Why travel solo?

August 16, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Posted in life, Planning, travel | 1 Comment

It’s one of those questions that to some people is a no-brainer and to many others is a very serious, “No really, why would you do that?” question. I fall a little into both categories, more into the former but occasionally, in those “Oh God, what am I getting myself into?” moments, into the latter. Traveling solo is scary, especially in far off foreign lands of which you know little of the language, culture, geography, etc. It’s hard to imagine having fun when you don’t have any friends or loved ones to share it with or when you will surely will be stressing constantly about figuring out the bus schedule, making it to your flight on time, ordering food and eating alone, not getting robbed, etc. But of course, everyone says what a significant experience it is – learning about yourself, growing and maturing as a person, acquiring new skills and handling responsibility, finding yourself, etc. But these are just arguments you or others make to you in the process of making that big decision to go it alone.

I have been battling with these arguments constantly as of late. Come hell or high water, I have decided already that this trip will be primarily solo. However, it is a bit tempting to succomb to a bit of group/tour travel, particularly in Peru where a) there are things like Machu Picchu which would be much nicer to do in a familiar group, and b) Lonely Planet basically struck fear in me of buses (especially overnight! The horror!) and 80% of my destinations (Pisco is incredibly dangerous and women will feel super uncomfortable, and Lima! Danger! Danger here, danger there!) My parents’ constant nagging of how it is far too dangerous and my boyfriend’s and friends’ constant expressions of concern (You’re going where? For how long? ALONE? Without anyone else?) can start to play on any sane person’s brain. Am I really going to be unsafe? Is this really a bad idea? One discussion with fellow travelers, however, always leads back to clarity. What do you need a tour for? It’s cheaper and more fun to do it yourself! You’ll meet tons of people on the road.

And so in a time like this, I am saved a bit by myself, funny enough. Reading through journal entries from old trips, I came across one in particular from the end of my two month solo journey in Southeast Asia and New Zealand. To sum up the situation, my first month was solo in SEA (horrifyingly lonely at first, then tons of fun!) and the second was “independent group travel” on the hop-on, hop-off “Magic” bus (a decision influenced by my parents – i.e. they insisted so much that they paid for the bus trip and a good majority of my hostel stays – and one that I regretted just about immediately).

28 May 2008

I really do think I’ve grown and changed a bit since starting this trip on my own. I think I truly have embraced the “Just say yes” mentality. At times, invitations, suggestions, etc. that I’d usually hesitate and agonize over whether to do or not, whether to say yes or no, go or stay, I instead just go with it. “Sure, why not?” And it’s led to good things, great experiences and memories. Instead of running scared, I push through the discomfort and prosper. I also just do what feels right. And it all worked out rather well. I’ve still felt nervous at all kinds of things, but I went ahead and did them anyway. From sandboarding to dinner invites, you can feel nervous all the same, but it’s completely up to you still if you overcome that and go for it anyways, and that’s what I’ve come to realize.

It’s hard to really think about traveling alone when you haven’t done it. Sometimes it seems like it’d be a breeze, other times it seems near impossible. In reality there are times when it’s really hard and really sucks and there are times when it’s amazing and things happen that you know would never happen if you weren’t alone. In the end, there will be moments you wish you’d had a good friend with you, but overall you’ll be glad you went for it, and you can’t help but feel that you’ve grown and changed. You faced up to the challenge and didn’t give in when it got hard.

And for me, it’s even sweeter because none of my friends have actually done this. Yes, the majority of my solo travel has been pretty easy, in NZ on the Magic Bus, but it did include some time in Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia totally on my own. And even here I’ve met tons of women who say they don’t know how I do it. But then, you meet tons of other girls (and guys) doing it alone as well. To each their own. But I definitely feel pride in having done it and want to do it again. Overall I haven’t felt that lonely. And really I think the Magic Bus has only inhibited me. I have a harder time connecting with people in a big-bus atmosphere like that. All the people I connected with the most I met off the big bus. So whenever the next time is, I’m doing it totally on my own, no backpacker bus trips.

