Learning to ride a motorbike abroad will open up a world of possibilities. You are able to travel at any time of day or night, explore secret corners of each city as well as deep interiors of islands without much planning. Once you’re confident on a bike, a newfound freedom will have you scooting the days away in search of adventure that is available to only those with the skills to get them there.
Personally, I had a horrible first day. I was confused, anxious, scared, and feeling quite incapable. I ended up letting my best friend drive me around for the next year and while I was quite happy with the situation, I had no idea what I was missing until five years later when I was forced to try again. Cut to five days after that and I was zipping through rush hour traffic in Chiang Mai like a little pro. Force yourself out of your comfort zone and the world will expand in front of you. Learning to confidently ride a motorbike was quite possibly my biggest accomplishment of 2016, and something I can only improve upon for the rest of my life. Here’s how to start:
Growing up, we camped a lot. With so many tents and trailers around, it was really rare as a family of six to stay in a hotel room and even if we did, it was usually overcrowded, sterile and uncomfortable. I have a faint memory of the excitement of discovering the door inside the hotel room that could connect our family’s two rooms, but besides that I remember feeling uncomfortable in the new space, bored and quite hungry. What can I say, I’m a grazer. I like my snacks. Fast forward twenty years and I frequent hotel rooms and Airbnb’s often for work and play.
I realized that I’ve come a long way. I love exploring these new spaces and I can feel instantly at home almost anywhere I travel to. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky enough to find lovely spaces or maybe it’s a few simple necessities that transform any hostel or hotel into an instant oasis. Here’s a few of my favorite comforts that morph a hotel room into a home. You’ll notice that most have an element that elevates the vibe, atmosphere and energy of the space and after all isn’t that what makes a house a home?
Portable speaker – Music emphasizes whatever mood you’re trying to achieve. Want to relax? Wanna pregame or party? Want to block out your hotel neighbors who sound like they’re on their honeymoon or worse yet, like they’re preparing for a divorce? Perfect – blast those tunes. Adding tunes to the equation customizes each activity from your morning shower and bathroom routine to your midday yoga flow. Memories are also tightly tied to music therefor you truly have the power to burn your vacation into your memory by creating a special playlist for the occasion. Although I’ve used a half dozen portable speakers, I was recently gifted this beautiful bass powerhouse crafted by Bang & Olufsen and I could not recommend it enough.
Fuzzy throw blanket – Maybe this seems redundant to you. Obviously there are blankets in your hotel room, but there’s nothing like a cozy throw while you’re lounging on the balcony or curled up with a good book by the window. Usually hotel comforters are big, bulky, and (hopefully) full of down, which is nice for sleeping, but too much for a casual hang. Your fuzzy throw probably smells like home too, which helps if your missing your partner or kids. Bonus? When everyone is shivering under their scratchy airline blanket you’ll be snoozing away in your window seat and while you can’t hear your neighbors, they’re commenting on what a savvy traveler you are. Forget the stupid travel pillow and pack a throw instead.
Candles – It’s amazing how one flickering light can change the mood of a room. The soft glow and ambiance from a candle or two kicks overhead lighting’s ass any day. I always travel with a tea light if not something larger. If you have time to spare at your destination, shopping for a candle on day one makes for a fun mini mission. You’ll surely wander into a few inspiring shops and you’ll support a local maker with your candle purchase. I love, love, love this candle. It’s worth every penny and makes a beautiful gift.
Flowers – seems like a luxury, right? Actually, flowers are pretty inexpensive if you’re buying local blooms. It’s not like you need a dozen roses. While you’re out candle shopping, wander through a flower market or visit the farmer’s market and pick up a bouquet of in-season wild flowers. Each time you walk into your hotel room a smile is sure to spread across your face. *And while we appreciate this luxury on the road, we always make it a point of trying to buy local & seasonal flowers, or those that have the Rainforest Alliance certification.
