nomad

“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.

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My Last Hostel

It was April 16th and I was checking into my final hostel in Fukuoka. In the “Previous Destination” line on the check-in form I casually wrote “Aso.” I moved on to the next line, “Next Destination” and quickly wrote in “USA.” Then I had a minor panic attack.

There it was, the permanent written evidence of this decision I had made. Next Destination: USA. I was going back.

I had spent the weeks leading up to and since this decision constantly wavering on whether or not I was ready for this moment. I knew I was or I wouldn’t have gotten the ticket to go, but seeing it there in writing made the prospect of returning to my native country suddenly real, and really terrifying.

300 days around the world. That sounded pretty damn good. But once I decided this nomadic life was the right life for me, no day of returning would probably ever feel comfortable, even if it was a nice round number and I had the best possible coming back scenario. I was still terrified of going back, of ending this incredible adventure, of giving in to going home.

But it wasn’t giving in. It was a conscious decision so different from anything I expected returning to the United States would be. It was a decision to continue being nomadic for longer than I originally envisioned. This return home was not the go home and find a job mindset, but the recharge and set out on a new adventure mindset. This was a huge change in my life plans and perspective. In this way, returning to the US was actually the beginning of a new adventure as much as it was the end of this one. End of a chapter to start a new one.

So it may have said Next Destination: USA, but it did not say Final Destination. That was still a question mark.

After I checked into my hostel I set up my laptop in the common space to take care of some business like writing down the details of my flights and attempting to blog, which horribly failed in my distracted mental state. Two guys were at the table next to me talking to the hostel receptionist about choosing to go out for ramen instead of partaking in the cheap hostel Thai dinner (which did sound like a great deal) and I casually commented that I was going the same route. My last night in Japan could not be spent eating Thai food; I needed one last Japanese meal.

We got to talking and I ended up hanging out all night with Loïc and Nicolas. We went for tonkotsu ramen and a large Asahi at the riverside yatai – a local tradition – and then picked up a bottle of sake to enjoy on the rooftop of our hostel. It was my last night, we had to celebrate.

When the bottle was empty we ventured back downstairs and were joined by Tom for whiskey and whiskay (a whiskey sake combination that I steered clear of due to my early flight). It was one last accidental late drinking night with new friends from different parts of the world, and it was exactly how this trip should have ended. It’s those moments with the people I’ve encountered that I cherish most. Thanks guys for sending me off right.

Thoughts from Goa

March 14, 2015.

“I’ll try to make it to a year.”

It’s a phrase I’ve said a lot in the past couple of months. I always said it to mean money, hoping I would still have enough to keep traveling till the one year mark in June. But I realized that now this phrase had new meaning. Make it now meant emotionally make it, pushing myself to get to the one year mark so I could say I traveled for a year instead of wanting to keep traveling for another 2 months. In the long run what’s the difference between 10 and 12 months? I was tired. The journey was no longer a thrill but a hassle. Destinations became exhausting to think about instead of exciting. 9 months of constant movement had finally taken its toll. Maybe it was just India, the overwhelming final nail in the coffin of my travel fatigue.

A new thought occurred to me. Going home. Not as an end to my adventure, but as a new direction in it. Returning to the US didn’t mean returning to a restricted, settled life. It meant a recharge. I could see friends and family, attempt to process what I’d just experienced, and try to figure out where to go next. I could take on side jobs bartending or online freelancing, bolstering whatever funds I had left before setting off again on one of the trips I have in mind. Back to South America, New Zealand, or Europe.

Suddenly my Kayak was filled with searches for flights from Asia to the US. Did I really want to leave this part of the world? I never thought this day would come. But the reality was, it was the most exciting thought I’d had about the spring in a long time.

Travel shouldn’t be forced. It should feel right.

I thought about taking a break in the Philippines on one of the gorgeous beaches so many people had told me about, but even that felt tiring. I realized there was one place that kept coming to mind that made me feel calm, that was calling to me from my memory, telling me it would help me figure out what I needed next. Vermont. Return to Vermont and recharge there. Then get back out into the world.

This was another new idea. Get back out into the world. Returning to the US was suddenly not the end of a nomadic life, going back to San Francisco and a 9 to 5 job, but a piece in the larger puzzle of continuing on. It felt possible. It felt right.

We’ll see what happens.

Here it goes.

300 Days Later

I’m back in the United States.

It happened just as abruptly as that sounds. I had started considering what to do after Japan before I even got there, and this idea of returning had always been an option, I just wasn’t sure it would win out. I thought about going to South Korea, Taiwan, or England. There was more world to see and people to visit, was I ready to give in to going back already?

Then a couple of things happened. First, my ideas about my future changed. I realized that travel, my nomadic existence, was not just a phase but a new way of life. I couldn’t imagine returning to a desk and a schedule. Not to say that I didn’t crave some normalcy sometimes, but the idea of settling down in one place with just two weeks of vacation a year, knowing that there was so much more out there that I wanted to see and do, didn’t sit well with me. So I decided that for the foreseeable future I would attempt to keep going. But in order to do that I had to work again for a bit – my money wouldn’t last forever. Which is why, when I got a very tempting offer for a summer job that would allow me to work for 20 hours a week primarily outside and live in Vermont, a place I had dreamed of returning to for my readjustment to the States, I had to take it. I start June 1.

Once I committed to going back for the summer my time abroad suddenly had a limit. I knew I had to return at some point, so how did I want to do it? I could wait until the end of May and go through the East Coast, prolonging my travel as much as possible until my Vermont start date. Or I could surprise my best friends at a girls weekend in Arizona. My friends had decided months ago to have a weekend away at Jen’s new home, which none of us had seen yet, and I sadly had declined since I was halfway around the world. But then Kwaz came to India, and when we talked about what I would do next and the possibility of spending the summer in Vermont and how and when I would come back to do that, the idea of surprising everyone came up. I missed my friends. I had a fantastic life in San Francisco and that was mostly owed to the people there. If I went straight to the East Coast I would not see them, but if I went to Arizona I could stop by SF before going east. Plus it was much easier and cheaper to fly from Japan to Phoenix, and what better way could there be to return than by showing up at the Phoenix airport and giving your friends heart attacks?

I didn’t commit to this plan immediately but let it take its place in my thoughts amongst my other options. The more I thought about it though the more I realized that I couldn’t let it go, that every other option suddenly was being halted by this Arizona idea. I tried to figure out if I could fit in South Korea before I flew back, and in attempting to look up flights to England could only compare the price to the flight to Phoenix. So I finally gave in. If every other idea just didn’t sound as good as the surprise, why not just do the surprise?

It helped that the day I would return happened to be my 300th day abroad. I like round numbers and had had some sadness that I wouldn’t be making it to a full year, June 21, but the discovery that I would hit day 300 put me at ease.

20 countries in 300 days. That sounded pretty good.

So on April 6th I booked my flight to the US. For April 17th. Like I said, it happened pretty abruptly.

And the surprise was worth it. Showing up at the airport and having the incredible warm response I got from my friends – full of repeat hugs and “you’re not real!” and “how did this happen?” – made for a happy return Stateside. I love you guys. And now, writing this from a coffee shop in San Francisco after seeing even more friends, I know that it was right to come back here before going to Vermont. Add to that the amazing messages I got on my birthday yesterday – in person, texts, and Facebook – welcoming me home, and so far the dreaded end of traveling depression hasn’t hit. Instead I now have many plans to catch up with friends and family.

I’m sure the depression will come. I did almost start crying when the coffee shop played a song I had heard on repeat in Colombia. But for now, I choose to focus on the excitement of this return. And I also choose to keep traveling.

I’m in San Francisco this week, but will be adventuring around Canada for five days next week, then back to San Francisco for five more days, then New Jersey and New York City for a couple of weeks, and then I will finally move up to Vermont for the summer. Despite deciding to return to the States, I couldn’t stop moving just yet.

And all of this is in pursuit of a larger goal of not stopping. TBD where I’m going in September, but the hope is to get back on the road for at least another couple of months. My Travel Abrodge isn’t done yet…

6 Months

Today is officially 6 months since I left the US. June 21 – December 21.

Technically, this means I have just 3 months left of my trip.

Realistically, I’m thinking this is halfway.

The past 6 months have been incredible. Setting out on this journey I knew I would have a life-changing experience but I had no idea how it would happen. I couldn’t have predicted the specifics – my reaction to the different locations, the fast bonds I formed with people, the parts of myself that have flourished, diminished, or been discovered along the way – but I could have predicted that at this point I would be addicted to the nomadic lifestyle.

Which is why it is too hard to give it up just yet. I’ve had my ups and downs, complete with “best time of my life” statements and the unfortunate travel fatigue, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Those moments are what make this trip complete. I’ve come to a place now where I am excited about the path of self-discovery that I am on, in addition to the ever-present excitement about the new places I am seeing. It has been a long journey to get here and it’s not over, not even close.

I don’t have any stats to give about how many miles I’ve traveled but I can say that I’ve been to 12 countries across 3 continents so far, all with their own language barriers and currency conversions, and might be adding a few new ones that weren’t on the original itinerary. I can say that there are certain cities, countries, or regions that have meant more to me than others and that I eagerly hope to return to one day. I can say that I have become comfortable with alone time, self-sufficiency, flexibility, embracing the unknown, overcoming obstacles, engaging strangers in conversation, and using hand signals to communicate. I can say that I miss people around the world who I did and did not know when I left 6 months ago, and that I have and will reunite with a handful of them as I keep going. To the people I knew before, you still mean the world to me, and I am so happy we’ve kept in touch. To the people I met in the past 6 months, you have made this experience the absolute best it could be and I thank you and can’t wait to see you all again, in the near or far future.

With the New Year approaching 2014 recaps are flooding social media. It’s hard for me to even process my 2014. It began when I officially declared I would be leaving on this adventure, and at the halfway point I boarded my first flight. Half a year dedicated to see-you-soon’s and half a year dedicated to nice-to-meet-you’s. It’s undoubtedly my most interesting year of life so far.

So cheers to 2014 and to 6 months gone by already. Hard to believe how fast it went, easy to believe how awesome it was.

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