And then it goes on to wax philosophical about other things. But it’s funny to see my then-self communicating to my now-self with that last sentence.

So why travel solo? What have you got to lose? If you really hate it, give yourself some time. I hated it, I gave myself some time (even when my parents offered to fly me home for a few weeks rather than contine solo) and I went on to have the time of my life (if you’re ever in Pulau Perhentian give them my regards for that). If you still hate it, find no kindred souls in hostels, guesthouses, on buses, etc., it’s rarely ever too late to sign up for some kind of tour (even if it’s just a few days to get you into the spirit and meet some people!) or some kind of organized people. Don’t give up, you just need to find the right balance. When it comes down to it, your biggest problem may be that once you go solo, you’ll never want to go back. 🙂


T-minus one month

August 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm | Posted in life, Planning, travel | Leave a comment

September 7th. That’s the day I will jump off the proverbial cliff and fly to Buenos Aires to begin my 13 week trip to South America. I bought my tickets the day before I jumped a plane to San Francisco to see my boyfriend for the last time for nearly five months. Then I jetsetted across the States to NYC for a weekend with family, and now I find myself back at home facing reality. AKA the fact that I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do in South America for more than three months.

And so the time for preparation has arrived. I’ve finally pushed myself to start my attempts at re-learning Spanish. So far I’ve listened to about a half hour of Spanish learning podcasts and spent another half hour or so perusing a “Teach Yourself Spanish” book from the library. I’m hardly approaching riveting conversationality yet, but at least I’ve taken the first step.

I’ve also been burying my nose in guidebooks. Cross-referening between Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, I’m trying to make note of what seems worthy of seeing and doing on my journey north from BA to Quito. In the end, I’m sure I will end up determining my route more by recommendations and spur of the moment decisions, but it’s nice to be informed and aware of the options. I’ve only immersed myself in Argentina and Bolivia and Already my dreams of Argentina have grown from a simple route of BA-Iguazu-Salta-adios to visions of red rock formations, dinosaur graveyards, and fertile vineyards and Bolivia has become so much more than just salt flats.

But in all honesty, I have my priorities a little jumbled. It’s good to be better versed in Spanish and the regions I’m visiting, but these are things I inevitably won’t have a real grasp on until I’m in South America. There are other things of a more pressing manner I should be worrying about.


Luckily, my vaccinations are pretty much in order. Having visited Peru three years ago, yellow fever, hepatitis, etc. are all covered. Unfortunately, it seems my typhoid vaccine will be just about overdue so I should probably look into getting the thyphoid pills (they’re cheaper and last longer, not sure why I didn’t go for that option in the first place — I hate needles!) Here’s to hoping my dismal health insurance will cover them. Which brings me to part two of health: travel health insurance. World Nomads receives nothing but glowing reviews and offer reasonable prices. I will certainly go with them, it’s just a matter of getting that done!


My credit card bill is going to be a whopper this month, what with buying my SA tickets and spending a week in San Francisco, plus anything more I will spend preparing for this trip. And my bank account will be looking tragic after that. I have adjusted pretty well to the lifestyle of spending almost nothing (aka the lifestyle of living with my parents and being a hermit) so it’s going to be hard hitting having a constant flow of money out of my pockets when I’m traveling (no matter how inexpensive SA may be). I am relying heavily on some old bonds my dad gave me for graduation. Lord help me if I have any trouble accessing that money in the next few weeks!


Should be a four letter word. In general, I am a pretty good packer and can easily pack much less than many others I know. But as far as packing for backpacking, the longest I’ve had to pack for was a month and a half. Not that there’s really much difference when it comes down to durations of 6 weeks or 13 weeks. Still, I tend to get better when I’m in that mode (i.e. taking lots of little backpacking trips when I’m abroad studying or something). So I’m a bit worried, especially when I’m considering the huge variances in temperatures and environments I’ll be encountering–well below freezing temperatures in the Andes or altiplano versus scorching temperatures and humidity in other areas. I hope to list out all the things I think I need, then lay out all the things I plan to pack, figure out what I need to eliminate, and figure out what I still need to get.

