It’s that time again! Tonight, I’m flying out of JFK to Kiev, Ukraine, where I connect with a flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. Happy Spring Break, y’all!
The last two weeks have been the busiest so far of law school, so I am more than ready to get on the plane and get some sleep (I find long-haul flights to be relaxing in a strange way). Total travel time will be 10 hours to Kiev, and 3 to Tel Aviv.
The last time I crossed the Atlantic, I was returning to NYC after backpacking in Europe for 7 weeks this past summer. It feels like years ago.
I am so happy to be traveling again (as always), and also to keep myself occupied with some fun, non-school-related reading on this trip! (Ok, I did print a few class things to read along the way).
I started this last week and plan to finish it on the way. The story is set in Turkey and France during WW2, and follows the struggle of a Jewish Turkish family living in Marseilles during the German occupation as they attempt to escape to safety, as well as the work of Turkish diplomats to protect their nationals across Europe as war breaks out. It’s been a really good fiction read so far.
I am obsessed with these podcasts! I’ve downloaded the most recent ones, as well as the very earliest ones to catch up on this trip. I highly recommend today’s “Of Russia With Love” on Pod Save the World- an interview with former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. It does a really good job of explaining the Russia situation by breaking down the Obama restart, analyzing the return and rise of Putin, and discussing if and how Trump really changes anything.
Jamming: Current Travel Playlist
As always, a travel playlist for the long trip is so necessary.
I can’t believe I am leaving 1 week from tomorrow for a 9 day trip through Israel! I have always dreamed of visiting this land–the birthplace of 3 major world religions and a cradle of ancient civilization. Every Sunday for the first 18 years of life, I learned something about Israel. I can’t wait to see it in person.
I will be meeting up with a group of (awesome) fellow law students from NYU, and we will be spending the week visiting sites with religious, historical, and political significance. I am so excited for this opportunity…I have always felt drawn to visit this country for its spiritual and historic significance, and the trip is just around the corner!
What to pack? I am having a bit of trouble as I am starting my list. We will be doing a little bit of everything—visiting the Old City of Jerusalem (including the Wailing Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mount of Olives/Garden of Gethsemane, and Via Dolorosa-the road where Christ carried the cross), Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, meeting a Justice at the Israeli Supreme Court, hiking Masada, camping in a bedouin tent, 4-wheeling in the Golan Heights, floating in the Dead Sea, getting some sun on the beaches of Tel Aviv, and meeting with various cultural representatives and law firms. We are also arriving during Purim, which is supposed to be very fun (it is the equivalent of Jewish Mardi Gras!) Sadly, I think I am going to have to leave my backpack behind and take my suitcase instead for this trip.
So far, I think this is what I am going to be packing. I am definitely looking for suggestions though, as I have never been and keep seeing mixed weather reports for Israel in March on Google! I feel like I am overpacking…but am I leaving anything out!?
-2 bathing suits
-1 J Crew shorts
-2 Nike shorts
-1 yoga pants
-1 elephant pants from Thailand
-1 long sundress
-1 going out dress
-1 pashmina (to cover shoulders in the Old City)
-1 professional dress (for Supreme Court visit)
-2 tank tops
-3 dressy casual tops
-1 long sleeve top
-1 small purse
-Uniqlo Light Down Jacket
-glasses + sunglasses
I already feel this trip will be the most meaningful trip I have ever taken in many ways. I hope I am packing the right things! Maybe I will try to pack it all in my backpack…for sentimental reasons, I don’t want to leave it behind…it has been with me to Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe. We will see if it all fits. The countdown is on, and I can’t wait to be on the road again!
Traveling through Costa Rica over the past week has brought back so many emotions from my 12 week backpacking trip this past summer- the feelings of self-reliance and freedom, and the excitement of discovery and uncertainty. This time around, I strangely feel more at home “on the road,” but also further away from home than I ever have felt before. I find myself thinking less about how exciting the adventure is and more about how my traveling fits into my personal long and short-term goals. For me, I think I’m working on defining what home means, and I think there’s no better way to do this than traveling solo. Particularly, women traveling alone may face a unique set of questions, coming both from others and from their own self-doubt. I address a few below.
