Advice That I Wish I Knew Before Traveling To India

Before coming to India, I did a lot of research about travel tips, scams, advice for women, advice for solo travelers, and anything else that I could get my hands on. From what I read, India is unlike any of the other Southeast Asian countries that are popular backpacking destinations. It’s loud, crowded, dirty, and unsafe, especially for women. At least, that’s what I read.

All of the articles and blogs that I read were making really nervous. Would I be ready for everything that India was going to throw at me? Would I be safe? How extensive are the scams? (I found out later that they can be intricate and very convincing.)

Now that I’ve been in India for a few weeks and have experienced much of what I want to write about, I would like to share some tips for travel in India.


Visa Requirements

You can get an e-tourist visa (eTV) if you plan on traveling to India for 30 days or less. This was the best option for me because I was applying from New Zealand and since I was moving around so much, couldn’t afford to be without my passport for more than a day or two to get the 10-year visa.

Visit https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html and complete the application. You can only apply for two eTVs within one calendar year and you will need your onward travel booked before entering the country. You’ll also need to upload a passport photo and a copy of your passport when filling out the application.

Bring photocopies of your passport and eTV letter to the airport. I thought that I could just show my visa application approval email to customs, but they wanted a printed version of it (just copy/paste into a Word document). I ended up frantically running around the airport to try to find a place to email and print my visa letter. Not fun, especially because I was trying to catch a connecting flight.

Indian SIM Cards

If you’re going to be in India for a while, I would recommend getting an Indian SIM card. This can help with safety as well as convenience for finding your hostel, making sure your taxi driver doesn’t drive in circles, etc. You can also use your number to buy train tickets online.

I read that it was really complicated to get an Indian SIM card, but I didn’t have any trouble. I just went to a nearby Vodafone store and brought a copy of my hostel’s business card (they acted as my “Indian sponsor”), my passport, and a passport photo. They filled out all the paperwork for me and I had my SIM card within the hour.

If you’re going to travel to different areas in India, make sure you upgrade to the roaming plan. It’s only a little more expensive and will keep the roaming charges to a minimum when you travel in other Indian States.

The most important thing when getting an Indian SIM card (and something that kept me in Mumbai for an extra day) is to activate your SIM card and ensure that it works before you leave the city that you bought your SIM card in. They say it will take a few hours to activate, but I met some people whose cards has taken 24 hours or more to activate. If you leave the city without activating your SIM card, it’s essentially worthless.

Clothing

Dress very modestly. India is a predominately Hindu country and women are mostly covered up (long pants and skirts, long shirts, no cleavage). Not only is it polite to dress in a similar manner, but it will prevent a lot of unwanted attention.

Always bring a scarf with you when you go out because some temples require your head, arms, or legs, to be covered.

P1110340

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

Transportation

Buying tickets for trains and buses is an absolute nightmare. You can book at the station, but this process can take hours. You can book through your hostel, but they always add an extra commission onto the ticket, even if they say that they don’t. My hostel claimed that they didn’t add extra fees onto my ticket, but when I talked to the other people on my bus, I quickly learned that they did.

The real price for my train from Udaipur to Jaisalmer should have been 550 rupees. I paid 800 rupees. Another guy paid 700 rupees. Another couple paid 900 rupees. If you have to book a bus, go directly to the travel agency. You’ll still pay a commission, but at least you’re not paying two commissions.

If you’re taking a sleeper bus or train, bring a bike lock and lock up your bag to the seat so that your bag doesn’t get nicked while you’re sleeping.

P1110300

Sleeper bus with individual compartments

Trains have special compartments for women. Use those if you’re a woman and you’re traveling alone.

Always use metered tuktuks (they call them “autos”) and taxis. If you’re going to agree on a price with your driver, stick firmly by that price when you pay. If you’re flying in for the first time, get in touch with your hotel and ask them how much a ride should cost.

Safety

I read in many travel blogs that it’s wise to wear a fake wedding ring if you’re a woman. This will help prevent unwanted advances since it’s like saying that you’re already “claimed by a man.” On the one day that I forgot my ring (and this could’ve been a coincidence), I was catcalled by a lot more men than uusal and had some extremely inappropriate things said to me.

Don’t walk alone at night or in unsafe areas.

Be wary when taking city buses and never take unmarked taxis. See also: Delhi gang rape from 2012.

Don’t drink the water or drink anything that is made with ice. Also, don’t eat any fresh fruits or vegetables that are washed in the local water because it is unclean. If you have a very sensitive stomach, you can also try to brush your teeth using bottled water. Personally, I don’t do this and I haven’t been sick (yet!).

Culture

I’ve read that groping will likely happen, especially in crowded, touristy areas (although this hasn’t happened to me). Men will supposedly rub their elbow against your breasts or blatantly grope you. If this happens, make a big scene about it and this will shame the perpetrator into retreating. Other people in the area will also come to your aid.

People will want to take pictures with you. It is said that some of these people will use those photos and will claim that you’re their girlfriend or that they have slept with you. If you don’t want a photo, just say no.

Cows are revered in India and they can be found in virtually every street or alley. I guarantee that you will step in cow poop. Or if you’re like me, you’ll step in a pile at least once a day. Stay alert and just accept the fact that cow poop happens.

P1110401

Just a normal street in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India


Yes, India is crowded, loud, and somewhat dirty (when I asked where a rubbish bin was, a man made a broad, sweeping motion with his hand, as if to say ‘the ground is your rubbish bin’).

