, and it’s always easy to meet up with other travelers for activities, day trips, or whatevs.


At 19, I planned to go to England with my then-boyfriend.  I worked my entire freshman year of college to save up enough money for flights, train tickets, souvenirs, ect. A last minute change of plans on his part meant either go by myself  or not go at all.  And so I went.  By myself.  Which was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I hate asking for directions, or talking to strangers.  I don’t trust easily. But I went anyway. And I had fun.  I learned to trust my judgement.  I learned not to be scared of everything and everyone.  I hung out in pubs in England.  I discovered the joys of hiking in Wales. I discovered Harry Potter in Scotland. Sure, I read some when I was out eating.  I didn’t eat a whole lot of dinners in restaurants.  I was 19!  I wouldn’t have felt comfortable eating in restaurants with someone.

sleepy kitty at the farm

At Muckross Farm in Ireland

What I did learn is that young, solo female travelers are pretty much on the lowest of the low of  in terms of travelers. Couples have safety in numbers, even groups of 2 or 3 females traveling together have it made compared to the single traveler, and male solo travelers — well, it’s just different for a solo man. And as I’ve gotten older, well, let’s just say I attract less attention than I used to– and I am more than OK with that. Of course I still get nervous if I get lost and followed by strangers; that’s just the evolutionary equivalent of being chased by saber toothed tigers.

Taking Risks

There is no one-size fits all rule. Life, and travel, is about constantly assessing a situation, making predictions, observations, and acting based on those assessments. I do this everyday at work. Seeing people, assessing the situation, making decisions based on those assessments. Traveling [and working in healthcare] has greatly increased my ability to size up a situation and a person and make an accurate judgment. In talking to people from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds, attitudes I have created a mental book of knowledge from which I pull when I encounter something new. If safety is the topic, then I have only increased my safety by traveling and added new experiences from which I can draw in uncertain situations.

So what have I learned

  1. Understand local cultural norms…. don’t expect them to conform to you.  I always try to learn a bit of the local language before I arrive– even if it’s just hello.
  2. Involve others in your safety…. let others [even if its just the hotel staff] know your plans.
  3. Stay aware….
  4. Stay sober…. being fucked-up greatly diminishes your situational awareness
  5. Know basic self-defense…. even if you never plan to use it
  6. Carry travel insurance… stuff can be replaced; you can’t
  7. Pay for your safety [even if that means a paying more for a cab or hotel versus the metro, u-bahn, subway…].

alexanderplatz christmas market
Enjoying local beverages should be fun; getting drunk while doing so should be verboten!

Which brings me to my final point– Anything can happen anywhere.

  • I have never been robbed while traveling. But I have had my wallet stolen and my car broken into in my driveway while I was  at home [upstairs] minding my own business.
  • On the other hand, I left my backpack in a taxi en route to the Cancun airport in 2002 and not only did someone return it to the airport lost & found, but everything was intact, including cash [$MEX and $USD] and credit cards.
  • I’ve never been physically hurt while traveling… I can’t say the same for life at home.
  • Other than a few cat-calls while in Mexico and Italy, I’ve never been sexually harassed while traveling.  Not so for life in the good ‘ole U S of A.

Above all, whenever you are out and about – at home or abroad – be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts.  If something feels wrong, it probably is.

Beware of  bears

Feb 14, 2016 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Let’s get honest: traveling solo

Today is Valentine’s Day–a day where couples celebrate their love, or for the more cynical among us, a day capitalized on by card makers, candy purveyors, and jewelry hawkers. Despite the appearance I may give, I’ve been coupled up (and mostly happily coupled) every year since I was 19 years old.  My sole year as a singleton, I happened to spend in Italy–a placed designed for romance.  I survived asking for a table per uno when dining alone in Tuscany.  I was treated to a free tour and then some by an amazing vespa driver who waide no one should be alone in Rome, and no one should be alone on their birthday.  Never-mind I was meeting a group of people for a tour the very next day.  What happens in Italy, stays in Italy (you know, at least the non-travel parts).

Overall, I am a private person and just because I choose to be on the internet doesn’t mean my partner does.  I respect that.  My current partner hates airplane travel, and doesn’t really enjoy long car rides–the most distance we’ve traveled together is Florida.  And you know what, that’s OK.  That means I have an automatic support system at home.  I have someone to feed the cats and check the mail.  I have someone who can contact banks and such if  I’m abroad.  Sure, we haven’t invented a way to literally ‘reach out and touch someone’ but with technology being what it is, I can video-chat, talk, text,  or whatever anytime I’m gone.  And missing someone makes coming home so much sweeter.  And there’s always someone to pick me up at the airport. So, I am not a solo traveler.  Or at least not by choice.  Given the opportunity, I would rather share amazing sunsets or  discover interesting things or go on hikes with someone than do it alone.  But I’d rather do all these things alone than not do them at all.  And therein lies the quandary.

At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

Long-term solo travel is still an uncommon practice in the United States (compared to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but getting more popular everyday) so when I announced my plans to travel around South America for a year plus my news was met with trepidation more than excitement.  Perhaps the main issue was that most of my friends, co-workers, and family had never heard of someone taking a year off and heading off without concrete plans.  Add in the media hype of danger at every turn outside the US borders and I can *somewhat* understand their concerns.

