“Will You Ever Come Home?”

One fateful day, in April of 2014, I realized something. My plan to become debt-free was coming to fruition – and the fact that I had no mortgage, no car payment, and was single opened my eyes to the plethora of possibilities for my future. Without debt or anything of the like holding me back in any way, I could leave. I could actually do it. I could save up some money, quit my job, sell my car, get rid of my clothes, pack a backpack, buy a ticket, and leave.

So I did.

That October will be burned into my history forever. With nothing to my name but (literally) the clothes on my back, I boarded a plane to Thailand and haven’t looked back once. Since that fateful day I’ve been fortunate to explore not only Thailand but Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France. Through jungle treks, elephant encounters, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, following sharks, visiting Mordor, being attacked by mountain parrots (yes, they’re a thing), going caving, skydiving, bungee jumping, road tripping, hostel hopping, swimming with snakes, camping in dunes, living by the beach, experiencing so many cultures, … I need to stop. The list could go on until my fingers bleed from typing it.

The world is more accessible now than it has ever been before. We have flights that cost the same as bus tickets, computerized everything (you can plan your entire trip from an app), not to mention any Google search about travel at our fingertips. The world is in our hands in many ways, and this is one of them.

Have you ever said to yourself, while sitting in horrible traffic on the way to the same job you’ve had for years, “I should just leave,”? And I’m not talking about that job. I absolutely adored my job. I miss it! My coworkers were like my second family. My job was wonderful. So this isn’t about that. It’s about opportunity. It’s about your dreams. It’s about life being short and you recognizing it, seizing the moment, and just doing what many people talk about but seldom do – leave.

It’s a scary verb, “to leave.” It implies loss, instability, yearning. It’s that inclination to do more and to get out when your instincts tell you to sit down and stay put. But where did that instinct come from? Your soul? Unlikely. My best guess is that society has bored it into your brain with their media-tipped drills: WORK. EAT. SLEEP. REPEAT. This is how society is run! If everyone were leaving all the time, nothing would get done. Or would it? With the advances in technology that we see everyday, more and more people (myself included) are finding remote jobs AKA working from a computer or any other mobile device. Is it far-fetched to say that someday the majority of jobs will be like this? I’m not clairvoyant but I could fathom a guess.

“But I’m not you. I have a spouse, children, pets, a mortgage… You had _____ going for you, but I don’t have that. So I can’t just get up and leave.” Nobody’s situation is exactly identical. Everyone has their own battles they’re fighting and their own – well, everything. Okay, that’s fair. But what if I told you that someone who was in your situation has already done it? I’m going to be honest with you – anything is possible. Whether or not you want something so badly out of life that you’ll dedicate your entire being to achieving it, well, that’s up to you. If your goal is to take three more vacations a year to different countries, then do that. If your goal is to simply leave the city at least once a month, then do that! If you want to get rid of everything you own and throw caution to the wind in exchange for the most exhilarating life you could have – then do that! I can promise you only two things: it won’t be easy, but you won’t regret it.

So… Will I come back? Sure, I would certainly love to visit the States. I want to see my friends, family, my home state. Seeing familiar faces will surely ignite some nostalgia. But will I actually come back, to stay? Well, that’s hard to say. Now that I’ve seen what I can do out here – in the general world, that is, away from home – I don’t really feel an urge to return. There are so many places to see, so many things to do, so many people to meet and I don’t want to miss a thing. The richness of what I’m gaining out here away from it all, getting to know the world deeper than books and articles, is too big of a sacrifice than I’m willing to make. My travels have taught me through first-hand experience that I can make a beautiful life for myself pretty much anywhere, and that it’s completely up to me. That freedom enlivens me. It’s nothing like I’ve ever felt before. I can choose where I want to exist on this earth, so I might as well see as much of it as I can to facilitate that decision, right?