1- “It’s bold of you to be traveling alone as a girl.” I got this exact comment from a very nice Floridian gentleman I met at Manuel Antonio a few days ago, who had just finished telling me his own son had traveled through Africa alone when he was my age. I couldn’t help but smile and wonder if the fact I was traveling solo would have elicited the same response if I were male. To be fair, this gentleman was with his college-aged daughter, and he encouraged the two of us to talk some more so she could “learn from me,” which I found humbling (he thinks I have something to teach!?) and inspiring (he wants his daughter to feel empowered to see the world on her own volition).
Traveling solo while female isn’t necessarily bold or out-of-the-ordinary (at least it shouldn’t be). I have girl friends from Europe who do this type of thing regularly. And let’s not forget American pop culture icons Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat Pray Love fame) and Cheryl Strayed (Wild).
I found this encounter illustrative of something I view as a uniquely American perspective– the world’s not safe enough for women to travel alone. I have to disagree. To be fair, my own parents were reasonably concerned when I traveled to Africa last year on my own. But the truth is, practicing a certain level of care and attention will keep women just as safe as men in most places in the world. I’ll admit there are some places even I wouldn’t travel alone right now, but they’re few and far between. You have to accept 1 thing (America is just as dangerous or, in some ways, more dangerous than some places in the world) and believe 2 things: 1-despite what the media shows, most people generally have goodness in their hearts, and 2-practicing heightened care by paying attention to surroundings and instincts goes a long way.
2- “You’re staying in a hostel!? / Aren’t those sketchy and gross?” They’re awesome, if you pick the right one! I’m actually a huge fan of hostels, yet I feel they get a bad wrap in the USA because they’re just not as common there. Despite the sound of the name, I’ve found “hostels” to be quite hospitable places. Many of them are just as nice or nicer than hotels, with the added bonus of meeting fellow travelers and making friends more easily. The average age is somewhere between 23 to 35, if you pick the right one. And they are generally far less expensive to boot, with special deals on stuff to see and do around town. In addition, many hostels have a private room option which provides the privacy benefit of hotels at a far cheaper cost.
I use Hostelworld to research and book in advance. The reviews are very helpful here in terms of choosing a hostel that’s clean and safe, with the right blend of social-ness and solitude. The flexible deposit option also allows you to receive a refund if you cancel far enough in advance that’s then credited toward booking your next hostel (they also have hotels on here too!)
Ironically, I feel hostels are a much safer option for female solo travelers than single Airbnbs or hotels. As much as I love Airbnb, I think it’s better to be around a group of fellow travelers if you’re traveling alone. Also, it’s just an easier and more convenient way to make friends!
I think my favorite hostel I’ve ever stayed in was St. Christopher’s Inn in Berlin. I stayed in a huge room with 3 other girls, one who became one of my closest friends from the summer. We also had 2 full baths, a living room and kitchen, and a full bar and restaurant downstairs. It was also next to 2 major train stations. And it was ridiculously cheap– if you’re going to Berlin, book in advance because it fills up fast.
3- “Doesn’t it get lonely sometimes?” Yes and no. I am a firm believer that everyone would benefit from taking a solo trip at some point in his or her life. Solo travel teaches you how to rely on yourself in a completely unique way, as you are often the only person you know when you first arrive in a completely new part of the world. Solo travel is a healthy exercise in self-reliance, and I’m convinced it teaches you more about yourself than you thought you could know. It also forces you to step outside your comfort zone to make new connections, causing you to realize your comfort zone is in fact larger than you ever realized.
That being said, I think it takes a special blend of introversion and extroversion to truly relish the experience, as I tend to do. I am admittedly an introverted extrovert, which means I tend to gravitate towards social settings and being around other people, but I not only crave, but need, time alone to recharge and reflect. I love traveling solo because I can direct when I want to be social and when I want to be alone, which is a luxury for someone who lives in one of the most crowded cities in the world!
Does it get lonely sometimes? Sure, sometimes. And I have to admit I also love traveling with other people, too. It’s just a different experience, and there is a lot of value to be recognized in both methods. I don’t think I’ll travel solo forever, but at this point in my life I’m relishing the freedom.