However, sixteen months after leaving, I returned, all in one piece, only having one real story of danger to report. I have since traveled even more extensively, to places where I don’t speak the language, and *somewhat* off the tourist trail.  I have not found the media view of danger at every turn to in fact be a fact.  BUT in the early days of planning every time someone told me of ‘something’ happening ‘somewhere’ I wondered if I needed to be prepared for that–whatever ‘that’ may be [‘That’ ranged from the plague to kidnappings to earthquakes].  Eventually I said fuck-it-all, and just went with the fact that I’ve successfully gotten myself ‘un-lost’ on several occasions, have survived natural disasters, and have even managed to disentangle myself from unsavory characters while at home.

DSCF0298

So while safety was always the first thing someone brought up upon hearing my plans, the ‘solo’ aspect was immediately next as in ‘aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?’ or ‘what if you get lonley?’ or several other well-meaning but misguided questions. The truth of the matter is that as an only child who grew up in the country instead of a neighborhood full of other kids being by myself is the least of my concerns.

For me, it was always the opposite.  I was worried other people would get on my nerves and I’d have no alone time.  I have since learned that as a solo traveler I can have as much or as little ‘alone’ time as I want, and it’s always easy to meet up with other travelers for activities, day trips, or whatevs.

At 19, I planned to go to England with my then-boyfriend.  I worked my entire freshman year of college to save up enough money for flights, train tckets, souveniers, ect. A last minute change of plans on his part meant either go by myself  or not go at all.  And so I went.  By myself.  Which was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I hate asking for directions, or talking to strangers.  I don’t trust easily. But I went anyway. And I had fun.  I learned to trust my judgement.  I learned not to be scared of everything and everyone.  I hung out in pubs in England.  I discovered the joys of hiking in Wales. I discovered Harry Potter in Scotland. Sure, I read some when I was out eating.  I didn’t eat a whole lot of dinners in restaurants.  I was 19!  I wouldn’t have felt comfortable eating in restaurants with someone.

sleepy kitty at the farm

At Muckross Farm in Ireland

What I did learn is that young, solo female travelers are pretty much on the lowest of the low of  in terms of travelers. Couples have safety in numbers, even groups of 2 or 3 females traveling together have it made compared to the single traveler,  and male solo travelers –it’s just different for a solo man. And as I’ve gotten older, well, let’s just say I attract less attention than I used to–and I am more than OK with that. Of course I still get nervous if I get lost and followed by strangers; that’s just the evolutionary equivalent of being chased by saber toothed tigers.

Taking Risks

There is no one-size fits all rule. Life, and travel, is about constantly assessing a situation, making predictions, observations, and acting based on those assessments. I do this everyday at work. Seeing people, assessing the situation, making decisions based on those assessments. Traveling (and working in healthcare) has greatly increased my ability to size up a situation and a person and make an accurate judgment. In talking to people from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds, attitudes I have created a mental book of knowledge from which I pull when I encounter something new. If safety is the topic, then I have only increased my safety by traveling and added new experiences from which I can draw in uncertain situations.

So what have I learned

  1. Understand local cultural norms….don’t expect them to conform to you.  I always try to learn a bit of the local language before I arrive–even if it’s just hello.
  2. Involve others in your safety….let others [even if its just the hotel staff] know your plans.
  3. Stay aware….
  4. Stay sober…. being fucked-up greatly diminishes your situational awareness
  5. Know basic self-defense…. even if you never plan to use it
  6. Carry travel insurance… stuff can be replaced; you can’t
  7. Pay for your safety (even if that means a paying more for a cab or hotel versus the metro, u-bahn, subway…).

alexanderplatz christmas market
Enjoying local beverages should be fun; getting drunk while doing so should be verboten!

Which brings me to my final point–Anything can happen anywhere.

  • I have never been robbed while traveling. But I have had my wallet stolen and my car broken into in my driveway while I was  at home [upstairs] minding my own business.
  • On the other hand, I left my backpack in a taxi en route to the Cancun airport in 2002 and not only did someone return it to the airport lost & found, but everything was intact, including cash ($MEX and $USD) and credit cards.
  • I’ve never been physically hurt while traveling… I can’t say the same for life at home.
  • Other than a few cat-calls while in Mexico and Italy, I’ve never been sexually harassed while traveling.  Not so for life in the good ‘ole U S of A.

Above all, whenever you are out and about – at home or abroad – be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts.  If something feels wrong, it probably is.

Be aware of the bears

Travel Mistakes I Keep Making Over and Over

We all make mistakes.. .especially when doing something you’ve never done before, and traveling to a new place definitely fits in to that category. It seems as if I make at least 10 mistakes a day when I’m traveling. In that regard, I am just like everyone else [although I am not ashamed to admit my shortcomings], and when it comes to traveling, I make plenty of mistakes… usually the same ones or variations of the same theme.  You’d think I’d learn, but so far, I haven’t… it’s almost as if I am allergic to learning or something.

I’ve been on my own now for half of my life, and sneaking away to travel even earlier than that [Exhibit A–Alone in Atlanta as a 7th grader… Exhibit B… Baseball in Baltimore as a 14 year old], so you would think I’d learn a thing or two about this whole put stuff in a bag and go somewhere thing.  Yet, I am surprised as anyone… maybe more so because a reasonable person wouldn’t keep doing the same things over and over again…when things don’t go according to some ill defined plan.

Traveling is not easy… Things do not always work out like you think they should in your head… There are often hiccups, last minute change of plans, substitutions, and other clusterfucks that a lot of people never talk about. So with that in mind, let’s review the travel mistakes I keep making.

galapagos iguanas

Mistake # 1  Not making reservations ahead of time.

