Travel Packing Challenge: 6 weeks, 3 cultures, 4 climates, 1 carryon

Every time I complete a crazy trip like my solo Thanksgiving round-the-world adventure, I sleep for a week, and then when I finally wake up, I make a promise to myself that next time I’ll travel slower and try not to go to as many places on one trip.

Inevitably, after a month passes, however, I somehow forget all these promises I’ve made to myself. Even though I start with planning my next trip simply, I somehow wind up with an itinerary that crosses to the moon and back.

Confession: Some people are addicted to Girl Scout cookies and pizza. I lack complete lack self-control when it comes to national borders.

Here’s my logic: If you’ve already made the effort to fly half way around the world to go to country X, why not also go to country Y if it’s not that far away, and maybe also stop in at country Z if you have to fly past it anyway to get home?

I’m not convinced that country hopping is always a bad thing, but I do know one thing for sure: Country hopping makes for very tricky packing. Especially if you are a person, like me, committed to a carry-on only travel style.

This week I’m headed out for my first multi-country 2018 travel adventure, and as you may have guessed, I didn’t keep it simple. I’m on my way to a tango festival in Vietnam via a long weekend of hanging out at the Women’s Travel Fest in New York City.  From Vietnam I’ll go onward through South East Asia, visit friends in Cambodia and Thailand, stop for a beach week in the Maldives, and then hit up one final stop in the UAE for a fellow traveler’s birthday celebration in the desert before I head back to the US across the Atlantic.

I’m very excited about every single part of my adventure–besides the one thing I have to do to get myself out the door: Pack.

Now, some travelers will recommend that you keep it simple by always packing the same things. For me, always packing the same jeans and black shirt just never seems to work—I like to pack for the occasion.

Not only will I be traveling while working on the road for six weeks, I’ll be crisscrossing countries, climates and cultures that all require very different clothing.

New York, for example, is currently under a blizzard warning, while Bangkok is about 100 degrees every day with 100 percent humidity. A Tango festival requires me to bring specific shoes that I literally can’t wear anywhere else, and transiting home through the Middle East also means that I need to have something in my bag that is long and modest.

When your trip isn’t simple, your wardrobe isn’t simple either.

Guys might be able to get away with those zip off khaki travel pants everywhere, but if you’re a girl and you want to look decent and be appropriate for whatever culture you might have accidentally added onto your trip, you’ll need to kit yourself appropriately.

When I declared on my Instagram story this week that I would pack for six weeks, three cultures, and four climates in one carryon, so many of you said it would be impossible. I will confess it was a challenge, but here’s how I did it.

The Three Point Packing Strategy:

1.Layer, Layer, Layer

The key to any good multi-climate packing plan is layers. When it is cold you wear all the layers, when it’s bloody Asian hot, you wear as few layers as the culture deems appropriate.

A couple of tank tops, long sleeves, tights, basic skirt, and a dress that can double as a tunic go a long way in the mix and match game. Multi-weather fabrics like merino wool are also a secret weapon to keep you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot (hat tip to Smartwool and Icebreaker).

Also, it helps to keep your layering strategy color coordinated. While I’m definitely not a monochromatic dresser in my day to day (orange and yellow are my favorite) I tend to stick with a color theme for the basics–most commonly blacks and grays with some pops of color. Color coordinating also means that you can get away with fewer pairs of shoes.

My bag has about 15 key pieces of clothing when it’s all packed, but I can probably make up at least 30 different outfits from its contents based on the temperature, what smells, and what I’m sick of wearing

2.Take the Goodwill pile

I’m definitely not the kind of person who buys new things to take on a trip. When it comes time to pack I’d prefer to dig to the back of my closet to see what is hiding in my Goodwill pile.

I love to pack things that I still like enough to wear for the trip, but am definitely going to be okay with getting rid of along the way. I take old tank tops instead of my new tank tops so I can fit the new tank tops I’m bound to buy in the market in Bangkok.  I take my oldest running shoes instead of the newest model because I can leave them at my last stop to make room for whatever souvenir I fancy from my adventure. And I also take the contents of my underwear drawer that really should be thrown out–it’s always nice to have extra undies and much easier to get rid of those holey ones when you’re on the road.

Disposable clothing are my key for keeping my packing light as I collect things along the way—plus you don’t have to worry as much about your things getting lost or stolen if they aren’t your absolutely favorite things.

3.Let your bag evolve as you go.

After many years of travel I’ve finally learned that I don’t actually need to purchase ahead and pack everything I need. People who live in other places usually need and want many of the same things that I want. If I need shampoo I can buy it there–why pack it? I can buy new flip flops if I lose mine, or pick up a fancy dress on the occasion that I find a hot date in my next location.