4- “Why travel so much now? Don’t you want to wait and do it someday with a husband and kids?” My response is why not travel now and then! The (morbid) truth is, none of us know how many hours we have left on this earth. Or, you may wake up one day at 80 years old and realize you never pursued your dream of seeing the world because you kept waiting on other people. So if seeing as much of the world as possible is a priority to you, do it now. Not only is it safe and practical for women to solo travel (for reasons discussed above), but it makes so much sense to do so during the free, uncommitted days of early adulthood. You can stay in hostels! You can take an overnight bus with your backpack! You can wander through a jungle by yourself!
Traveling has allowed me to make sense of both the world and myself on a deeper level, even as what I see and learn often uncovers even more questions. I feel richer because of the opportunities I’ve had over the last couple of years to travel solo, and these experiences will enrich my future, whatever it holds.
5- “Isn’t it expensive though?” To be fair, this applies to guys and girls. My answer is twofold- 1) it’s not as expensive as you may think and 2) it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. Budgeting and using a savings plan, being flexible with flight dates, replacing some eating out with groceries, and using hostels can combine to make (almost) any trip a reality. Everyone has a right to choose what they value most, and for me, in the last few years I’ve begun to value experiences more than things. (That doesn’t mean wanting to spend money on nice things is a less worthy goal at all! It’s all personal preference). Life is all about choices anyway. If you want, feel free to message me to chat privately about travel finances. I promise I’ve paid less for this trip than you’d believe, and I’d love to share my secrets with you!
Also, each time I travel, I’m blown away by how many Americans I do not meet. For people from other countries (Australia and the U.K. come to mind), traveling abroad is a priority that manifests in the way people save and spend their money. Most people I meet traveling are not extremely wealthy, yet they just prioritize traveling in their finances. And, so many countries are cheaper to live in and travel in than the USA- with a bit of financial planning, I’m convinced more Americans can see the world.
If you take the chance to travel alone, you’ll discover you’re stronger than you ever realized, meet some of the most interesting people, and learn just how small the world really is. The world is yours to explore, so I encourage all women (and men) out there to not make any more excuses and do it. To combine two of my favorite cliches- fortune favors the bold, and travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.
It is hard to believe I’ve been home for exactly a month as of today. Moving to Brooklyn and starting law school at NYU has brought its own set of adventures (or misadventures). I’m thankful that I’ve had so much to keep me occupied and from feeling “homesick” for traveling. Although I’ve been very busy catching up with old friends, moving and settling in to my new apartment, and getting to know my new best friends (some substantially-sized Contracts, Torts, and Civil Procedure textbooks) really well, I am already counting down to my next trip (yep, it’s already in the works). I can’t wait!
I’ve received many messages and questions since my return about how to plan and execute a long-term backpacking trip. These amazing questions have inspired this post–what I know now that I wish I knew when I first set out for Thailand in May. I hope this post is helpful for those of you planning your own trips, and I am of course more than happy to keep answering questions via message (I’ll try my best to respond in a timely manner).
1- There is a lot that can (and will) go wrong. Jump in anyway. Case in point–my bag was lost for 3 weeks. Ok, maybe it’s good that I didn’t know this would happen before going, as this is the kind of thing that would have stressed me out before. This circumstance actually taught me even more that stuff is just stuff, and I don’t need all of it anyway. If I had to do it over again, I would not change a thing!
2- Don’t overplan— draft the outline but don’t write the paper before you leave. Plan a few big things, like flights and lodging in places where it may be expensive and booked up early, but try to leave as many of your plans as flexible as possible.
I felt a little frustrated on my tour in Cambodia and Vietnam at some points, as I felt almost every hour was planned and structured in certain cities without room to wander.
On the other hand, I feel I planned my Europe trip to the best degree possible, as I used flexible booking on Hostelworld (which allowed me to cancel reservations and get my deposit back to use towards another hostel), and I waited to book my transportation until a few days in advance of each place. This way, I could spend more or less time in places as I felt led to do so. Also, this flexibility allowed me to visit some places that were not on my original plan, like Provence with Nat and Bratislava. Book a few key things to have peace of mind, but allow yourself the freedom to drift and wander as you go along.