I really [REALLY!] hate planning.  I also hate commitment, and to me, making reservations, is both planning AND making a commitment.  In my head, I’m screaming “Reservations cramp my style.  I want to be free.  I want to be spontaneous.  What if I change my mind?  What if something better comes along?”  In reality what happens is the flight I want is already booked.  There are no more hotel rooms to be had.  I have to keep changing hotels everyday because none of them had availability for the duration of my stay.  Or I have to scrap plans all together.  I really should get my ass in gear and make reservations more than 45 minutes before something starts.

Seeing fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve was awesome; arriving in Chamonix, France in the French Alps on January 2 without a place to stay and without a cellphone [see #4] during a snowstorm was not awesome.  Spending 400 Euros for the last remaining hotel room in town [#truestory] also was not awesome.

Mistake # 2  Packing the wrong things

I’m a pretty light packer as things go.  I have never had my bags go over the weight limit, and I’ve never had more than I could handle.  South America in general was a lot colder than I thought it would be… [altitude is a tricky beast]  I ended up wearing the same clothes for days… [I did change my underwear though] because they were they only warm clothes I had… I even slept in my fleece pullover a few times… In the end, I had to buy some things while I was on the road, and at least in the upper half on the continent 5’9″ women aren’t too common so fit was generally an issue.

You’d think that in those two bags, I’d have everything I need for a year + in South America.  Nope, I had to go shopping in a mall in Quito for for jungle/cloud forest gear.  I had to buy a poncho for warmth in Peru [and used it in Bolivia].  Traditional Andean clothing does not come in tall… just so you know.  My flip flops fell apart in Chile.  I rented clothing for the Inca Trail.  I bought a warmer jacket [down in case you are wandering] for Patagonia, and by the time I hit Brazil, I was ‘accidentally’ leaving things behind.  Let’s not even talk about the time I showed up in a ski resort area without appropriate gear. I am ever hopeful that I will eventually happen on the right combination of clothing for the actual destination and the actual weather.

Just a few weekends ago, I went to the coast for a few days.  When I left it was 75F with highs in the mid 80s.  When I came back it was 48F.  I did not pack for 48F… Yes I know it was October, but it was 75 degrees at 8am.  I threw in my swimsuit, a pair of shorts, water sandals, 2 t-shirts, and one long sleeved shirt… .Yes I probably should have thrown a sweatshirt and jeans or something in my bag, but my mind was singularly focused on being on the water and 80 degrees.  Friday and Saturday were awesome; Sunday I froze my ass off.

Mistake #3 Not letting anyone know my itinerary.

This all goes back to #1.  I don’t intentionally wander; I just change my mind.  I may intend to go one place, but hear something great about another so I just go… Or some place may be great, and I end up staying there longer than planned.  Or I meet fascinating people and want to hang with them.  All of these things have actually happened, and all have changed my original plans.  I’ve boarded a plane for Chicago on the spur of the moment.  I was in Serbia when I ‘should have been’ in Austria.  I was having such a good time in Peru that I got an apartment.  Chile wasn’t as awesome as I thought it would be so I dipped in and out, never staying in one place very long.  Venezuela nor French Guiana were never on my original itinerary, but I made allowances and ended up spending Euros in South America.

Danger...danger
Although I should probably let people know if I am headed to an area where there are landmines.

Mistake # 4 Not using a smartphone when I travel.

I realize that a smartphone is so much more than a phone, but I’m terrified of forgetting to turn off the roaming or something and the racking up a $500 bill.  So on international trips, I turn the phone off completely.  I know I need to suck it up, move into the 21st century,  and just get an unlocked phone.  Life abroad would be SO.MUCH.EASIER.

Update:  I now have a smart phone. Life is grand.

Mistake#5 Not signing up for any loyalty program

Nothing. No travel rewards credit cards. No airline frequent flyer program. No getting triple points for every $ I spend. Nothing. I don’t know where to start. I have rarely fly the same airline twice, and 10,000 miles just  doesn’t get you very far.  If I had started way back when I could have at least gotten an upgrade by now.

meow meow

Mistake 5.5 Booking things at the wrong times.

I am inherently a night owl. I am much more likely to stay up until 5am than get up at 5am. I know myself well enough to know that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that I am going to be able sleep the night before anything is scheduled, and if I do, I am likely to nod off 30 minutes before it’s time to get up and wake up in “oh shit!” mode… either I’m in a rush or I have missed it all together. I’m getting better at picking the right flights, buses, tours, ect, and I am fortunate enough to be able to sleep just about anywhere. As long as I can make it to the beginning point, I’m all right.

Mistake # 5.75  Not having insurance.

After getting severely dehydrated in the jungle… falling a breaking my arm in Mexcio… needing stitches in Belize, I have come to accept that I am inherently clumsy, and as I get older, I am less likely to bounce back from various injuries. Starting a couple of years ago, I never leave the country without travel insurance.  Since I’ve started buying travel insurance, I’ve yet to have an accident. Coincidence… I think not.  I’m never leaving home without it again.

See… all is not lost… I do learn from my [oh-so many] mistakes… eventually.

Nov 2, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Top 25 cities in the world

Conde Nast Traveler has once again posted their Top 25 cities in the world.  And while I haven’t visited them all, I do have a few in  the top 25 covered, and I am proud that a city from my state is rated as one of the top 25 city IN. THE. WORLD.