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Vietnam: The Traveler’s Treasure

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A lovely garden

While it’s not the thick jungle brush you picture from the movies (in most places), Vietnam has a charm all its own. And while it’s not totally unlike Thailand (it is, after all, Southeast Asia) I can attest that there are certainly aspects which make this country unique. As buses bounce violently with little to no shocks through the dusty-but-then-suddenly-concrete-again-in-some-places “roads” I find it difficult to envision that a mere forty years ago this place was overcoming chemical warfare and mass destruction. With over 35 millions scooters shooting through the streets, water buffalo tied to random posts along both highways and in rice paddies, a smaller area (km2) than Germany but 10 million more people, it’s easy to see how this country is coming up. The development of this nation is astounding. High rises grace beachfront property and roads are finally (and literally) “on the map” – we’ve even been able to utilize Google Maps to find a temple while we, too, were on a scooter! This buzzing paradise is not so much off the beaten track anymore, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing

A Peek into Vietnam

We board the bus to our next destination and I take a seat next to a giant single-paned window. Water streaks make it a bit annoying to view my surroundings (I really wonder if they ever wash these buses sometimes – I mean, with the monsoon rains they get here maybe it’s not worth it!) but I focus on what is happening outside. A man on a scooter pulls up next to us in the crowd, close enough to touch the side of the bus. On the back of his bike is a cylindric, wiry cage filled with chickens who are one too many in the tiny enclosure. Next to him, a woman donned in full coverage (long pants, long sleeves, socks, slip-on sandals, gloves, a scarf, a face-mask, sunglasses, and a helmet) carries her toddler in her lap (who is not wearing a helmet) who is now asleep against the handlebars. Her apparel is especially impressive because it’s about 34 degrees (almost 94 Fahrenheit) and I’m sweating in the air-conditioned bus. The blaring horns of the trucks and taxis trying to get through the drove of scooters doesn’t seem to shake the toddler from her slumber. The bus begins to move.

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A rare picture of all commuters traveling in one direction

Organized chaos is the best way to describe Vietnam in a nutshell, especially the roads. Without studying the patterns, you could very well assume that everyone is partaking in a perilous free-for-all. Red lights are merely suggestions, as are the lines painted on the street. Lanes that bear signage “ONE WAY” or “DO NOT ENTER” (well, the symbols anyway – not English words, of course) are completely ignored – but I do feel like they’re taken into consideration on occasion.

On the side of the road as scooters blaze past, a woman appearing to be between the ages of 80 and 90 pulls a heavy wooden cart filled with dirt. Her conical hat covers her head until she raises it ever so slightly so that I may see the wrinkles depicting her approximate age. To my surprise, I find that many elderly women here work as industriously as young men in the Western world … if not more so. I haven’t spotted too many older gentlemen doing the same, but it does happen from time to time.

As we carry on, we come to a red light (and we actually do stop. Buses and trucks typically abide by the lights from what I’ve seen because – face it, if they barreled forward many people would be squished!) I see a glass cylinder (about two feet high and half a foot in diameter) marked with measurements, sitting atop a rectangular metal box. Inside is a greenish-brown liquid. Protruding from the cylinder is a black rubber hose that leads to a nozzle. This, my friends, is where you can fill your scooter with petrol. You can also find petrol served in 1.5 or 2 liter bottles on the side of the road. We did find, however, that when we filled our tank with these, it was much more expensive than filling up at a normal petrol station, which appear pretty similar to those back home except for that the roofs tend to be much higher for some reason.

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A lily on an island in the Mekong River Delta

We pass a school where students are clamoring out of the gated area, and a man with a steamed bun cart is setting up shop. Some parents will come and collect their children on their scooters, and the older children either walk or take their bicycle home. The bicycles used by the children are always much too tall and big for them. I have yet to see a bike designed for anyone under 5 feet tall (which is a pretty average adult height here. Yay! I’m normal in Asia!)