3- In Europe, bus> train. I had such a great experience with the bus in Europe (with the exception of Post Bus… Don’t use them!) I used Flixbus and Regiojet to get from point A to B often, and I only used the train once (from Prague to Budapest… At only 30 euro it was well worth it!) The bus is not only far cheaper 9 times out of 10, but it takes an equal or only slightly longer amount of travel time as the train in most instances. Hard to believe, right!? I thought I’d be using the train to travel within Europe as I started my trip, but I’m so happy I discovered Flixbus and Regiojet! I used GoEuro.com to compare prices across transportation methods.
4-“You are supposed to sleep on the sleeper trains in Vietnam” (or, find moments of comfort in uncomfortable situations). Those of you who know me well know that I have germophobic tendencies. The Vietnamese sleeper trains were not the cleanest, and I took 3 journeys on them ranging between 8 and 14 hours each. My sheets had sketchy stains on them, and I didn’t even use the toilet the first 2 trips because I was so grossed out. However, I had the deepest and soundest sleep of the whole Asia portion of my trip on these overnight journeys. The secret is that I let go of things out of my control and decided to embrace the moment. I not only survived the sleeper trains, but I have great memories from them now! I applied this principle to surviving 3 days in the freezing Bolivian wilderness without a shower, as well as sleeping in a cramped hostel in Paris (it was a great location and price though, and my bunk bed had a beautiful skylight!) It’s inevitable you’ll be out of your comfort zone at certain points… Just embrace it, and it’ll become a part of your story.
5- Don’t go to Bolivia during their winter (our summer). It’s absolutely freezing.
6- Embrace being a tourist. You’re not gonna fool anyone into thinking you’re a local in most places. So own it… Just don’t be obnoxious. Pay the 100,000 dong to see the water puppets in Ha Noi (I unexpectedly loved this so much!) Pay the 3 sols to take a picture with the baby llamas in Peru. Pay the 18 euro for the “Heineken experience” in Amsterdam… Cheesy but amazingly fun! There is something to be said for having authentic and “local” experiences too, and I highly encourage this. But, at the end of the day, don’t be ashamed or afraid to play tourist.
7- There’s no shame in embracing a Starbucks or McDonald’s along the way. Many travelers aim for the fully “authentic” experience and refuse to patronize places like Starbucks and McDonald’s that “you can find at home” and are run by big corporations. I agree with this view to an extent–I really enjoyed discovering and frequenting local spots along the way on all 3 continents. However, I do take exception to the self-righteousness of the “authentic only” perspective. There is something to be said about finding familiarity along the way on a long-term journey. McDonald’s are actually very clean and posh (ironically) everywhere but in the USA, and Starbucks had the most consistently reliable Wifi I found. You are the captain of your own experience–don’t cave to pressure to be “authentic” because you decide what is authentic for you.
8- Have cushion in your budget. See #1. You need to plan for some things to go wrong and for some things to cost more than you’ve planned. Build some extra funds into your budget to cover these unexpected costs. For me, this was replacing my entire bag and wardrobe in Provence. Although my insurance will reimburse me, I still had to front this cost plus 3 additional weeks of travel. I’m glad I planned ahead for the unforeseen!
9- If you have a chance to travel, take it. If you don’t, make a plan. You will never have enough time, money, or friends to travel with. So do it now. Don’t make any more excuses. Plan and arrange your finances and vacation time/transition time between jobs to allow for your trip. It’s now or never! Also, don’t be afraid to go it alone. See #11.
10- A smile is understood in every language. A simple smile goes a long way in terms of making friends.
11- Keep an open mind when it comes to the people you will meet. You may feel like your life is already so full of friends and family before you leave, but there is always room for more. The thought of traveling alone and meeting strangers may sound extremely intimidating, and that’s normal. But the truth is you’re never alone when you travel solo. You will meet so many like-minded adventurers and kindred spirits. You may fall in love. You will meet people with different backgrounds from different cultures, but discover you have so much in common. Embrace the uncertainty, wear a smile, and see where the journey takes you.