  • 25.  Barcelona, Spain. Haven’t been there, but want to go.
  • 24.  Venice, Italy.
  • 23.  Melbourne, Australia.  Want to go.  Had a pen pal from there as a teenager and currently work with a guy from there.
  • 22. Paris, France.  Went on a world-wind tour on New Year’s Eve/New Years Day.  I didn’t love Paris, but I’m willing to giver her another chance.
  • 4583430697331

 

  • 21.  Lebanon, Beirut.  Intrigues me, but I wouldn’t want to travel solo there.
  • 20.  Seville, Spain.  My favorite professor in college often told me Sevilla  was “la ciudad mas bonita en todo el mundo.”  It was her hometown, and I’ve heard several wonderful things about it.  I can’t wait to go to Spain.
  • 17.  Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.  Seems like a cool town, but my southwest experiences are quite limited.
  • 17.  Sydney, Australia.  Want to go here to.  Australia is  SO. FAR. AWAY.
  • 17.  Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
  • 16.   Krakow, Poland.  I visited Krakow last January, and was it ever frigid.  But it is a cool city.
  • 15.  Prague, Czech Republic.  Same as above.  I went in January and snow covered Prague is magical.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127203703@N03/17452928376/in/dateposted-public/player/

  • 14.  Kyoto, Japan.  Japan is so far off my radar. I know so little about it.
  • 13.  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  I’d really like to spend more time here that just a minute.
  • 12.  Bruges, Belgium.  I made it to Brussels, but not to Bruges.  I’d like to fix that.
  • 11.  Cape Town, South Africa.  I would LOVE.LOVE.LOVE to go to South Africa.  vuvuzelas and all.
  • 10.  Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.  QC is amazing.
  • 9.  Seina, Italy.  I loved Seina.  I think I’d love if more during harvest season.
  • 8.  Rome, Italy.  One of my all time top 5 favorite cities…
  • 7.  Vienna, Austria.  An amazing city with an amazing history.
  • 5.  San Sebastian, Spain.  Once again, I cannot wait to go to Spain.
  • 5.  Charleston, South Carolina, USA.  A city in my home state.  I have been here so many times I sometimes forget how special it is because it’s so close.  It’s also the Friendliest City –3 years running.
  • 4.  Salzburg, Austria.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Salzburg on my tour of central Europe. Maybe next time.
  • 3.  Budapest, Hungary.  Amazing.  Simply  amazing.

Budapest--started snowing while I was out exploring

  • 2.  Florence, Italy.  Such a cool city to experience Carnivale in.
  • 1.  San Miguel de Allende, Mexico…Little known fact.  I lived in Mexico for a year…not in San Miguel, but I did visit a few times.  It was awesome.
Aug 30, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Adventures of DJ and M | Part 1 | Traveling with friends

This adventure has been a long time in the making and it’s nearly polar opposite from what I usually do or how I normally travel.

More than a year ago, my work mate DJ said “I want to go to Europe with you” and like everyone who says that I say OK and figure absolutely nothing will happen. Because nothing ever does. So I was somewhat surprised when she brought it up again, and this time my response was ‘where do you want to go?’ because if someone only wants to go to Rome or Paris, I’m not the person they should go with.

Her response “I don’t know… I’ve never been to Europe…”  Great… I have got a geographically challenged person with no idea of what they might like to do.  Europe is pretty big, I say.  It include Istanbul, Greece, London, Moscow, Stockholm, Barcelona, and many places in between.  I begin to think that this may not be happening.

Over time, DJ and I become good friends.  She cons me into running a 5k at home and a 10K in Charleston; I conned her into staying in a hostel while running said 10K.  And driving. It was a wash. Eventually we decide on summer 2015 as when we should  go. My vote was May or September (shoulder season and not 1000 degrees); her vote was July or August, based on kid’s school schedules (hers, obvs).  We finally decide on last week of August and first week of September.  I should mention that I’ve never been to Europe in the summer and what I know I know from reading and talking to others.

We probably did about 50 trip combinations before settling on out actual route.  She wanted to go to the beach; I wanted to go somewhere I haven’t been before. Croatia, Italy, and Spain were some of the finalists, but in the end, the planes, trains, and boats just wouldn’t work out financially. DJ really wanted to go to Barcelona, Paris, and London; I explained that those cities were probably the most expensive and with the budget we were working with, we could do one, maybe two, but not all three.

Paris and I are not friends

I got an email alert for a really good price on a flight to Budapest. Normally, I fly into one city and out of another, but this time, we did a round trip for <$700 in August/September. I call that a win.

Now from Budapest, we could go south, or north. I was pushing for South… Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece. DJ was deterred by the lack of tourist infrastructure and the Cyrillic alphabet so we went North.  We eventually settled on Budapest–>Vienna–>Prague–>Berlin–>Copenhagen–>London–>Budapest circuit over three weeks.

I was a little bummed to be missing out on Spain… yet again, but London for the 5th time was an acceptable substitute.

London is awesome

Because London is awesome, and no matter how many visits I have, there will always be more things to do.  And Berlin is awesome too. So I knew that at least those two cities were going to be OK. The other cities were a toss-up. Even more interesting would be the accommodations. I’ve always stayed in hostels and if I am really feeling flush, I’ll get a private room.  DJ was a hotel girl.  We settled on guesthouses and apartments plus a hostel in London with two beds and a bathroom.

Different styles… different expectations… let’s hope the friendship survives.