If you start somewhere cold and move on to somewhere warm, take warm layers you don’t mind leaving along the way, or organize to leave things with a friend to pick up later.

Last fall when  I packed for a beach trip to Mauritius, but decided to fly home via Paris in winter, I was worried I was going to freeze. Instead of skipping Paris,  I kitted myself out locally with a new hat from a street vendor and some jeans and a sweater. The bonus–I now have an awesome sweater and I get to say “I picked it up in Paris” when people comment on it.

You don’t have to pack to be prepared for everything—just prepare to be prepared and 99% of the time it will all work out (the other 1% will make great stories to tell someday).

So, what’s in my Mary Poppins bag?

If you really want to know, here’s everything I’m schlepping around the world for the next 6 weeks. Contents are subject to change. In fact, I’m less than 18 hours into the trip and I’ve already lost my hat!

Winter:

  • Boots, Jacket, Dress and shoes for speaking event, jeans,  and long sleeves (I’ll keep the long sleeves and jeans and leave the rest with a friend in NY to pick up later).
  • Winter Hat (already lost), yoga pants to wear as long underwear
  • Overside Scarf – doubles as beach and shoulder covering for Asia & Middle East
  • Merino Wool cardigan- doubles to wear over long dress for Middle East & for aircon in Asia

Tango Festival:

  • 3 Dresses for Tango that can double as sundresses for wandering around Asia
  • One pair of shoes I won’t be able to throw away of wear anywhere else (note: if you have big feet, don’t skimp on shoe packing when traveling to Asia)

Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam):

  • Jean skirt, 3 tank tops, sandals, flip flops + all my sundresses from tango + oversized scarf
  • Lightweight goodwill-ready orange pants

Beach (Maldives):

  • Bathing Suit, Hat, Sunglasses.
  • Will use oversize scarf, jean skirt and tango dresses for cover up
  • (I would normally bring my hammock on a beach trip but had to leave it at home to make room for blizzard jacket and tango shoes)

Middle East:

  • One ankle length dress.
  • Yoga pants/leggings under sundresses with scarf to be modest

Other Clothes:

  • yoga pants & short, sports bra, running shoes – these can be used for exercise, comfy clothes for cold plane rides, and also as PJs

Other Stuff:

  • minimal toiletries (get what you need where you are)
  • emergency food rations(almonds & almond butter for plane rides and #hangry moments)
  • book  and journal
  • headphones, computer, folded up flip chart paper and sharpies, work papers that I will dispose of as I go.
  • phone (doubles as camera for this trip since I’m traveling to all places I’ve been to before)

What will be in the Mary Poppins bag by the end of the trip? Follow along, or wait and see!

25 Years of Wandering Lessons

This week marked a big milestone. Travel and I hit our big 25 year-silver anniversary of being inseparable.

I know you’re wondering how is it biologically possible that Stephanie has been traveling for 25 years since she’s barely even that old?  Let’s just say that travel keeps you young.

Maybe it’s odd to you that I celebrate my travel anniversary every year. Perhaps it’s because I don’t really have another anniversary taking up calendar real-estate. More likely it is because travel has changed me and shaped me so much over the years, and I’m a pretty big fan of reflecting and growing.

Throughout the years, I’ve celebrated this day by writing about all kinds of memories and lessons like the addictive sound of my first passport stamp, how my sense of travel fashion has improved, and how I eventually realized that traveling more than half of my life didn’t help me find myself.

The truth of the matter is that travel and I have learned a lot together. And really, wouldn’t all those misadventures have been a waste if I hadn’t learned anything?

To celebrate all that she’s taught me, I decided to write down 25 wandering lessons I’ve learned–one for every year that we’ve been together.  And yes, we are aware that some of these lessons contradict other lessons in the list- but hey, that’s travel, isn’t it?

1. When in doubt buy a plane ticket

Start with the basics. If you’re thinking about going somewhere, the answer should always be yes, unless you already know that it’s no. There are plenty of trips I regret not taking, but none that I wished I hadn’t gone on.

2.The confirm button never disappoints

Just buy the damn ticket already or make the hotel reservation. There are so many options when traveling and there is never ever a perfect decision. The best decision is the one that you have already made. Seriously, you won’t regret it, press buy now. (And repeat this to yourself every time you spend days researching plane tickets even after 25 years of travel)

3.You can’t do everything

The world is full, full, full of stuff to see and do. Even if you never travel you’ll never do everything in your own home town. How could you possible to see everything in the places that you visit? Slow your roll, decide what’s important to you (not what’s important to a guide book writer) and let go of everything else.

