Returning

“One Year”

One of my summer projects was to go through the boxes I have stored at my parents’ place and try to eliminate some of them. It’s amazing how much stuff I still have from years past, and how much I still have yet to go through. But one of the boxes I did make it to was my high school notebooks. While the notebooks went the way of the recycling bin, I held onto the papers I found out of curiosity. When I couldn’t fall asleep last night I decided to read some of them. I came across one called “One Year.”

I don’t remember the assignment – it was in my American Literature class, in which we had to write a series of reflective journals – but I can guess from the title and first line that we had to write what we would do with a year of free time. Anything we wanted. Here are the first and last paragraphs of my response:

One free year. It sounds like a lot of time, but it is so hard to fit everything I want to do into one year. I want to see the world, spend time in the wilderness of Vermont or Alaska, live in the city, intern, work on my photography, play ice hockey and lacrosse, relax by the pool, and so much more. But it is impossible to do all that in one year. Choosing the most important enterprise requires a lot of thought. What can I benefit from the most at my age? What can I fit in the time of 365 days? What offers the most opportunities for amazing adventures and exploration?  The first two questions have many different answers, but in considering the third question one endeavor in particular stuck out: see the world. Granted, it is an extremely courageous plan, but just choosing certain places can cut it down to being doable in just one year. One day I’d like to have been to every continent but that will take many years, not just one. So in order to shorten the list I thought of where I have wanted to go for the longest. These four ventures are the places that I want to go to as soon as possible. They all reflect a way of life I wish to attain: spontaneous, relaxed, peaceful, and cultured.

As I finish this paper I can just imagine all the wonderful places I have written about and I wish I were leaving tomorrow. All of these locations have so much to offer and I want to absorb all that is there. Ultimately I choose travel because of the experience. There is no way to gain a greater knowledge about the world than to see it. As profitable as that is, there is more to it than becoming more cultured. Travelling is where I can really explore myself. Being away from what I’m used to and in completely different surroundings, sometimes even with new languages, is how I can really tell who I am. Can I adapt well to these situations? There is no way to know until I try. I hope that visiting all these places would bring out the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be, the person that is stuck inside but needs help being released. The entire experience would open me up more and each place would bring out a different quality in me. San Francisco would show the more relaxed part of me while Fiji displays the exotic. Australia is just the fulfillment of a life-long dream. Europe is for the culture. Hopefully every place will help me achieve peace in life and help me be the kind of person I want to be.

This paper is dated November 23, 2003. I have been saying that my Round the World dream started senior year of college, so I’m sorry to say that I have been lying to you all. It appears to have started junior year of high school.

It is an incredible thing to read the thoughts of 16-year-old me and be able to tell her: “you will do this.” And: “you nailed it.” That final paragraph is everything to me. The fact that I actually went to most of the places I talk about in the rest of this paper – San Francisco, the Great Barrier Reef, the Coliseum in Rome – and even accomplished some of the other things I mentioned in the first paragraph – interned, lived in the city, spent time in Vermont – is just icing on this cake from the past.

Advertisements

The End. And The Beginning.

I saw the sunrise today.

For the first time in months I was up early enough to witness this natural daily occurrence that to me has become a meaningful event. I missed sunrises. They were some of my more pensive moments while traveling. I came to appreciate them even more than sunsets – maybe because it felt like you had to earn a sunrise, waking up way before an alarm should go off; or maybe because it was a more singular experience, less popular than sunsets and quieter too; or maybe because it was more hopeful, witnessing the start to the day instead of the end. A new dawn. A new day. A new adventure.

So when I was suddenly wide awake at 4 in the morning wondering why the hell I couldn’t sleep anymore I decided to stop fighting it and just accept that my day would start early today. I remembered Inle Lake. I woke up for no reason at 4 in the morning there one day and by the time breakfast started at 6:30 am I had already finished some video editing I’d been putting off and was more than ready to set out on our full day boat adventure. 24 hours later I was riding in the back of a tuktuk as the morning mist rose over the fields on my way to the train to Kalaw. The 45-minute tuktuk ride was frigid cold but I didn’t mind. I had a lot of thoughts that morning about where I was and how far I had come to be there that never made it to this blog. It’s about time they did.

Most important was this: “It’s really the trip I set out to do. I will never regret a single decision I’ve made.” I remember the moment I thought that and the smile that came across my face. The way I traveled wasn’t for everyone – fast-paced, covering lots of land in little time – and I received some flak for it. I was told I was planning too much, I needed to slow down, I was just doing the highlights tour. Sometimes they were right, I did and still do wish I had stayed some places longer, but I made my decisions with reasons behind them and I had to be okay with that. People will always tell you how to travel but in the end it’s up to you, me in this case, to decide what’s best for your trip. My trip was a highlights tour of the regions I went to but what’s so wrong with that?

I never traveled after college. The one- to three-month trip that everyone should do when they graduate (I’m sure the Europeans are scoffing at that short timeline but that’s what is more accepted in the US) was something I skipped. I blame the recession; I graduated in a time when everyone was in such a panic to get work that I just started applying for internships as soon as possible. I also knew that I would make time for travel later. So this trip was my chance to do all of those trips at once.

South American highlights, the World Cup, Australia’s East Coast, a New Zealand road trip, Southeast Asia – think about how many times you’ve heard recent college grads take a month to do any of one of those. That sounds more digestible right? Well, in my all or nothing way of life I decided that I would take a year to do all of those and then some. I could have easily stayed in Colombia for a couple of months and worked at a hostel, applied for a work-study visa for New Zealand and called Wanaka home for their summer, or done a personal exploration long stay in Laos or Northern Thailand, but that wasn’t what I set out to do. I set out to see the world, to do a survey of the types of places that are out there, and to have some fun along the way.