Parts 2 and 3

Three flight delays from Greenville, a close call in Washington DC, an uneventful overnight flight to Munich, a much-loved [and craved] pretzel during the Munich layover, a short flight to Budapest, a visit to passport control, and DJ has her first ever passport stamp.  Currency exchanged [dollars to fornits], train tickets purchased, subway passes bought, and a 15-minute walk while carrying our luggage in the 100 degree [no exaggeration] heat, we’ve arrived at our first stop.

I’m always nervous booking places on-line.  Now for me, my expectations are low, and whatever the place looks like, as long as there are no visible bugs or drug needles, I am generally OK with it.  DJ’s standards were a bit higher. Luckily, my first guest house was a winner… two beds, and in-room bathroom, and a central location.  What’s missing is air-condition.  Now, while I expected this, I did not expect it to be 100 degrees.  DJ is dying; I’m surviving but only barely. Thank God for the small, but powerful fan inside our room.

For our first meal in Budapest, DJ wants to go to… McDonald’s. For a cheeseburger. No street food for that girl. No sidewalk pizza will do.  A plain cheeseburger.  We traveled 6000 miles for McDonald’s. [me… shaking head in disbelief]  Luckily, I have been here before. I know there are multiple McDonald’s in Budapest, including one just a five minutes walk away, but that’s not the one I suggest we go to.  Budapest has quite possible the world’s nicest McDonald’s [or at least the nicest one I’ve ever seen] inside the Nyugati train station.  I discovered this gem when I was in Budapest in January 2013 freezing my ass off. [Irony upon irony:  first visit to Budapest I nearly froze to death; this visit I may die of heat stroke]  I was just looking for some heat when I happened upon this mirage inside the train station.

DJ agrees. And it has air condition. I am a hero… At least for a little while.

Michelle in Budapest. Never mind the bra showing through the t-shirt. Or the purple hair. The FitBit said we had done more than 30,000 steps, and I was celebrating by eating a deliciously (cold) coffee flavored gelato.

Nov 16, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Remembering to remember

Today is Veterans Day in the USA.  In the UK it’s known as Armistice Day as it is the day that WWI ended–on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent. It is a day to remember our soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the latest conflict.  Remembering the sacrifices these men and women made allow me to pursue the life I do.  I don’t have to fulfill traditional gender roles if I choose not to.  I can speak my mind because of free speech.  I have the right to own, carry, and use, if necessary, my .40 caliber handgun.

I’ve seen a lot in my travels but one of the more haunting remembrances was the Ceramic Poppy Installation at the Tower Bridge in London in 2014 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI).

tower bridge ceremic poppies 2

The poppies represent the blood spilt during the Great War, and when complete on 11/11 there will be 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower Bridge.  I visited in October for the specifc reason of seeing the poppy installation.  And it was amzing.  It was moving.  To think that many young men lost their lives in a single conflict is incredible.  Humans are very visual people and to see this loss of life represented so visually was breathtaking.

tower bridge ceremic poppies 3
Freedom is never free and sometimes, we, in the USA forget that.  There hasn’t been a conflict on our soil in nearly 100 years. [OK, if you want to be technical, some of WWII happened  in American territories–Hawaii, Alaska, and Philippians].  If you haven’t seen up close and personal the devastation war causes, it’s hard to imagine its consequences.

So in an effort to remember to remember, I visited three Revolutionary War battlefields over the last few weeks.  Without the sacrifices these brave men [and a few even braver women], the USA would never have become the USA.

cowpens battlefield
Cowpens battlefield circa 1780

cowpens battlefiled 2
A group of South Carolina militia along with a few army regulars under the command of Daniel Morgan beat the British at Cowpens. The victory kept the British from expanding westward.

Kings mountain

kingsmountain re enactors
They were doing some reenacting at King’s Mountain this weekend.

Ninety six cannon
A 3lb British cannon hanging out inside Star Fort at Ninety Six

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My feet, just slightly smaller than the average revolutionary war soldier. I wear a US women’s size 8 and at 5’9, I’m a few inches taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier.

Why even leave home

I live in an area where travel is not prioritized.  Most of my neighbors/co-workers, ect, think ‘traveling‘ is either going to the coast–whether Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head, or gasp! Florida or going to the NC/TN mountains.  I have been to both, but I prefer to use these areas as either a day trip or at most a weekend getaway.

There is a lot more to the world than just the Southern United States.

That kind of travel is fine–for some people.  Some people never want to leave their home state [I’d wager those are the very people who NEED to leave their home state, but I digress].  Some people just want to be off work and lay on a beach.  It’s their vacation; they can use it however they want, but in my opinion that’s not traveling.  Neither is a week in Cancun, or the Bahamas, or Jamaica or DR or any other place where you don’t have to get involved.

bench overlooking the sea

I love the beach too, but this is more appealing to me than an all inclusive resort.

Some ‘travelers’ turn their noses up at pre-planned adventures or set itineraries.  I say that’s better than nothing.  It’s not my favorite way to go, but especially if I am in an area where I don’t speak the language, I may sign up for a day trip or tour bus just to get my lay of the land.  Usually these pre-planned adventures allow the ‘traveler’ to check off boxes or scratch off one more place off their ‘bucket list’, but what they don’t allow for is the type of travel I consider ‘real travel’–travel that has the potential to change your worldview and who you are at your core.  Would I have ever considered going back to school to become a nurse practitioner had I not volunteered in a health clinic for a couple months in Peru? Probably not.  Would I have decided to keep my focus on children had I not  volunteered in a pediatric hospital/orphanage?  Probably, but working in the peds hospital/orphanage cemented my desire to work with children.