Get moving!

All in all, there’s a lot that goes into preparation for a trip. In the past, my travels have always been after a study abroad experience and so have allowed for a lot of adjusting and getting to know the area beforehand. And I was usually with other people as well. This trip is overall just very different circumstances than any other travel I’ve done. Though everyone is pushing me to plan, figure everything out, and “for goodness sake join a tour!” – I feel being open and flexible is the best path for me and over-preparation will do nothing but stress me out! Here’s to hoping it all works out!

How to save money by any means possible

July 7, 2009 at 7:22 pm | Posted in life, money, Planning | Leave a comment
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Saving money matters to everyone, especially right now, but as a recent (unemployed) graduate I’d say I’ve taken a particularly involved and ruthless interest in the art of saving.

I have absolutely no income. As I said, I am jobless. I’ve applied to jobs everywhere from banks to Blockbuster to online marketing firms and everything in between. I’ve even taken my chances with the Invisible Fence company…and those people who stock those big red $1 movie rental machine. But alas, I am still unemployed.

Furthermore, my soul yearns for a RTW trip. But even if you couchsurf, volunteer/work, and starve yourself nearly to death, traveling does cost money – especially if you actually want to see and do things once you’ve worked and planned your butt off to get there.

And most treacherously, I have already succumbed to the one thing I promised myself I’d never do — and also one of the best money saving techniques out there — moving home with Mom & Dad. Of course, I have it a lot better off than many. My mom insists on doing my laundry, I have a car to borrow whenever I want without having to worry about insurance and all that annoying stuff about owning a vehicle, I have free wifi and cable, and I have access to a fairly well-stocked fridge. My parents even allowed my boyfriend to live with us for a month – allowing us to share a room and function basically as if we were on our own while still often cooking us dinner or paying for us when the family went out to eat or to places like Cedar Point (thanks again, Dad!)

But still, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m stuck in Cleveland, OH, the armpit of the universe (though slightly more bearable in summer). This is not a sustainable solution but a means to an end that must be supplemented by other means of saving/earning money. And while I’m still figuring these out myself, here are a few of the best options.

Minimize your lifestyle

Entertainment and partying are two big drains on money. Avoid seeing movies in the theater  – wait until they’re at the $1 cinema or out on DVD (you’ve got to love those Red Box rental machines popping up everywhere where you can’t rent the latest releases for just $1!). Activities and events like concerts or bowling are fun and sometimes necessary to blow off a little steam, but you can still save money here. Do a little research to find if there are special discounted days or times for rounds of mini golf or whatever your chosen activity may be. Check your local paper and online sources for free concerts or festivals. Try Cities on the Cheap for an updated list of free or inexpensive deals or goings on in your city. If they don’t have your city, just do a simple Google search and you’re sure to stumble across something similar.

Also, party less. Going out can be prohibitively expensive, even if you’re a foxy lady and can get a lot of your drinks for free. If you must go out, find out the nights for the best specials and keep yourself to a reasonable budgetary limit. While pre-partying can save you some dough, it’s still costly. Though I never go out now that I’m home, even splitting cheap bottles of wine with the boyfriend still added up to extra, pretty unnecessary, costs (and calories!)

Don’t eat out

This may seem obvious, but sometimes you just really want some Indian food and no one in your family likes it, or you’re out running errands and starving and that Wendy’s looks so appetizing and convenient… Through spreadsheets tracking my spending for the past couple months, I’ve discovered that I’ve spent more money on food (and snack runs to the grocery store or at the gas station) than anything else. All those little meals add up quickly. Convince yourself to wait. You might find other cheaper (probably free) opportunities to eat if you do.

Become a scavenger

On the waiting for food front, it goes like this: If you’re at home, your family might decide to eat out and take you along, or your parents will cook something and there will surely be enough for you (and maybe leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow!) If you’re living with roommates, there’s a great chance they’ll cook themselves too much pasta and might just offer some to you too. If you’re living alone or with stingy friends or family, perhaps you could consider becoming a freegan. It might seem a little extreme, but it seems to work for some people, and it could definitely save you some money.