But I have never feared for my safety. I found that the Indian people are absolutely lovely and can be extremely helpful and friendly. If you decide to come to India, be guarded, smart, and safe, but don’t let that stop you from making unbelievable memories or experiencing something that is outside of your comfort zone (like being an extra in a Bollywood soap opera).

I am in love with India and I hope that one day, you too will find the richness and beauty that I have experienced in my short time here.

P1110209

Gateway of India, Mumbai

P1110301

Potato curry w/ naan

P1110493

Desert trek in Jaisalmer

P1110465

Village farmer in Jaisalmer

P1110405

Gypsies outside of the fort in Jaisalmer


Advertisements
Posted in India | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Travel Fatigue Is Too Real

I was ready for the next leg of my trip. I absolutely loved New Zealand but it was seriously killing my budget. I didn’t know that it was possible to burn through cash so quickly if I wasn’t sitting at poker table with Grandma Leenknecht.

I had an 18-hour layover in Australia, so I booked a cheap hostel for the night and prepared for my 9am flight to Kuala Lumpur the next morning.

After a few hours of sleep due to obnoxiously loud dormmates (more on this in a later post), I got up at 4:30am, gathered up my bag in a groggy haze, and headed out for the airport.

As usual, I got to the airport far too early to check in, so I found a coffee shop and waited until that magical check-in window 3 hours before my flight.

I glanced up at the board and saw that my flight was delayed by an hour.

No problem. I still have plenty of time to make my connecting flight in Kuala Lumpur.

An hour later, I marched up to the ticketing agent and proudly handed my passport over.

The agent kindly informed me (and the many dozens of people before and after me) that the flight was delayed to an undetermined time later that day due to two separate medical emergencies on the very plane that I was due to board.

“Check back in at 6 o’clock tonight and we’ll know more about flight times,” they told me. Then they gave me a $10 meal voucher and ushered me off.

Alright… I suppose that I can keep myself busy and probably do some more baby Skyping. Because let’s be honest: everyone loves a good baby Skype.

Screenshot_2016-02-16-08-07-30

I soon found out that the flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 7am the next morning. Air Asia would put us up at a hotel for the night and we would get on the flight the next morning.

This meant that I would miss my connecting flight in Kuala Lumpur and would be a day late in meeting my friend, Cass, in Sri Lanka.

Delay after delay continued to frustrate me, so I took matters into my own hands and called the airline directly and got put on a flight the next morning.

When I landed in Colombo, I had trouble with my debit and credit cards at the airport (this is the 4th time that it’s happened). I couldn’t get any money out of the ATM and the currency exchange wouldn’t buy my Korean Won or Japanese Yen. I tried to call my bank but the internet at the airport was so bad that it would kick me off every few minutes, making a Skype call impossible.

It was late, I was tired, and I had no way of getting money. Just great.

Thank goodness that I had a little over $100 USD in my wallet, which they happily changed into Sri Lankan rupees for me.

My taxi driver couldn’t drive down the road that my hostel was on because it was too narrow. So he parked on a nearby road and dropped me off.

I hoisted my huge bag onto my back and silently prayed that I didn’t just get dropped off in the wrong location in the middle of the night.

By the time that I found my hostel and got to the dorm room, it was already after midnight.

I flopped (carefully) into my bunk and didn’t bother to change out of the clothes that I had been wearing all day. I was unbelievably sweaty and gross, but I didn’t care. The only thing that I was concerned about was sleeping for as many minutes as possible.

We got up around 5:30am the next day and grabbed a tuktuk for the train station. After all the craziness of the city, we were finally able to sit down, slow down, and catch up with each other.

P1110033

Our next train ride from Kandy to Ella was a little different.

The available tickets were second class tickets that cost 240 rupees (about $1.67 USD) for a 6-hour ride through the winding hills of Sri Lanka. Seats were not guaranteed and I was warned that it could get rowdy while people were fighting for those much-coveted seats.

I fully prepared myself to be pushed, shoved, and otherwise prodded, through the throngs of people hoping to cram themselves into the train. Not to toot my own horn, but I consider myself a professional people-pusher because I did live in China, after all. If you wanted to get anywhere, you pushed. And boy, did I push!

I ended up sitting in the doorway for a good chunk of the trip, alternating between sitting on my bag and standing. I was nervous to have my feet dangling out of the door, but it seemed like all the locals were doing it, and hopefully my legs wouldn’t get chopped off in the process.

P1110093

P1110097P1110092

P1110095

We eventually found seats in the car where people were playing drums, singing, and clapping. It was fun for the first 30 minutes (ok, maybe the first 5 minutes), but after a while, the raucousness began to wear on me. I was tired and just wanted a bit of sleep.

I did sleep for a little while, only to be woken up by some bozo who thought it was absolutely hilarious to loudly blow a horn in the ears of people who had fallen asleep.

He cracked himself up every time he did blew that horn.

And it was often.

He’s lucky that he didn’t blow his horn in my ears because I would’ve snatched it and thrown it out of the window. Yup, I was that cranky.

Add to that some serious racism and sexism that I experienced (more on this later), and I can honestly tell you that I’m tired.

Not sleep-deprived tired. More like, “I’m tired of this traveling nonsense and I want to go home now” kind of tired.

I guess that this is normal at this point in time for a lot of people. Now is the time when it’s make-or-break; do you fight through the travel fatigue or do you succumb and book a flight home?

I refuse to give up.

Although… I often think about the warmth of my own bed, not having to carefully pack up my bag every few days to move onto a new place to sleep, cooking my own meals, driving, eating a “normal” diet, having regular bowel movements, wearing clothes that haven’t been stuffed in a bag all day… better yet, wearing different clothes than the same tank tops and soccer shorts that I’ve been sporting for the last 4 months, walking around naked in my room, going to the gym, having unbridled Internet access, playing with my nieces, and spending time with my family and friends.

