Packing Tips from a Longterm Backpacker

Are you considering a vacation, a month away, or even long term travel? Living out of a backpack may seem daunting at first, but once you learn how to pack up everything you need, it’s actually pretty easy. Furthermore, living with less is so much more simple than having a closet full of things. It simplifies decision making and makes cleaning up a breeze!

Backpacking Tips
My backpack and I when I first started, my 3rd day in China.

There are two things of equal importance in my book when it comes to packing for backpacking style travel, both short and long term. One is packing what you need and needing what you pack and two: your bag itself.
1. When choosing what will become your shell, your home on your back, comfort is key and a good design is helpful. Choose a backpack that suits your body. If you are small, short stature, or petite, a small bag is best. Don’t get something that towers over you and weighs you down. And even if you can carry a larger bag, ask yourself if you will want to, or even need to. I’m 5’3” (160 cm) and carry a small/medium 44 liter Kelly Redwing pack and it’s perfect. It has a sturdy waist strap, a chest strap, and best of all, perfect compartments. Choose a backpack that can zip open in the front, not a stuff in from the top style bag. That way, you can unzip it and take out what you need without making a mess.
2. Organization is essential. Use packing cubes and small bags to organize specific items. Of all the things in my bag, I actually have more bags than anything else! You can order packing cubes on Amazon or pick them up at some markets if you’re in Asia. They typically come in a variety of sizes per set and mine came with a laundry bag as well. I chose the largest cube to hold all of my pants/shorts/leggings, the medium for shirts and tops, and the small one for undergarments like underwear, my bathing suit, bras, and sports bras. I have a smaller bag for socks that I stick inside of it. All of my clothes fit into three small cubes and they go in the main compartment of my pack.

Backpacking Tips
What I’m currently carrying.

3. Keep essential items close by and non-essential, but necessary items in a lesser accessible area. I keep all of my toiletries in a toiletry bag in the right side pocket and a make up bag in the left. It’s always been like that and I never have to fumble around looking for some basic items like my toothbrush and toothpaste. In an even smaller bag that I picked up in Mongolia, I have some hair elastics and barrettes. They stay at the bottom of that outer pocket. The items that I use less frequently, like medicines, a poncho, and my headlamp, are at the bottom of my bag or in the top pocket.
4. Don’t overpack. Before you head out on your adventure, consider the activities in which you will participate. Ensure you have what you need for those main things, like hiking boots if you will be hiking, but if there’s something you won’t need often, don’t take it. There may be certain things that are a must have for you, but weigh the pros and cons and determine if lugging it around will be worth it. I wish I had my own mask and snorkel because I have some quality gear in my small storage unit back home, but carrying it around is cumbersome and space consuming. Although I enjoy snorkeling, it’s not a main focus of my trip so I make do with the cheap equipment available on the different boat and island hopping tours I’ve done.
As you get further into your travels, you will develop a system that’s quick, easy, and works for you. I always allocate a ton of time to pack up before I go somewhere, but the reality is, it usually only takes me a few minutes. I don’t know why I think it will take a long time, I do it regularly and with all the same stuff!
I just wanna delve a bit deeper into my own organizational skills! I do like to be organized, but because I don’t buy souvenirs, (space is an issue, of course), much of what I do buy is functional, if I do buy anything at all. Here’s a breakdown of my bags:
1. New “laundry bag.” I left my original one back in the States for some reason, so I bought a cloth bag in Laos that I can use as a grocery bag when I go home. Sometimes it’s empty, sometimes it’s full!
2. Embroidered toiletry bag from Thailand. I love these bags, they fit perfectly in the side pocket of my pack, and I love the colors and designs that you can find them in. I have bought many for others as gifts as well!
3. Hair elastic drawstring bag. My only souvenir from Mongolia, it doesn’t take up any space and holds all my hair ties, which would have otherwise been lost by this point.
4.Blue mesh zip bag. I picked this up in Vietnam to hold some “emergency” items, medicine, band aids, and that sort of thing. I never use them, but have them if I need them.
5. Textile half oval shaped zip bag: my one souvenir from Bhutan. I bought it to house my electronic accessories: my power bank cord, iPad plug, and my Vivoactive charger.
6.Green embroidered bag: another souvenir from Laos. I just couldn’t pass it up. I loved the colors and embroidery. I even bought one for my Bangladeshi host, Humaira. I put a bunch of misc. items in it like my head lamp, a small flashlight, and the chest strap to my heart rate monitor that I never use. (It won’t connect. Sad face).
7. Blue elephant coin purse. My cousin bought a buttload (official term) of these in Chinatown in Thailand for less than $2.00. I took one to replace the Lululemon one I used. I keep small bills in it and only use that for cash transactions. That way, I’m never pulling my wallet out in public and if something ever happens (God forbid), nobody would gain much from stealing it.
8. Water bottle holder. Yet another souvenir from Laos. That thing is so handy. You gotta keep hydrated in humid Southeast Asia and holding a bottle all day is annoying. I wish I could have bought 100 to give away to friends and family!
9. Plastic make up bag. Just a run of the mill, durable toiletry bag. It came with a suitcase I bought back in the states a long time ago.
10. Multicolor zip bag: my mom gave me this before I left, before I perfected my packing system. It currently holds my Diva burn sample packs. I just like it so I still have it.
11.Eddie Bauer Stowaway Bag. This 21 liter bag is actually pretty awesome. I bought it this summer at an outlet and it’s handy and compact. I use it for day trips, beach trips, and sometimes as a carry on.
12. Eddie Bauer three zip over the shoulder bag. Another handy bag. I don’t like carrying much with me so I use it while I’m out. It fits my phone, wallet, sunglasses, and a few other small items.
13. Eddie Bauer tablet over the shoulder bag. Perfectly fits my iPad.

Backapacking Tips
Your pack can always doble as a weight. Doing squats at the train station in Ella, Sri Lanka.