Snacks – save yourself! Buy some snacks. Never be hangry again and please don’t settle for shitty vending machine chocolate. Treat yourself like the grown ass adult that you are. A simple stop at a local grocer, co-op or even a gas station is a mass improvement over the mini bar. My go to travel snacks usually include a bottle of keefir, hummus, crackers, fruit (something easy like a bunch of grapes, citrus or apples) and of course a nice chocolate bar. You really just need a few nibbles to tide you over when a snack attack comes on, it’s not like these are the groceries you’ll be living off of.
Tea – most hotel rooms will have an electric kettle or coffee pot in the room. Instead of drinking the plain Jane Lipton teas that are provided, pack a few of your own tea bags. I alway travel with tea and honestly it’s like a mini vacation with each cup. I’m instantly transported into a comfort zone and I can’t help but feel gratitude for taking such good care of myself. Apparently self care comes down to a cup of good tea for me. If you’re one of those people that needs coffee ASAP upon waking up, it’s not a bad idea to pack a little baggie of your own beans either. I skip this since I really enjoy trying out new coffee shops, but maybe a cup of your own Joe is what your travel mornings are missing?
Scents – weird one, huh? Not at all! Scents, like music, are strongly tied to memory and really we’re talking about aromatherapy here. You have the power to alter your mood and elevate your happiness with smells, so pack some! I highly recommend a paolo santo stick or incense, some invigorating eucalyptus oil for the shower, some soothing sandalwood oil for your bathrobe or pillow and even a little calming lavender satchel for your dresser drawer during the day and under your pillow at night. I know some folks who travel with essential oil diffusers and personally, I call them geniuses.
That’s that! Have I convinced you to pack a few more items in that backpack or suitcase? I mean seriously, imagine coming home after a long day of meetings or a chaotic trip through a local market and you walk through your hotel door greeted by a fresh bouquet of flowers. You immediately go about lighting a candle and burning some incense, pouring yourself a cup of tea, turning on your favorite album and curling up under your fuzzy blanket to reflect on your day. I think the only thing that could make the moment better is a piece of dark chocolate and thankfully you’ve thought of that too 🙂
I’ve been volunteering my time quite a bit lately and as always, it feels wonderful. I’m republishing this post in hopes that you’ll research a new volunteering opportunity in your area and field of interest. If you have any experience volunteering or suggestions for others, throw them in the comments.
Happy Monday! Over a year ago, when Katie and I started this blog, we had intended for our Mondays to be inspiring. We thought, what better to read on a Monday morning than something that will amp you up for the rest of the week or at the very least, make your Monday a bit better. We’ve strayed a little bit from that scheduling because we realized we have so much to share in all spheres, but today we’re going back to our roots and inspiring you to help out a little. You know, volunteer a few hours or a few days, whatever you can. Today I’m sharing my two cents on why you should volunteer followed by a recap of my recent volunteer experience on the Appalachian Trail that includes a remembrance of our dear hiking friend.
Traveling extensively really comes down to a few factors: time, money, and willingness. If you’re willing, you are capable of creating the time and funds to take a trip. If I, the least motivated money maker on the planet, can scrape together enough cash to travel to 15+ countries, you can too. I absolutely despise money and trading my precious time for work (some people read this as being lazy, but I assure you I’m not), but travel motivates me to make paper. Traveling is a drug and I am in the throws of addiction. Life feels dull if I’m not exploring. Here’s how I motivate myself to maintain a life revolving around travel.
Namaste. Ready for your yoga retreat? Freaking out because you’re so excited and don’t know what to pack? Sweet. I gotcha covered. You basically need nothing except a great attitude, but I’ll round out the list with a few other essentials.
Ever since posting about my experience at Rishikul Yogshala’s 200hr Yoga Teacher Training in Nepal, I received emails from prospective students asking, ‘WTF do I pack?!’ and the answer is so simple. You don’t need much. Imagine what you take to a yoga studio each time you go to practice. Imagine all the things you leave at home. Now pack accordingly.
Yoga Teacher Training / Retreat Packing List:
Full sized towel / yoga towel if you use one
Light blanket or sarong (this is really more of a travel in general must, but it’s very useful if your retreat is going to incorporate Yoga nidra or if you get cold during savasana.)
A few yoga outfits – whatever that means to you.
Slip on shoes – flip flops or something similar since you’ll be slipping in and out of your shoes each time you enter the studio.