Honestly, it’s all I can do to even write this blog post. I want to be done with all of this and go home to my beautiful and beloved Portland, Oregon. Just writing those words evokes strong feelings of happiness, safety, and homesickness. SIGH. Portland, I miss you.

But I will push through. I must push through.

Even though I’m exhausted, I know that this is just a small hump that I need to get over. Travel fatigue is something that long-term travelers feel and I’ll need to fight through and quit whining about it. I only have a little while longer before I return home and I know that I’ll always regret my decision if I give up now.

P1110135

Waterfall in Ella, Sri Lanka

Posted in Australia, Family, Sri Lanka | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Great Hitchhiking Adventure

I was alone yet again. There were still no available beds in Queenstown (check out this blog post about my first couchsurfing experience) and I was without a car. My accommodation options were limited to sleeping under a bridge or on a bench, so I booked a hostel in Dunedin, a coastal town about 3.5 hours southeast of Queenstown.

But how to get there? Buses were expensive and I didn’t have a car.

I did what many travelers in New Zealand do: I hitchhiked.

Unlike in the States, hitchhiking is legal, very common, and it’s quite safe.

In preparation for my hitching adventure, I packed a small overnight bag, went dumpster diving for some good cardboard, and made my sign.

P1110000

The character above “DUNEDIN” is Chinese for “in the direction of/towards.” I figured that if I had Chinese written on my sign, my chances of getting picked up by a Chinese tourist would be higher.

I got some great tips from a seasoned hitchhiker (who shall not be named for fear of her mother’s wrath):

  1. Be clean. People generally don’t want to pick up a dirty hitchhiker. Check, check! I showered that morning and made sure to apply deodorant and brush my hair.
  2. Smile! If you look cranky, you won’t get picked up. Done and done. I smiled so much that my cheeks hurt.
  3. Take your sunglasses off. People want to see your face to make sure you’re not crazy. It was insanely bright outside, but I took my sunglasses off anyway. I made some pretty intense eye contact with those passing by, in an attempt to make them feel guilty for not picking me up.
  4. Find a good hitching spot. Drivers will need enough time to size you up and to safely pull over. I chose a spot after a roundabout (so people wouldn’t be driving too quickly) and right before a construction zone. I was picked up within 30 seconds.
  5. Hitch alone. Sometimes people just don’t have space for two people and their bags. I hitched alone on the way out to Dunedin and with a girl on the way back to Queenstown. It was more difficult to get a ride on the way back, but I felt safer.
  6. Use common sense. If the situation makes you uncomfortable, don’t ride with them. No alarm bells went off when any of my rides pulled over and I’m still alive now. Plus, it was still daylight when I hitched and there was heaps of traffic going by.
  7. Empty your bladder. You never know when you’ll get a bathroom break. Emptied and ready to go! I have a tiny bladder, so I made sure not to drink too much water.
  8. Engage in small talk. Drivers sometimes pick hitchhikers up to keep them company/entertain them on a long drive. That one is easy. I could talk for days to just about anyone. It’s much better than riding in silence and staring out of the window.

I had an amazing time hitchhiking because I got to meet some really interesting people that I normally wouldn’t have met in a hostel.

I met a middle-aged man named Gary, who was heading home after scenic drive around Queenstown. He lost his wife a few years ago to breast cancer and has a daughter who lives in Invercargill.

I was picked up by a road construction worker named Chris, who works 14 consecutive 15-hour days and then has 1 ½ days off. He picked me up in his work rig and bought ice cream for me when we stopped for gas. He was so kind!

P1110001

I met a guy named Bevan, who had just gotten done wakeboarding in Wanaka and was headed home to Dunedin.

I rode in a campervan with a German/Kiwi family who was in Dunedin for a wedding. I learned all about cricket from their 10-year-old son and taught them about lacrosse, which is a sport that they had never heard of.

I dropped in on the Alexandra Bowling Club to use the restroom and was warmly welcomed by everyone inside. I learned that their bowling club isn’t 10 pin bowling, but it’s done outside on a lawn. Here’s a picture of me, Leah (my fellow Queenstown-bound hitchhiker), and Sue, a bowling club member.

P1110029

My last ride of my hitching adventure was with three Chinese friends. They were vacationing in New Zealand for a few weeks while their children stayed at home to study. I discovered that they also live in Shenzhen, which where I used to live when I was in China!

P1110032

But the best part about hitching was the fact that I got to see my favorite animal in its natural habitat at the Penguin Place, a reserve for the endangered yellow-eyed penguin. Because yellow-eyed penguins don’t do well in captivity, I would never be able to see one in a zoo or aquarium.

P1110003

The Penguin Place has a penguin hospital, where they care for the sick or injured penguins before releasing them back into the wild.

P1110013

P1110004

Here’s a picture of a young, plump yellow-eyed penguin, who was molting his feathers. I thought that it was so interesting that he was up in the trees to moult, not down by the ocean where you would think he would be. He will stay in that same place for weeks to conserve energy until he’s done moulting.

P1110025

Although I won’t be hitchhiking anytime in the near future, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to do so in New Zealand. I would like to thank everyone who was kind enough to give me a lift and share their life stories with me. I only hope that one day, I will be able to return the favor.