Long-term travel–especially solo travel– allows more opportunities for self-discovery and self-reflection, but really any type of travel can be an avenue for reflection.  Is it harder to do at the family vacation spot?  Absolutely.  Is it impossible?  No way.  Can someone really have a life-revelation on a 9 day mission trip to Haiti?  Yes.  Is it likely?  Probably not.  My point is if you truly want to do something to change the direction your life is headed in, then you have to change your direction.

So why do we even leave home?

To be somewhere else of course.  It all starts with a desire to be somewhere that we are currently not .  For several reasons. Maybe you want to go to the Caribbean in January to get away from the snow.  Or to Patagonia in July to see snow.  Maybe your job sucks and you want to be ‘anywhere, but here.’  Maybe you just broke up with a significant other and everything you see reminds you of him/her.  There are a myriad reasons why someone would want to ‘get away’ for a while; most of them are not so alarming.

I have often thought of why I am different when I am traveling.  Part of it is because I HAVE to be more outgoing on the road or a may die of boredom.  At home, I have my friends, my cat, and my furnishings.  If I want to stay home, no one is going to make me go out and I don’t really feel as if I am missing anything.  But if I am in Alaska during the winter, and I don’t feel like going out, I may miss a once-in-a lifetime experience.  Part of traveling is exploring and discovering new things and it’s so much easier to do that in unfamiliar territory.  Would I have ever eaten anticuchos aka meat on a stick anywhere in the USA?  Not a chance.  But in Peru, when there are 10 stands set outside a football stadium, and the vendors sell them instead of hot dogs, yea, I gave it a shot.  And they were tasty little morsels.

I think when it comes down to it we leave home to search for something more.  More within ourselves.  More understanding of others.  More understanding of ourselves. More stories to tell.  More experiences to share.  Travel makes us richer; sometimes in ways we can’t understand until we aren’t traveling anymore.

I often wonder if I will ever have the desire to ‘settle down’ or if I will always have wanderlust. I know–at least for now–I will do all that I can do in order to satisfy my urges.

 

‘Stay safe’

I work with a dude, who is Panamanian in origin, always says ‘get home safe‘ instead of ‘good night’ or ‘bye’.  “Get home safe.” As if I had told him I was headed out in one of the most dangerous places in the world. As if I had said I were going to try bungee jumping or sky diving. Now, while, it’s true I often leave work after midnight, it takes me at most, 15 minutes to get home.  Traffic is very light, and well, I don’t have to worry about roadside bombs or guerrillas hiding around construction barrels. Maybe the occasional drunk driver, but generally there are no worries on my drive home.

Which got me thinking…

In some places, hiding in a bag is a perfectly acceptable safety measure. Hey there, kitty, kitty. Sometimes it’s hard being a kitty cat.

Why is it that here in the US, we tell people to be careful when they leave–whether it’s leaving work for the day or leaving the country for vacation?  Why not ‘have fun‘. ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do‘. ‘Don’t fall off a cliff‘, or even a ‘I’m totes jelly‘ would be a better send off that ‘Stay safe‘ because being told to constantly on guard is no way to enjoy a vacation or a day off from work. So if you’re going to tell me to “stay safe” when I need my passport, I’d appreciate the same send off every time you say good-bye to me in America. I probably need the safety vibes more here at home.

There are currently 196 countries in the world; various websites take into various metrics when ranking countries.  These statistics are taken from several different sites.

There are 162 countries ranked. [I’m not sure what happened that the other 34 didn’t even get a mention in rankings]

  • Iceland is the world’s safest; Syria is the least safest [Although one website ranks The Bahamas as the most dangerous].
  • USA is 94; Australia is 9; UK is 39, New Zealand is 4, and Canada is 7. [From a safety point, I should be living somewhere in the United Kingdom]
  • Qatar is 30; Kuwait is 33; Kosovo is 69; and Cuba is  82;  [I’ve been to two of these, and it’s not the highest ranked of the bunch]
  • Saudi Arabia 95;  Brazil 103; Thailand 126
  • Jamaica is 109; Congo is 115; Turkey 135 [I have to question Congo being rank this ‘high’.  There have be declared and undeclared wars and skirmished since the 1960’s]
  • Mexico 144; North Korea 153; Somalia 157  [I know Mexico has had an uptick in violence/crime since I lived there, but it still shocks me that it’s fallen so far down the scale]

All this to say, more than half of the world ranks higher than the USA in safety.  A lot of the places that rank lower than the US are currently in civil wars.  I’ve been to  quite a few lower ranked countries and felt safer there than in NYC.

Hey there Rio… I never felt unsafe during the entire 6 weeks I was living in the city or 3 months of being in the country. I did however listen when people said ‘don’t go to that neighborhood’

Uxmal_Ruins_Selva

I traveled around the southern half of Mexico as a 22-23 year old often spending nights in the jungles and not being aware of local politics. Mexico is ranked 144 and the only time I felt unsafe was when people pointed large guns in my general direction.   Of course I was in an area of civil unrest at the time.

My point is, and I do have one, in case you are wondering, the world is not an inherently dangerous place.  If you believe, as the media would have you to believe, every country outside the United States is fraught with peril at every corner, you’d be missing out on 93 countries ranked safer than the USA… including all of Europe [expect Turkey, if you count that as Europe].

I offer only one piece of advice about traveling:  trust yourself. There were periods in my life where I was a bit more cavalier, but these days I am a little more cautious and take precautions to lessen the chance that I end up  in a bad situation. I stay sober and aware of my surroundings whether I am in Asheville, NC or Bogota, Colombia, or Moscow, Russia. Beyond that, I can’t stop random acts of violence on the road any more than I can at home.