This summer changed my perspective in ways I could not have predicted. Most of all, I realized how interconnected we all are on this planet, which inevitably has further influenced how I think in terms of everything from my personal relationships to my career goals to my political views. Travel will change you, so my advice is to make sure you take chances or create your own opportunities to do it!
One of the most important items to take on a big trip is a playlist. I think the music we are listening to at a given point of our lives is reflective of where we are in that moment. To celebrate kicking off my overseas travels, I’ve decided to share my playlist for my big trip on the blog. As my friends often point out, I have a very random and assorted taste in music. I am sure this playlist reflects that. There is really no organizational scheme here–these are all just songs I love and that I’ll be listening to on my flights. Enjoy!
Traveller – Chris Stapleton. What better song to kick off the playlist than a song about traveling? “Every turn reveals some other road.”
The entire Lemonade album – Beyonce. I didn’t think any other song on this album could be as amazing as “Formation,” but every song on this album is just as amazing, if not even better. Beyonce’s sound on Lemonade is different from anything she’s ever done before, and her raw emotion is unprecedented in her work. She even dabbles in (and totally crushes!) country on the song “Daddy Lessons” (which I was sure to learn on my guitar before I put it in storage for the summer! Here is a Dixie Chicks cover, but I think Beyonce still does it better.) Also, who is Becky with the good hair?! The world may never know the whole truth…. TexasBama!
We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel. Every history nerd’s favorite classic. “We didn’t start the fire, no we didn’t light it but we tried to fight it.”
Heart Like Mine – Miranda Lambert. “He could calm the storm and heal the blind, I bet he’d understand a heart like mine.”
Greatest Hits – Dixie Chicks. I am so sad I will be missing them at Madison Square Garden on my birthday this year!! But, I will be in beautiful Peru, so I really can’t complain. Who doesn’t love Wide Open Spaces, Not Ready to Make Nice, Goodbye Earl, Sin Wagon, and Traveling Soldier? I can’t pick just one, so it’s all going on my list!
In the last month, I’ve discovered just how complicated packing a backpack can be. My 55 liter Osprey will have to fit all the belongings I need for the next 3 months. To make things even more complicated, I will be traveling to the hot and sticky climate of Southeast Asia, then to the cold and dry high altitudes of the South American Andes, and then to the hot and sticky (although considerably less hot and sticky than SEA) climate of Europe this summer. I will be doing very different activities in each place–everything from snorkeling and hiking to visiting museums and restaurants that run the gamut from casual to dressy. How do I fit enough outfits to cover my very different activities on 3 very different continents this summer? What can I absolutely not live without for the next 3 months? How do I fit it all into “Oscar” (my name for my backpack…silly I know)?!
After several iterations of folding, rolling, packing, unpacking, removing, refolding, rerolling, and repacking, I have found what I finally believe to be the perfect equilibrium of clothing and supplies for my trip. The very last packing revision happened when I was leaving my apartment to head over to stay at my friends’ place the night before I moved out of my apartment. As I put the backpack on, I very much felt like Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in Wild–I almost fell over from the weight of the pack!
Fortunately, my short trek from Hell’s Kitchen to Park Avenue left me with enough flexibility to remove a few last minute items from the pack and put them into my NYC storage unit. I’ve included a comprehensive and notated list of final items that made the cut below!
-1 55 liter Osprey backpack (Oscar) – As alluded to above, Oscar and I really bonded in Africa last December. He is super reliable and even has a detachable day-pack that is very handy for hiking and squeezing into tight overhead compartments on airplanes!
-1 carry-on crossbody purse – I have read a lot online about the PacSafe for traveling. Apparently, it is slash-proof and RFID protected. However, once I googled this magic travel bag, I immediately thought it was super ugly. I don’t care how “safe” it is, I did not want to pay $80 for what I consider to be an ugly bag. So, I found a bag for $30 at TJ Maxx that I think will work just fine! I will not be heartbroken if it gets lost, destroyed, or stolen, and it’s a lot cuter than the PacSafe.