4. There aren’t wrong choices about where you should go

Everywhere is a new adventure, and since you can’t see everything (see above), you really can’t go wrong seeing whatever it is you like exactly where you’re at. Don’t listen to unsolicited advice about where you should go. There really are no wrong choices. And if you really don’t like a place, guess what– you can leave.

5. The world is not nearly as scary as CNN and FOX news would have you believe

You’re mom wasn’t lying: Things on television are not as they are in real life. Most of the places that you fear based on what you’ve seen in the news are 99.9% occupied by regular old people worrying about their families, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, and picking their kids up from school. (You should still probably stay away from places with active wars though unless you’re being paid to go there as military or a humanitarian. War zones aren’t great travel destinations.)

6. Don’t get stressed over dimes and dollars

Money stresses me out, but on the road, you can’t be stressed over small change, because you’ll literally be stressed all the time. If you get overcharged by a dollar and can’t get the rockbottom price you want at the market don’t sweat it. You’re joy is worth a lot more. Be thrifty, but not cheap. If some small expense is going to make your travel experience remarkably better, get over your budget and just do it. It’s a cost of living.

7. A bathing suit is never (and will never be) appropriate airplane attire

No one wants to sit next to you in your bikini top, plus airplanes are cold. Keep your clothes on. (Note: This lesson was not learned by experience. It was learned by over-exposure to backpackers in bathing suits at 30,000 feet).

8. Travel styles change over time- and that’s perfectly okay

If you travel as long as I have your tastes are going to grow up on the road. You might eventually feel like a sell out because you now prefer to stay at the fancy beach resort instead of the 4$ hostel dorm that you always loved in your youth. Own the season you’re in and whatever experience you like. And don’t forget to be nice to yourself.

9. Your experience is more important than your instagram feed

If you spend all your time caring what other people think about your trip, you’re creating an image for others rather than an experience for yourself. Take pictures to capture the memories that you’re making, and for the love of God, put your phone into your pocket every now and then and use your eyes to look at the view instead of your screen.

10. When in doubt stay

If you are feeling overwhelmed, can’t decide where to go next, and are failing at implementing lessons 1 & 2 for inexplicable reasons, walk yourself to the reception desk of your hotel or hostel and book yourself in for another night. There is usually a reason for indecisiveness–channel your inner wise friend, and chill the F out. Then make your decision after you eat food and take a nap.

11. You never need to carry any more than you can lift into an overhead bin

You never need a giant suitcase. Unless you’re going somewhere long term, traveling for an occasion that requires lots of special equipment, or hauling multiple children along, you can get by- and even look good- with a modest amount of clothing. Mastering packing may take years of practice, but you should start practicing today. And even if you can lift your case into the overhead bin by yourself, it’s definitely appropriate to let the kind gentlemen from the aisle seat lift if up there for you.

12. Always take one thing out of your suitcase before you leave for the airport

Even when you become a zen master of packing, you’ll still overpack. To keep this at minimum, always take one item out of your suitcase right before you leave for the airport. There is always one thing that you won’t need or could at least live without. The worst case is that you really do need it- and that’s what shops are markets are for. See if you can make underpacking your new goal.

13. Not all clothes can be dried safely with a hotel hairdryer

Packing masters eventually also become masters of doing piecemeal laundry in hotel sinks and bathtubs. While learning this art it is important to note that some clothing will actually melt when you attempt to dry them with a hairdryer. Due to the laws of the universe the clothes that you melt will inevitably be your favorite shirt, socks and underwear. You will eventually learn to batch your washing in locations where you have ample time to air dry.

14. Solo-traveler honeymoons should be a thing

Don’t put off going to your dream destination because you’re waiting for the perfect person to take you there. Take yourself to Bora Bora. I felt awkward the first time I holidayed solo on honeymoon island, and now it’s one of my favorite things. Tahiti- check. Maldives- check. Mauritius- check. If everyone owned up to their awkward and just did this, you’d all help increase the odds of meeting other amazing people in these romantic places. (commercial interruption for couples: If you are actually planning a honeymoon, have you checked out The Honeymoon Hack?)

15. There is always another way off the island

If you happen to miss your flight out of the Seychelles, or just decide that you really want to stay another day in Maui, there is almost always an alternative option to your plans. This may cost money (consider indecision as a travel tax–see #2) but it’s always cheaper to figure out how to stay than it is to go all the way home and then pay for another trip to come back. (note: leaving the Seychelles by boat is not a viable option thanks to actual pirates. It is recommended to enjoy another day on the beach while waiting for tomorrow’s flight.)