Continuing, we exit the “city limits” (loose term in this case)  and find ourselves in somewhat of a neighborhood. I mean, by neighborhood there are rickety structures about that call themselves houses. And by rickety I mean that some are made from metal paneling being held up by sticks and then a tarp is thrown over them. It’s actually very peculiar to drive through these areas because among the poverty-stricken housing there will be a random mansion among them. Like, in between two shacks there will sit a three-story western-style house with a balcony and you can see a flat-screen TV through on of the picture windows. I question how this A. happens at all, and B. affects the morale of the neighborhood. The surrounding area to the house is exactly like all the others: dirt, rubbish strewn about, etc. It makes you wonder what made the person build their house here. But who am I to question things anymore?? After what I’ve seen, nothing is a mystery anymore. Things just … are.

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Stop.

Oh, and before I forget (speaking of “why, why, WHY?”) – one time, when my partner and I were scooter-ing through a neighborhood, we found ourselves behind a garbage truck. As the men hopped out of the back of the truck and threw the bags, bins, random objects, etc. into the back, they would jump back in with the rubbish. Then, they would proceed to sift through the trash and then choose (at random, it would seem) objects that they did not deem worthy to be in their truck. They would throw things back out of the truck INTO THE STREET. We had to dodge quite a few materials that were the arsenal of the garbage man. We eventually passed him on the left, almost head-on colliding with another motorist (this is completely normal).

The legendary 5th dimension, which I presume exists only in Vietnam
The legendary 5th dimension, which I presume exists only in Vietnam

Back on the bus – Once the neighborhood is behind us, we enter the famed jungle that is iconic of this region. The beautiful rolling green hills and waterfalls are astounding to say the least. Winding roads and tunnels bring us through mountainous regions that seem to be no-man’s-land, except for the occasional structure of bamboo with a tarp thrown over it. (Still not sure what those are.) Rivers flow happily through these areas and make for some amazing photos – and yet… It’s a constant disappointment to know that nothing I have ever seen or will see can ever be captured adequately by a camera. It’s only first-hand eyes that can see this place (or any for that matter) for what it is.

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The beautiful, regretfully not captured satisfactorily, hilly jungles of Vietnam

Well, those are just a few of the interesting observations I’ve made while exploring this land. I’ll make sure to post more about the people, some facts, and more in my next entries!

Lost and Found

A little over a year ago I quit my job, sold my car, got rid of all my clothes, and took my one-way ticket abroad. I would say that in all my travels over the years, nothing has felt like this. When you have no lease and no bills, you have true freedom. You can move about the earth as you please. Countries are not so much places as they are new pieces of you – of your soul. Your eyes and ears bear passage directly to your heart with each new experience. People pass through your life gracefully and you start learning to accept that nothing is forever – even more reason to indulge in the riches our small yet unfathomably spacious planet has to offer.

It’s really interesting for me at this point to realize that I’ve been gone for a year. I wouldn’t say that it flew by, nor did it drag. Week-long vacations fly by, work hours drag on for what seem like days. But this… this is something new. Sure, the spine-compressing bus rides throughout Southeast Asia can be grueling at their best and a day in one city will feel a bit blurred and hurried – but it’s not in the same way that days used to pass for me in my daily life. Without a set routine for more than a number of months, I would daresay that this is how life is supposed to feel. Not hurried but not slow. I don’t long for the days to pass as much as I don’t ever want them to end – but instead, there lies a calm acceptance that days simply begin and end perfectly and how they were intended to be.

There is a peace that comes with freedom. You see the ugliness, the destruction of nature, the corruption, the poverty, the sick. You recognize the beauty, the prosperity, the preservation of species and gardens, the happiness, the love. You know anyone can make a difference. You can be the difference. With freedom you have everything and nothing at the same time. It’s an odd yet refreshing sentiment.

I no longer wish to go on and on about my experiences. I know everyone has their own battles and adventures. Nobody is better than anyone else. I’ve come to realize that people agree and disagree, and I’ve made peace with this too.  But from what I’ve seen on my tiny world journey thus far (fewer than 20 countries) we are actually not quite so different. You’ve heard it before, but I don’t think we could meditate on it enough: We are one.

