25 Countries in 12 Months? Good Luck with That!

Well, this is weird.We travel not to escape life, but for (1)

I was talking to a friend the other day. She pointed out that I had not written anything about what, exactly, my plans were for traveling the world, only that I was doing it.

I feel silly. Stupid. Completely missed the boat. 

So thanks, Julie, for helping me write my next blog post!

But what can anyone say who has a nebulous, grand, visionary plan to slow-travel—vagabond, really—across the globe for months on end? How concrete can a year-long adventure really be months before departure, if at all?

Still, the point is well taken. Surely I must have some idea of where I’d like to go, right?

Sort of, I guess. Okay, yeah.

While I still have a while to purge, prepare, and pack before I depart, I am collecting information on places I want to investigate further to see if they will make my final list of where in the world to go.

My general itinerary at this point is incredibly ambitious. It includes the following regions of the planet:

  • Southeast Asia
    • Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand
  • China
  • South Korea (possibly)
  • India and Sri Lanka
  • Central Europe
    • Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland
  • Kenya (??)
  • South Africa 
  • South America
    • Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia
  • Central America
    • Panama, Nicaragua, Belize

That’s 25 countries if I don’t count Kenya. I already figured out that a year is not long enough. As I said, it’s ambitious, but I do think that if I love the vagabond lifestyle (which I think I will), and I continue to get work on the road that supports me (as a freelance editor, mostly books), I’ll just keep on going until . . . what?

My end game plan is to land with my family in California, collect the ten boxes I will have saved from the purge of my belongings, and move to Ecuador. Of course, there’s a lot of time between here and there, and the way I want to travel is to be open to where the wind blows, so to speak. “Hey, there’s a food festival in Hong Kong! You have GOT to join us!” “What?! You didn’t know about the Flower Festival in Guatemala?” You get the idea. So who knows where I’ll really end up, or when.

So there you have it. My rough, ambitious, heart-stopping, exciting itinerary. Will I hit all the countries? I would love for you to follow my blog and stay tuned! 

Where in the world have you been? What is your favorite country? Where would you NEVER go again? Leave a comment, like, and share my blog, please! I’ll love ya for it!

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I Give UP! Details Overwhelm Sets In

I quit.

What have I been thinking?

Who do I think I am, chucking my entire life, pretending I can travel the world for a year?

I can’t even imagine how I’m going to deal with my stuff and figure out what to do with my house, let alone have enough money to live and work from the road.  I’m 58 years old, for Pete’s sake. I give up. I’m not going.

These thoughts pass through my mind whenever I think of everything I need to get done to realize my dream of traveling around the world for 365-ish days. And the more I read other world travelers’ blogs, the more I realize that this is perfectly normal, this not-knowing-what’s-going-to-happen fear, this there-are-so-many-things-to-do/plan/decide/buy overwhelm.

Yesterday I was feeling that overwhelm in a pretty major way. My mind whirled with the myriad details of what travel bag to choose, which walking shoes to buy, whether I should sell or rent my house, what to keep and where to keep it, how I’m going to manage mail, how I’m going to deal with taxes, and on and on and on . . .

Then I remembered about lists.

Before I started hyperventilating, I grabbed a pencil and notepad and began writing down everything that was streaming through my mind like a high-def Bruce Willis action movie. A peaceful calm immediately started trickling through my manic brain. Oh, right, I thought. At this age I have tools to deal with fears, anxiety, and overwhelm. I just have to remember what they are and how to use them when I need them most.