16. Bad things will happen and prove your resilience

Bad things–some even worse than being stranded on an island–will eventually happen. These will suck. Some of them will suck at the moment, some will suck bad enough to ruin your trip, and some of them may suck so bad that you may consider going home and never traveling again. But when you eventually recover and find your wings again, you will recognize you are a resilient badass.

17. Excuses are always readily available

The world is full of reasons to not travel, or to not travel now. Fear (see #5) is a big one of these, and so is missing out on other parts of life that the people in your community will be experiencing while you are away. The problem with excuses is that they have no expiration. Excuses will keep showing up as long as you pay attention to them. Ignoring them is the only way out the door. (Note: this truth applies to both life and travel.)

18. There is always a way to make your dream trip happen

International travel doesn’t have to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Creativity and ingenuity can really take you a long way to dreaming bigger than you have before, and figuring out a way to pay for experiences that are larger than your budget. Learning this for myself took lots of trial and error. Lucky for you, if you really want a dream trip and aren’t sure how to do that, I taught a whole course on it. Seriously, you can go anywhere.

19. You’ll never get what you don’t ask for

I hate asking strangers for things, but after 25 years I’ve gotten a lot better. You know what– sometimes people actually want to help you with upgrades, information, cups of tea and rooms with views. While asking has no guarantee, not asking has a 100% rate of failure.

20. There are always trains going the opposite way

I’m always in a hurry, and I jump onto the wrong train all of the time. Even though I get very frustrated with myself every time I do this, I’ve also learned that this isn’t the end of the world. Nine times out of ten you can get off at the next stop and get on a train that will take you back the opposite way. Going backwards sucks, but most travel mistakes are reversible like this. In the 1 out of 10 situation where you can’t simply turn around to reverse course see #15. Or who knows, maybe the destination you’re going to wind up at will be the place you’re supposed to be (see #4).

21. Contribute where you visit

I’ve come to dislike the phrase “give-back” when you travel. A wise traveler should be acting in a way that isn’t taking anything away from a place. Figure out how you can let a place transform you for the better when you visit, and be cognizant of the effects of your interactions. It’s way more important to travel well than to “do good”.  An ethical traveler often does more good than many well-intentioned volunteers.

22. Your own culture is just as weird as every other culture you encounter

After you visit a lot of different place, you will eventually realize that all cultures are super weird and your own traditions seem as strange to an outsider as theirs do to you. Stretching your culture perspective will eventually help you become more open minded and grant you the ability to see your own life from an outsiders perspective.

23. Plans are sometimes good, but uncertainty can be awesome too

No one lives their regular days with a minute by minute operating plan, and the best travel doesn’t need to be conducted with this type of rigorous activity schedule either. The more comfortable you become with uncertainty, the more open you will become to adventure. You might miss something on the “best sites to see before you die list” but you’ll nearly be guaranteed to have an experience that isn’t in any book.

24. No one tells you that will get tired of traveling

Living in a perpetual state of motion is awesome. It’s also tiring AF. There should be a chapter in every “How to Become a Digital Nomad Course” that is entitled “What the hell do I do when I get really exhausted from traveling?” One day you will wake up and the thing that you’ll desire is to eat your dinner off of your own plates and not to have to decide where you are going to maybe live next. This is absolutely normal. It does not mean that you don’t want to be a traveler anymore. You may just need a year long nap, or maybe a small home base to anchor yourself between trips and cook dinner every once in awhile.

25. The best travel stories will never be all about you

We are each just a small part of the big picture of what is happening across the globe. Your very best stories will be about how this world welcomes you, the beauty you find in unexpected people and places, and the misadventures you encounter when that same world spins you in circles and spits you out and you still find the meaning in it. Learn these lessons and let these interactions become your narrative. Make sure you speak them loudly and broadly so everyone hears them and recognizes that our incredible world is still a good place.

There are so many more lessons that travel has taught me, and I’m pretty sure she’ll keep teaching me more as we continue our journey. Learning like travel is never complete.

Happy Wanderings Friends. Here’s to 25 more years.

Adventures in Advent: Reflections

OMG, it’s December.

Where did the year go? I’ve officially turned into the old person who talks about how fast time flies. Since last week’s solo Thanksgiving in Japan, I’ve slowly made my way a little further around the world and just woke up to a very sunny first morning of December in Johannesburg, South Africa.

If you’re curious after last week’s post, I’m not holiday avoiding. I’m finishing up a round-the-world trip that I began last year, making a few pit-stops on the way home to celebrate the advent season with my global friend-family, and taking a little time away in the sunshine for my 2020 planning. (Yes, I know it’s only going to be 2018. More on this later).