-1 small crossbody purse – This is for going out; squished and packed in Oscar.
-1 wallet – I am just taking my regular, everyday wallet.
-4 packing cubes – 1 large for clothing, 1 large for accessories and outerwear, 1 small for underthings, 1 small for dirty clothes; a set of 2 are $30 at REI
-1 pair North Face hiking “boots” – they look more like sneakers, but have added support and Goretex (which makes it waterproof and breathable) for hiking
-1 pair Haviana flip flops – to wear in the shower or casually out. I chose a pair that look a little dressier than standard flip flops but are made out of the same material for only $15 at the Bloomingdale’s outlet in the UWS.
-1 pair dressier sandals – I made sure they were comfortable for walking.
*3 pairs of shoes…yes, that’s all!! Will I make it? We will see in August…
-4 tank tops, 1 dressy blouse, 1 t-shirt (Vandy, of course!), 1 long sleeve t-shirt, 1 sweater
-1 romper, 2 sundresses
-1 zip-up sweatshirt/cardigan
-1 Ultra Light Down Jacket from Uniqlo- I am very excited about this purchase! This jacket squishes down into a small ball and weighs less than a pound, and is also super warm and water-resistant. I will be wearing this a lot in South America, but it is also easy to carry/pack in a purse for a chilly evening in Europe as well.
-1 straw brim hat – Another exciting purchase! This hat is also “squishable” and can be crushed into a bag without ultimately losing its shape. It also offers SPF 50 protection.
-1 baseball cap (Alabama, of course!)
-1 Buff – you can read about how much I love the Buff here.
-4 bras – 1 sport, 1 strapless, 2 regular
-A week’s worth of undies
-5 pairs of socks
-eyeglasses and case
-small bag of assorted, non-valuable necklaces, earrings, and bracelets
-hair ties and hair clip
-2 mini-bottles shampoo, 4 mini-bottles conditioner, 1 mini-bottle facewash (I am pretty particular about my shampoo, conditioner and facewash, so I filled some empty travel size bottles to last me as long as possible before I need to buy refills on the road.)
-2 razors, toothbrush and toothpaste, dry shampoo, baby powder, deodorant , retainer (lol!), contact case and solution, extra contacts
–stomach sickness medicines, vitamins, malaria tablets, Melatonin (to combat jetlag and to help with getting some rest on long flights)
-cosmetics (bronzer, mascara, lipstick, chapstick, travel-size brush, tweezers, nail file), small hairbrush, small perfume
-headlamp flashlight – this proved to be so useful in Africa! I literally did not go anywhere at night without it. I may not use it as frequently this summer, but I know it will come in handy at some point.
-DEET mosquito spray – Mosquitoes don’t play, and I don’t have time to get a tropical disease!
-reusable water bottle, reusable plastic chopsticks
–quick-dry travel towel – this towel has a strange texture, but can hold 2x its weight in water and dries overnight. Needless to say it is also very compact!
–travel laundry detergent – I anticipate I will be doing a lot of handwashing of clothes on the road. This travel detergent looks like a packet of Listerine strips, yet each “strip” becomes detergent for 1 load of laundry! The packet contains 50 strips/loads.
-guidebooks for Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, “This Please!” pointbook, 1 book for pleasure reading (I could have packed my Kindle, but decided against it for the simple reason that I want to use the hostel book exchanges. I think the idea of trading real books with paper pages with other traveling strangers is romantic and old-fashioned in the best of ways, and I want to count this as part of my adventure!)
–Chromebook and charger- I had originally decided to bring my regular laptop along on the trip. However, I realized that even though it was designed to be light and sleek, it was still a little too big. I purchased a Chromebook for a reasonable price that weighs 2.5 pounds and is a perfect size for travel. Plus, if it gets lost, stolen, or damaged, I won’t be devastated.
-phone and charger
-portable battery charger – This item is a lifesaver, and I already keep it in my purse for long days in NYC when my phone battery gets drained.
-power outlet adapter – I made sure to buy a 1-piece adapter that works on all 3 continents.
-camera – I’m bringing a simple point-and-click Nikon digital camera.