A notebook and pen
A light read or an ipod with some calming tunes. Sometimes you’ll need to fall asleep (teacher training starts early!), but you’ll still feel energized from all the asana so bring a tool that drifts you off to dreamland.
A snack to quell hunger at inconvenient times. I usually take raw pine nuts, almonds or walnuts or a box of these fig bars.
Hey there! In late spring, I went on a three-week road trip around the south-eastern United States. My companion and I hit up eight cities over the course of over 1,500 miles. I shared a few city guides already, but today I wanted to let you in on five easy ways to save a few bucks on your next road trip. There are plenty more ways to save, but here are the obvious and easy to get you started:
Pack a Cooler – Snack attacks hit hard on road trips and most of the time it’s because you’re bored not hungry. Beat hungry street by packing a cooler with some hummus, dips, sandwich supplies, whatever you like to eat on the road. You’ll save money, time and tummy aches by skipping out on all the fast food. Fun fact: We didn’t eat fast food or buy coffee from a chain at all – not even a single time – on our road trip.
Pay for Gas in Cash – Plenty of gas stations offer a discount (usually five or ten cents per gallon) if you pay for gas in cash. Sometimes these deals are advertised, but other times you have to ask at the counter. It never hurts to ask, you’d be surprised how often there is a discount. Since we’re chattin’ gas, make sure you’re getting the most of your gas mileage. Check the tire pressure frequently and stick to roads where you can drive under 70 mph. It makes a noticeable difference. Also, park in the shade and don’t idle your vehicle for too long.
Use AirBnB or Camp – Instead of staying in overpriced hotels each night, try camping instead. Staying at local campsites is a great way to get your fill of nature, which can be challenging if all your destinations are cities (like ours were). After a few hours on the interstate highway, your brain will be craving the serene scene that a campsite brings. Camping out during road trips doesn’t require too much gear, really just the tent, sleeping bags, flashlights and camp chairs. Every thing else is a bonus. If you’re not down to sleep on the ground, search for a unique AirBnB instead. I love AirBnB and I have never had a bad experience. They’re especially great if you have young kids or a dog, as you can find accommodations that are right for your family.
BYOB + C – Whenever possible, always supply your own booze and coffee. Having a big jar of cold brew coffee on hand was the best decision of the road trip. Each morning went so smoothly when we started off with some home brew. Once you have a cup of coffee, the cobwebs clear and the day comes into focus. Often times we bought afternoon coffees (because independent coffee shops are great places to hang out and experience), but without our cold brew to start things off we would have had some rocky mornings. As for the booze, whether it’s a local six pack or a nice bottle of wine, it will always be cheaper at a grocery store than a bar or restaurant. It’s also nice to sit at your campsite or on the deck of your AirBnB and sip slowly with your co-road trippers than to be packed into a crowded bar where you’ll pay more and miss half the conversation.
Think Like a Local – Just be mindful of your actions and they’ll pay off. Sometimes we were on auto pilot, for instance we paid for parking on a Sunday. So dumb! We didn’t even realize what day it was or we could have parked on the street for free. That would have saved us $18. Brainstorm ideas on how you save at home and translate those tendencies to your life on the road. Instead of grabbing drinks at any old spot, why not look for a local happy hour? Instead of paying for a concert, browse around for a bar that always features live music for a small cover, etc.
That’s it folks. Nothing earth shattering today, but it’s always nice to save a little dough, especially on vacation. There’s nothing worse than coming home feeling tired and broke. Live within your means and make it fun. If you’re stressin’ about money during your trip you certainly won’t enjoy it as much as you could have. So, where are you headed next?
We agree, it’s a little bit strange to talk about Winter Photography Tips in mid-April, but did you see all the snow that fell in Boulder this past weekend? It wouldn’t stop! With a house full of food and relatives and the fire on full blast, we enjoyed every second of the snow. We even made it outside for a hike up the mountainside. If you’re still enjoying wintery snowscapes, here are a few practice pieces of advice for photographing in the snow. Continue reading …
I’ve traveled plenty, most times with the wrong gear, but when it’s right, I’ve never felt more comfortable and relaxed in an unknown environment. Today I’m sharing my most beloved travel companions, in the way of gear, so you can scope out a great present for the adventurer in your life. All these items are highly practical and while they may be on the expensive side, they’ll last for half a decade or more. If you want your wanderer to think of you while they’re abroad, scope out one of these premium gifts and have them travel in comfort and style. I’ve traveled without most of these items at least once, but never again, never again.
A quality, packable down jacket. I was absolutely unprepared and frozen in this photo (and for the next few days) taken in Halong Bay, Vietnam. On my recent trip to Nepal, I made sure to pack a down jacket and it’s a good thing, because I wore it for a week straight on the Annapurna Circuit.
If you’re traveling or teaching abroad, chances are you’ve missed a holiday at home. Sometimes holidays pass without you noticing, but other times you miss the cookies, the family time, and the traditions that make each holiday complete. You might start to feel like you’re missing out on something at home. I’ve been there. I have eaten at Sizzler in Thailand (somewhere I’ve never dined at in the States!) on Thanksgiving, had pad thai for Christmas dinner, and had to search within my camping backpack for a ‘costume’ on Halloween in the backcountry of California. It’s different, it’s fun, okay, it’s kinda fun. You still miss home, family, and tradition, but hopefully these five tips will have you missing all that a little less. Over the years, I’ve come to realize as much as I don’t really care about holidays, they are still meaningful and it’s always good to treat that day a bit different when it comes around.
Plan an Epic Adventure – This is definitely my favorite way to spend a holiday away from home. Plan something so awesome and amazing that you will remember that day as the best holiday for years to come. Climb a volcano, zipline through the jungles of Thailand, or try SCUBA diving for the first time, whatever you do, do it big. On future holidays you’ll be able to look back at your expedition with a smile as you tell your friends and family about it. Sharing your stories on the anniversary of the day will allow you to realize that while you may have missed one holiday at home, there will be many more to celebrate with family and friends
While traveling, I’m always reading one, or more likely five, books at a time. I read the following three books one after another while traveling throughout southeast Asia and while I admittedly felt extremely bummed out afterwards, I’m pleased I did. These three works are all largely based on true stories making them all the more powerful. Each novel features younger characters that reveal harsh realities of those living in developing countries. If you haven’t had the chance to travel, read these novels and venture far and wide from your couch. You won’t be sorry you did although you’ll probably be more sympathetic to those across the ocean.
When the Elephants Dance is equal parts misery and magic, written by Urize Holthe, a Filipina-American writer from San Francisco, the novel is inspired by actual experiences of her father who was a young boy in the Philippines during World War II. When the Elephants Dance begins during the final week of the Japanese-American battle for possession of the Philippines. Told by three distinct narrators, the novel recounts supernatural tales based on indigenous Filipino mythology and Spanish-influenced legends as told by an extended family hiding in a cellar during the last week of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Alternating between the gruesome realities of rape, starvation, and torture brought on by the war, When the Elephants Dance is a multi-layered view of the history and culture of a war-torn nation.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo won a national book award for nonfiction. This novel is based on three years of reporting in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. No matter how different you may seem from the characters in this novel, you’ll be rooting for them from page one. This is a story of personal tragedy set within a city’s larger global recession that results in suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths,the true contours of a competitive age are revealed and one realizes the fragility of human life.
In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda is the story of a ten year old boy who is left to travel from Afghanistan to Italy on his own. This story seems especially pertinent at a time when masses are scrambling across borders to safer havens. Travel with ten-year-old Enaiatollah over the course of five years as he treks across mountains, rides in suffocatingly small spaces, and faces violent seas in an inflatable raft. While Enaiat eventually reaches safety, the same is not true for his traveling companions. If you’ve ever needed to harbor compassion for illegal immigrants read this novel.
While this certainly isn’t the most uplifting post, it’s way up there as one of the most important. Sometimes it’s easy to feel removed from our planet’s social tragedies, but these three novels close the gap between privilege and misfortune. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I like to remind myself of all my first-world problems, it helps me to feel ridiculous and grateful at the same time.
The image of me reading was taken by the truly talented Saleem Ahmed.