Oh my goodness! I have a ton of bags. I’m a bag lady! I even have 3 more small ones I gained while in the Philippines. One from a hotel and two from a survey I completed while at the airport in Manila. Crazy thing is, I want them and even think I can use them. 😂🙈 But guess what? All of these things simplify my packing and make the process like a game of Tetris. I’m a good player, it all fits!
What about you? Are you a bag lady? Have you perfected your art of packing? What’s your favorite souvenir to collect while abroad? As for me, I think I need a few more bags! Next up, I need to do a post on what to pack for long term travel.

El Nido and the Palawan Basic To Do

My feelings on the Philippines.
So many yet so few and more importantly, I made it out unscathed! 😅 The Philippines are one of the places you often hear warnings about, but as always, you have to be alert and keep your head on a swivel. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I also didn’t feel super safe. Either way, as a solo female traveler, it’s important to stay vigilant, no matter where you are. Now, my typical “slow” travel style has taken a quicker pace. I have less than three months left of this crazy Asian Adventure and I have places to go and things to do. I only spent nine days in the Philippines not including the two travel days (on each end) and it seemed like I was mostly traveling anyway. Like anywhere in Asia, getting from point A to point B takes time and I took some bus, boat, van, and plane rides on the regular.
With such a short visit, I don’t have a great summary of this varied country, but I can say the nature I did see was stunning. Here are my main thoughts overall:

Port Barton, Palawan, Philippines
Amazing islands, amazing beaches.

1. Filipinos listen to an inordinate amount of “soft rock” from the 70s and 80s. It plays on the radio everywhere you may go. From Cebu to Palawan to public busses and local restaurants, you could often hear Boston, Chicago, Air Supply, even Led Zepplin, and many others. I actually didn’t mind it. It reminded me of home, my mom, and some of the tunes I remember her listening to when I was a kid, Total Eclipse of the Heart being one of them. When I asked some locals about it, they really couldn’t explain this phenomena of the popularity of soft rock, it just is!

Fish Filet and Pumpkin Curry
Pumpkin and potatoes have some healthy nutrients!

2. Food. Ugh. Meat and fat and rice. Sounds like a good keto diet minus the rice but all so unhealthy. I had some vegetables on a few occasions, and that was restricted to mostly eggplant and pumpkin. So much of the meat is full of fat and the Filipinos like their pork! (But, the boat tour BBQs were awesome). As an RD it’s a little concerning as heart disease and diabetes rates must be pretty high (although I never looked). And while in the West we think of Asians as typically being slender, that’s not the case in many places and that goes for the Philippines as well. Sorry, but I see a lot of unhealthy people and lifestyle practices here.

Filipino Beach BBQ
Part of the bbq we had while on Tour A in El Nido.

3. Transportation. I’ve seen so many styles of transportation with a motorbike of some sort as the main base and in the Philippines, they use “tricycles,” a sort of covered motorbike car with an attached seat. Honestly, I thought they were quite ugly yet many of them are well kept, painted with various designs, and some even have real car ornaments on the front. They are a cheap way to get around the cities and towns on the islands and I felt most drivers were pretty honest with pricing (I always asked locals average fare before I headed out).

Filipino Tricycle
A funny looking tricycle.

4. Christianity. Having spent the majority of the last 16 months in predominantly Buddhist nations and a few Islamic ones, it was different seeing churches. I don’t know how religious the Filipinos are, but I saw a lot of churches and make shift churches everywhere I went.

5. Interesting conversations with locals about my physique: While pointing at me, one man asked, “Oh wow, do you play… Do you play dumbbells?” And another, our “Tour A” guide: “I like your muscles. Do you play KFC?” There was a chuckle about the crowd, then the guide laughed, “Not KFC, UFC!” So, I’m a non-fighting UFC and dumbbell player in the Philippines!

Kayaking In El Nido
Not playing dumbbells, but getting a back and shoulder workout nevertheless!

6. After 11 days, I still want to spell Philippines with two Ls and one P.

Those random things are my take home thoughts as well as the beauty I saw at my main destination: Palawan, one of the more northwestern of the 1,700 Filipino Islands. Puerto Princessa is the capital of Palawan, and after spending a full day there, I can tell you, skip it. It’s best as a transit point and is just a busy city without any real beaches. And don’t go to “Pristine Beach.” It’s far from pristine, take my word for it. I’ll spare you the pictures.

Mantinloc Island, Palawan
Keep it clean and pristine!

El Nido is magical but a growing area, so that in and of itself brings up issues my brain cannot ignore. How do you preserve such a pristine place while people want to visit it? I’d actually read some posts telling people NOT to go because development and tourism is ruining the ecosystem there. But I had to… In my defense I skipped swimming with the whale sharks on Cebu as that also affects ecosystems, but I won’t lie, a part of me regrets skipping it. Feeding animals alters migratory patterns and teaching them it’s ok to approach boats could eventually get them injured. But who doesn’t want to swim with the biggest fish in the world?!
One of the things I liked about El Nido, aside from the obvious beauty of visiting tropical islands, was that the boat tour guides actually tell you not to touch things, not to touch coral, not to touch animals, and not to take anything. They also don’t feed the fish and have support from the World Wildlife Fund (who also recently declared 1 million hectares of marine protected area in Palawan) to promote ecotourism to draw visitors to the area instead of exploiting the land and sea. In developing countries this happens no matter what, but hopefully with the right partnerships and focus, this can be minimized. There’s a huge benefit. El Nido and Port Barton, the two places I visited, were truly stunning. The coral reefs are lush and vibrant and have very little to no trash in them. In this day and age with all the trash in the world, that’s nearly unheard of. Plus, coral reefs are the birthplace of so much of the life in our seas and oceans. That’s a huge part of the food chain.

Fun in the sun.
Fun in the sun.