A good friend told me that she reckons I’ve changed because of this journey. “You must’ve changed so much,” she said. I hadn’t thought about it at all! I tried to reflect and find what may have varied. I can’t tell you straight away what the differences are. I certainly still feel like me. In fact, I feel more “me” than I ever have in my entire life. This is what I was meant to do and how I was meant to live. Pursuing passions as they come brings the deepest joy one can experience.

Anyway, I wanted to post something about New Zealand. I wanted to talk about living in a van for two months straight in the dead of winter. I was going to make a list of things that are starkly different here in Vietnam culturally (from my experience). But instead, I write from my heart. This is what I felt like sharing, so there you have it. In closing, I will answer the question I get everywhere I go: “Will you ever return home?” I think I will visit someday. But I won’t be the same.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Buddha in My Tho, Vietnam
Buddha in My Tho, Vietnam

Top 5 Things to do in New Zealand

The Land of the Long White Cloud is filled with beauty. I’m pretty sure any Google Image search will tell you that. But what it won’t show you is the plethora of adventures awaiting you when you arrive.

A view of Auckland from a ferry to Half Moon Bay. (I skillfully captured the Kiwi flag as well...)
A view of Auckland from a ferry to Half Moon Bay. (I skillfully captured the Kiwi flag as well…)

This landscape is not only stunning, but it’s also incredibly empty of humans. (Which, to be honest, is pretty refreshing!)

I pull off the freeway about every fifteen feet to take pictures like this.

Coming from Australia where the population isn’t very high, this place seems even more of a solitary boondocks. For two months straight, my partner and I are renting a Jucy Cabana camper van and traveling through this magical land, camping alongside beaches, rivers, and flocks of sheep.

A lovely view from the Bay of Islands cruise

We’ve cruised through the Bay of Islands, stayed in Auckland, made our way down the North Island, took the ferry to the South Island, and have had plenty of sights and snacks in between.

We’ve only been here about one month, so this list may be a bit premature, but I’m bursting to tell everyone what New Zealand is all about! So without further adieu, here are (in my professional opinion) the top five things to do here:

#5: Traditional Maori Village Experience – The Maori are the native inhabitants of New Zealand who are said to have originally come from Hawai’i. There is still quite a big population of indigenous people who receive lots of respect and admiration (especially compared to the Natives of America and Aboriginals of Australia). One of the most eye-opening evenings can be spent in a traditional Maori village with the wonderful native people who will teach you about their culture and customs. You’ll learn about what they spent most of their time doing – preparing food and preparing for war. Much of their culture derives from protecting their land and territory and trust me, if you came upon a Maori village you would turn around and run! Their war dance in itself is scary enough to disincline fighting. However, they are a very welcoming people. When you first come upon the gates of the village, they present a peace offering. If your chief accepts it, you can be at peace and will be welcomed with open arms. If the offering is tossed aside, war will begin immediately. The women fight alongside the men in battle as well.

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Traditional Warrior Dance
Maori Gate

#4: Ski / Snowboard / Sled / Explore the Mountains – I’m a snowboarder myself and I think I speak for all skiers and boarders when I say, there is nothing more exhilarating than being on the mountain. New Zealand has ski fields on both the North and South Islands so pickings are anything but slim. When you rent a Jucy car or camper van in winter, you receive six free consecutive days of lift passes at Treble Cone! Needless to say, I took advantage of that! Although technically we’re coming into spring here, it snowed  and the conditions were perfect. I highly recommend a ski trip in NZ!

A sunny day on the slopes of Treble Cone

#3: Hobbiton and Lord of the Rings Tours – Okay, maybe this is best for the movie buffs, but I cannot stress how fun it is to visit Hobbiton! Even people who haven’t seen the films enjoy this tour, from learning about the special effects, the story of how the location of Hobbiton was discovered, to spending time in a cool movie set village / sheep farm. While Hobbiton was my favorite, a worthy hike through Mordor is on the list as well (Tongariro National Park) where you’ll find unique volcanic landscapes and formations. Lastly, the Weta Cave near Wellington is the home of digital special effects for hundreds of films (Avatar, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, and so many more!) and an inexpensive (NZ$24 per person) 30-minute tour will show you some amazing behind-the-scenes aspects of movie making! You’ll also get to see the artists in action – you just can’t beat that!