-extra batteries for camera and flashlights, extra camera memory card
-memory card USB reader
-yellow fever certificate
-credit and debit cards, cash, and currencies
-small moleskine notebook and pen
-printed copies of reservations for flights, hostels, transportation, etc; photocopies of passport and yellow fever certificate Did I leave anything important out? Am I packing too much? I guess I will find out once I leave the U.S. tomorrow!
I leave NYC for 3.5 months in just 5 days, and it’s starting to feel real y’all. The nerves are setting in. Am I prepared to leave my life behind for 3.5 months? Have I remembered everything I need to do beforehand? Am I packing too much? Am I packing enough? Although I‘ve been planning for a few months, I’m starting to feel pretty jittery.
I had a phone conversation with a good friend earlier this morning about everything, and it made me feel so much better about this entire process. The truth is, traveling and moving involves a good deal of planning and organization that feels unnatural for my spontaneous, “ENFP” self. The chat made me realize that it’s good to discuss the details, and embrace each step in the preparation process. So, below are a few “last minute” things I am taking care of before I leave for Mississippi this Friday, then for Asia on May 10.
–A last minute visit to the Bolivian consulate in NYC. I am really kicking myself about this one! Based on prior research, I thought I could get my visa at the border. However, some last minute research and digging while I was out of town this past weekend revealed it is preferable to get your visa in advance. I went to the NYC consulate first thing this morning (Monday) with all of my many required documents that I collected as soon as I got back to NYC yesterday. Fortunately, the staff was extremely helpful and accommodating, and said my visa will be ready Friday after 12 noon, as it takes 5 business days to process. I will pick up my passport on the way to the airport to leave town Friday afternoon…talk about cutting it close!
–Vaccinations. I had received most of the vaccines I would need before my trip to Africa in December, but I still needed my third and final Hepatitis A&B shot. I was able to find a clinic that does the shot for $100 cheaper than my prior research revealed, mainly because they don’t charge as much for the “office visit.” Timing-wise, I am supposed to get this final shot at the end of May, but I will be in Asia then. So, I took the calculated risk of getting the shot early, as opposed to trying to find a clinic in Vietnam.
I also decided to not get the Japanese Encephalitis shot. The doctor told me that, while there is no absolute guarantee I will not be at risk or contracting JE, most people contract it after spending more than a month in rice fields. As I may spend 1-2 days tops near a rice field, I opted to save the $300 and not get this shot. Another calculated risk, in my opinion.
–Pick up malaria tablets. This is one disease not worth the risk to me!
–Mail in seat deposit for law school by deadline. I CANNOT forget to do this!!
–Final stages of packing and moving. I also picked up a few more (free!!) cardboard boxes this morning, and will finalize all my packing by Wednesday. I also need to visit my storage unit to pick up the keys, and confirm with my movers that I will still see them Thursday morning!
–Cancel gym membership, internet service, and electricity in apartment. Return apartment keys to landlord. Super boring, but I can’t forget to do this…
–Set travel notices with my banks. Having accounts frozen while traveling is very annoying.
–Purchase data plan for cell phone. I may wait to do this once I am home next week, but still an important to-do item on my list.
–Final salon visit for next 3.5 months on Wednesday! I’ll be getting the keratin treatment so my hair is easy to manage while on the road.
–Last dinners and drinks with friends (for a while). This is where I feel guilty…I am running out of time in the city and I know I am not going to be able to meet up with as many people to say “bye” to as I had hoped or planned. I started this process last weekend, but the truth is there are only so many nights before I leave. I am definitely trying to see as many friends as possible before I head out of the city. As I’ve told everyone already, I don’t want anyone to forget me over the summer! 🙂 I am really going to miss my NYC friends and all the fun stuff that happens over the summer months. I will also miss my friends and family from home..although we are already separated by many miles, being on the other side of the world is going to make it feel like I’m that much further away.
–Go for a few more runs in Central Park. I’ve decided to take a break from running over the summer, so I want to get a few last runs in CP before I leave. I know these will be my last ones until August, and the weather is so perfect in NYC now, so I want to make them long and good!