I did that. Mission accomplished. And I am so proud that I can say that.

Something else that became clear to me along the way, although it hadn’t fully taken shape before I’d left but was always lingering in the depths of my mind somewhere, was the idea that this trip was an introduction to the world not a closing statement. Just because I can check the box that says Indonesia does not mean that I won’t go back. I didn’t check off destinations, I added more in a different way. Now I know when I have limited vacation time (because let’s be honest, at some point I will have a “normal” job again and won’t be taking year-long world-traveling sabbaticals) where I want to go and how I want to see it.

That how is also a huge lesson of the past year. Now that I have tested the backpacker lifestyle I know better what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, on my next trip I want to plan even less, mainly going off of word of mouth from friends and fellow travelers, and if I find somewhere I like I’ll stay a while. I will also bring a hammock to sleep in and need to pack light enough to throw my backpack up on top of a bus in a hurry. In the future, I will probably not do the same backpacker style of travel (a major contributing factor to the decision of where I’m going next) and know the places that will benefit from having a bigger budget and more comfortable travel arrangements.

All of this is really my way of finally rounding out my posts about the 300 days I traveled the world. I felt the need to say once and for all that I did what I set out to do. Even some places I originally intended to see but had at some point cut, like Ecuador or Brisbane, found their way back in. And new places were added along the way, like Myanmar and Shambhala, that were wonderful compliments to the original plan. And to end the way I did, with an impromptu trip to Japan, could not have worked out any better. I look back at my month in Japan so fondly. It was a place I never expected to end up in that year, despite a strong curiosity to see it, but the flexibility of my open-ended plan and continued communication with a fellow traveler from months before combined in just the right way to bring me there. It was the perfect unexpected adventure to close out my ultimately perfect year of travel.

I’ve wanted to write this post all summer but something held me back. It took an unexpected early morning for me to get here, but that only seems fitting really. Early mornings were times I enjoyed on the road, where the conventional timeline of a day didn’t exist. It’s also August now, and maybe that’s the shift I needed to finally feel like I can focus on the next adventure. I saw the dawn of a new day today, and it made me excited about the many new days in new places to come.

Moving “The Trip” Into My Past

The trip is over. It’s been hard for me to come to terms with this fact, always pausing for a second when people refer to it in past tense: “How was it?” Was? Was. Right, it’s over. When the hell did that happen?

After five years of fantasizing, my big idea actually happened. I completed my dream Round the World trip, making it through all the countries I wanted to see and then some. It’s taken a while for that to sink in and for me to perceive it as a huge accomplishment. Talking about my trip in the past tense is still sad, but it’s turning positive, becoming something I am proud of and okay with being a part of my past instead of my present.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it took so long to come around to this point. I think there are a few factors. First, I had a hard time with the word “back” when I got to the US. People kept saying, “Welcome back!” and I kept thinking, “I’m not really back…” Although I had returned to the United States, I knew it was only temporary – this is a “layover,” as a friend put it, and I fully intend on leaving the country again after the summer is over. I was told at one point that no one thought I would come back, and it was then that I realized that this idea that everyone thought I had returned for good irked me. I checked my rising temper as I responded that they were actually right, I had not come back, even if my physical presence seemingly contradicted this statement. My initial difficulty with this particular word has subsided; there aren’t many other phrases to use when someone returns to their home country after an extended journey. The important thing is that I know that this “back” is not final.

Second, I think the open-ended nature of my trip had something to do with it. Not having a concrete moment to call “the end” was supposed to create a feeling of flexibility and freedom, but it may have had a side effect of anxious and confused. I wound up viewing India as the end to my trip since it was the last country on my original itinerary. I came to realize I needed that end to know that I had completed my goal and thus feel okay that I had come home. For a while I felt like I had copped out, ran away to home just when things were really unknown instead of continuing on as a true nomad. I don’t see it that way anymore, especially as I start to shift my focus to leaving again, but it definitely took a while to shake that feeling. The tattoo I got in India of my flight path has been a wonderful reminder; every time I look at it I feel like I really accomplished what I set out to do.

Third, the undeniable fact that there is always more to see. Whenever I hear something about South Korea part of me cringes knowing I was just a three hour ferry ride away and I chose to come back to the States instead. But I could say the same for my proximity to Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, the list goes on and on. The world is huge, we all know that, and at some point I had to take a break before I could even try to see any more of it. I moved at lightening speed and needed a rest, a fact I had to first coax myself to admit and then constantly remind myself of leading up to my flight, along with the fact that I can always go back. The world will still be there when I’m ready to get out there again, just because this trip is over doesn’t mean I can’t take another one.

But now, I’m starting to feel that my idea about coming to Vermont was right. I needed time to let this trip become part of my past. Let it sink in. Complete my final projects – blog posts like this, the last of my video editing, pulling together highlight reels of my photos, and my tickets, bracelets, and coins collage – as an act of closure. Taking off the bracelets was symbolic for me. I took them all off over the course of the weekend leading up to June 1 (my first day back at work). Each one has a place associated with it, and almost all are connected to people too, so every time I untied one I mentally relived a part of my trip. As each bracelet came off, each place was put into my memory bank, where it will remain forever a positive part of my history.

I Slept There – A Photo Experiment

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.

Included Food Photo Project

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…

Post Trip Analysis: 154 Songs for a Year

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.

“Where Should I Go?”

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.

June 21

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.

Post Trip Analysis: The People I Met

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 BuddiesThe Why of Buenos AiresQueenstown, Take 2The People in SydneyFried Toofoo1,000 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.

Post Trip Analysis: Budget

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
Australasia: $5133.93
Asia: $4039.11
+ Initial RTW flights: $3434.00 & Flight back to the US: $612.64
Total: $19,509.58

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.