15 Things About Traveling (and Myself) I Learned in 2015
This year I had some of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. I did the infamous Pamela Anderson shot during a gay pub crawl in Argentina I will never live down, faced my fears and jumped off a cliff on a tiny Island off Oahu, let fish eat the dead skin off the bottom of my feet at a day spa while on-the-job in Taiwan, survived 3 typhoons (tiny, non-life-threatening typhoons), got chased by an endangered Bornean Orangutan through the jungles of the world’s third largest island, found and ROCKED a gay bar’s karaoke night in a very Muslim country, hitchhiked for the first time with an Australian man in a tiny town in southern Taiwan, got into a motorbike accident the same day, visited the only country on my bucket list (Ireland, I love you), met my mom in Italy and befriended a sassy, middle-aged waiter who served us life-changing lasagna, mastered the city of Madrid, and flew to a secret destination for my first Christmas market. Just to name a few things that stick out.
It’s really cool to look back on all of those things and realize that I have learned so much in such a short time. There were moments I knew would stick with me, and others that kind of crept up on me and whispered “this is changing you, this is making you a better human” into my subconscious. I tried to wrap all of that up into 15 bullet points as best I could. These 15 things are very near and dear to me, so here goes!
What I learned this year:
15. Water!!!! Just, water. Drink it. Obviously this is not something I should only do while traveling, but I find it especially important to my well-being (and sanity) to drink a lot. In all climates, all levels of activity, and all times of day. Carrying a reusable bottle is worth it. And it’s really important to always double check if the tap water is drinkable in a new place.
14. Journaling helps. It helps me document not only my goings-on, but also how I am feeling and what’s going on in my head at all times. This is really important to me, because I try to come in to new places with as blank of a slate as possible—and if I am dwelling on a bad airport experience from last week or worrying about a conversation that I had with someone yesterday, I come into somewhere new less focused on my surroundings than I like.
13. In the same vein: lists! I love lists. I make packing lists every time I pick up and move on. Every! Time! I also make to-do lists—to-do this week, to-do when I get home, to-do for work today, what I want to-do before I leave this country. I write it all down. Traveling is like a constant sensory overload, and even if I REALLY want to grab my best friend a present in this little town before I leave, I might accidentally overlook that because of everything else going on. Shit, this whole blog post is a list. I digress.
12. Social media and technology have purpose, but are not THE purpose. Deep. But seriously. I love keeping in touch with people back home via any given social media. It also helps me keep in touch with new friends and connect with people doing similar things to me (i.e. a couchsurfing meetup or a Facebook page dedicated to Au Pairs in Madrid). One of my friends who is living abroad right now wrote a blog post here about how Tinder helped her acclimate to her new city. But it is important to be present in the moment, not to just visit somewhere or do something because I know my online community will appreciate it or envy me for it.
11. There are ways to sustain myself financially while traveling. I already knew this! I work(ed) at a camp in Taiwan! But this year I figured out how to use my skillset (traveling, writing, and wit) to make money. Not a boat-load, but a little extra. Which is nice. And helpful. Freelance writing is a new-ish addition to my life, but it’s already been so good to me. And it’s resume building on-the-go. Score score score.
10. Do NOT get too attached to any of the stuff packed in your luggage. I have shed and gained and shed and gained so many items since leaving home with my original packing list. I literally left a full duffel bag in Taiwan. I have added new clothes (from Primark, I am obsessed) and thrown away stuff that’s gotten gross. Yes, I wore those Toms shoes when I graduated from university, but I also got 86 layers of mud all over them during a typhoon. They needed to go.
9. Pack consciously. This is obvious, I suppose. But maybe only obvious because I have a lot of experience with packing my whole life into a small bag? My staple plaid button up can be used as a shirt with leggings, a light sweater, can be tied around the waist, or tucked in to high-waisted jeans. Layering is key. Neutral colors are good. Practical shoes only. Always pack a going-out outfit. Bring more than one bra. Don’t over-pack pajamas. Bring a little bottle of laundry detergent (and learn how to effectively wash clothes by hand). The list goes on and on. Basically I ask myself before putting an article of clothing into my packing cubes (trust me, as nerdy as it sounds, they changed my traveling life): “is this practical? How often will I wear this?” This is not a foolproof system. Sometimes I pack something and quickly grow to hate it, regardless of its practicality, and never want to wear it again. Sometimes I start to miss the ONE thing that I was on the fence about bringing, and ended up leaving behind. But generally, practical wins.