I was only a little bit excited.
In front of a Hobbit house
The Green Dragon

#2: Walk on a Glacier – There are two famed glaciers in New Zealand, both on the South Island: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. We went to Franz Josef, and it was one of those exhilarating experiences I’ll never forget! First, we got all of our gear from the company (snow pants and jackets, hats, mittens, boots, and crampons) and then we took a helicopter up to the glacier. The view from the chopper was unreal in itself! Upon arrival, we donned our crampons and started our 3-hour+ hike up and around Franz Josef. The guides were amazing and knowledgable and taught us a LOT about glaciers! (Did you know that glaciers are formed by gravity? Snow builds up and it packs hard against the earth to become the icy structure that it is! They also continuously move – they are like a super slow river and waterfall – and they are shrinking very fast due to climate change. In 2008, you could walk up onto the glacier from a parking lot. In seven short years the glacier has reduced in size so much that now a helicopter is required to get on top.) DO THIS. It is undeniably bucket-list worthy!

Upon the Glacier
Upon the Glacier
Walking through caves
Glacier Cave
Glacier Cave

#1: Black Water Rafting – New Zealand is famed for its adrenaline-packed tours. Skydiving, bungee jumping (one of the highest in the world – and I’m doing it tomorrow! EEK!), white water rafting, mountain climbing, the list goes on eternally! While all of these are intense and fun, none will hold a candle to the infamous Black Water Rafting. I’ve done lots of adrenaline tours in my life and been around the world and I’ve got to say – this is probably my favorite tour of all time, EVER. There are a number of tours available and we did the allegedly most fun- and adventure-packed one: The Black Abyss. It has everything! Caving, climbing up underground waterfalls (I’m surprised nobody got hurt – it’s intense!), abseiling, tubing through the pitch-black caves and seeing millions of glow worms, zip lining through the darkness – I feel like describing it is futile. Please, just do it. I promise you, it’ll be among the best things you do in your life.

Caving! Easier said than done with rushing water up to your hips!
Into the Abyss
Into the Abyss

It’s safe to say that this country will offer you the adventure of a lifetime. While there are thousands of options to choose from, so far these are my favorites. I still have another month to go so it may merit revision, but please take into consideration a trip to New Zealand. You won’t regret it.

Standing Still

I don’t think I’m normal. I say this not as a revelation but more as an observation I recognize more and more over time. “Normal” is subjective, yes, but when you look across the board I think a general consensus could be drawn about my life – it’s different. It seems that I am constantly on the go. There appears to be this tendency to “itch” for change after awhile. Routine doesn’t bore me as much as it absolutely tortures me. The mundanity of security has me running for the hills – or, flying for them.

Some stops along the road at my next destination
Some stops along the road at my next destination

‘Is this a disease?’ I wonder to myself. After all, people are meant for routine, as I mentioned in my last post. But inevitably, as I am in one place doing one thing for more than a few months, I get that itch. It begs me to move, to explore. I yearn not just for change in scenery but also knowledge. I want to start new books, listen to new music, and discover new ways to be fit and healthy. (I started by downloading the eBook, “Becoming a Supple Leopard” yesterday.) I’ve been living in the beautiful city of Cairns – famous for its close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef – for nearly seven months. I made friends and enjoyed the sanity of having a place I can call “home”. I relished having a private room as opposed to a 10-bed dormitory in a hostel. Having my backpack emptied into drawers was a taste of Heaven (not to mention having a fully-equipped kitchen with a functioning stove!) But alas, the time has come.

I was not meant to sit at a desk. (Is anyone?!) It is not my destiny to stand still. Antsy is an understatement. I must continue and venture into the unknown and collect experiences and smiles before I die.

My current home, soon to be another wonderful memory
My current home, soon to be another wonderful memory

For anyone who shares this tendency with me, my best advice to you (if you’re not already doing it) is to run with it. Get lost. (Literally!) Buy that ticket. Have you ever had anyone tell you they regretted traveling? “I wasted my life traveling the globe when I could’ve been climbing the corporate ladder,” is not a meme easily found, I’d wager. There’s a reason for that. Traveling will enlighten you, challenge you, and in the end I believe it will make you whole. Five countries or fifty, you’ll only regret the chances you didn’t take. My best guess is that normalcy is overrated… but I wouldn’t know.

3 Best and Worst Things About Travel

There are undoubtedly pros and cons to every lifestyle, decision, and action. I’ve been meditating lately on the up- and downsides of travel. There are countless in both categories, but I figured I’d point out the top three of each in my opinion:
3 Worst Things About Travel
  1. Missing – When you leave home, there are always things you will miss. From family, friends, weddings, birthdays, and parties to your favorite restaurant, secret spot, or simply your extra-comfy bed! A lot of times this is what travelers have the toughest battles with, causing some to promptly return home early. What’s worse is even if you’re not wrapped up in missing home, along the way you will meet the most wonderful souls – and have to say goodbye at some point. Another pitfall is the fact that the minute you leave, you are disconnected from lots of people who called themselves your friends. What I’ve realized is that leaving truly separates you from some – but in the end, the people who make the effort to stay in your life are the ones that were meant to be there. If nothing else, this is a wake-up call to who truly has your back. It makes me appreciate all of you who are sticking it out, scheduling Skype and FaceTime dates, and keeping in touch no matter what.

    Skype dates have the power to keep connections strong - that is, whenever your Wifi connection is strong as well!
    Skype dates have the power to keep connections strong – that is, whenever your Wifi connection is strong as well!
  2. Sporadic Routine – Traveling will jostle even the most adventurous of spirits by the day-in-and-day-out changes. People are meant to be in a routine to some extent, and getting out of rhythm proves stressful. Unpacking and re-packing on a daily basis will wear on anyone, and I’ve found that a quick cure to this is to stop in one place, soak it up, and develop a routine before continuing travels. This also ties in with obtaining money for travels – people like having a sense of security. Traveling can be just the opposite. However, breaking the everyday-is-different path up with some long-term stays can also bring in the bank roll as you settle in a place for a few months (or more!) and stash some cash for what’s next on the list/map.
  3. Nomad’s Paradox – When someone is (nearly) always traveling and never settling, it can be hard to plant roots and have deep relationships with people. While enriching one’s life with experiences and destinations beyond imagination, it seems that the richness of a close friendship may fall to the wayside. Now, this does not have to be entirely compulsory. It is absolutely possible to maintain friendships and ties with family, but it is no doubt more difficult. For the homebody who enjoys the comforts of having a friend a five minutes’ drive away, traveling for long periods of time might be less than rewarding. On the flip side, if you choose to travel with your partner, friend, or family member you will surely see your relationship deepen. Traveling will bond you with teamwork, problem-solving, and learning more about one other.
Traveling with friends can strengthen your bond.
Traveling with friends can strengthen your bond. (Beach bonding with best friends in St. Maarten in the Caribbean, 2014)
3 Best Things About Travel
  1. Discovery – It is no secret that when you travel you will see new things, meet new people, learn lots, and experience different ways of life across the globe. There is nothing that can replace the knowledge and skills you acquire from this aspect. Seeing the world and how people live in radically contrasting scenarios will open your eyes and your mind. The simultaneous pulchritude and ugliness, tranquility and desolation, and order and chaos of the world will mold you into a completely different person than when you started. You might see horrifying things but you’ll also see amazing things. No amount of reading, watching documentaries, or talking about things will ever equate to the first-hand discoveries you make while traveling.

    There are endless possibilities of discovery on the road.
    There are endless possibilities of discovery on the road. (Diving, 2014; Koh Tao, Thailand)
  2. Freedom – When you’re on the road you have true freedom. You are not governed or tied down by any one set of ways. You get to do whatever you want, whenever you want, all the time. I mean, freedom can be defined in many different respects. But I’ll tell you one thing: You will never feel as free as you do when you have no mortgage, no car insurance, no obligation to be anywhere unless you choose to, and the choice to up and leave whenever the whim strikes you. Whether you’re camping on a week-long hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, partying at a hole-in-the-wall hostel in Chiang Mai, or simply watching waves crash from the boardwalk in St. Kilda, you are in charge of your destiny. Your days and activities are subject to your impulses, and I can hardly imagine a life more free than that. Dr. Seuss
  3. Adventure – Life’s uncertainty becomes more extreme with travel. For example, back home, you could get hit by a bus on your way to work; out here, you could get eaten by a shark (there’s a much lower chance of the shark attack, however!). You never know what any day will bring, ever, whether you’re at home grinding out your 9 to 5 or you’re bungee jumping off a bridge in Costa Rica. People incessantly regurgitate the mantra, “Live every day as if it’s your last,” but immediately rescind with the reminder to “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.” So what gives our life this delicate balance of making the best of each day in every way without being supremely irresponsible? There’s no way to predict life, but there are undeniably ways to guide it in a certain direction. Ultimately, uncertainty is what makes us what we are. It’s what gives us purpose. It’s the reminder that we have an expiration date. So with this in mind, we do our best to make life the adventure that it should be. The unpredictability of whether or not we’ll wake up tomorrow shouldn’t scare us so much that we don’t try anything – it should make us realize that life is an opportunity. Traveling will most likely not kill you – in fact, it’ll make you come alive. But if it does kill you? Well, personally, I’d rather go getting eaten by a shark than hit by a bus.
The Verdict – Traveling isn’t for everyone. It’s not for the faint-hearted or those who do not crave adventure. But (let me nerd out here for a second) remember Bilbo – always close to home, always comfortable – and the best thing he ever did was leave the Hobbit Hole.
Hobbit Hole

5 Questions Everyone Asks Travelers

It’s natural to be curious about things you’re not acquainted with in life. I’ve often wondered, “What is it like to be a billionaire?” “What’s it like having seven children?” “I’m curious to know how life is for the most famous celebrities.” Traveling is a bit of a different ballgame, however, because it’s much more attainable than a billion dollars or world fame. It takes a relatively small monetary investment and you’re doing it! Still, it makes sense to have people questioning travel and I’m sure other travelers can relate to this typical line of questioning:

1. Why (insert any country or destination here)? “Why not? Why stay here?” All joking aside, when I studied abroad in Costa Rica I was asked this. When I taught English in China (my third time there) I was asked this. When I traveled to Honduras, Mexico, Thailand, and Australia I was asked this. I think there’s a misconception that there is always some primary motive for visiting a certain place. Sometimes we come up with reasons: “Costa Rica was cheaper than Spain,” “I was offered a teaching job in China. Plus, the Great Wall?! The Forbidden City?! The culture, history, and food,” “My partner/friend/family member is from (insert place here),” etc. But I think that most travelers would agree that, more often than not, there isn’t really any specific objective for visiting a certain place – we just want to go. When I chose Honduras, it was when I closed my eyes and put my finger on a map. No kidding. And it proved to be one of the most rewarding travel experiences to date. Flight prices help narrow my options sometimes, along with thinking, “Where should I visit while I’m nearby?”  If you’re thinking of embarking on a journey and feel pressured by this question – don’t. Just go. In the end, there is no real single reason for travel. You will find a million when you get there.

Visiting the Great Wall in wintertime, 2012
Visiting the Great Wall in wintertime, 2012

2. How can you afford to travel? This is a great question. I think there is this idea that travel is difficult because, “Where do you find the money?” I’m not rich. I don’t have a trust fund. To put it simply, I work and I save. It really is that straightforward. I sold my car, got rid of furniture, and donated lots of clothes and random objects. It was hard. But as you might have found from a post on my other blog, freeing yourself from possessions is actually quite wonderful. At the end of the day, you’ll need to implement three principles to afford travel: 1 – SAVE. Stock some cash up. You don’t even need that much. I’ve met people who came to Australia with less than a thousand USD to their name. One guy only had $300. I wouldn’t recommend it, but you can always make it work. I would suggest saving $3 – 8,000 depending on your destination. (You can get away with saving much less when traveling Southeast Asia, for example.) 2 – DOWNSIZE. Get rid of shit. You don’t need everything you own. It also helps you feel less tied down when leaving. Bonus points if you can sell things and contribute to your savings! 3 – BUDGET. Set yourself a strict budget. Figure out how much you’ll expend daily on food, accommodation, and getting around. Then, factor in the big costs (A.K.A. adventures)! After you have your budget, you can figure out if and when you’ll need to work and save again.

Use your money for the important things in life.
Use your money for the important things in life.

3. What are you running from / What are you trying to find? I will never understand why some people assume that, because you travel, you are running to or from something. Traveling isn’t running away. It’s seeing new things and experiencing life in a different fashion. Must we be fleeing “real life” working for a corporation to experience an African safari? Must there be some rare enlightenment we are seeking when sipping a watery beer on a beachside hammock? Travel has never been so accessible as it is now – why shouldn’t we take advantage of that and explore our world while we’re here? People will develop negative insinuations about what they don’t understand or feel incapable of doing. “They’re just jealous” is a gross oversimplification. I will chalk this question up to, “They just don’t understand, and they don’t want to.” End of story. Don’t waste your breath on people who take your adventurous spirit for truancy. There are plenty of supporters out there who will welcome your voyaging lust as a breath of fresh air.

A classic example of beachfront enlightenment in Thailand, 2014
A classic example of beachfront enlightenment in Thailand, 2014

4. Are you scared to travel alone? If you haven’t yet noticed, I am a female human. With this in mind, people think that – and I quote – I am “crazy” for traveling solo. The world is such a big, hairy, scary place! What if I get abducted or raped or used as a drug mule? The United States in particular does a great job of portraying international travel as dangerous, when in fact it is much more likely to be subjected to crime there than in most other countries! Without boring you with a bunch of lame statistics, I’ll just cut to the chase: Traveling alone is not that dangerous, daunting, or scary – even if you’re equipped with a vagina. If anything it’s liberating, fun, and at times admittedly confusing and frustrating. I’ve actually felt much safer in most countries I’ve visited outside of the U.S. The best thing about traveling alone is this classic example: “I’ve finally saved up enough money to hit up South America for our big backpacking adventure, Best Friend!! Let’s do this!” “Eh, nah. I don’t want to anymore. I can’t quit my job, I have a cat now, (insert any other manner of excuses here.)” You don’t need anyone to jet off to foreign lands. Don’t throw your plans away because of someone being a wet tomato, staying in the garden. GO! The backpacking and traveling world is extremely welcoming for the solo traveler. I’ve made more friends and connections than I ever would have if I were with someone. I mean, now I’m traveling with my partner (who I met while traveling) but who knows if we ever would have become so close if either of us had been traveling with others? Having the freedom to wake up when you want, do tours as you please, take random walks without any stick-in-the-mud making decisions difficult is quite lovely. Going it alone is nothing short of amazing. I highly encourage it.

It's easy to make friends traveling, after all.
It’s easy to make friends traveling, after all.

5. Which is your favorite country? Ooooooh… I’m sorry, I actually can’t answer this one. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with over the years to answer this question is, “There are things I like and dislike about everywhere I’ve been.” As frustrating as that answer is, I can’t pick a favorite because it’s like comparing a goat to a pickle. I like both, but they’re not even in the same category. And while you might argue that destinations fall into the same category, I must disagree. I can’t possibly compare Shanghai to Puerto Vallarta, or San Francisco to Bangkok. They’re too incredibly different. While some people may have found a way to put places side by side, I refuse to attempt it. Instead, I will bask in the good experiences and glean from the lessons of every single place I visit. In doing this, I appreciate every part of this world in its own way – and that’s the way I like it.