 

Posted in China, New Zealand | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

3 Adults, 2 Sleeping Bags, 1 Tent

Because it’s the Chinese New Year and Queenstown is notoriously difficult to book accommodation in, Danny and I had to stay in a few places that weren’t on the original plan.

Haast is one of those towns that I wish that we could’ve skipped. It’s a small sneeze of a town doesn’t have cell reception for 165 kilometers and is home to billions of sandflies.

At other hostels, even though checkout time is 10am, people can stick around to figure out their next steps or even leave their bags there for the day while they go out. It’s never a problem and the hostel owners are always very accommodating.

At the Wilderness Backpackers, the hostel we stayed at in Haast, there are signs posted everywhere that say:

“Checkout time is 10am. You must leave the building by 10:15am or you will be charged a day fee”

Wow, what a prickly and unwelcoming message!

When I asked the cranky hostel owner to borrow his phone for a minute to check on a tentative booking, he said “that’ll be $2 for the call.”

With a chuckle and smile on my face, I said “you’re joking, right?”

Nope. He wasn’t joking at all.

Then he proceeded to lecture me by saying that someone has to pay for the phone call, and phone calls aren’t free and someone has to pay for them, and that someone should be me.

I totally understand that phone calls aren’t free. That’s fine. But because he was so rude, I refused to pay him to use his phone.

Instead, we paid $5 for a phone card from a hotel down the road. Yes, I realize that it’s more than $2 for the phone call back at my hostel, but it’s the principle of the situation.

We headed down south to Queenstown and found that everything was booked.

2016-02-11 12.11.04

We spent two full nights frantically searching on HostelWorld.com, HostelBookers.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity, BBH, and CouchSurfing.com, for something, anything. I probably emailed out 75 inquiries to different hostels, checking to see if there were any last-minute cancellations.

Nothing.

We discussed our options if we couldn’t find accommodation in Queenstown. We could:

  1. Drive 3.5 hours out of the way to stay at a hostel on the east coast
  2. Pay $150/night for the only hotel that has vacancy in a neighboring town
  3. Sleep in our car

Luckily, we got a response on from CouchSurfing.com (CS) from a student who said he would be willing to host Danny and me for a few nights.

If you’re not familiar with the site, it’s basically like AirBnB, where normal people will offer up their couch/spare bed to travelers for free. It’s a great way to meet people and a free place to lay your head at night.

After a few messages with the guy from CS, he asked me, “you realize that I live in a tent, right?”

Umm, no, we didn’t notice that in his profile because we spammed dozens of people on CS and didn’t scrutinize the profiles.

Danny and I discussed staying in his tent and agreed that it was our only option. He probably wouldn’t try to murder, mug, or assault us, because there’s two of us and Danny was with me.

We met him underneath a bridge and followed him in our car off road and into the brush and dust in the outskirts of Queenstown.

It turned out to be pretty great. He was a really mellow guy, and although conversation was only a little awkward, it was a free place to sleep at night that wasn’t too far from town.

Here a picture of the tent and our camping location:

2016-02-11 09.05.44

By the time we were done camping, this is what our car looked like:

2016-02-11 09.26.26

It was a great first experience for couchsurfing and I’m so glad that I got to share that experience with Danny. We met an interesting guy, saved money on accommodation, and had some beautiful night views of the stars.

 

 

Posted in New Zealand | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Running Out Of Time

Time is a powerful thing. It doesn’t care about you or your schedule. It is constant and unforgiving. Each wrinkle, grey hair, and creaky knee, are all relentless reminders that while time is eternally infinite, your entire existence is simply a blip in time and space. Your agenda doesn’t matter because time stops for nobody and nothing.

Tell that to my bright purple, 25 dollar Ironman watch that I bought from Groupon. That time stopped exactly 11 days ago.

Goodbye my beloved Groupon watch. You did such a great job to allay my fears of being late and letting me know how long my run was (probably a slow 10 minutes). You were good to me and we always had a great time together (HA!).

I have since replaced it with a bracelet that I bought from one of these lovely ladies in a Fijian village.

P1100494

Now I feel like a true backpacker because I have a braided leather bracelet. Soon, I’ll be sporting dreadlocks, I’ll walk barefoot everywhere I go, and I’ll have one or all of the following tattoos: a compass, a world map, water and water elements, Chinese characters, or tribal designs.

Since I got into New Zealand, everyone has been telling me that I don’t have enough time here. Right, right, I know. But I don’t have an unlimited amount of time in this country and I certainly don’t have an unlimited budget. I’m making do with the time and money that I have and hopefully I can experience the best of New Zealand in the 17 days I have here. Here’s what has happened in a nutshell thusfar:

Danny and I rented a car at the Auckland airport. This is the first time that I’ve rented a car while traveling on my own. It’s such a luxury to have ultimate freedom to drive where we want and to stop whenever the mood strikes. We don’t have to abide by train schedules or bus routes. We navigate using Maps.Me, which is, in my opinion, the best travel app out there. You can download a map for an entire country and use it while offline. And it’s free!

P1100573

It was a bit of an adjustment to drive on the left side of the road. But the biggest issue that we’ve had so far is making sure that we’re using our turn signal and not turning the windshield wipers on. Unlike the United States where you can turn right on a ride light, you can’t turn left on a red.

The next day, we got up at 5:30am and started driving down south to Matamata for our tour of Hobbiton, one of the most popular movie sets from the Lord of the Rings trilogies.

P1100608

P1100663

Later that day, we stopped in Taupo to visit Sarah, a friend that I met in Sydney earlier this year. We watched the sunset over Lake Taupo and fought off vicious sand fly attacks.