I really enjoyed all of the activities on the boat tours I went on. It’s the thing to do, especially when limited on time. Hop on a tour and take a closer look. In El Nido I went on Tour A and Tour C, all in all, simply island hopping. Despite the rainy season, I was lucky enough to get some sunny days and see the sea and islands in all their rays of sunshiny glory!
While my time in the Philippines was short, I did enjoy it and hold dear the experiences I had. Seeing islands like Palawan is just a dream come true, even for me, someone who has been traveling for nearly a year and a half now. If you ever make the trek that way, please do some advance planning (unlike me). There was more I could have done but just didn’t have the time. Check out the Underground River, Port Barton, and Coron. Maybe vary it up and fly into Puerto Princessa and out of El Nido or Coron to somewhere else. It’s more expensive, but a time saver. In El Nido, check out Spin Designer Hostel, http://spinhostel.com. It was the most expensive hostel I’ve been to in Asia (about $17/night), but it’s new, clean, spacious, and all rooms only have four beds and air conditioning.

Spin Designers Hostel
The common area at Spin.

There is a daily breakfast buffet complete with an egg station and they provide free coffee in the afternoon as well, which is nice after a day out on the boat! It’s a great place to mix, mingle, and meet other travelers, even when you’re the 39 year old granny of the group. 😆 I also enjoyed having a burrito at the “Burrito Bar” in the small downtown area. It’s not really Mexican, but close enough. There is a gym as well, “Peak Gym,” which was great for my rainy down day. Swimming and kayaking on the sea and weights in between. Oh, and just beware WiFi is limited at best, so don’t plan on being too connected while in town.

Asia Gym
Another basic gym in Asia, but at least I could play dumbbells. 😆

So, all in all a good time and mainly, I saw some of the beauty on Palawan, met new people, and made some new friends. I got in more workouts than expected, stayed in some really nice places, and got some work done as well so no complaints from me!

Nutrition Education in Developing Nations

Sampon Boat, Bangladesh
Sometimes when you travel, you have a lot of time to think about things.

This is kind of a random “other” post blog, but these things are always on my mind and I felt like putting them down onto internet paper. I just got back from a week in Bangladesh and have even more things on my to do list now yet the more I travel, the more tired I’m becoming. Maybe a good break early next year will be good and I can start putting some ideas into motion!

If you follow me on FB, you may know I applied for a fellowship with Duke University through the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics. The Academy is the regulating body for registered dietitians in the US and the goal of the fellowship is to address chronic malnutrition in Central America through conducting a “mapping of the existing interventions and an assessment of the steps needed to address chronic malnutrition in Central America.” When this fellowship was announced, I was so excited. Having wanted to work in world nutrition for the past 10 years now, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I updated my resume and wrote a cover letter for the position. I did my best to convey my passion to work in this area, but I got no response between the application deadline and the start of the interview process. I emailed to follow up and I was told the interview period was extended. They received more applications than expected so I guess it was going to take longer to make a decision. I never heard back. I was a little crushed, I won’t lie, but the fact that the opportunity came up turned out to be a good thing. It reignited a passion that I’d let die down. I began looking for other opportunities, I followed some NGOs on Instagram, and I even applied for an international independent contractor position through the United Nations Operations website. The position is based in Yangon, Myanmar (woo hoo, one of my favorite countries), but it’s more related to nutrition policy and less field work. The application deadline was extended. It seems like an obscure position so I think they didn’t get enough applicants, but I also did not hear back from them, unfortunately. Anything to get my foot in the door with a big aid organization would be like getting a golden ticket!

Swedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
The golden Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

Back to my travels for a bit. When I began, I thought I would find some way to work or volunteer with an organization that has some focus on nutrition. Aside from my month long stay in Kathmandu, that has not happened. Since then, however, my friend Asta has been developing her NGO, World Friendship Nepal. They work with mothers and children to educate them on healthy, post partum practices. Uterine prolapse is a common occurrence in Nepal and the NGO is teaching women what they can do to protect themselves. Because the primary focus is on women and children, Asta wants to incorporate nutrition education as well because as we all know, child nutrition is so important! She will be using the documents we put together when I was in Nepal last year.

Nutrition Education in Nepal
Nutrition Education in Nepal

There are tons of aid organizations and NGOs out there, but it’s a matter of finding one that wants to align with a dietitian and place an emphasis on nutrition education. I’ve yet to find that perfect position or opportunity, so I swear I’m somehow going to create it for myself! Something must be done. Large aid organizations help in developing countries, they donate food, deliver supplements, and help with farming practices, but I know more can be done. I want to do research on how these organizations operate. What do they do, what do they donate, and why? What systems can be improved upon? How many people are out in the field? How many are in offices? I’ve read so many plans and policies to improve nutrition outcomes over time, but let’s stop wasting time writing up these documents. We need people out there, getting into these remote villages and connecting with people. Uniceff has a big vitamin a supplementation program, but why supplement? So many of the nations that are vitamin a deficient have foods rich in vitamin a. There are so many issues involved with supplementation programs, so why not teach people improved farming practices, introduce new, nutrient dense crops? I’m not saying these things are not being done, they are, but MORE can be done, right? The WFP does food drops and staple donations. But sometimes, these staples just fill, they don’t properly nourish. We need to start from the ground, literally, by planting better, and more nutrient dense crops. Yikes! I’m getting ahead of myself because in order to do that, you need to change culture and that’s not an easy feat. Rice here in Asia rules, yet it is so nutrient void. I wish people could really understand that and make a shift.

Plate of Rice
A plate of white rice, the centerpiece to any Bangladeshi meal.