When I packed my bag to leave for this trip weeks ago, I did something that I often do when I’m traveling over a holiday. I threw something in my bag that would remind me to be mindful. In this case, it happened to be a pine scented candle.

The inclusion of a candle in my luggage may have been an afterthought, but it was no accident. I’m a carry-on-only girl on a trip that covers 4 continents and extreme climates- real estate in my bag is limited. I probably sacrificed at least one day without a clean shirt to bring it.

This is a magical candle, you see. It not only smells like the trails where I feel most at home in Oregon, it also smells just like I imagine Christmas does if you’re sitting around a tree rather than flying around the world. As a bonus, I’d also received this candle as a gift, so it also reminds me of the important people that I have in my life.

Two weeks into my trip, sitting in Hong Kong, I was in a planning funk (I have a serious problem with not knowing where I want to go next), and I got out the candle. In that moment I realized why I’d brought it.

This candle was meant to be my anchor for advent.

As I’d been thinking about how I wanted to re-invent rather than avoid the lead up to Christmas this year, I’d come to the conclusion that a daily meditation or reflection would most likely be more beneficial to me than a daily chocolate.

I devised a very simple plan to put the advent in my adventure. I’d Google up an advent meditation, save it to my iphone and then as I traveled through December, I’d light my candle every morning and read one reflection a day. Like a prepare-your-system-for-Christmas vitamin.

While the idea was great, I ran into a small problem with the execution. Everything I found in my advent meditation search was everything you’d expect that I’d find – traditional Christmas readings and devotions. As a spiritual person recovering from decades of religion and trying to reinvent traditions that aren’t black and white, this wasn’t what I needed.

So, I did what I tend to do when I can’t find something I like. I made my own.

Starting today, I’ll be lighting up my candle in some little corner of the globe once a day thinking through some advent things.

Not thinking about the story or the season, like I was always taught to do when I lit the advent candle and recited the Christmas story as kid. Rather, thinking about what the whole thing actually means for me as an adult today in 2017, and well beyond December.

What it means to wait, to expect, to wander in a time that feels dark, to hope, and to give.

I’m not going to share my actual reflections day to day, but if you want to join along on any of the days, here’s the list of the 25 prompts I jotted down from my heart following my failed Google attempt. And of course they may change–or you can change them yourself. Always trust your intuition over the internet. Do you.

*Pine scented candle is not required for participation.

Advent Reflections

  1. What is advent really about to me?
  2. What does it mean to welcome a stranger? To be a stranger?
  3. Is there meaning to advent outside of traditional religion?
  4. If advent is about … Watching, what am I paying attention to?
  5. What is the path I want to be on? How am I preparing?
  6. If advent is about … Expectation in waiting. What is my expectation?
  7. If advent is about … Welcoming others. How am I living this in my life?
  8. If advent is about … Hope. How am I shaped by it?
  9. What am I counting down to?
  10. If advent is about … Presence. What does this mean in my experience?
  11. What hopes do I need to be reinvented or restored?
  12. If advent is about … Generosity. How am I being generous with my life?
  13. What is the impact of my advent on others?
  14. How can I show love better this week? This season?
  15. If advent is about … Showing up, how am I showing up?
  16. Ritual vs. Real. What does this mean to me?
  17. What is the role of my community in celebration & expectation?
  18. Where can I give something of myself this week?
  19. What does the Christmas liturgy actually mean to my life?
  20. What do I really want for Christmas?
  21. What are my hopes for the year ahead?
  22. If advent is about … Anticipation. What is this about?
  23. Where is the margin for advent waiting in a life focused on hustle?
  24. What is the role of darkness in visualizing hope?
  25. Gifts. What have I been given and how can I give these back to the world?

 

 

Thanksgiving Dinner: Party of One

Happy holiday weekend from Japan. Technically Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday here, and you’re probably reading this after Thanksgiving is over – but who cares.

In theory, Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. Even though I don’t eat turkey, I’m a pretty big fan of gratitude and giving.

This year I celebrated solo by eating a tofu feast for one in Japan’s oldest zen garden, then hunted down some soft-serve pumpkin ice cream from a market stall in Kyoto. It may sound terribly untraditional and even a bit lonely to you, but let me tell you, it was joyfully divine.

I certainly have a lot to be thankful for this year. But I also have a thanksgiving confession: the holiday season isn’t my favorite.

As a semi-nomadic, unattached adult, holidays are often really weird days for me.