P1100696

We visited Huka Falls, where the water is so blue that it looks fake. It wasn’t much of a hike since the falls were right next to the parking lot, but we still got some beautiful pictures.

P1100724

On the drive down to Turangi, we saw people jumping off of a cliff into the ocean. Since we weren’t tied to a schedule, we pulled the car over, changed into our suits, and joined in. This was my first cliff diving experience!

P1100741

We got up early the next morning and started our hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (one of the top 10 most popular hikes in the world). I felt ill-prepared for such a hike since I didn’t have hiking boots. But I was still so much more prepared to the guy at the start of the track who asked, “do you know where we can buy water?” It’s a 7.5 hour, 19.4 km hike, with no drinkable water anywhere along the path.

The morning started off pretty chilly and cloudy, but the weather warmed up later in the day. We hiked past Mount Doom (AKA Mount Ngauruhoe) from Lord of the Rings, through clouds, and past craters full of beautiful blue and green waters. We ate $1 cans of chicken, hiked with a German brother and sister, left our mark in rocks, and took hundreds of pictures that just don’t quite do the scenery justice.

IMG_1182

IMG_1217

IMG_1105

We have 7 days left in this beautiful country and I have every intention of making the most of every second that we have here. If we miss anything, there’s always next time.

Posted in Fiji, New Zealand | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

8 Reasons Why Traveling Is NOT The Same As Vacation (You Won’t Believe #6!)

…alright, you will believe number 6… I just wanted to have a headline like all those ridiculous articles that you see on Facebook that you feel compelled to read. If you don’t believe me, feel free to scroll down to number 6 to see for yourself.

It feels good to be on vacation. I just left a beautiful resort on Waya Island in Fiji and am now on Bounty Island, where you can circumambulate the entire island in 30 minutes. It’s beautiful and extremely relaxing. My big decision today was whether I wanted to snorkel or kayak (hint: I did both).

I am on vacation right now and I love it. Before I know it, I will be back to traveling through New Zealand. Here’s 8 reasons why traveling and

1. Trip Duration

VacationAhh, vacation time in the United States is a curious thing. The US doesn’t require employers to give paid vacation time or paid holidays. In fact, you’re lucky if you get a couple of weeks that you can use during Christmas or Thanksgiving for an extended weekend. Because of this, your vacation is probably only a week or two, depending on what you’ve finagled with your employer.

Traveling: I’ve met a lot of travelers who have simply quit their current jobs so that they could travel. They’ve been traveling for months or even years. One friend that I met (that’s you, Ray!) was traveling on and off for five years.

Other people get working visas where they can stay for extended amount of time and work simultaneously. When I fell in love with Australia, and I seriously considered doing the same thing.

It’s because of this that, as a traveler, you really get to know the heart of the countries that you’re in. You learn about the people, their culture, and what has shaped it. Your schedule isn’t dictated by the amount of time that you have there; instead, it’s dictated by what you feel when you’re there.

2. Luggage

VacationYou pack your biggest suitcase that has four wheels and is ergonomically created so that it never tips over. You pack its matching carry-on companion, your fanciest purse, and a neck pillow, because, you’re not a barbarian.

Traveling: You get an 80-liter backpacking pack that will hold all the clothes you’ll need for the next months or years of traveling. You know that you’ll have to carry your bag everywhere and will be traveling to places with poor infrastructure. Wheeled bags will slow you down and look ridiculous.

Your life is on your back and you’re ready to carry it wherever the wind may take you.

3. Packing

Vacation: We all know that packing for vacation is a nightmare because you want to pack everything. You bring your night cream, day cream, a few pairs of sunglasses, 8 pairs of shoes, scarves, hats, socks, belts, and any other random thing that you might need.

Going to the Carribbean for a week? You’re probably bringing a parka because, well, you never know what the weather will be like.

Traveling: You bring just enough underwear to last you before you’re forced to do laundry. If you run out of clean underwear, you wear your bathing suit. You pack one pair of sensible shoes because you’ll be walking everywhere, and one pair of comfortable sandals.

If you’re traveling across different climates, you pack clothes that will keep you warm and also clothes that will keep you cool. You’re less worried about fashion than you are with clothes that are lightweight, versatile, and packable. You bring clothes that will get ruined, stained, or lost… and you’re okay with that.

4. Accommodation

Vacation: Five-star hotels, all-inclusive resorts, and luxury cruises, all equipped with room service, housekeeping that puts chocolates on your pillow, private bathrooms with Jacuzzis, and televisions that nobody ever watches. Staff members are constantly waiting on you, carrying your bags, or asking if you would like a refill.

When you get to your room, you’re disappointed that the hair dryer isn’t powerful enough or they only give you one bottle of shampoo. The lobby, hallways, and rooms, are all air-conditioned. There are extra blankets and pillows in the closet, which also houses a safe for your valuables, an ironing board and iron, and a luxurious robe.

Traveling: You find the cheapest hostel with relatively high ratings on budget accommodation sites like hostelbookers.com or hostelworld.com. You book the dorm room for a few reasons: it’s easy to meet people and it’s so much cheaper than a private room.

You sleep in one room with 20 other people with 2 toilets. You’re packed in tightly, the room is hot, and you might have to pay extra for air conditioning.

The mattresses are hard. The pillows are lumpy. The blankets are thick when you want them to be thin. There’s zero privacy and you have a tough time sleeping because the person in the bunk above you keeps moving around.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a locker in your room where you can put your valuables (but make sure you brought your own lock). Don’t forget to bring your own shampoo and soap. Oh yeah, and towels cost extra for rental and they will be harsh and abrasive against your skin. When you check out, you have to take the sheets off of your bed (just like you had to make your own bed when you arrived).