In fact, parts of that freegan lifestyle are extremely key to saving money. If you need something, especially big stuff like furniture or electronics, dumpster diving or searching Craigslist are great ways to find it for free or extremely cheap (even give Ebay or other online marketplaces, like Facebook’s Marketplace or Amazon a try).

Sell, sell, sell

Chances are you have a ton of junk you don’t need anymore. Go through boxes, closets, even scrounge around your parent’s house for stuff they plan to sell at the garage sale they’ll never really have. And remember all those old textbooks you never really read that you didn’t or couldn’t sell back at school? Ka-ching! Selling stuff online is a brilliant idea to snag some cash.

Jump at any opportunity

My boyfriend was leaving for California and needed to sell his car. He wasn’t able to before he left so instead of letting him drop it at a junkyard or selling it to a dealer for just $500, I insisted on selling it for him. So far it’s been a huge hassle, and has cost some money out of my pocket, but since he’ll be getting more than the nothing he’d be getting otherwise, and since I’m jumping through hoops to sell it for him, he’s willing to take only half of whatever I get for it and leave the rest to me. We’ll see how it all unfolds, but considering the lack of other things I have to do with my time, I can afford to go through a few hassles in order to earn what will hopefully be a nice payoff in the end. He’s also left a number of old textbooks at my house (see above section to figure out what I’m doing with those!)

While many people might not have a strange opportunity like mine, there are plenty of other ways to earn some extra money with your spare time. Check out the ETC section of Craigslist and keep an eye on the ads in your paper for opportunities to participate in research studies, focus groups, help with random errands or jobs people need (dog walking, babysitting, helping people move, clean) or even ways to use your own skills to teach others (from computers to languages to tutoring for various school subjects). Just beware of scams, and help out your fellow opportunists by flagging anything that you do find to be as such.

Make use of internet discounts

If there are things or services you must buy, make sure you seek out deals first. Check out sites like FatWallet for tons of coupons and cash back opportunities. If you’re looking for cheap flights or hotels, make sure to check flights like Kayak, Hotwire, and Priceline (only if you’re naming your price! It takes some time and strategy, and obviously some flexibility, but I have been pretty satisfied with the great hotels and slightly cheaper flights I’ve been able to get in the past.)

Broadcast yourself

You can do this old school or new school. Old school: Put up flyers around your area or in neighbor’s mailboxes offering whatever services you have to offer (see above). New school: Do the same, but advertise on Craigslist, social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), or even websites of local newspapers. Start a website or a blog and voice your opinions on things, talk about life as a [insert your own unique trait here], or following a project you’re carrying out or experience you’re exploring in your free time. There are new stories every day about people who get jobs just by showing their expertise, or even talking about their lack of employment, on Twitter or their blog. Even if that doesn’t magically happen to you, maybe you can hire out your site building or writing skills freelance style and bring in some bucks that way.

Keep track

In the end it’s all about results, and measurable results at that. Open Excel, type “[Month] Spending” in the header, and keep a running tab of your results. If you mostly use a debit or credit card to buy things, this will be especially easy to track. Make sure to keep receipts or notes of everything you use cash for. I especially recommend breaking it down by category (Dining Out, Entertainment, Travel, Alcohol, Rent, etc.) to get a better picture of how much you’re spending on what. You may be surprised. Either way, you’ll get an idea of what you really need to focus on improving your saving skills on, and as the months go by you will (hopefully) see your totals decreasing. How great will that feel to see you spent $100 less on food since practicing your new savings habits!

While I admit I haven’t done this myself, it would probably be just as motivating to keep track of your earnings and savings (everything from that wad of cash for watching your neighbor’s dog to that $4 earned by not going to Starbucks). If it adds up to be a pretty sum, considering siphoning that savings amount (or at least part of it) each month into a high interest savings account of some sort and keep it set aside for something you really want, whether it be moving out of the parents house, taking your dream trip to Italy, or starting your own organic farm – whatever floats your boat!