I realized then that I actually had a list of lists constantly running in the back of my mind. I am astounded that I had not yet started a real, physical, long-term list of things I need to do/research/buy before I go. So now I have the beginning of my list of lists and a place to jot down all the random thoughts that come into my head when I read a blog about dealing with taxes while traveling or what mail service to use. Lists Fix Everything

Here is the very beginning of my list of lists:

  • Stuff:
    • Room by room, separate items into three categories: Keep, sell, give
    • Create a timeline of selling stuff using VarageSale, Craigslist, Facebook, specialized garage sales (Jewelry! Clothes! Electronics! Tools!)
    • Find an awesome home for my cat, Apples.
  • Stuff about the house:
    • Get CRM from my realtor—should I sell?
    • Talk to property managers about renting to long-term tenant—should I lease?
    • Prepare house accordingly
  • Stuff to purchase:
    • Laptop (Dell Inspiron 11 3000 series)
    • Backpack (probably Eagle Creek Switchback 22) and packing cubes
    • Walking shoes
    • Down jacket
    • The perfect pair of pants
    • Travel insurance
  • Stuff to research:
    • Best way to travel between countries
    • Volunteer opportunities
    • Weather by month
    • How to deal with taxes
    • (This list is going to get huge!)
  • General stuff to do:
    • Re-establish my credit (I had to file bankruptcy in 2010. It’s been a long recovery.)
    • To that end: apply for a credit card
    • Decide where my permanent address will be (tricky, since I don’t plan on coming back to Oregon. Probably will be my mom’s in California)
    • (Another rapidly growing list!)

These items represent just a tiny beginning of things that go through my mind. This list of lists will grow quickly, I’m sure. And when I am working on planning my trip, I’ll go to my list and see what to do. There’s nothing like crossing off an item on a giant, months-long list of lists to feel like I’m making progress!

My goal is to leave by November 2015 and travel for a year, so I also remind myself I have time to take care of all these details, but no time to waste. My departure date will be here before I know it, so I am actively choosing my travel laptop, my backpack, my walking shoes. I am sorting through my stuff and talking to property managers. And the money? I’m already halfway to my goal of saving $10,000, so I may increase the final total if my work flow continues to hold steady.

From now on, when I have those moments of panic and anxiety about preparing for such a huge life change, I will simply remember my lists and take comfort in knowing that it will all work out as long as I stay on track. After all, these are some of the best life skills I’ve developed, tools I can pull out of the bag when they’re most needed.

What do you do when you’re in overwhelm? Are you a list maker? Please share the life skills you’ve developed and keep in your tool bag!

 

 

The Minimalist’s Ultimate Guide to Travel: What NOT to Pack

You have to take that shirt.

You wear it almost every day. It’s your favorite one. It goes with everything.

And your favorite pair of jeans. How could you NOT take those? You live in them.

Everything is laid out in perfect stacks on the bed, travel bag nearby, its gaping maw wide open, laughing at you.

You look at your stuff. You look at your bag.

You look at your stuff. You look at your bag.

You do this two, three, four more times. Every time you look at your stuff, there’s more. Every time you look at your bag, it’s smaller. You wonder, how can I possibly pack everything into a carry-on bag? packing graphic

How many times have you traveled with an over-full bag—or, worse yet, multiple bags—because you just didn’t know how you’d feel each day/what the weather would be/which soirees you might be invited to, so you had to take several options?

Remember when you had to step aside at the airport check-in counter and try to get your checked bag under the weight limit? You were frustrated, not to mention embarrassed, at having to pull out your clothes and shampoo and shoes and try to figure out what you could take out and shove into your carry-on bag.

All that careful packing gone to waste, and when you arrived, everything was balled up and wrinkled and nothing was where you put it in all that careful packing you did to make sure everything fit.

You swore you would never over-pack again. Well, didn’t you?

So, how DO you decide what to take and, more importantly, what to leave behind?

Long-term-travel packing is an art. If you have ever packed a carry-on bag for a month in Europe, you know that you can’t be packing the night before you leave. When you’re traveling for an extended period of time, every single thing that makes it into your travel bag must be crucial to your travel needs.IMG_0659-0

The one and only time in the last thirty years I checked a bag was when I bought a giant suitcase to carry home all the beads I got at Mardi Gras. (Don’t ask me how I got all those beads.) I have pounds and pounds of truly awesome Mardi Gras beads that I’ve been giving away by the handfuls for years. Tip: leave your beads at Mardi Gras.