I wish I knew more. I wish I could learn some languages in remote villages, I wish I could live and work alongside locals and see how they eat and live. I wish I could befriend them and teach them about nutrition for their own benefit. Basic nutrition practices can have such positive lifelong benefits.
Even though I love fitness and working with athletes and bodybuilders, the most dramatic changes take place at the basic level. Eating the right foods can easily prevent so many avoidable diseases.
I don’t know where the future will bring me. I’ve begun contemplating starting a PhD. Maybe I can create a long term project in some remote village, working in conjunction with a small, legit NGO. If anything, I’ve come up with some recipe ideas in my head for therapeutic supplements that are far more nutrient dense than existing products currently on the market. But, with superior quality comes higher costs. I can definitely see myself experimenting in my kitchen (next time I have my own, that is).

Purple Sweet Potatoes
Purple Sweet Potatoes in Laos.

I don’t know how all NGOs work, I don’t know if I can partner with one, but whatever the case, some day I will do/make/create something to somehow alleviate some of the malnutrition in this world. Vitamin A deficiency seems to me to be a key target and sweet potatoes are calling my name. I’m going to start a sweet potato revolution, I just have to figure out how to do it. So much more learning to do!

How to Get a Visa on Arrival in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Just in case anyone ever searches how to get a visa on arrival to Bangladesh, now you will know! If you are not a US citizen, check the regulations for your country.

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I’d done some research on line prior to my arrival in Dhaka and learned a visa on arrival is possible, although the details were a bit muddy. I hoped I’d be ok given the info I read on the US State Department website, so I skipped going to the Bangladeshi Embassy in Bangkok and took off with high hopes. When we arrived, I followed the crowd and came down a staircase with a sign welcoming you to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. There are two small security gates on the right you have to pass through and the VOA arrival desk is right there, just beyond the sparsely covered “health desk.”
I stood in line for 60 minutes. There were only 4 people ahead of me. In the meantime, another flight landed and a bunch of Chinese were in line. One came in front of me waving a paper in the officer’s face. Hell no. I’ve been in line for an hour, you’re not cutting me.
A Thai airways rep came to the desk and asked if anyone had luggage. We’d been in line for so long those who didn’t need a visa on arrival were likely long gone, along with their belongings. I hoped my bag would be there when I exited.
I chatted with a guy in line on an emergency medical mission for UNICEFF to Cox’s Bazar to help out with the Roginga issue.
At the visa desk, I spoke to two different officers. They were kind, but asked a slew of questions. They even called my contact here. She said she would be taking her exams and her phone was off. I thought I’d be stuck until she answered, but he motioned for me to go pay the VOA fees. I’d planned for $50 according to the US Embassy website. It was $51, but no big deal, now I just have a bunch of small bills in my wallet. Your length of stay with a visa on arrival is 15-30, discretion given by the officer. They knew, according to my paperwork, I’d be here for 7 days. I showed him the itinerary for my flights on my phone. I guess I could have made things easier by printing it out. Luckily he granted me a random 9 days. If you want a visa for a longer period, you have to have more documents and more money. A 1-5 year visa is $160 and must be arraigned prior to arrival.
He asked if I knew how to get to where I was staying and where it was. He’d already asked if it was my first time here so he clearly knew I didn’t know the city. I explained to him a 2nd time I was waiting for my friend and she would pick me up when she was done with her exam at 2:00.
When the officer finally gave me my passport back, I was relieved. I was also a bit disappointed that my visa was just a small stamp that took up a quarter of a page in my new, big passport. Before I would have been happy, but now that I have plenty of space in there, I wanna fill it up!

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Not only did the VOA process take a long time, but immigration as well. There were 7 people in front of me and I waited for over 20 minutes. What takes so long? When I got to the desk, he said I was good to go because I already had my visa. Most places require you to go through immigration even if you have a visa. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam require it and I have full page visas from those countries and got two out of three on arrival.
Hamina, my host, had messaged she’d finish her exams at 2:00. We landed at noon. Soon I was out the door and we met. Even though Dhaka reminds me a bit of Kathmandu, it’s always an adjustment arriving to a new place. Glad I’m not a solo traveler here and being with a local host is great.

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Enjoy your visit!

 

Why I paid $210 for a hotel room and how I got a free plane ticket home.

A free ticket home?!

I received an email from United MileagePlus. It was about a partnership with an app called RocketMiles. Earn miles every time you book a hotel room through the app. As a budget traveler, I figured the available hotels wouldn’t be in my budget, but I downloaded it anyway.

Rocket Miles View- Mobile Version

When I got the email, I had 20,800 frequent flier miles with United. I know some are not United fans, but I’ve flown them quite a bit over the years. I’ve amassed and used my miles over and over for different award tickets. I even went round trip to Peru (for two) using those miles.

Machu Picchu, Peru. 2013

Every dollar I spend on my United credit card I get a mile. I looked at hotels via the RocketMiles app in all the cities I’ve yet to visit: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Ho Chi Minh, and more. Of all those places, there was one hotel in Siem Reap that would give me 6,000 miles. But, it costs $210 per night. Yikes, that’s not within my budget.

I researched, did math, thought, researched some more, thought harder… Then I got yet another email. “Book by Friday and you’ll get an additional 3,000 miles.” So wait. I’ll pay $210 for the room and get 210 miles = about 21,000 miles. 6,000 for booking at this one hotel that’s offering more miles for the per night stay price than seemingly any other in SE Asia = 27,000 miles. 3,000 bonus miles = 30,000 miles.

Guess what 30,000 miles can get? An award ticket from Santiago, Chile (where I plan on finish up my travels next year) to Boston. Well, it costs 30,000 miles and $53. My “research” was checking regular ticket costs from Santiago to Boston. The cheapest ones are currently $540. So I based my decision on the following:
Hotel Room: $210
Award ticket: $53
Total: $263

Reg ticket: $540
$540-263=$277 savings AND, I get a fancy place to spend the night. Not that I need it, BUT it will help later when I need a ticket to go home. Furthermore, I spent the last ten days house and dog sitting via workaway, so I didn’t spend money on a place. I allocate myself about $30/d, but if I break up this expense over 2 months, it doesn’t reduce my daily budget by too much. Lastly, I’m still hoping to do a workaway volunteer opportunity for three weeks in Laos. If that works out, it will greatly help my budget!