5. Transportation

VacationYou travel in style. You fly to your destination and if your hotel doesn’t have airport pickup, you hail a taxi. Traveling is easy and fast, and the cost doesn’t matter as much as convenience.

Traveling: You walk everywhere. If something is too far to walk to, that is, it’s further than 2 or 3 miles, then you take the local bus. Taxis are a last-case-scenario that should only be used in the most dire of situations.

The question is never “how do I get there?” Instead, it’s “what’s the cheapest way to get there?” even if that means that your travel time is exponentially increased.

6. Food

VacationYou indulge in fancy food and eat out at nice restaurants. Midnight buffet? Sure, why not. You’re probably eating constantly and the food is delicious. You’re often stuffed from eating excessively. Restaurants that you go to are clean, have passed health inspections, and highly rated online.

You drink the fancy cocktails with the creatively cute names, because why not? You’re on vacation!

Traveling: You eat literally anything that comes your way; any semblance of a diet is out the window. You’re too poor to go to the fancy restaurants, so you eat street food, find back alley dives, and buy groceries at the store to keep costs low.

The food (in my opinion) is probably better and more authentic at these types of places than at the upscale restaurants.

7. Entertainment

VacationYou check with your hotel’s concierge to see what they recommend. There’s a show tonight at 7:30 and tickets are on sale for a mere $140 each. What a steal! You buy tickets for your whole family.

Traveling: You ask one of the other 20 people in your dorm what they recommend, ideally something cheap. You also do some searching online to see what is available for a budget. You probably opt for the free activity and you are probably going to walk there (see the Transportation section).

8. Hygiene

VacationDay cream, night cream, hairspray, hair dyer, flat iron, curling iron, lotion, face lotion, makeup, perfume, etc. Those are just a few of the items that you’ve brought with you that you will be using on vacation. You look great, smell great, feel great.

Traveling: You go days without brushing your hair; sometimes you realize it and sometimes you don’t. Deodorant, while a good idea in practice, is not always applied. Perfume is strictly avoided because you don’t want to attract bees or mosquitoes.

You appreciate the fact that it’s been weeks since you last wore makeup or shaved. You’ve grown accustomed to not looking in the mirror and not caring what your hair looks like. You are indifferent because you’re traveling and you’re not here to impress anyone.

Well folks, I think that’s just about it for me today. I’m going to enjoy the rest of my night and prepare for my full day tomorrow that consists of reading, beach lounging, snorkeling, and perhaps some hammocking. Goodnight from Fiji!

 

Posted in Fiji | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning To Be Alone

“Leave me alone” or “go away” were the words that I constantly heard growing up. Yup, I was the annoying little sister who was always there.

The five of us kept ourselves busy; we built forts out of blackberry bushes, played hide-and-go-seek, paraded up and down our street on the 4th of July, and shot hoops in the driveway… okay fine, Kevin would shoot and I would rebound, but I was happy just to be with him.

426389_730640633433_1723657052_n

A childhood picture of my older siblings and me (in the middle with the blue dress)

As I grew up and my siblings moved away, I kept myself busy with sports, school, work, and anything else that would fill my schedule.

I’m scared of being alone because I have never had to be alone.

That’s part of the reason why I started on this trip–so that I could learn to be without people, without distractions, without things, and to truly love it.

When I made a trip up to the Daintree Rainforest in Australia, I was excited to be spend some time in the rainforest. I would be completely disconnected and distraction-free.

There were lots of activities to do in the Daintree Rainforest, but the one that excited me the most was the hike up Mt. Sorrow. They say that it’s a 5-7 hour difficult hike, only recommended for experienced bushwalkers with advanced fitness levels.

…ehhh, that’s me… right? 

I brought my pack, 3.5 liters of water, some light provisions, and was on my way.

Not even 10 minutes into the hike, I was covered in sweat and wanting to turn around. I heard some rustling in the bushes and got nervous, so I tried to justify the fact that I was giving up on the hike by telling myself that I was being smart. I mean, there was nobody else on the trail, it was more than 100 degrees out, and if anything happened to me, nobody would know for at least 6 or 7 hours when I was due to return.

P1100210

So I turned around and started back down the hill.

After a few steps, I stopped. Isn’t this what I wanted? Some alone time in the rainforest, with just me and my thoughts? That, and poisonous snakes and spiders, deadly cassowaries, leeches falling from the trees, and crippling heat and humidity.

Yup. That’s exactly what I wanted. With a new found vigor, I turned back around and continued up the mountain (albeit extremely slowly).

P1100201

After 5 1/2 hours, I made it out alive with only minor scrapes and bruisies, 40 new mosquito bites (or in Aussie terms, “mozzie bites”), and 2 leech bites.  I had time to myself to think, reflect, and ponder. To appreciate my freedom, the beauty surrounding me, and the future ahead of me.

I suppose that’s why it’s been so long since I last blogged. Instead of tying myself down to my computer, I’ve been out exploring myself. Give me leeches falling onto my head any day if that means that I can have some quality time alone with my thoughts. So to all of my readers out there (AKA Mom), I’m sorry that I haven’t been writing as often. I’ve been busy being alone.

Posted in Australia, Family | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Oh, The Places You’ll Go (And The People You’ll Meet)

No more bundling up to go outside, no more sleeping under six blankets at night, no more shirts under sweaters under shirts under jackets. I have officially shed my winter layers and exchanged them for flip flops, tank tops, and shorts.