For 361 days of the year, I love most things about being independent. Then the holidays sneak up and the voices whisper in that dark part of my brain that another year has passed and I still don’t actually belong anywhere.

I love the idea of Thanksgiving, but I partly dread it as another day where I don’t know where I want to go. And Thanksgiving also carries with it the burden of kicking off a whole month of wondering about what I should do for Christmas.

Truth is, holiday traditions aren’t very friendly to a lot of us. These milestone days remind us of loved ones we’ve lost, opportunities missed, years passed, and unfulfilled desires. And all this really sucks.

Avoidance vs. Reinvention

Years ago, when I realized that independent holiday adulting is actually very difficult emotional work, I coincidentally also happened to discover holiday travel. By geographically excusing myself from November and December, I learned that I could dodge my annual holiday-belonging dilemma.

Avoidance, unfortunately, is never a great long-term solution.

Lucky for me, in addition to being a master avoider, I’m also a master observer and learner. Early on in my pattern of overseas holiday avoidance (shrouded in the guise of expat living) I noticed something very interesting – different countries, cultures, and communities are re-inventing holidays for their own interest all of the time.

Japan, for example, doesn’t have anything to do with American Thanksgiving, but every single shopping mall I passed this weekend had a Black Friday sale. Go figure.

Living overseas, I quickly became part of a global community full of people like me who were away from their own families and traditions during the holidays. None of us were around the people we belonged to, so together we teamed up as a motley tribe to create unusual holiday celebrations that were based on connection, community, and mindfulness. And these were the best.

It’s been a few years now since I’ve been “home”, but my years of holiday avoidance taught me a very useful lesson: I can reinvent my holidays to make them whatever I want. To frame them with what I do have, and celebrate the small things that bring me joy is much more practical (and fun) than to try to fit into traditions that don’t align with who I am.

Having dinner alone in Japan wasn’t my number one choice for Thanksgiving. But instead of fixating on being lonely, I thought about a quote I’d heard earlier this week.

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

Instead of sulking, I sat down and made a list of all the things that would bring me the most joy that day. Walking in a beautiful place, sitting in a hot spring, eating something special, drinking matcha, talking to my family, texting my best friends around the world, and eating pumpkin ice cream because it just felt right.

And then I did all these things alone with as much joy as I could muster. And it was so much better than not eating turkey in a big group where I felt lonely.

The Lesson

No matter what your love/hate relationship status is with the holidays, I’ll leave you with this: This month doesn’t have to feel all “It’s a wonderful life”-like to confirm that you have a wonderful life.

Throw out traditions that don’t serve you well. Reinvent this season to be whatever you need it to be for you.

That’s what I’ll be doing…. Or maybe I’ll be traveling.

Hello Again: The Art of Getting my Words Unstuck

I’ve always believed that new beginnings are more powerful when they are grounded in vulnerability rather than sheer resolve. So I’ll start my return to the internet with a confession: I’ve been stuck.

The self-protecting part of me would like to pretend I’ve been gone a long while from here because I’ve been off creating amazing things, discovering more of the world, and just haven’t had time for life on the internet. While some of this is accurate, the bigger truth is that I’ve been quiet because I’ve been stuck in that horrible place of letting the culture of ‘who I should be’ silence who I am.

I didn’t leave you on purpose. Six months ago, I accidentally crashed Wandering for Good when I was building the website for The Honeymoon Hack (a travel hacking tool for couples which is, in fact, an amazing thing I did create while I was absent). And I crashed it in style–losing years of words that I’d collected while wandering around the world.

Had I been sensible I’d have straightaway paid a developer to fix the mess I’d created, but sense is not the strong-suit of a DIY girl with serious resolve (and minimal coding skills). After a small success in recovering some of my work, my inner-bohemian rose up and got me wondering if it all didn’t happen for a reason. I was completely unsure, so I responded by doing what internet hustlers do–I pretended it was on purpose. I threw up an under construction page promising that my site was coming back soon–and better than ever before.

Lesson: Two lies never make a truth.

That “coming back soon” page stayed up a really long time. Only behind it, I wasn’t working on making my site better, and I certainly wasn’t in any hurry. I kept ‘rebuild website’ on my very long to do list– but at the heart I was paralyzed in not knowing how I wanted to re-invent my online brand, grow my audience, and all of the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah the digital-business world tells us we have to do to be successful.

Weeks turned into months, and the longer I went not having a website, the less pressure I felt to be an internet rockstar. Part of this separation was liberating, yet there was one thing that I missed. I missed the words. And I missed this place I’d carved out to gather with you over these stories and lessons.