My dog for 10 days.

While house sitting, I didn’t use the AC much as it turned out to be quite expensive. I was often over heated and woke up drenched in sweat most nights. I developed a heat rash, and had no relief from the high temperatures. In just a short time in AC, my heat rash miraculously improved in record time.

Not going to lie, I love breakfast buffets!

Fitness center. Breakfast buffet. Swimming pool. Lounging in bed. The epitome of laziness and I somehow managed to save nearly $300 on a plane ticket home.

Just my big bed in an air conditioned room at the Royal Empire Hotel!

I don’t think I’ve ever paid this much to stay somewhere for one night. Well, there was that one time I had surgery at Bumrungrad International Hospital. I’m sure that was the most expensive stay of my life, but my 23 hours at the Royal Empire Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was by far the most I’ve ever paid for a hotel. I took full advantage, enjoyed it, and barely even left the place while there. All in all, it was worth the stay because of the frequent flier miles I earned. Was it worth $200? For what you can get in Cambodia, definitely not. The staff was nice, but people are nice even at the cheap hostels. It was good totally have my own space, cool off, and relax, but unless I can get another free plane ticket out of the deal, I won’t be spending any more nights in fancy hotels!

Whats your biggest travel splurge?

 

The Downside of the Nomadic Lifestyle

How do you envision long term travel? Ever wonder what it’s like beyond the pretty pictures and interesting photos? Here’s a bit, just a bit, about the downside of being a traveler and what people don’t realize about this lifestyle. And I say traveler in the long term sense, because that’s what I do. This is not a vacation, it’s a lifestyle.
As you may know, I got injured in Myanmar on January 3rd and had to return to Thailand. I’d been pining to come back ever since and finally made the journey from Chaing Mai to Mandalay via Bangkok Airways. Mandalay is quite north compared to where I’ve been the last few months (since I left Bhutan, actually), and I was really surprised by the heat, dryness, and vegetation. The acacia trees are reminiscent of the mesquite found in the dry areas of Texas and I even saw a few cacti of some sort. The Irrawaddy River flows north to south, basically bisecting the country and along its shores, water is diverted for crop growth. On the bus ride to Bagan, you can see green fields of rice, coconut trees, and fruit of all sorts from bananas, to papayas and mangoes, and more. While some areas are desert like, the lush green fields provide quite a contrast, and of course, the landscape is dotted with magnificent Buddhist temples. But, back to travel…
It takes time and money to get from point A to point B. The less developed the country, the longer it takes, and the more uncomfortable it typically can be. (Unless you fly this the flight from Thailand).
Life is different. People are different. Food is different.
People do things how they see fit, not necessarily in a manner that may make sense to you or us as westerners.
You sweat, stink, and can be dirty for what feels like forever. (In Kathmandu, this was definitely a never ending feeling). You may not have access to a washer and dryer. You may have to hand wash clothing, and sometimes, when the humidity is high, shit just doesn’t dry. Turn up the stench factor. One good thing about flying solo: the only one you have to worry about smelling you is yourself! ?
If you’re like me, you’re unhappy when not participating in regular physical activity and eating proper meals.
Food can be questionable and food safety is always a concern for me.
Have a look at my intake today:
Breakfast, buffet style, at the hotel in Mandalay. They had a bit of everything, but mostly Asian foods. I chose a bit of noodles, spinach “salad”, some sort of chicken made with sweet pickled onions, Indian style pakoda (or vegetable fritters), an egg, and some coffee. I filled up. We had a long bus ride ahead of us and I wasn’t sure what we’d come across on the road.
“Snack:” Some peanut bars at a rest stop. I don’t know exactly what the ingredients were, but definitely peanuts and sugar.
Afternoon Meal: “Chicken Sandwich.” OMG- worst sandwich ever. My plate had thee squares, cut into two. Crustless white bread of different sizes with something like chicken salad inside. Oh, and a few well-salted French fries. I ate it. It was 3:30 and I was hungry.
Dinner: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Quest Bar and an Oreo cookie.
Water, water, water.
So far, the places I’ve visited in Myanmar will arrange for pick up and drop off wherever you are. The bus to Bagan is supposed to take 5-6 hours, but we got picked up first, at 8 am, and arrived to our hotel around 2:30 pm. The whole trip was about 90 miles and we were on a mini bus. The roads weren’t too bad, but it was still quite bumpy and long. Not my first time traveling in Myanmar, so my expectations were not too high.
In Myanmar, food seems to typically be served out of large pots that are placed on a stand once cooked. They are refilled when almost empty from inconspicuous place out back. It was 102 degrees today. Even the semi-adventurous food lover in me did not want any mystery meals in those pots. Same went for lunch so I found a bakery with AC. I’ll pay for that luxury. A bakery. So imagine my horror when I received a sandwich made of white bread?! I have enough quest bars to get me through Myanmar, but only one a day, so I choose when I want to eat one carefully!
Despite the photos, it’s not always pretty, or comfortable, and sometimes it isn’t even sensible, but at the end of the day, I derive a huge sense of satisfaction in exploring new places, seeing new faces, and getting to know a place a bit. Every time I go somewhere new, I’m so excited, I’ve shared that before.
So here I am in Nyaung U, a village near Bagan, I’ve been waiting to come here for a long time. Tomorrow morning we have a hike up to one of the temples to see the sunrise over the plains. Bagan is the most densely populated area in the world for Buddhist temples, over 2,000 here, and the pictures I’ve seen are amazing. I hope I won’t be disappointed. The Thai islands are beautiful, now that is a vacation, but Myanmar is a whole other world! ??

The Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam

What is a Sultanate? And where is Brunei? Has anyone heard of it? I feel like every now and then I want to visit a country just because I don’t know anything about it and it may not really be a tourist destination. Timor Leste is on my list for that reason and Brunei was as well. I have to say, I knew very little about it and had only seen a few snapshots of the main mosque prior to my arrival, but I wanted to pay a visit to this tiny nation nonetheless.

Our water taxi driver.

The word sultan comes from Arabic and means strength or authority. It is used for rulers in Islamic nations and can also refer to the leader of an area. A sultanate is the dynasty and lands that a sultan rules. Brunei is short for the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, or Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace. I didn’t know what to expect when entering this tiny country that takes up less than 2% of the land on the island of Borneo, but I knew it had a lot of money and was predominantly Muslim.
We arrived by boat from Jesselton Pier in Kota Kinabalu via Victoria Island, still part of Malaysia, so that’s where we got stamped out. Thankfully, there was a money exchange office right at the pier upon arrival and taking the bus into the city was a breeze. You could see the difference between Malaysia and Brunei immediately. Brunei is clean, and because of the nation’s wealth, buildings, housing, and other structures looked more grand and new. They recently did become a country in 1984, after all. In that time, they have gone through major change and progress. They are one of the richest countries in the world and derive their wealth from oil, and unlike Malaysia and Indonesia, their oil is not from palms, but from deep under the ocean. There are more ties to the Middle East and often signs are in the local language (Malay) and in Arabic.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

With only 24 hours on our hands, we had to act fast! We checked into our two-bed room at the Joy Guest House, centrally located and just across from the “Water Village.” The woman working there was nice enough to give us free towels and coffee and she helped us make a rough plan for the day. We immediately set out to grab a water taxi down the river to see the mangroves, macaques, and proboscis monkeys. We tried to negotiate a cheaper deal with the driver, but he held firm at $30 BND (about $24 USD). He pointed out crocodiles, monkeys, and some other structures along the riverside. He gave us a tour around the water village, the largest in Asia. It’s home to nearly 20,000 inhabitants who all live in buildings and homes built on stilts above the Brunei River.

Cruising through the water village.

In all, there are 29 small villages connected by walkways. When we arrived to one of the main piers, we met a family outside of their home. We initiated conversation with them and they invited us inside. They told us how they were able to get the lot and purchase the home. They have prime real estate right up front and said they’ve shown their home to many VIPs from all over the world. We didn’t want to keep them for too long so one of the girls led us to another home where they make a local style soup for $1.50 BND, just over $1 USD for dinner.

The family we met at the water village.

A family enjoying dinner was kind enough to share their fresh banana fritters with us, so free dessert. In one of the richest countries in the world, I’d say we did pretty well on our low budget meal!

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

We spent the rest of the evening strolling around the downtown area, taking photos of the mosque and some other sites at night. Brunei is mostly a dry country and the night life is quiet. We went back to the hostel at a decent hour and got some rest. In the morning, we ventured out to “Empire Hotel,” a 5+ star resort over looking the South China Sea. We didn’t know it at the time, but the only bus back to the city was at 3:00 pm (and costs $2.00 BND). Our flight was at 4 pm, so that would be too late. Luckily, the city bus driver agreed to pick us up at 12:30, saving us a $25 taxi cab ride! We strolled through the enormous, shiny marble encrusted lobby. The large pillars and long staircases had golden accents and as we made our way to the back doors, we could see the neatly manicured lawns, large crystal clear swimming pools, and flowing fountains with the calm sea behind it all.

The pool is so big, you can kayak in it!

We stopped into the cafe before heading back into town and I ordered the most unusual combo of flavors all whipped into one frozen beverage: butternut toffee, espresso, milk, and peach syrup. If it doesn’t sound too appealing, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much! Once we returned to the downtown area, we finished up the last of our 24 hours with a stroll through the mosque in the daylight, but only once I paid a visit to the local post office. In keeping with my plan on sending my 9 year old niece and nephew something from every country I visit, I had to make sure they got at least a post card.
I was quite satisfied with our visit to Brunei. I only wish I’d had more time. There are some more interesting things to see there like parks, hiking trails, and an oil and gas museum that I really wanted to visit (yeah, I’m a total nerd in case you didn’t know ?). I also did not have time to visit a gym, so I definitely need to go back for that! If you ever get a chance to visit, I would say these are the top four things you must do if you’re short on time:
Pay the $30 water taxi charge and have a boat driver bring you down river and around the water village. You will see wildlife, mosques, a view of the palace, and the water village from the river level.
Stop off at the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery. We did not have time to see this as it had already closed by the time we arrived, but there’s also a glass-enclosed viewing tower that may be worth a visit.
Stroll through the walkways of Kampong Ayer (Water Village) and observe local life. Make your way to the little family owned restaurant and have some “Soto” (soup) and fresh banana fritters.
Visit the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and if possible, check it out both during the day and when it’s lit up in the evening. It’s quite stunning with it’s golden dome and bright white walls.

A few spots of interest. The lower red star but the bus sign is the Joy Guest Ho and the one just above it is the bus station.

One thing to skip: taking the local but to the sultan’s palace, Istana Nurul Iman. You can’t get a glimpse of it from the main gate. It is apparently the most expensive “home” of a leader of a nation, and it’s set back and well protected. The sultan opens it up once a year for three days after Ramadan and locals can pay a visit. They even leave with parting gifts. If you’re interested, plan accordingly as Ramadan ends on a different date every year. We thought we’d get a view of this massive structure, but no such luck, just well maintained lawns and roads that lead up to it.
Like so many places I’ve visited and traveled to, I really enjoyed Brunei. It’s predominantly Muslim (and I’m not a follower), but I appreciate the quiet and calm found within the small capital city. I’m sure with more time, one would find their favorite things to do, neat hang outs, and of course, the best gym! I hope to make it back some day.
What “less-traveled” locales have you visited? Where would you like to visit?