What to Leave Out

Here are some of the obvious things to leave out when you are packing to travel for a month or more:

  • Full-size toiletries
  • Books and magazines
  • Food
  • Valuable jewelry
  • Unnecessary gadgets
  • Three white shirts
  • Jeans

What?! JEANS?!! But I live in my jeans, you say.

Okay, there can be exceptions to bringing your favorite denim, but beware: jeans are heavy, not very comfortable in many situations such as long bus rides and monsoons, take forever to dry, and command a LOT of room in your bag. Only if you truly cannot live without your favorite jeans should you bring them, but I strongly recommend you consider something much more packable, versatile, and just as comfy.

Let’s look at the other things on the list.

Unless you use a prescription shampoo or moisturizer, you can buy toiletries pretty much anywhere you go. This includes shampoos and conditioners, face wash, body lotions, razors, make-up, and just about any other bathroom item you can name. Now, I am a loyal Aveda junkie, and I understand favorite products, but I cannot justify giving up precious packing space to full-size products, nor should you. Start with travel sizes and refill or replace as needed.

Books and magazines are heavy, take up space, and then you’re done with them. While a single travel guide, the best of the best for your needs, is okay, all other reading materials should be borrowed as you go or read on a tablet. I gave up carrying books when I got the first gen Kindle. Look at all that new space now!

What about bringing snack foods for flights or other long-distance travel? I agree with the concept, but I have known people to bring two weeks’ worth of snacks and other foods so they didn’t have to buy them along the way. This is a mistake for so many reasons: 1) space 2) we don’t need to go any further. Just don’t buy snacks at the most convenient (and therefore pricey) places as you travel. Go to a market or a food cart, just like the locals would do.

Valuable jewelry needs no explanation, yet I know people who refuse to leave their favorite pieces behind. While I won’t say this practice courts disaster, I will say it’s just not worth it. ‘Nuff said.

Unnecessary gadgets are items that duplicate what you are already packing, such as a Kindle and a tablet or an iPod and a smart phone. Consolidate your entertainment and other digital needs, and keep it simple. Don’t bring a cord for each device if they can share. And unless you are a professional photographer, you don’t need more than one camera. Even then, consider leaving the zoom lens home.

Packing three white shirts, or duplicates of ANY clothing items, is probably the most common no-no I see, even in the seasoned traveler. If you truly want minimalist travel, pare down to one sleeveless tank top, two short-sleeve shirts, and one long-sleeve shirt. If they all layer together well, you can at least create a few different looks. I recently backed an amazing new travel shirt on Kickstarter called Morf. It’s a shirt that morphs to “up to 24 different looks.”

I already addressed the jeans, and I get how hard not bringing them can be. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to reap the greater rewards of a lighter bag and more space. In my opinion, this one is worth it for the reasons I outlined above. But again, the exception is if you just live in your jeans and can’t imagine life without them. I realize this is the case for many world travelers, but I’m not one of them.

What Else?

Leave these at home:

  • A second coat
  • A second pair of sandals
  • Most hair accessories (simplify your hairstyle before you travel)
  • Blow dryer, extra hairbrush
  • Travel clothes iron
  • Any article of clothing that doesn’t go with everything else
  • “Just in case” items such as a beach towel
  • Beach toys and sports equipment
  • An “extra” anything: pair of shoes, sweater, toothbrush, towel
  • Cotton anything

I realize that cotton clothes are comfortable to wear, but they are not the friendliest of travelers. Cotton is a terrible insulator; it doesn’t wick moisture away from your skin, and it stays wet for a long time, whether from your sweat or a sudden downpour. And wet cotton is heavy, not to mention uncomfortable. (Um . . . jeans.)

To refine your list of what not to pack, do some research to see what medical items are easily available where you are going. Even though items such as aspirin, ointments, mosquito repellent, and clothes lines are tiny, they take up space in your bag. Besides, they are generally available in most countries. However, getting Neosporin in Denmark, for example, is impossible by all accounts. Be smart and do a little research on the availability of wound care items (gauze, first aid tape, wound ointment) in the countries on your list.