There is no one-size fits all rule. Life is about assessing a situation, making predictions, observations, and acting based on those assessments. Sometimes the assessments are off and I make a bad choice. But it is an absolute fact that traveling has greatly increased my ability to size up a situation and a person and make an accurate judgment. I am not the most adventurous traveler by any stretch of the imagination. There are those who do all the big, risky things. That is not me.  I try to push the bounds of my comfort zone just a little, but there are many things I won’t do that others will.

Getting to Angel Falls wasn't easy, but I rarely felt unsafe even in chaos of Maricaribo.

Getting to Angel Falls wasn’t easy, but I rarely felt unsafe even in chaos of Maricaribo.

If something serious happens to me on the road it will likely be a transportation based injury — just like at home. Traffic accidents are far more common the world over than tragedies, and fatal traffic accidents far outweigh death from terrorism, plane crashes, or infectious diseases.

According to Bloomberg, on the whole, car accidents are the number 1 cause of death for US citizens abroad.

Now compare this to what people say when I go to Mexico or Colombia. I hear about the drug cartels, getting seriously sick, and the “scary people” who may harm me. The reality is that while precautions for the other areas are needed, sometimes our perceptions are skewed by what outside forces are telling us.

There are many things I may look back and regret in my life, but not traveling will not be one of them.  I have found more true kindness, friendship, and generosity in each corner of the world, in the mostly unlikely of people, and in countries other Americans assume are only filled with foes. People have gone out of their way to extend help when I needed it; times when I was at my most vulnerable — sick, lost, alone. Traveling becomes the sum of human kindness and it only takes a commitment to shifting your perspective to see that.

Travel + Home base: straddling both worlds

Part I [The Travel Life]

When I was little, my fiercest desire was to be a National Geographic Photographer.  [Or a veternarian] I was the elementary school kid reading National Geographic and being mesmerized by the stories and photographs on those pages.  I stalked my cat–hardly taking National Geographic-worthy images, but getting some really good shots of her.  I took my little camera everywhere and there were tons of pictures to prove it.

Fast forward 20 or so years… I still take a camera with me everywhere.  I still stalk my cat.  [not the same cat] I know that I will probably never be published in National Geographic, but that doesn’t stop me from traveling.  And taking pictures. And making up stories to go with the pictures.  The only [well, not the ONLYdifference between me and those National Geographic photographers–I don’t get paid to do what I love… not one little cent.  In fact, every trip I take, costs money $100 for a weekend trip away to $1000 or more for a month away.  I could play golf or tennis or go out, but I choose traveling as my hobby of choice.  I absolutely loved my time in South America.  I would do it again in a heart beat.

 

Part II… [The ‘normal’ life]

I have a job that I love.  It is not travel related at all.  It is not location independent.  I rarely have weekends off.  I have to be where I have a license to practice [currently SC and NC].  I have to be where there are sick children.  I am in graduate school to hopefully get to what is my dream job… As it is, the program will take me about 4 years or so to finish.  I have an address.  I have a car and a cat. And I like that.

Part III… [Straddling the line]

How do I make it work?  I work in a field where 3 days a week is considered full-time.  I choose to work on an as needed basis [I am almost always needed somewhere so there no fear there]  so that I can make my own schedule.  Do I get paid time off?  Nope.  Insurance paid partly by the company?  Nope.  Participation in the company’s retirement plan? Nope, again.  Do I get ‘guaranteed’ hours each week?  Nope, but neither do the full-timers [I may be the first to go, but not usually the only one].

So how do I make it work?

First, I buy insurance as if I were self-employed.  I have a catastrophic health plan with a Health Savings Account attached to it [Tax benefits#1].  I am generally a healthy person and don’t take any medications on a regular basis.  Second, I opened up an IRA on my own.  Non-profits generally don’t have the best plans anyway, and I don’t have to wait until I am vested should I want to leave. [Tax benefit #2].  Third, I work in different facilities.  This way, if one place slows down, I can usually pick up more time at the other place.  It’s a win-win situation. Fourth, I have a $100 a week deposited into a separate account.  This is my discretionary income.  I could use it to go shopping or out to eat or whatever; I choose to use it to travel.  $5200/year can go a long way. Fifth, I let my boss[es] know that traveling is a priority for me.  When I am home, I am available to work 95% of the time.  When I go away, I am not.  It’s that simple.

Image result for argentina patagonia

Since starting this way of life in 2007, I have managed to take 16 months off to travel in South America, one month off to travel in New England and Quebec, Canada, another month to enjoy Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier National Park, and another month to travel in Central/ Eastern Europe.

People constantly tell me how jealous they are of all my travels. They tell me how “lucky” I am. They say they wish they could travel like I do.

But you know what?

They absolutely can do it. They just choose not to.  For whatever reason. [Usually it’s a job, relationship, home, money, or some combination of these four things that holds people back]

A lot of travel blogs are written by professional nomads who are actively traveling. Or people who have been professional nomads at one point.  Many of them lack a home address, and can fit most of their worldly possessions into a [somewhat large] backpack. [I have one of those too] They flit from here to there to back again, and we ordinary people think –“wow, I wish I could do that”, or “this is so awesome that I will never be able to do that”, or “I  would do that if I didn’t have significant other/mortgage/car payments/ kids or whatever.”