Summer in January? Yes please, thank you.

After I landed in the Melbourne airport, I made my way into the city and was greeted by the most cheerful city employee who was quite eager to assist me in finding my hostel. He even gave me a bottle of cold water, which was a refreshing treat after the stale (and warm) water that I had been carting around with me all day.

Don’t worry Mom—I made sure that the water bottle was sealed. I wasn’t about to get abducted on my first day in Australia. I’ll save that for my 9th day.

After riding the tram and walking for 10 minutes, it was already 1pm and I could feel the 101 degree sun relentlessly beating down on me. My water was already gone and I was ready to settle into my new hostel and take a cold shower.

I walked up to the hostel and turned the handle.

The door was locked.

I knocked.

Nobody answered.

I peered inside.

Not a soul around.

Hmm.

Confused, I walked down the road to a quaint little art gallery to use their phone and take a break in their air conditioning.

I met a sweet older man named Ross, and his pup. While I waited for the hostel owner to get back from the post office, Ross and I had a wonderful conversation about art, books, and family.

P1090847.JPG

The next day, I went to St. Kilda Beach with a new friend, Tim, for (quite possibly) the best part of my trip so far.

Penguins!! Yes, that’s two exclamation points that you’re seeing.

We didn’t go to the zoo or an aquarium. We saw them in the wild. PENGUINS. Wild penguins in their natural habitat, calmly swimming up to the rocks for their nightly slumber.

I was clearly very excited to see the tiniest penguins in the world so close with no glass or barriers between us. I was almost close enough to snatch one up and take it home as a new pet.

P1090852.JPG

My pictures of the actual penguins aren’t great because it was past dusk and flash photography is (understandably) not allowed.

I was working on figuring out the best way to get up to Sydney and someone suggested that I use Gumtree. It’s very similar to CraigsList; you can post and search for jobs, things for sale, relationships, and browse their ride sharing (AKA hitchhiking).

After perusing the ads, I thought that they were a bit dry. Here’s what I posted:

Hello, I am looking for a ride up to Sydney on the 3rd or 4th. I am an American and my English is… pretty good?

In exchange, I am willing to offer:

-gas money
-hilarious stories
-jokes
-navigation
-radio/music management
-dead silence (if that’s your preference)

I will also unwrap pieces of gum for you so that you can focus on driving. Yep, I’m super helpful like that.

I connected with a middle-aged Australian woman named Libby, who was driving north to see her sister. 

My other riding buddies were Matt, his son, Dylan, and Dylan’s girlfriend, Miranda. The three “kids” rode in the back of the van while Libby and Matt alternated driving responsibilities. I ended up paying about $18 USD to pitch in for gas.

P1090878.JPG

Libby was an interesting character. It was a real treat to sit in the back and listen to her talk about how the Internet is affecting animal behaviors, her smoking habits, and the van’s inability to go faster than 60 miles per hour.

But hey, at least we had roadside assistance (which she proudly announced at the commencement of the trip).

P1090883.JPG

Six rest stops, 545 miles, and 10 hours later, we made it into Sydney.

My first Gumtree experience was a success! I wasn’t murdered, left stranded on the side of the road, robbed, or otherwise harmed. Plus, I saw kangaroos!

P1090882.JPG

The chances that I’ll see these wonderful people again are slim… but then again, who knows what the future may bring.

Posted in Australia | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Leaving And Loving Japan

Is it over already?

I feel like I just flew into Japan yesterday and now I’m waiting at the airport in Tokyo for my flight to Australia (where it’s going to be 104 degrees!). Of course, there’s still an hour and a half until I can check in. I thank Dad for teaching me the “get to the airport 4 hours before your flight because you never know what could happen” way of thinking. It’s always better to be 4 hours early than 1 minute late, right?

Now that I have some time to reflect on Japan and all of her wonderful curiosities, I figured that I would share them with you now.

Toilets

You know when you sit down on a toilet and the seat is already warm and you think “ewww, someone spent a lot of time in here and their bare butt was sitting here where my bare butt is now sitting, likely only moments ago”?

That’s not the case in Japan.

The toilet seats are self-warming, so it’s always a nice treat to sit down on a Japanese toilet, especially on the cold, winter days.

Not only do they warm your butt, but they can also shoot streams of water that clean your um… orifices, play sounds of running water/nature for privacy, talk to you, and open and close on their own.

If you’re reading this and you’re thinking that a Japanese toilet would be a nice birthday gift for me, you’re 100% correct. I need a Japanese toilet in my life as soon as possible.

Queues/Lines

There’s a stark contrast between waiting in a Chinese line versus waiting in a Japanese line.

In China, trying to get onto a train at rush hour is almost impossible. People are incessantly pushing each-other and cutting in line, that is, if a “line” even exists. They also do not wait for people to get off the train before they try to get on, so it ends up being a cluster of people crammed in the doorway, until someone squeezes and shoves their body through the herd of people until they pop out on the other side.

Conversely, Japanese people patiently wait in line. They stand to the side and wait for people to get off the train before getting on. It’s all very orderly, organized, and polite.

I witnessed two gentlemen going towards the entrance to the escalator at a train station. Instead of pushing ahead of the other to get on, they did the “no, you go” tango for a second, then stood at the entrance and bowed to each other for the next 10 seconds.

Movie Theaters

Gear up, ladies and gentleman. This is going to blow your mind.

When you buy your ticket, you also book your seat assignment. Then you can avoid the awkwardness of saving seats or arriving to the movie theater, only to find that the only seats left are in the front row or on the side. You know exactly where you’re going to sit before you get there and it’s so much less stressful.