Oh, and that favorite shirt you wear almost every day? Take it, of course.

A Paleo Girl at a Vegan Retreat

Nothing but vegetables AGAIN?!

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Hanuman Buddhist Temple, Mount Madonna

Oats, rice, wheat, corn. Again. Yogurt and oats. Peanut sauce. I knew it would be a challenge to keep myself fed for a three-day vegan meditation retreat, but I was tired of trying to get full on veggies alone. Now, there’s not much to complain about when I’20150228_141852m spending glorious silent time among soaring redwood trees and stunning Buddhist temples. I thought of it as a good test run for being in a foreign culture, and it was.

I practice meditation, so I was excited to learn that my meditation teacher was holding this retreat in California while I was staying within an hour and a half of its location. It was a no-brainer to go and a nice opportunity to quiet my busy mind, get out of the concrete of Silicon Valley, and connect with the familiar damp greens and browns of the redwood forest. I ate a big meat-based breakfast before I left on Friday, because I knew the only meat I’d see for the next three days would be walking around on legs or flying on wings. 

So I wasn’t all that surprised when I was greeted at the gate to the mountaintop retreat’s 373 acres by a huge flock of enormous, colorful turkeys. Yes, colorful! You ever seen those suckers up close? H-U-G-E. Colorful. And every single male had a full-on spread of tail feathers. What a greeting! These guys had seen several Thanksgivings come and go. I didn’t get a pic because I was driving, but I did see this flock several times throughout the weekend. Those males are very, very proud of their tail feathers.

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I remember these from camping during my childhood.

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Baby redwoods

What can I say about what I ate? Stewed pears with blackberries for breakfast, lettuce leaves and carrots and a banana for lunch (oh, and nuts), and vegetables in hot water for dinner. I’m not kidding. Wasn’t even seasoned. And you know what? I didn’t mind.

I felt . . . lighter. I had forgotten that I don’t mind that little-bit-hungry feeling. I decided to just enjoy the experience. Oh, but you knew that was coming, didn’t you? Well, did you see the banana slug coming? 

I ventured on several meditative walks through the redwood forests surrounding the retreat center, soaking in the damp green air, the soft-as-down moss on giant grey boulders, the majestically soaring redwoods. I reconnected with my breath, my quiet, the stillness of now. I imagined that I was in India, among a culture I know very little about. 

20150301_091900

See the baby salamander?

This last one was easy, as there were twice-a-day ceremonies at the temple, where dozens of locals, most of them from India, came to do whatever it is they do at a temple. I sat with them as they rang bells and clanged instruments a20150228_140343nd sang in a language I didn’t understand. I had my forehead marked and smoke waved over my head and was handed a tiny bowl of . . . something white and grainy. Crap. I knew it was probably something very un-Paleo. What to do, what to do. I was . . . so . . . hungry. I decided to eat, then ask. I picked up a little bit with my fingers and brought the moist, fluffy  white stuff to my mouth. Ohmydog, it was sweet. I mean SWEET. I ate the rest.

The priest (what are they called at a Hindu temple?) with the floor-length dreads piled on his head said “Oh, that’s made of chickpea.”  I smiled in thanks. Chickpea, chickpea. Pretty sure that is a legume, right? I ate a tiny bowl of sugar-filled beans, completely the opposite of Paleo. Dang it. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer any gastric repercussions like I do if I eat a grain, but it did make my heart beat faster. Guilt?

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Me and my bi-color bindi

I got a lot of meditation in, too, by the way. I am glad I was reminded that I don’t mind feeling hungry. I am appreciative to have done a test-run for what it might feel like in a country that is mostly vegetarian, because I remembered that I will not starve. I feel deep gratitude for this one precious life, this reminder to slow down, to see the moss and the salamanders and the stunningly colorful Indian fabrics and the tiny purple flowers, to hear the wind and children’s laughter and a bird rustling in the dead leaves. As my meditation teacher reminded us, This is your life. Don’t miss it.