I wanted those words back, but every time I’d come here to write them, I’d get stuck again. I’d take my eyes off my own paper looking for inspiration of how to create that new and improved page I promised to house them on, and then I’d spiral into overwhelm. My words were lost. I wasn’t only stuck, I was silenced by comparison.

Then  I ran into someone else’s words, and they moved me:

“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” – Tom Stoppard

I finally realized, my words don’t have to look pretty to change a life. To nudge the world. I was stuck on something that didn’t matter while all the while I was holding captive something that did.

And so here are my words. Delivered to you today on the most un-improved and un-inspiring wordpress template that exists. Maybe it will get prettier over time, but that isn’t a promise. If you want to see pretty pictures of my color-coated life you can look at my carefully curated presence on Instagram.

For now, my promise here is to show up here regularly to bring you words. Messy words, joyful words, words colored in black and white.

But most importantly words bathed in a prayer that by reading them together that we shall all nudge the world a little.

 

February Roundup: Giving Matters

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February, my favorite short month flew by, and we’ve already completed a whole month of the #Give10 Reboot.To be completely honest, February didn’t feel short or easy. A lot of things happening around the world have made my heart feel sad. Some days it’s easiest to bury my head in the sand–or more realistically–in my case–search for plane tickets to escape to a tropical island far far away with no internet or CNN reception

Giving has been one small thing to make me feel empowered, and the positive response to #give10 is a great reminder that I’m not alone. Thanks to everyone who has offered suggestion for organizations that are committed to fighting the good fight against injustices of all forms. Thanks to those of you who’ve joined me in protesting inequality with your wallets, and thanks to each of you who’ve offered dialogue and conversation in both support and disagreement in an effort to cross bridges and come to places of mutual understanding.

Here’s a list of the organizations we’ve supported this month. Which ones do you support? Which ones are we missing? Be sure to follow us @Give10 on Facebook and let us know which organizations you’d like to see us support and why.

  1. Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization Portland – IRCO
  2. World Relief Refugee Resettlement
  3. International Rescue Committee
  4. Committee to Protect Journalists
  5. Polaris Project
  6. Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services
  7. Church World Service
  8. Immigration Counseling Service
  9. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops- USCCB
  10. US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
  11. EuroRelief
  12. Catholic Relief Services
  13. Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDCUS)
  14. Giving Cards Challenge
  15. Episcopal Migration Ministries
  16. HIAS
  17. ACLU
  18. PBS
  19. Oregon Symphony
  20. Portland Art Museum
  21. National Parks Conservation Association
  22. Alzheimer’s Association
  23. Raphael House of Portland
  24. Artists for Humanity Boston
  25. Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights
  26. Maternity Africa
  27. Embark Passion Sri Lanka
  28. Trail SL

Onward into March giving!

Flying Solo on Honeymoon Island: Lessons Learned in Traveling Alone

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I mostly travel alone. Sometimes it is by choice, and sometimes it is simply because I’m not one to let my perpetually single status stop me from doing anything I dream of doing.

To be honest, most times I travel solo, I don’t even notice. I’m pretty awesome company (I think), and there are always people to talk to on the road. Plus with modern capabilities to connect from the remotest places, I’m never further than a Facetime away from my mother when I get tired of talking to myself. She always likes to see what I’m seeing.

Yet, even as independent as I can be, there are times that I choose to not go somewhere because I’m solo. And it isn’t just about safety. There are lots of reasons that cause the unaccompanied to press pause on their travel plans.

For years I’d wanted to travel to the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora and sleep in an overwater bungalow with tropical fish below me. But I put it off, and I put it off. Pushing pause on my dream time and time again.

You see, the entire tourism structure of Bora Bora is designed to cater to couples—destination weddings, honeymooners, and 25th anniversary celebrators. The airlines might as well sell tickets by the pair. Part of me was waiting for +1 to present to Air Tahiti to validate my worthiness to see this Polynesian paradise.

It wasn’t until recently that I said, F*%& it. My +1 is apparently lost in the Bermuda Triangle or undertaking a very extended journey across the Sahara. And so I went to Bora Bora by myself. Honeymoon island, party of one.

In all of my alone time watching the fish swim in the crystal clear lagoon from the perch of my over-the-water bungalow dock I spent some time reflecting on what really stops many of us from solo travel—and why we should do it anyway.

If you’re struggling with any of these reasons of why you shouldn’t travel alone, here’s some real reasons you should ignore them.