Also, Japanese people wait until the entire credit roll has completed before they leave the movie theater. And it’s not just to see if there’s a teaser at the end. The lights stay off, nobody moves, and people just sit there through the entirety of the movie credits. I really liked that. It was paying respect to all the people that worked on the movie, even the Assistant Fruit Manager #3.

Cleanliness

Japan is by far the cleanest country that I’ve ever been to. It’s a wonder that they keep everything so clean because I never see any public garbage cans. I usually only see recycling bins for bottles (probably for the billions of vending machines they have).

Their recycling system is extensive and everyone follows the rules. That is, you never see garbage in bottle recycling, and plastics, paper, bottles, etc, are always separated. It’s a wonderful system.

I’m definitely going to miss Japan. I got to stay with my brother, Kevin, on the most comfortable air mattress that I’ve ever slept on, under blankets that we borrowed from his friends (seriously, how does anyone sleep with no heat and one blanket?), in his apartment in Kasumi (with the most dangerous stairs). We went adventuring, ate plenty of sushi, watched movies before bed, and went to the Lawson 100 Yen store for lunch.

Until next time, Japan. YOSH!

Posted in Family, Japan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

You Can Always Sleep Later

I’m exhausted.

The kind of exhausted where I fall asleep during a 3-minute train ride, where my eyes are so heavy that I’m unsure if I’ll have the energy to get up to brush my teeth, where thoughts of a warm, comfortable bed constantly cross my mind, where the bags under my eyes seem to get bigger every day, where even as I’m writing this, I can feel my eyes drooping shut.

This has been my week since arriving into Japan, but I’ve been loving every single second of it.

After my experience on Mount Emei (did I mention that the girl behind me was vomiting the entire bus ride?) and the 10 hours of traveling from China to Japan, I was anxious to get to my hostel, settle in for the night, and get a good night’s rest.

Little did I know what I was about to find.

I got back to the hostel after a quick trip out to get dinner and I was nervous that I would disturb my sleeping dormmates upon my return.

I arrived to my room and was surprised to see light spilling out from under the door. “Good, I won’t have to tiptoe around,” I thought.

I pushed the door open and poked my head in. Nobody to be seen.

Then I heard them.

Six guys hanging around on our patio, wearing matching outfits, looking like they were having a great time.

I discovered that there were 14 Argentinians staying in my hostel to support their football (soccer) team, River Plate FC. Their team was playing against Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the Club World Cup semi-finals the next day and they made the journey to support them (along with 15,000 other Argentinian fans).

They invited me to share their favorite drink—Fernet mixed with Coca Cola–and to hang out with them on the patio. I accepted, of course.

River Plate Fans Osaka

The guys that were in my dorm in Osaka, Japan

River Plate Fans in Kyoto

This is from my hostel in Kyoto (more River Plate fans!)

I got up early the next morning to make my way around the city. Osaka is famous for its delicious food, so I made it a point to eat as much as possible.

Here are some of the items that I’ve eaten in Japan so far:

Takoyaki—($6.50 for 8) This is a cooked ball with octopus chunks inside. It was really soft, piping hot, and melted in my mouth. I was surprised at how filling they were.

P1090503

Tako Tamago–($1.60 for 1) Baby octopus on a stick with a quail egg stuffed into its head. This didn’t look very appetizing, but I thought that I would try it anyway. I nibbled on the legs first, then bit into the head. It had a really nice flavor, kinda sweet and salty, and was tough and chewy. I wouldn’t buy it again but I did eat the whole thing.

P1090506

I bit off the legs then went straight for the head

I bit off the legs then went straight for the head

Strawberries—($9 for 4) I know, I can get strawberries just about anywhere. Hood strawberries (from Oregon) are very sweet, juicy, and delicious, and are readily available. My favorite place to get them is at Hoffman Farms. If you’re ever in the area,  please go visit this lovely, family-owned farm!

The strawberries in Osaka are famous for their sweetness and they’re red all the way through with no hollow center.

Would I pay this much for 4 strawberries again? Probably not. Strawberries in Osaka

Pineberry—($10 for 1) I saw these white strawberries and was immediately intrigued. Why are they white? Why are they so expensive?  I found out that they are specially bred to taste like a pineapple (hence, the name) but look like a strawberry.

I bought one and sat down at a table in the eating area. I felt like I should be more ceremonious about eating my pineberry, perhaps alone in a room with hundreds of candles, dim lighting, and a tiny fork and knife.

Since I had none of those items, I decided to eat it at the food court in the market where I purchased it. It felt like a little white treasure in my hand and it was mine… all mine.

One bite into it and the sweet flavor exploded in my mouth. Another bite, another bite. Nibble… then it was done.

I looked down at my wrapper, strawberry stem, and empty wallet. This pineberry was great, but $10 for that? Bah.

Pineberry

Pineberry with a bite

Pineberry with a bite taken out

Fresh Fish—(varies) nothing beats fresh fish. I went to a sushi restaurant and they showed a fish to us, then promptly prepared it to be eaten.

Look at this beautiful fish!

Look at this beautiful fish!

The finished product

The finished product

Lunch Sets—($10-25) I love the beautiful set meals that you can order in Japan. They are delicious and extremely filling.

P1090547 P1090659

It’s exhausting to travel from city to city and to live out of a backpack… but it’s all worth it. I may feel tired all the time, but I am so grateful that I am able to experience all of these wonderful new places and to meet people from all over the world.

For now, adventure awaits… sleep will come later.

Posted in Food, Japan, Soccer | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments