I had an idea before I left for a potential photo project that didn’t really pan out. I wanted to take a picture of where I woke up every day of the trip. I thought it could result in an amusing compilation to flip through, but I quickly realized two things: first, that remembering to take a picture and doing it well first thing in the morning is not a job made for me, a person who needs a mental pep talk to get out of bed before 10; second, that seeing feet and a dorm bed shot after shot would not be an interesting portrayal of my daily life, it would be flat out boring.
So I shifted gears and decided to just take pictures of some of the more interesting places I woke up. Now going back through what I have, most of these happen to be hammocks or transportation, with the occasional odd shot of a salt hotel, boat deck, or bamboo hut. I admit, it wasn’t as fully fleshed out as the Included Food project was, but it was just a secondary fun experiment so I’m posting it anyway. I think the abundance of hammocks in South America versus huts in Asia still accurately captures a part of my experience. Also of note are the hostel pods instead of plain bunk beds – they created at least a semblance of a private space, which was welcomed after so many 10 or more bed dorm rooms. Maybe this is why the capsule hotel in Tokyo felt so normal to me – in fact I enjoyed the tiny solo room – instead of claustrophobic like other people find them who haven’t spent almost a year in dorms. It is amazing the things you get used to being on the road for so long.
Here are some of the places I called “my bed” for at least a night.
Before I left I thought about doing some sort of photo project to consistently document my trip. I’d watched epic selfie videos and drooled over wanderlust Instagrams like everyone else, but knew I didn’t have the technical or creative insight to make something at that level. I departed not knowing what I would photograph, what theme would be the best or most fun way to chronicle my year. Then I happened to snap a quick picture of my airplane meal, my first meal of the trip, and I had a flash of inspiration that turned into a full-scale international photo project: I would photograph the included food I ate around the world.
This subject was not about the epic but the mundane, and that was what piqued my interest. It was a reflection of my daily life – this was the food I ate because I was a budget traveler who would eat anything I was given to save money – and hopefully would be a reflection of the locations as well. As a reminder, here’s some of what I wrote when this idea came to me:
I’ve been thinking about doing a sort of photo project on this trip. I want to focus on something(s) that is consistent but has variety within each place. … As I was handed my first of 4 airplane treats today (seriously they love to feed us) I quickly thought to snap a picture. Part of being a traveler on a budget is taking advantage of what’s included in any price you pay. Breakfast included is one of the things I look for when I book a hostel. It’s usually not stellar, but it can save a lot of money over time.
So I’m playing with the idea of taking a picture of all the “meals included” I get. I’m sure they’ll vary everywhere I end up, and it could turn out to be an interesting story of what different places think should be complimentary. Also, so many people document their food these days. Typically they show food that is pleasing to look at as well as tasty, and often from great but not inexpensive restaurants. This is sort of a play on that – I won’t be paying for pretty food, but here’s what I got. And maybe it won’t look worth documenting alone, but that isn’t really the point. I wouldn’t be photographing food for food porn but as more of a cultural experiment. Who knows, maybe every hostel in the world thinks rolls and sliced meats and cheese are breakfast. Or maybe what is offered will end up reflecting the location.
96 pictures later I’ve completed this culinary and anthropological photographic study. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the results. The driving force behind it – that the included meals were a reflection of location – turned out to be pretty accurate. Brazil had the best fruit, white bread rolls were standard in South America, omelets and pancakes appeared in Southeast Asia, and cornflakes were universal. Australasia didn’t believe in complimentary food in budget accommodation or transportation – there are only 7 pictures from New Zealand, 3 from the same place, and 4 from Australia, 2 from the same place.
The fundamental requirement for the meals I documented was food that was included in my accommodation or transportation that I ate because it would save me money so I wouldn’t have to buy a meal elsewhere. It was about the places I decided to stay and what they came with. If they had rolls with butter and jam available till noon, I ate that for breakfast and lunch so I didn’t have to waste money on other food. If there were multiple options I photographed each one, which is why some places have a few pictures to show the variety. In the case of America del Sur in Buenos Aires I just photographed the entire breakfast bar – it was unlike any other option I had the whole trip. I would always wait until all of the food was there to take the picture, which was sometimes hard in the places where breakfast was served at a leisurely pace and I had woken up starving.
I did not include food that was part of a package deal, like the Amazon or Fraser Island, because in paying for the tour I was also paying for the meals. I did not include food that was paid for in hotels when my family came because those were not places I chose to stay or would fit in my budget; I didn’t have to eat the included breakfast because I didn’t have to worry about paying for my meals. These meals were my choices as a backpacker – I can’t tell you how many times I would forgo a meal for hours knowing that my flight would give me something, or mornings I consumed instant coffee and cornflakes purely to fill my stomach for the first part of the day.
I decided to show these pictures unedited. I think the lighting is important to convey the sense of where and when I was, whether it’s sideways illumination from the airplane window, dull light from an early morning, or no light on an overnight bus. Something that was unexpectedly interesting to me about these pictures was the backgrounds. The table set-ups and airplane trays became just as important to me as the food itself.
So here it is, the final result of my Included Food Photo Project. If only I’d come up with a more inventive name…
All I had for a year of music was my iPod shuffle from 2007. It’s a 2nd generation shuffle that just has a large play button off-center on the front and doesn’t work with the fancy new headphones that can advance a song. Mine is green, which earned it the nickname Kermit, and has “you go girl” inscribed on the back – it was a gift from my aunt. It holds 154 songs.
154 songs for a year. Imagine how hard it was to pick those songs. At home I had gotten used to Spotify, where I had the majority of the songs in the world at my fingertips; where I didn’t have to curate playlists, I just subscribed to other people’s; and when I got tired of the music I’d repeatedly listened to I could find something new in a second. I went from endless music options to the restriction of having to own music in my iTunes to put onto the shuffle. That’s right, I had to download and possess this music.
It took a solid half a day before I left to even select the songs I wanted in my iTunes on my new computer. My old Macbook had somewhere around 6,000 songs to choose from, plus I downloaded some new ones I didn’t want to live without (since my iTunes was a few years out of date thanks to the advent of Spotify). I carefully selected 268 to load onto my Lenovo. This meant that even once fully loaded, Kermit could not hold all the songs I had in my library. All whopping 268 of them.
So it was a random 57% of my songs that ended up on Kermit. Along the way I picked up an additional 53 songs from Alex in Buenos Aires, who had just done a DJ set there, which brought my grand total to 321 songs and, more importantly, provided me with some new options. Now when I reloaded Kermit it was a total guessing game what 48% of my music I would get to listen to on the go.
How did this work out for me? Brilliantly. Despite the limitations and my wide range of music taste, I was able to assemble a playlist that covered all moods and genres. Kermit came through for me in every situation, from long contemplative bus rides to energetic city walks. And most importantly, I was never worried about my music device being stolen. Coming from the land of iPhone theft – I had 3 iPhones stolen in a year and a half in San Francisco – I was worried about carrying around such an expensive, tempting device just to play some music. But with the shuffle, not only was it discreet in size and clipped to me at all times, it was so old that no one would want to take it even if they could get to it.
Not to say that I’m not happy to have Spotify back in my life – understandably I need a break from those 321 songs – but when I do find myself in areas devoid of service (which happens frequently in Vermont) I gladly bring Kermit out of retirement. He won’t be retired long anyway, I fully plan to bring Kermit along for the next ride.
Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten lots of destination-related questions. I love fielding these questions – I could talk about the places I went for days on end. Not that I don’t also love helping with backpack choices and solo travel tips, but the locations themselves are what drive us all.
So I figured why not post what I’ve responded to the question, “Where should I go?” It might be useful to other people and a good place to point friends to in the future. Plus I just can’t imagine answering the other most-asked question, “What was your favorite place?” How could it ever be possible to pick one place? I’ve been able to narrow it down to some highlights but even then I feel like I’m leaving out so much. This is probably the closest I can come to any kind of “top places” list.
So here they are, my “where you should go” recommendations:
I will always tell people to go to South America. I spent three and a half months there and personally preferred it to the other regions. As I traveled I found myself constantly wondering how expensive flights were from Asia to South America, and this wonder has not ceased now that I’ve returned. Actually South America is part of the reason I came back to the US – it was unreasonable to go straight from Japan so I planned to go by way of the US. Some of the places that I recommend looking into are:
- Colombia. I will never stop loving Colombia and it’s one of the first places I want to go back to. The Caribbean Coast is gorgeous and hot, the cities are fun, and the mountains great to explore. It has lots to offer and some of the friendliest people.
- The Amazon. The Amazon in Brazil, just outside of Manaus, were 6 of the best days of my trip. It’s not an easy itinerary, at least the one we did since we slept in hammocks in the jungle and caught our own dinners (piranha, peacock bass, etc.), but it’s a very cool experience. Plus if you go here then you can go through Rio, which is a fantastic city.
- Buenos Aires. One of my favorite cities in the world. If you want a more urban trip definitely go here – drum shows, theater performances, weekend markets, insane nightlife, delicious food. There’s also some low-key escapes depending on how long you’re there, like the Tigre and Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay.
- The Salt Flats in Bolivia and the Atacama Desert in Chile. If you want otherworldly nature go here. The Salt Flats is a three-day tour through landscapes that don’t look like they should be real, and the desert is a Mars-like playground for sandboarding, hiking, biking, and stargazing.
- Machu Picchu. This is a bit of a bonus since I did not go there on this RTW trip – I was there in 2012 with friends – but it is still one of my top South America experiences so it just didn’t feel right to leave it off this list. We did the 4 day/3 night Inca Trail through SAS travel – our guides knew everything and told stories along the way, we had really good food, and the hike was the perfect mixture of challenging and fun. Plus Cusco is a great place to spend a few days acclimatizing.
Having said all that, you can’t go wrong in Asia either, of course. A lot of people are intrigued by the extreme difference of the culture in Asia and I was right there with them. Some of my favorite experiences happened in Asia. Here are my recommendations:
- The Temples of Angkor/Siem Reap, Cambodia. Another one of the best weeks of my trip. The architecture is stunning, and spending your day on a tuktuk riding past ruins is pretty amazing. Siem Reap has a fun streak to it on Pub Street but it’s really all about Angkor here. I would love to go back to Cambodia and get to Koh Rong on the coast, every backpacker’s favorite beach. Also depending on the length of your trip you could add Laos, which has great outdoor activities to offer but wouldn’t be the first place in Asia I would recommend. I do want to go back though; I was pleasantly surprised by that country.
- Myanmar. Like everyone says, go now, before tourism totally changes it. This country just opened up a few years ago and you can already see the changes, and how it’s not ready to handle them yet. But the people are the kindest I met anywhere and the scenery is beautiful. It will be vastly different from home though so that has to be something you’re okay with.
- I hesitate to recommend Northern Thailand because I had a really different experience there at a festival, but the time I spent in Chiang Mai was great and with everything I’ve heard about Pai it’s one of the places I most want to get to next time I’m there. Most people I met traveling in Southeast Asia put this at the top of their list. If you happen to be planning a Southeast Asia trip in February go to Shambhala.
- Another qualified recommendation is Vietnam. Some people love it, some hate it. I had a different time there due to a family visit but if you’re curious about it then it’s worth checking out. Hanoi was good and Halong Bay/Lan Ha Bay were spectacular. Plus it had the best cheapest food and coffee of my entire trip.
- Japan, especially Tokyo. Fascinating culture, energetic cities, gorgeous landscapes, friendly people, efficient travel, and the best food, there’s no way to go wrong in Japan. Tokyo was actually my favorite, despite the popular opinion that Kyoto is best, for its quirkiness, modernity, and variety of activities. If you have time try to make it to the island of Kyushu – it’s much more low-key but still wonderfully Japanese.
Lastly, New Zealand. Of the Australasia portion of my trip I preferred New Zealand. The scenery is unbeatable, the adventures are endless, and the atmosphere is so chill it’s hard to ever want to leave. I still play with the idea of moving to Wanaka for a while. Go to Wanaka! I love that place. And the Abel Tasman Coast Track. And Milford Sound.
If anyone has any more questions about locations (or anything) just ask! I love talking travel, obviously, and am more than happy to help if I can.
When I woke up on this day one year ago – June 21, 2014 – it was 4:00 in the morning and pitch black. I barely noticed. In three and a half hours I would board a one way flight to South America. My RTW trip was beginning.
As I remember that morning today, the nerves jump back into my chest like it was yesterday. With how quickly the past year went it feels like it really was yesterday. Time sure does fly.
June 21, 2014 to June 21, 2015 was one hell of a year. I accomplished my major life dream of long-term international travel, and that alone is huge. The fact that I did what I set out to do in so many different ways is just icing on the best cake of my life. Even as parts of my trip changed in the moment, they changed in a way that ultimately led me back to the trip I’d imagined I would do. I saw the majority of places I had written down as possibilities in my planning notebook and then some. Ideas that had been just that – ideas, wonderings of a novice backpacker – became reality as I hopped on the back of motorbikes, tuktuks, songthaews, and buses to reach destinations picked by peer recommendations or a catchy description in Lonely Planet. I hoped I would meet people along the way who would want to experience this crazy adventure called backpacking with me – someone who would also want to wing it on buses across borders in South America, see the incredible scenery of New Zealand on a road trip, go to the rumored best party ever on the Nam Song River in Laos, or convince me to go somewhere completely random – and I did. I traveled solo but not so solo, making the world a more familiar, less lonely place. In traveling I also challenged myself, and I feel that I rose to the occasion; I proved my self-sufficiency, flexibility, ability to adapt to new situations, and just go with it attitude. I grew more than I could have imagined in that year, and I look back to how I felt in Hampi as the highest I’ve ever felt in my life.
Today I woke up to an alarm too, set for the time at which my flight departed last year, but for a very different reason. To go to work. At first I didn’t feel so bad, but as I continued the motions of getting ready for the day I realized that it was not going to be an easy one. I put on the sweater I had with me on the road and my Shambhala necklace, tributes to the past year that only I would recognize. I made coffee, lit an incense, put on my “songs from abroad” playlist, and sat down at my laptop to do my usual morning routine of video editing or blog updating. This is what came out.
I plan to leave again in 3 months for my next adventure, but before I begin to decide where to go next I have to fully come to terms with the fact that the last adventure is over. I’m almost there, but it’s hard to put such an incredible life experience into the “past” category. Do I wish that my “One Year Tripaversary” marker was still in my calendar today? That I woke up somewhere foreign still living the wandering life? Part of me does. But a larger part of me knows that that trip, the RTW trip I’d dreamt about for five years, came to a perfect completion in Japan. So I will hold onto that knowledge today as I pass this one year mark and maybe tomorrow I’ll be ready to shift my focus to the next phase – a summer to relax and stay put while I prepare for six months of the unknown. The nerves I felt that morning one year ago can wait three more months to surface again. And then, on that departure day, I can assure you they will be back full force.
Another topic I’ve frequently been asked about is the people I met along the way. There tends to be a big focus on the fact that I did this big trip alone, but I always respond the same way: “I wasn’t ever really alone.”
I’ve written multiple blog posts about the people I met and how much they all meant to me (Travel Buddies, The Why of Buenos Aires, Queenstown, Take 2, The People in Sydney, Fried Toofoo, 1,000 Miles…). I do still talk to many of them, some more than others, and even though communication has faded a bit now that we’ve all returned home I still believe that these people are my friends for life. That doesn’t mean we’ll know every detail about each other like we did in the time we traveled together, but it does mean that for years to come if any of them ever reaches out to me for a just a hi or a couch to crash on, I will happily be there for them, and I think I can say they feel the same way about me.
Sometimes people wonder how it’s possible to feel such a close connection with someone I knew for so little time. With some people I spent just one evening at a hostel, with others I spent every minute of every day for half a month, and the rest are somewhere in between. It began with a first impression, a snap judgement of whether or not this person and I could get along well. Travelers are masters at quick opinions; we meet so many people on the road that there’s no way not to learn the personality types we mesh well with. Luckily I could already relate to most people who were in the same places as me – we were all people who liked to explore the unknown in a low cost high adventure sort of way. So once we passed the first impression it was just a matter of time until the conversation deepened.
Whether together for two hours, two days, or two weeks, the nature of traveling accelerated my connections with people. We lived in the moment, knowing that all we had was right now, that there was no reason to hold back, and that without the preconceived notions that come with home we were free to be ourselves. We called it our “travel selves,” but after a few months I dropped the “travel” part and just became “myself.” Travel me felt more like me than US me ever did, and that person wanted to share myself with these new friends, and was delighted when my companions reciprocated with the same openness.
I love you guys.
A friend embarking on her own solo journey for the first time asked me how I met people. There were a variety of ways. The best was in hostels, my home away from home. In common areas and dorm rooms it was easy to strike up a conversation, sometimes starting more formal with “hi I’m so-and-so” or “where are you from?” and other times just jumping in when I had something relevant to say. Transportation was good too – a comment about the ride, the destination, or someone’s luggage could lead to a new friendship. Then there’s the activities. A tour like the Whitsundays or Fraser Island had built-in companions that could become friends beyond their end dates, free/hostel-organized walking tours were always a hit, or sometimes all it took was stopping to take a picture on a bike ride and saying something to the other person doing the same thing. It’s easier than people think to engage in conversation with a stranger. No matter what we already had something in common: we were both in that place at that time. The rest worked itself out from there.
Now the tough part for me is being back in a society where that extreme of friendliness is viewed as strange rather than normal. Having other travelers to talk to about the adjustment of being back home has been crucial. We all go through reverse culture shock in some way, and even just having a friend say “I get it” can be a huge help. Same with travel stories. Those people with who I experienced the highs and lows of travel – from incredible new places to torturing overnight buses – are the ones I can best talk to about the past year. We reminisce, we empathize, and we are totally okay with every anecdote including “when I was in…”
I hope to continue meeting people on my travels and extend my already fairly sizable network of international friends. I also hope I’ll have a chance to visit everyone one day. Moving to Europe is looking like a possibility again next year, so I might kick off that chapter with some friend couch hopping… if you’ll all have me.
One of the questions I’ve been asked most is, “How was your budget?” Often this is prefaced by, “I don’t want to be nosy” or “I hope it’s not inappropriate but I’m really curious.” Because of this, I’ve debated how transparent I want to be about my budget; money is always a little uncomfortable for people to talk about. But in the interest of other RTW travelers everywhere, I’ve decided what the hell, here it is.
I budgeted $30,000 for the trip, with $5000 marked as my “Go Home Now” money (flight home plus 2 months to figure out what to do next). That left me with $25,000 to spend. I divided my trip into three segments – South America, Australasia, Asia – and allotted the same amount of money to each, taking into account both time and potential costs of the regions. Three months in South America should be about the same as two months in Australasia and four months in Asia. Therefore each leg got an even $8000. I told myself each had $6000. I preferred to lie to myself to keep my budget in check, aiming low but knowing that I had a little wiggle room, and it seems to have worked.
The end results:
South America: $6289.90
+ Initial RTW flights: $3434.00 & Flight back to the US: $612.64
I came home under budget. Most people are pretty surprised I was able to travel for so long for less than $20,000. Plus I did everything I wanted to do – skydiving, scuba diving, Salt Flats tour, Whitsundays boat, two tattoos, etc. These things did cost a decent chunk of change but I found ways to save elsewhere, making it possible to really experience more of the world instead of just hanging in a hostel barely getting by. In fact, in the breakdown of where most of my money went, the activities section comes in second, followed by food in third, and accommodation in fourth.
So where did most of it go? Transportation costs. If it wasn’t for the planes, trains, and automobiles I would have done the trip for just over $10,000, but then I also wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Flights around Brazil were a major contributor – hence the decision to move around only by bus for the rest of South America – as well as international ones.
How did I end up under budget? There are a few reasons. First, incredibly helpful, generous people, who happened be in some of the more expensive places I went to. I stayed for free at a friend of a friend’s in Sydney for 6 nights, and again with a family friend in Singapore; I lucked out in New Zealand twice with an amazing couchsurfing host in Christchurch and a friend who gave me the rest of her Naked Bus pass to use for free, which is how I got back up to Auckland from Queenstown; I can’t even begin to describe the generosity of my family who was with me in Vietnam; and the wonderful Christmas gifts from family that helped cover some of Ko Phi Phi and Bali.
The other two main money savers were cheap food and sleeping on transportation. In a lot of South America and Southeast Asia it’s possible to get meals for $1-$3. I’ll eat pretty much anything and was happy to try the local street food, and was lucky to not have any stomach issues, so I picked most of my meals based on what cost the least. In New Zealand and Australia I often made food in hostels with other travelers, saving on the expensive costs of eating out there. And I always had granola/muesli or cereal bars with me as a back-up and for food on transportation; I never bought food at a rest stop. All the nights I slept on buses weren’t for my enjoyment, they were ways to save on accommodation. The way I saw it, I had to pay to get between places anyway, so why not sleep on the transportation? It’s not like there’s much else to do that I would be missing out on, and my budget would benefit from a blank spot in the accommodation column. Any time I slept on transportation I saw it as funding my next activity. Sometimes I would arrive pretty tired, but the adrenaline from arriving at a new location was all the caffeine I needed to still make use of the day.
The most surprising outcome to me was Australasia. I was terrified of how much that part was going to cost me, but somehow I ended up not just under budget, but under my budget lie.
The most challenging part of budgeting was when friends from home joined me. It’s a different kind of travel when it’s not your daily life, and I wanted to make sure they had the vacation they came for while still taking into account my strict monetary concerns. This was hardest during the World Cup in Brazil. For those who came to travel with me for a bit, thank you for understanding my constraints and enduring some less than desirable travel situations to help me out.
My reward for being under budget was Japan. None of those numbers include Japan. When I got to Japan I already felt that the trip was done and anything else was bonus. I didn’t entirely ignore the way I had been living, but I didn’t log everything I spent either. In the end, I added up my credit card bill and cash withdrawals to get my Japan spending total of $2476.78 (not including my flight from India to Japan, which was $412.39). For one month in an expensive country during the biggest tourist draw, the cherry blossoms, that’s not so bad really. It brings my total trip cost to $22,398.75.
Some things that are not included in this total are visas and pre-trip purchases like gear and immunizations. Those were all paid off when I still had a job or with back-up cash that wasn’t part of my initial $30,000 departure money.
I logged every cent I spent in an incredibly detailed spreadsheet – which I got from alittleadrift.com and definitely recommend to other people who want to keep track of their spending – which helped immensely to see where I was in my budget and make decisions about whether or not I could do an activity. If I was under the daily budget for a country, I was more likely to spend the money on something like scuba diving the Similan Islands or a flight to Goa instead of a long bus ride. I based my daily budget per country on BootsnAll’s destination guides, another very helpful resource worth looking into if you’re planning a RTW trip.
I’m proud of myself for not just sticking to my budget but actually coming in under budget, and it’s part of the reason I’m so confident that I can travel for another six months. I returned with more money than initially planned, and after three months of working will have replenished my account enough to take off again.
Before leaving I had to make a ton of logistical decisions. Never having done a trip like this before, I made educated guesses informed by reading guidebooks and blog posts. At what was originally my halfway point I wrote a mid-trip analysis of how some of my pre-departure decisions were going, so now that I’m back I figured I should write a final analysis on how it all worked out in the end. Honestly, I was pretty spot-on.
Perfect. They held up so well through being thrown around on all forms of transportation and a few long walks in the rain (even if the color is a little faded and they’re now rocking the ‘worn’ look). They fit every need I had and by the end of the trip I could pack them in about five minutes; everything had its place. I will never travel with a normal suitcase again. Being able to move around with everything on my back is the best way to travel. I even brought my backpack into NYC instead of a typical overnight bag. And I still use the Fjallraven bag daily – it is just the right size, has just the right pockets (inside a small one for wallet and keys plus a laptop sleeve, outside one for quick access stuff), and I’ll never stop raving about the three ways to wear it (shoulder bag, messenger bag, backpack).
The only change I would make for next time is perhaps using a smaller backpack. The main reason for this is airplanes: I would like to be able to fly carry-on (although having a Leatherman with me made that impossible anyway) and budget airlines charge more based on weight, so I never wanted to go over 15 kg. I think I could fit everything into a 40L bag since mine was really never full. However, with the ebb and flow of how much I carried with me, it made sense to have a little extra space for those times when I picked up a few extra things for a short time, like a bulky shawl and a gift in my final days in Japan, or when I had to shove all my stuff into the backpack in Salvador for safety concerns. But any woman who’s looking for a 60L backpack, the Gregory Deva is the best, I highly recommend it.
Overall my clothing decisions were pretty good. Even though I became totally sick of them and all the hostel washing machines wore them down and stretched them out, most of my clothes lasted me the whole year. Along the way I did pick up a few things and drop a few things, either sending them home with people who visited or throwing them out.
Some things that I should have brought that I picked up along the way: scarf, cardigan, and more underwear. Whoever said you just need a weeks worth of underwear must love washing it in the sink. Yes this is doable, and I did it as well, but when family came to visit in Vietnam and Thailand they all brought me more underwear. Great, I thought, I could throw out the old ones. Nope. I kept them all. Girls underwear is small, I had the room, and it meant I did wash less often (to be honest I only washed my clothes when I was out of underwear). A cardigan was a nice addition just to have another layer that wasn’t an outdoorsy jacket. By the time I got to Southeast Asia it was so hot all the time that I didn’t need heavy jackets, but at night it was nice to have some other layer. A scarf had to be my favorite addition. It was an easy fix when I was slightly cold in a t-shirt or absolutely freezing bundled up in all my layers, and came in handy as a blanket on an overnight bus. Plus it easily fit in my second bag so I always had it on me.
In the end though I’m happy I didn’t have everything I needed because now I have souvenirs from all over the place. I didn’t let myself spend precious money on souvenirs, but when I needed cold weather clothes in South America or hot weather clothes in Asia I could justify the minimal amount of money they required. It was a great excuse to pick up some useful things that remind me of the places where I got them.
Something I would have brought next time: sneakers instead of hiking boots. Unless you’re planning on doing some serious trekking, consider sneakers instead of boots. I could have done the hikes I did in sneakers and also worn them daily in cities or actually have gone on runs (I like to think not having the proper footwear is the reason I didn’t work out…). For my trip, they would have worked better. I already have a pair I’m planning to bring on my next trip.
Something I didn’t use: clothes drying line. It’s so easy and cheap to drop off laundry around the world (except Australia, of course) that I never did end up washing all my clothes in the sink (except the occasional underwear). For $2 all my clothes were washed, folded, and ready for wear in 24 hours, and while that was being done I was out exploring. It was worth it to me.
Cameras, great: the Canon G16 was perfect for high quality photos in a reasonably compact camera body, and I used the GoPro even more than I originally thought for adventures both extreme (scuba diving) and daily (rickshaw rides). I can confidently say I documented my trip well and I am exceedingly happy about that.
Laptop, great: the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S was small and portable enough to not feel like a burden but with a full keyboard and ports (USB, card reader) functioned exactly how I needed it to, plus the rotating touch screen was a nice perk when I wanted to watch The Sopranos or prop it up for music (although the speakers are pretty bad).
Something I will bring next time: portable hard-drive. While Google Drive totally did work for backing up photos in the cloud (I now have 7 email accounts), I was still paranoid about losing everything and kept almost all my pictures on my camera’s memory card until I got home and could put them on my big external hard-drive.
Something I didn’t use: the extra back covers with the openings for the GoPro. I was too worried to ever take off the waterproof back. Also I could probably go without the head mount; the clip mount and a backwards hat worked just fine for the very few times I wanted it on my head.
My surprisingly most-used device: my iPhone. I debated whether or not to even bring it, and now it’s one of the things I tell people they should bring with them. It’s a little portable computer, and now with widespread wifi and map apps that don’t even need wifi (maps.me is a traveler’s best friend – it syncs maps to your phone for offline use and can even find you in the most hectic places, like Hanoi) I have to admit it’s incredibly useful. As much as I liked being disconnected, for those times when technology really does help and a laptop is just not as easily accessible, the iPhone was a great addition.
I left the States with two books: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring. I did not bring a kindle. I knew hostels had book exchanges so I wanted my reading material to come from those; I hoped to discover books that I may not have thought to purchase myself, and, figuring many of them would be left behind by other travelers, ones that were enjoyed by people with similar interests to mine. It worked wonderfully.
I read 11 books during the year. Since I only had Don Quixote, in Brazil Bobby gave me one of the books from his traveling library as a back-up, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. When I finished Don Quixote, a 1000-plus-page feat that took all of South America, I left it behind in my hostel in Buenos Aires and picked up a two small books – a thriller and a German book (ambitious of me) – whose names I forget because I never ended up reading them. Once we got to a hostel in New Zealand with a better option I swapped the thriller for The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. Meanwhile I was reading The Satanic Verses, which I finished and swapped in my Melbourne hostel for The Hunger Games, Part 2 by Suzanne Collins. After the last two serious books I figured I deserved a break, and I had a long flight coming up. I read it cover to cover on that 9-hour entertainment-less flight. In my hostel in Hanoi I swapped it with a girl in my room for Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths, which was left behind in Vientiane for Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life. Meanwhile I had started The Pelican Brief, which I finished in Dreamtime and swapped for Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakmi. In Dreamtime I also left behind the unread German book for Isabel Allende’s My Invented Country: A Memoir, which I plan on reading this summer. I finished Sputnik Sweetheart in Myanmar and, in my hostel in Inle Lake, swapped it for The Harp in the South by Ruth Park. Another fast read, I was done with it by India, where a girl in our Jaipur hostel gave me Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I swapped this in Hampi for another book about finding oneself in the nature of the United States, Into the Wild by John Krakauer. In the meantime I had ditched Chelsea Handler – which I could not finish, it was terrible – and The Harp in the South at our hostel in Goa, where Kwaz gave me Dave Eggers’s The Circle. At this point it was Japan, so I brought that one home with me and instead swapped Into the Wild for The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton in my hostel in Aso, my final book swap. So what this long saga is hoping to convey is how well the book exchange worked. I read books I’ve never heard of as well as books I’ve always wanted to read. I fully plan to travel this way again in the future.
As for the guidebooks, I only had the one for South America and Southeast Asia on a Shoestring (which I ordered through Amazon to my aunt, who nicely brought it to me in Vietnam). The rest was planned by advice from other travelers or online research. I don’t plan to bring a guidebook with me on the next trip because I learned that it is easy, and often much preferred, to pick a next location based on hearsay from other backpackers. But that’s not to say I didn’t at times find them extremely helpful – for sightseeing ideas, border crossing information, history of a region, and last-minute hostel options for those times I just showed up in a place with no reservation and no internet connection. So if you’re considering bringing a guidebook I do think they’re a good investment, especially if it’s your first time on a trip like this. I would also recommend treating them as I did – I ripped out the pages of places I wasn’t going to or had already been, often giving them to other travelers who were on their way to that location. It lightened my load quite a bit, even if the books looked totally massacred by the end. I still have the cover of each as a keepsake.
Health and Wellness
Honestly, all good. I got some back-up supplies from my sister when she joined me just after the 6 month mark, which was super helpful – tissues, wet wipes, and cold and flu medicine (which I used up during the time I thought I had dengue fever). Somehow I never ran out of bug spray or sunscreen – probably because I stopped using sunscreen around Australia when sun no longer burned me. I brought all the extra medicines that were recommended and never ended up needing them – Cipro and things like that, tons of Advil I never touched, and I even came back with spare Malaria pills. I also never did have to show my Yellow Fever vaccination card but at least I had it just in case, and that was one less disease to worry about. Better to be safe than sorry.
I had Travel Insurance the whole time but never once had to use it. I could view that as a waste of money, but I chose to see it as a solid investment. I think it’s one of those things where if I hadn’t gotten insurance I would have needed it, and if I did get it I wouldn’t need it. I prefer the latter, and that ended up being the case. Plus the reasoning behind getting it proved accurate: I never had to worry about anything I wanted to do while I was traveling. Scuba diving, skydiving, sandboarding, jungle treks, wine country biking – I was covered so I went for it all. Better to be safe than sorry again.
So I lived out of a backpack for a year. How did that go?
Living out of a backpack is easier than you think. I actually find myself having a hard time with all the extra stuff I have now that I’m back home. I keep reverting to the clothes that I brought with me on the trip – they feel normal, comfortable, easy. I’m actually hoping to get rid of even more stuff now that I’m back. And now that I know it can be done, packing for the next trip is going to be a cinch. People have more stuff than they ever really need, and experiencing only having a backpack’s worth of possessions was actually freeing. I was totally mobile and prepared to go anywhere in an instant – it felt great.