We psyche ourselves out and buy into a lot of misconceptions about living a life full of travel. We begin to believe things like:

  • You must be rich to travel.
  • You must be single to travel.
  • You must be brave and outgoing to travel.
  • You must be free from responsibility to travel.
  • We convince ourselves that we can never be one of “those people” because we have a job and debt and a family and pets.

These misconceptions are just that — misconceptions. You can travel without being rich and single. [Although I am currently single, I am certainly not rich.  I traveled for nine months with a boyfriend at home] You can travel without being particularly adventurous [ I am not the most outgoing soul.  There are things that I will never do voluntarily such as jumping out of a plane or off a bridge with a rubber band on my ankles] And, most of all, you can travel without completely setting aside responsibility.  [Find a good pet sitter/house sitter.  Find a job that allows a modicum of flexibility.  Work two part-time jobs if necessary.]

There are ways to have a normal life and a traveler’s life…you just have to be more creative to make that happen than you do in either one.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, though. Because it’s not. If you have a strict work schedule or a young family or a lot of debt to pay off, it may be challenging to live your “ordinary” life and still manage to fit in travel.

But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Here are some tips for how to fit travel into your ordinary life:

  • Start saving now. It’s never too early to start saving for a trip. Even just setting aside $25 per week can go a long way quickly [$1300/year and you will probably never miss it]
  • Plan your dream vacation. Even if you won’t be able to take it right away, planning a vacation can keep you upbeat about traveling and give you something to look forward to. I really, really, really want to go to Spain, but I want to have the time to do it right.  The right time for Spain is not now, but it will happen…someday.
  • Make the most of vacation time and holidays. Americans get a raw deal in my opinion when it comes to vacation time. 2 weeks is a joke, and if it’s like most places I know, you can’t even do the two weeks consecutively. If your employer isn’t cool about letting you work overtime or giving you unpaid days off, you’ll have to get creative in order to make the most of the vacation time you have. You can stretch your 2 weeks much further if you plan travel around paid holidays, or if you can elect to work your holidays and save them up for later.
  • Don’t wait for someone to travel with. I would love to have a travel partner, but no one I know wants to travel the way I do.  They all have full-time jobs and/or small kids. Sometimes it’s hard enough just to be able to coordinate dinner with friends. But that doesn’t mean you should forego travel. It just means you may need to consider adding “solo travel” to your vocabulary.
  • Pick up new hobbies. I am a shutterbug.  Part of my reason for traveling is wanting to capture a fresh perspective on life.  And see some amazing scenery along the way. I have taught photography in Peru, public health in Brazil, and English in Mexico.  I have helped with sea turtle conservation in South Carolina and Uruguay and animal conservation in Ecuador and the  Galapagos Islands.  I have volunteered with big cats in Bolivia.  My goal is to volunteer my way around the world.
  • Take advantage of all opportunities. Right along with picking up new hobbies, be sure to take advantage of any travel opportunities that those hobbies might afford you. For example, I traveled a lot during college because I was on our the fencing team.  We weren’t great and didn’t get to compete internationally [like Notre Dame’s football game in Ireland this year–so jealous], but we did get to go to a lot of places in the USA that I would have never thought of visiting before… and it was [mostly] paid for by the school.

Most of all [and this one is important]

  • Don’t make excuses. Any excuse you can make about why you can’t/don’t travel can be overcome.  I’ve seen parents eschew traditional schools in favor of the education traveling gives.  I’ve seen professionals take jobs in other countries.  I’ve seen couples travel in a RV [or motorcycle] from Alaska to Argentina.  I’ve seen people start location independent businesses so they can be anywhere.  In the famous words of Nike–JUST DO IT.
Mar 4, 2012 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Best.Day.Ever

Today just happens to be my birth day.  I just happen to be in Italy.  It happens to be Carnavale.  How is this my life?

You know, I was thinking back to this day last year.  It pretty much sucked.  The lowest of the low. It was the last day I ever talked to my dad.  On my way home from the hospital, I saw my then-boyfriend riding around with another chick in his truck.  Then called him and said ‘what the actual fuck is goinig on?’ We broke up that day. A mere 365 days later, I am in Italy. I’ve been to the Olympics.  I’ve explored a medieval castle.  I’ve consumed more wine than I can remember. I’ve participated in Carnavale in Firenze.  I bought a masquerade mask.

carnavale

carnavale maks

I took a train ride through the Alps.  I kissed an Italian.  And I still have three weeks left on my Italian vacation.  I’m going to Rome. And Naples. And exploring Pompeii.  Maybe I’ll learn more than a few words in Italian.  Maybe I’ll learn to cook.  Maybe I’ll become a expert wine drinker.  Maybe I’ll ride on a Vespa.  Who knows what will happen.  This I know for sure:

  • Italy is awesome.
  • The Winter Olympics are amazing.
  • The Alps are amazing
  • The history is exciting.
  • The food is orgasmic.
  • Snacks are orgasmic.
  • Gelato is orgasmic.
  • People are friendly.
  • And so full of life.
  • I could probably live here.
  • I could never dress as well as Italians do
  • I could never wear high heels like those Italian women do

But today is my birthday.  And this is what I did…

–>I concocted the best [portable] meal I could conceive of…
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a small vat of green olives, a passel of green grapes, fresh bread, chucks of cheeses, clementines, and a large vat of Chianti.  Throw in a view of the Mediterranean and it is quite simply amazing.

–>I took a train from Rome to Sorrento
–>I had an amazing meal
italian-dinner

 

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What an incredible way to celebrate another trip around the sun.

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