8. I love skincare???? I knew this. But I thought I could put it in the back seat while traveling because I can’t carry around 30 products for my face and body when I have a luggage weight limit. But I like my skin to feel good! And there are ways to do that without bringing the entire bathroom cabinet with me. Plus, if this is what matters to me, it can take up a bit of extra space. Some people will have more than 2 pairs of shoes, some will have 8 Lush products on hand. *shrugs insistently*
7. There are certain apps and websites that are SUPER helpful while abroad! (Disclaimer, this is an evolving list.) The Kayak app is one of the most used on my phone. Skiplagged is another good one for cheap flights (I found a $500 Taiwan to Paris flight on there. It seriously works.) Always have Uber—you never know when you’ll need it. Hostelworld is great for finding the cheapest hostel last minute, and a lot of the time they have sales going on like $1 beds! I don’t love Couchsurfing alone, but the app is good to have in a pinch and it also has an events tab that can help you find cool stuff to do when you’re new in an area. Nearify is a new favorite along the same lines: you check off all the things you like to do (dancing, bar crawls, yoga, etc.) and the app compiles a real-time list of events happening in your area—it works in pretty much all major cities around the world I have visited since downloading. CityMaps2Go is awesome—free, DOWNLOADABLE maps you can use while offline that include virtual pamphlets showcasing the major sites and things to do in the city. Postagram is cool if you like sending postcards but have a hard time finding the cards or post office or forget until the very last minute—you can send a printed postcard with a photo you took to anyone in the world! The Google Translate app has a translating camera—yes, you can literally hold it up to a menu in a different language and it will translate it on the spot! Tiny Scanner is LIFE (do you know how hard it is to just stumble across a scanner while in a foreign city?), you can take a photo of a document and it turns it into a scan in .pdf format. WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Facebook Messenger, Skype, iMessage, whatever you prefer… They’re helpful, and all of them have wifi calling available. Your bank’s mobile app!!! A money conversion calculator!!
6. Podcasts and audiobooks are not just for old people. (Sorry old people!) I like to be engaged in something while in transit, but I get mild vertigo if I try to do anything like read or watch movies in cars, buses or trains. Listening to books and podcasts lets my brain still munch on something in a time that has the potential to be super boring. I like podcasts about true crime, fictional suspense/mystery podcasts, random knowledge shows, YouTubers’ podcasts, etc. And my favorite audiobook is hands down Yes Please by Amy Poehler, narrated by herself. YES, PLEASE.
5. Dry shampoo, deodorant, feminine/baby wipes, baby powder and a toothbrush. Those can really turn your day around when you’re trekking through a jungle (or a concrete jungle) and cannot/don’t have time to shower.
4. Important documents to have abroad!!! I have a folder in my luggage with that scrawled across the top. “Important” is subjective, for the most part, but for me that means vaccination papers, visa printouts, a copy of my health insurance and whatnot, and any paperwork having to do with my jobs.
3. Airports are a cultural microcosm, and I love them and I hate them. No matter where I am, what language the country speaks, the time of day, I know that I can navigate an airport. They have a (generally) similar layout all the time, and have a constant singular purpose, and I write some of my favorite blog posts while sitting inside them. I hate how expensive the food is. I hate when flights are cancelled. I hate when the wifi is slow or nonexistent. I get real ticked off when security is moving slow. But I understand airports, and they understand me, and we meet all too often to not get along.
2. Keep the circle tight. Those who want to be in my life, despite the fact we can only see each other once or twice a year, will make as much of an effort as me. Real friends will Skype at weird times of day to accommodate time zone differences. They send me mail if they can when I have a temporary address. They keep me in the loop about their lives (because, contrary to popular belief, I don’t think my goings-on are any more important or worthy of being talked about than my friends’, no matter where they are/what they are doing). People who love me will never earnestly complain about my absence, because they know I am living my dream. And reunions are always so sweet.
1. I am still me. No matter where I am, what odd job I am doing, new family I am living with, I am still me. I still deal with day-to-day stuff like traffic and exhaustion and (dare I say it) boredom. I still deal with real life stuff like break-ups and motorbike accidents (still face-palming about that one). I still have the same character traits, like crippling stress and anxiety. I still need to take care of myself, both physically and mentally. I think this year especially, this has been the most important thing that I have experienced and learned from. The world is still spinning, as is the world inside my head. I can’t fully experience new places if I am not in a good place mentally. Love myself. Take care of myself. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
For those of you reading this, thank you for always making it to the end of my blogs. It really does mean a lot to me. I hope you holiday season is as good as mine, and that I can keep writing cool content for you in 2016.