If you follow even half of these recommendations you should start seeing a bit of a rise (or at least less of a drop) in your bank account. The path to saving is a tough one, but I was born stingy (apparently it’s because I’m part Scottish) so hopefully I can serve as a guide and inspiration to all. I’ll let you know how it all goes for me. Good luck and good tidings!

In search of direction

June 26, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Posted in life, Planning | Leave a comment
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I am a girl with no direction, no certainty about her passions, dreams, what she likes or wants to do in her life. In short, I am a girl who needs to figure herself out.

In thinking about this, I am brought to examine myself a bit more closely. When surrounded by good friends, I spend the majority of my time with them. My friends are my life, I love being with them and enjoy my time best when spent hanging out with them. However, I’ve come to realize that when I’m away from friends, I focus on myself, develop skills or hobbies, and overall just get more accomplished. I can think of two really strong examples.

In seventh grade I moved to Cleveland, OH. I hated it. My first year, I made few friends and virtually never ventured out of the house to do things with people unless it was a school project. While there was a lot of misery in this time, I did also accomplish a lot. I learned basic HTML. I built a couple websites and got pretty good at site layout and (what would now be very basic) graphic design. PaintShop Pro was a close friend. I did a lot of writing, reading, and probably a lot of other things that I now can’t remember. However, with the end of seventh grade I made friends and soon “got a life.” I kept up with many of my interests, but in time they fell more and more by the wayside, and most interests or hobbies I picked up after then didn’t last as long and were never as strongly pursued with much dedication. Learning guitar, restyling old clothes (“fashion”), discovering new music (“A&R”), were just a few hobbies/interests that only made it so far but never received enough passion or dedication from my busy-with-a-social-life self.

Fast forward to the summer after my freshman year. College was full of fun new experiences and incredible friends. Back home in Cleveland, I still hung out with approximately one of my old high school friends. This left lots of “me” time. I worked full-time at a paid internship in the advertising department of a local newspaper. I took two summer classes. And I started learning Italian, read a ton of books, and lost all my freshman fifteen and then some. I ate healthy, always walked for a half hour on my lunch breaks, did at least an hour on the treadmill almost every night (while reading or studying Italian or microeconomics, of course!), and often played basketball or even ran (yes ran!) around my neighborhood (I don’t do running, FYI).

Fast forward again and it is almost July, almost two months since I’ve graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. Advertising…not a field in high demand right now, not to mention one I was never sure I wanted to enter in the first place anyway. I have various half-though-through plans banging around in my brain, but no certainty. None at all. About anything.

I have a degree. I have a (thank goodness) place to stay with my parents. I have a Swedish boyfriend who leaves for California in one week, whom I will see for one week more in California, and who will then return to Sweden, with another chance to be with each other again TBD. And it feels like it all lies on me. On what I choose.

I know the “logical” thing, the thing most people would tell me to do, would be to start working. Find jobs or internships, try them, figure out what you like and don’t like. The thing is, especially now, even finding a job or internship, let alone getting it, is bordering on impossible. And I’m just really not sure if the typical 9-5 office job world is really right for me. Yes, I know I must sound so Gen Y right now, but I really want to do something I like, something I’m passionate about. And I want to see the world. I don’t want to hate my life or regret wasting my early years of independence. I want to live, and I want to enjoy it.