For the first time, I’m a bit tired.

Today, my blog is a year old and I still don’t post as often as I’d planned. When I look at it though, I can’t help but to wonder if I’m wasting my time. Nobody reads it. I know because I’ve learned to check the stats, LOL. In the last year, I’ve gained three subscribers. So, if I keep going, and if I live to be 100, let’s say, by the time I die I’ll have 186 subscribers. That’s not really enough to generate any income, as I’d hope may somehow happen one day. How do some bloggers make it big anyway? I’m sure they post more often than I do…

One year, 44 posts, 25 comments, 5 pages. There are some stats on my blog. How about for my travels? 9 months, 2 weeks, 3 days. Countries visited: 10. Flights taken: 14. Trips by boat: I lost count after 4. Bus rides. Haha! I’d never be able to count all of those. Train trips: just 4, in China and Thailand, the longest lasted 31 hours. Countless rides on local and city busses, taxis, motorbikes, grab cars and uber. Tuk-tuks, long tail boats, horse, metro, sky trains, I’ve flown in and out of the most dangerous airport in the world, covered 200 kilometers on foot in the Himalayas alone, and have done a ridiculous amount of steps on the bumpy and uneven streets of Bangkok, on crutches, and I’ve traveled throughout SE Asia now while in recovery from ACL and meniscus surgery. Does it get old? Never! Does it get tiring? Usually not, but I have to say, I’m getting there.

I don’t know how people put their whole family on motor bike!!

Or, maybe I’m already there? But if so, I’m certain it’s only temporary. For the first time in over 9 months, I miss home, and by home I mean San Antonio, Texas, and where my family lives in the New Hampshire/Massachusetts area. (Not my house, per se). I miss my friends, family, my dog, having girlfriends, cooking my own, HEALTHY food, regular gym sessions, a variety of clothing options.

I’m a bit tired of being on the go. Of living on a tight budget and not having the options to be more choosy at times. I’m tired of living out of a day pack. My clothes always smell and I’m often concerned about when and where I can do laundry. The heat in SE Asia is relentless. Temperatures are often in the 90s, and humidity is right up there as well. I sweat profusely, it permeates my clothing, leaving behind a salt line on my black Pureline t-shirt. I’m tired of eating unhealthy. I do my best to choose the most nutritious foods possible, but it’s not always an option. I think it’s safe to say I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and I’m beyond the “It’s ok, you’re traveling AND injured” phase. I dream about crunchy and crispy salads full of fresh vegetables, lean protein, and slivers of perfectly ripened avocado. Fried eggs not cooked in copious amounts of oil. Ice blended protein shakes the way I used to make them at home and Quest bars, LOL. I want to go to the gym everyday, twice a day and I want my quad to fill in the extra skin on my leg now that it has atrophied so much!

You can’t tell, but I think this is the heaviest I’ve ever been.

I don’t mean to complain, I chose this life, but I can see now I need a break for a little while from being on the go, I need to “settle” somewhere where there is a gym, people I know, and healthy food options. But after all this time, that notion is tough too. I was in Bali, when you look at the map, it’s quite south, about 10 degrees south of the equator in fact. From there, you can take trips to the Komodo Islands but I didn’t have time. Go a little further south east and you’ll get to Timor Leste, a small island that separated from Indonesia and became independent in 1998. From there, it literally looks like you could swim to Australia… And don’t get me going on where you can go from that part of the globe… The Solomon Islands (a must do on MY list), Papúa New Guinea, Micronesia. The list goes on. It never ends. Then there are things you never heard of until you meet a traveler who has recommendations and you now have more to see. In this day and age, people feel the globe is getting smaller because of technology, but when you’re out in this world, you see how big it is and how impossible it becomes to see everything. Some days I feel like I could do this for the rest of my life, and sometimes I want to have my own bed with my dog and a large man in it. It’s hard to have both. There’s some balance with breaks and slow travel, however, and maybe having a “home base” is important. For now, I’m happy to see what I can while I can, but I’m looking forward to my visit home and will reasses my life and travels from there!

What do you do you when you get “tired” while traveling?

How can you NOT want to see these beaches?

Travel Is a Lifestyle

When you’re at home, do you have a routine? You likely do and it probably includes going to work, working out (hopefully!), eating proper meals most of the time, and getting to bed at a decent hour. Although I don’t have a home, I have a routine as well and I do my best have it be something like that. While I don’t have an actual job, I make sure to set aside time to work on my freelance writing, my own blog, and interact with clients. As you may have read, I like to workout whenever and wherever possible, eat healthy food, and I’m not going to lie, I like to go to bed early and watch something mindless on Netflix, just like I used to do back in the United States. Sometimes, I don’t even do that, I just scroll through FB and Instagram to stay connected with my virtual world. That may not be the best thing to do before bed, but in the ever varying world of international travel, FB and Facebook messenger serve as the one constant I do have.

The outdoor pool at Gravity (a fitness center) in Singapore.

I’m now at month 9 of my “Asian Adventure” and still have that wanderlust just as I did in month one, but my knee injury has certainly changed my situation. Additionally, there’s been a recent influx of interest of traveling with me in Asia. My plans have therefore realigned with those of the others coming to see some of this world as well. Flying Solo has it’s perks, you can do what you want when you want, so traveling with a companion is an adjustment. Vacations are great! You go have fun for a set period of time, then you go back home to your life, your grind, and your job that pays you X amount of money to allow you to have fun on that vacation. Since I quit my job and sold my home last year, I’m not on vacation, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m on a tight budget and since I recently paid a portion of my credit card bill used to pay for my surgery, it’s even tighter. I fear with over 6 weeks of upcoming travel with others, my budget may be an issue. My boring “routine” may be an issue as well. When I lived in the U.S. I didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle. I bought what I needed and enjoyed life modestly, but I’ve never been much of a spender, so certain activities are not appealing to me. In Singapore, I had no desire to drink $22 cocktails at C’est La Vie, the bar on the 54th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. While I did want to see the view from the top, a quick elevator ride up quenched my thirst, no $6 water, $7 juice, or $22 cocktail necessary.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel behind me.

Visiting Singapore was awesome, but what made it great for me was seeing people I already knew, having some semblance of a normal routine, and being able to eat some really healthy and fresh food. I was able to go to the gym daily as my friend works for a large, international company in the industry. We chatted in the evenings in a normal, comfortable apartment complete with refrigerator and a washer and dryer (the things you learn to live without!), and I simply caught up on some work. Furthermore, it was interesting to reconnect with someone from home (Texas in this case), we even had brisket and cabbage slaw one day for lunch! I saw another friend I’d met in Bangkok and although we’re not super close, she’s like my sister from another mister and it was fun to just hang out with a female for a little while and have some girl talk!!

Enjoyed a variety of different Chinese dishes with my friend Amanda.

I’m hoping to find some balance in the next few weeks and through May, in fact, while traveling with others. Having someone to split costs may be helpful, it’s nice having adventure buddies, and who knows, it may influence me to do something I may otherwise choose not to do… Maybe I’ll take a “vacation” for a day and go crazy! ? However it all turns out, I’m super excited to have some of the adventures ahead of me that I do. Borneo, Bali, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia are all bucket list adventures and I’m taking them! I’ll even visit with some old college friends in Jakarta, Indonesia and meet up with my “body guard” from Bangkok in Siem Reap.

Fruity juices on Borneo. At $2.00 a cup, that I can afford!

Travel is a lifestyle, and a varying one at that. Being the regimented person I once was, I still seek some semblance of a normal life, don’t do anything crazy, nor do I do anything I wouldn’t at home. Budgeting is a must, healthy food regularly is necessary, and gym access is a plus. I guess with 9 months in the bag, a major injury sustained, and surgery behind me, I’m doing ok… Here’s to the next leg, or many legs at that! ?
How do you handle long term travel? What is your routine? Must do lifestyle habits? Feel free to leave comments and tips in the box below! Happy travels. ?

Love on the Run

Can there be love on the run?
Like I always say, I love my travel life and I’m not ready to give it up yet. I’m going to keep on trucking, despite my injury, and see more of this world. I thought I’d want to go home if I got sick or injured, but so far, that’s not the case. An influential factor, however, is definitely going to be budget. Now that I’ve nearly maxed out my credit card with hospital and surgery bills, I may not be able to pay it down enough to even make a dent in that total.

I’m not exactly bringing sexy to Bangkok!

“When will you go home?” A question I hear day after day…
Maybe if I’m sick or injured… Nope, not ready.
Maybe if I run out of money… Doing my best to stay on track (but will deal with my CC bill in time, I’m working on an avenue to have my medical bills reimbursed).
Maybe if I get lonely. Yeah- that’s a biggie and a common theme I’ve learned amongst long term travelers. We get lonely. Yes, you’re surrounded by people, but relationships don’t last, eventually, you leave, or the people you’ve met leave. And I’m not even talking about romantic relationships, that’s a whole other ball game and one that different people deal with very differently!

How I feel sometimes: “Leave me alone!”

As for me, I’m single and have been for a long time. Like really long. I’m so used to it I don’t even think about it much anymore BUT that doesn’t mean I always like being alone.

But maybe!

I recently reconnected with someone from my past, but he’s at home of course, in the states. The prospect of simply staying in touch piqued my interest and we’d agreed we would have regular contact. Recently, however, our interactions have lessened and I have to say it has left me disappointed. Oh- and for those of you who know me, don’t worry, it’s not my ex-husband (that ship has sailed long ago). Anyway… So yeah, the thought of having a connection with someone after being alone for so long is kind of exciting but you have to make this travel thing work when there’s someone else in the picture and it can be difficult.
I read all these stories of girls finding “love” on the road, but for me, I don’t even meet men! ? I mean, yeah, there are a million ways, but I can’t do causal hook ups or have meaningless sex and I’m so in shock by what the younger generation accepts as the norm. The younger generation- OMG, I’m so old!!! I hear and read their stories of one night stands and hook ups for fun and I get it, yes, the road gets lonely, but gee I could never participate in that behavior all the time. Some of the stories are straight up raunchy and there’s this whole concept of a lower standard, like you find certain men acceptable while traveling that you’d never get with at home. Sorry to disappoint here, but I don’t have some sultry stories of sexy hook ups or one night stands (well, there was that one time…). But one time, one traveler said she felt badly for me because that was far to little. ?

“Gelato.” That’s what the kids are calling it these days. ?

I’m not alone in this desire to “find” someone, my nomadic soulmate, a travel companion for the long haul… There are websites dedicated to stuff like this. On one, the first date is travel related and the two people involved agree upon a destination and a “who pays for what” agreement. There are Facebook groups to help long term travelers find their soulmate, or simply a weekend fling, whatever your heart desires. But I don’t know, finding someone with whom you have a connection, that to me, seems like an ever elusive concept. It just doesn’t happen, not at home, not on the road, so when I got that message from that person from my past, I won’t lie, my heart did skip a beat. ?
So what will it be? Love on the run, on the road, via email and FB messenger? From an app, or a dating website, or a Facebook group dedicated to helping people find their “nomadic soulmate?” Do you reinvest in the past, focus on the future, or forget about it all in an effort to protect the heart? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. Perhaps only time will tell. Perhaps Mr. Right will be at the next destination or perhaps he’s finally applying for a freaking passport! Maybe I can create my own travel/dating app and I can help others find love! And then pay off my medical bills! What do you think?!
Have you found love on the road? Do you have a nomadic soulmate? Are you in a long distance relationship? Share your stories in the comment section!