Reason not to go #1: It isn’t a solo-traveler kind of place.
Like Bora Bora, many of the most beautiful destinations in the world have been turned into “honeymoon hot-spots” and “romantic getaways”. Some places are tagged “family destinations”. Other places just have reputations for being more difficult to see solo. Most of this is a marketing ploy. At honeymoon resorts, tables are for two–but who cares. You have just as much right to take up space in your dream destination as any one else- and you don’t have to share the bread basket.

Lesson: If you want to go somewhere solo do your own research and don’t let the reputation of the place stop you from going. There are single people everywhere in the world (therefore there is no destination that isn’t solo-appropriate with a little bit of creativity). There are also ways that you can connect up with other solo travelers if you feel more confident being part of a group.

Reason not to go #2: Other people question why you’d go there alone

When I checked into the Intercontinental in Bora Bora, the woman working at reception asked me three times where my husband was. Her disbelief that I was in Bora Bora by myself was palpable. “Just one? Are you sure? No husband?”
I replied with a question- “Do you not have many guests with single bookings?”
“Well, we’ve had one other this week—a man,” she said. “Maybe you should meet.”
(sidenote: I wasn’t aware that the IHG hotel group was now offering matchmaking as part of its benefits for elite members.)

Lesson: When it comes to travel (and, well, a lot of other things) the lesson that I’ve learned is that it really doesn’t matter what other people think about where you want to go and if you want to be there by yourself. Sure, you may have to explain your situation, but why not make it fun and be true to what you want? Most of the travelers I talked to were intrigued about why I was there alone. I used this opportunity to talk to them about a new travel guide I’m writing (stay tuned) and handed out more business cards in Bora Bora than I do at a typical networking event.

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The wedding chapel at the Intercontinental in Bora Bora (convenient for when that elite matchmaking works out)

Reason not to go #3: You won’t be safe
Most people assume that safety is the primary concern of solo travelers—and solo female travelers in particular. However, as I’ve talked to more and more female travelers I’ve learned that safety isn’t often their biggest fear—they are much more afraid of being lonely and not having anyone to share their trip with. While safety isn’t always at the top of the list for what holds people back—or at the top of your worries in a pretty peaceful place like Bora Bora staying safe on the road is still important.

Lesson: The thing I’ve learned from years of solo globetrotting and my own run-ins with danger, is that staying safe on the road is very much like staying safe at home. Know where you’re going, be intentional when you’re wandering around alone in the dark, stick to areas with people, make local connections and ask if there are places that you should stay away from.

I always opt for situations that make me feel safe—even when they cost a few dollars extra. When I booked my ticket to Tahiti, the only flight available arrived late at night, so I booked the hotel’s shared shuttle. Normally I’d hop outside and hail a taxi to save a few bucks, but for my own security, an extra 10$ ensured that I’d be with other people and not looking for an ATM in the dark and negotiating with a taxi driver in bad French at midnight. (Note – doing things that aren’t safe alone when you’re at home are also not safe to do when you’re traveling–make a friend to do things that require a safety buddy)

Reason not to go #4: You’ll be lonely
Being alone does not always equal being lonely. By the time I left Bora Bora and Tahiti, I’d made a dozen new and very interesting friends: My over-the-water bungalow neighbor who had patented an inflatable tent and was celebrating his 25th anniversary, an American sailor who’d just finished a 31 day crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Mexico in his 26 foot sailboat, two Belgian grandfathers on a dive trip who wanted to buy me beer and talk about pre-election U.S. politics, and a dozen honeymooning and anniversary-ing couples who were really thrilled to have an unusual person to talk to after a week on an island with only their significant other.

Lesson: Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing (It’s worth repeating). The world is full of amazing people and amazing stories and people worth talking to. You don’t have to be that chatty person on the airplane who talks for the whole flight to make friends (please, don’t be him/her)—just be friendly. Just do you.

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Reason not to go #5: You’ve never traveled alone before

Maybe you aren’t single, maybe you just wonder what having a solo adventure would be like, or you want to go somewhere that your partner doesn’t want to go–but you’ve never traveled alone before and aren’t sure if you’ll like it. Well, one thing is for certain, you’ll never know unless you try it. When I was preparing to take my first solo backpacking trip around Indonesia I confess I was a little nervous (even though I was already living alone in Thailand) so I faced my fear and took myself on a practice weekend trip to a Thai island all by myself–and I was totally fine!

Lesson: Think about what makes you afraid of traveling solo and figure out a way to practice so you can reassure yourself you’ll be okay on the road. Worried about being alone? Get in your car by yourself and go on a weekend road trip. Worried about flying alone? Practice with some domestic flights by yourself.

I’m guessing you’re stronger, braver, and more prepared than you believe. I definitely learned that I was.

Happy Solo Travels!