So I keep coming back to travel. These next six months I will be all on my own again. Living in Cleveland without any “friend-ly” distractions. That’s six months to work and save. Six months to reflect and research. Yes, I can still use that time to research jobs and evaluate myself, to learn new things and new skills and to further my own personal development. I can work on my Spanish, maybe take a course in graphic design or writing or whatever I discover to be a good investment in myself. And I can plan. Plan a trip. A trip around the world, for anywhere from 6 months to a year.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that this is how I could really discover myself: my interests, my passions, my skills, my faults, my strengths, my true thoughts and feelings. It would be the challenge of a lifetime, depending on myself, being totally independent. I would be forced to be more confident, more responsible and self-reliant, more outgoing. I would be forced to develop my abilities in language and communication, as well as my organization skills. It wouldn’t be all flat-out travel either. I’ll volunteer, maybe in my research even find a real working or internship position. Or even work on a farm or in a hostel. I’ll meet all kinds of people, make connections, learn even more about diversity and cultural and intercultural relations. Who knows, maybe I will meet a future boss or business partner along the way.

Maybe I will discover my next step in life or my true passion or calling. Maybe I will just come back with a lot of new stories and experiences and even more to sort through and figure out. But I would be alright with that. At least I would know that I did it. That I went after what I wanted and dreamed of, that I pulled it all off. And I know that I would come back happy with my decision and full of a joy and a self-confidence that I always come back from traveling with. I’ll have done something real, and I can’t imagine that, after the build-up I will have to go through to get there, I wouldn’t appreciate every second of the experience to the fullest extent.

I think I’ve convinced myself, though the teaching in Spain (Ibiza, I believe) still calls at me with its “I’m more logical!” argument—not to mention I’m sure my dad would much rather me choose that option and in the end it would probably look better on a traditional resume. I’m still confused and conflicted. But if I sit and listen to myself, deep down, I know which I really desire. I still have some time, so I guess it still rests at: we’ll see.

Making decisions.

June 7, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Posted in Planning | Leave a comment

I think I’ve finally narrowed down what I want to do with myself for this next year.
This past month, between my graduation and Elyse’s this past week, I’ve heard a lot of speeches and advice about how this is the time to follow your dreams and do what you really want to do. It has made me think about a lot of things.

Society tries to push me (and my peers) to believe that we’re already running out of time, that we have to hurry up and get a job, start working our way up the ladder NOW. There’s no time to wait or dawdle or try different things. But when I listen to older friends and family members, I hear it in their voices and their words: take this time for yourself. Do what you want. Enjoy your freedom and independence before you have to jump into the rat race. I don’t want to look back with regret. I have so many years ahead of me to have a 9-5 (or 8-6?) job. People say I need to start networking and getting experience now. I believe(d) them, but I’m not even sure what field I want to go into. Sure, I graduated with a degree in Advertising, but I’m not sure at all that’s what I want to do. So many ideas are floating though my head. Maybe marketing…but what about teaching? Or higher education and student affairs? I could work in a study abroad office at a university, or work with a provider abroad. Or I could teach geography or social studies to elementary school students. Or I could be a tour guide. Or a travel writer. There’s so many possibilities.

And the truth is, I’m probably going to have to go back to school for most of those. But I’m not sure now what I want, and I need to take some time to think about it, to figure myself out, and take a break from the life I’ve always lived, that’s always been set out in front of me. There’s no path to follow anymore. This time it’s all my own choices.

So I’ve come to a fork, and I’m facing two choices. One which is slightly more “practical,” and one that I probably favor more but would be harder for some more conservative people to swallow.

First option: teach English in Spain.

Second option: live at home and work for 6 months and save up to take a round-the-world(ish) trip for 8-12 months. It will take a lot of planning and money, but living at home, while my friends and boyfriend are spread from Sweden to France to Alaska, I’m not going to have a lot else to spend my time and money on.

Both will take money. Spain only pays 700Euros a month, enough to pay rent and maybe cover a small bit of living expenses each month. It would be a good experience, sure, and would give me a taste of teaching, since it is one path I have considered. But it wouldn’t quench my thirst for discovery and adventure, for seeing the world. I would be relatively stranded on the Balearic Islands, as travel to and from the islands is ridiculously expensive. I would get to visit with Travis in France and Oscar in Sweden a couple times, probably before the beginning of the program and at Christmas, maybe during our spring breaks. It would be an experience, and would force me to learn some language (but they don’t speak Spanish/Castilian, but Catalan, which is totally different.)

I have a lot to think about.

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