–Set mail forwarding address with USPS. I know I will feel much less anxious once I am in Mississippi this weekend. I will have my backpack ready and the rest of my apartment secure in storage. All I plan to do then is visit family and friends, go for some long runs, eat some good southern cooking, and fish! It’s going to be great. Until then, I am living the hectic NYC life for a few more days while checking items off of my to-do list.
As I have planned and prepared for my trip over the last few months, I have gotten some concerned comments from family and friends. Is it really safe to travel now, with all that is going on in our world? Is it safe to travel alone as a woman, given there is so much more we have to look out for to stay safe as women? All of these concerns are valid. Yet, my experiences traveling solo before have led me to the realization that common sense goes a long way, whether at home or abroad. Honestly, I am more worried about being a victim of gun violence in the U.S. than I am of dangers abroad. That being said, language barriers, unfamiliarity with new surroundings, and the unique set of issues women face mean that traveling abroad solo as a female is a special situation that requires careful action and forethought. I’ve outlined my tips below.
Trust your female intuition. I am a firm believer in the strength of a woman’s intuition. If a situation doesn’t “feel” right, remove yourself. Always listen to your gut instincts.
Make friends with other female travelers. Other women who are traveling (whether solo or in a group) are in the same boat as you. Why not make new friends who can watch your back, and you can watch their backs in return? Plus, it’s always fun to add to your #squad, international-style!
Be friendly. While your intuition should always take precedent, don’t automatically distrust everyone you meet. Traveling solo is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and make new friends from different cultures who often have a lot to share in terms of practical advice and helpful insights that can keep you safe and make your trip more enjoyable. A smile goes a long way! That being said, always yield to advice #1.
Be smart about your money and valuables. I’ve read advice about keeping a “throwaway” wallet with just a few bills and a cancelled credit card or two. That way if someone tries to mug you, you can throw the wallet away and run in the opposite direction. I find this advice to be well-intentioned, but a bit cumbersome. I find it more workable to keep your money and credit cards split among a few different places on your person and in your bags. Even if the unthinkable happens, chances are you will still have some access to your money.
Be aware of your surroundings. Hang out in public places with large groups of people at night. Keep your hostel/hotel address written on paper and with you. If you’re going out alone during the day, let your hostel/hotel know where you plan to be. Take time to study maps as you go, so even if you get “lost” (which is fun!) you have a general sense of how to get back to your home base, wherever that is. Study maps before you leave, or in a restaurant or shop, but never out in public…you don’t want to appear lost and alone!
Watch what you drink. This advice goes for being at home in the U.S. too. Never turn your back on an open drink, or let someone you don’t know hand you an open drink. Also, don’t drink so much that you’re not always in control of your situation. If it suits you, don’t drink at all.
Share your itinerary with family and friends at home before you leave. Even if it’s a rough outline, it will give peace of mind to your family and friends, and it will make it easier for them to get in touch with you if needed. Always check in via email/iMessage/WhatsApp once you arrive! I try to check in with family every 1-2 days while abroad, and with friends just as frequently if possible.
Research how much cab/tuk tuk/etc rides should cost in advance. Look it up on Google, or ask the folks who run your hotel/hostel. This will make you more confident when bargaining over prices with the driver, and will help to prevent you from being ripped off.
What about the monthly visitor?! In an effort to combat the stigma around women’s health issues, I’ve decided to address this issue directly on my blog. The truth is, you will be able to find feminine supplies wherever you are (yes, even in Africa!) These products may not look like what you’re used to, and may be somewhat expensive, so it’s a good idea to pack some before you leave. But, rest assured you will not be stranded. One tool that has become popular among female travelers is the DivaCup. It minimizes the amount of paper/plastic waste you have to deal with (especially if camping) so it’s practical and environmentally friendly. Or, you can consider getting an IUD. With this form of birth control, you will not get a period at all for 5 years (after the first month or two), which is extremely convenient for the long-term traveler. Check with your health care and insurance providers to see if it’s the right option for you.
Fake it until you make it! If you feel lost and alone, don’t freak out. Try your best to look like a local and like you know where you’re going. Appearing lost and alone can make you easy prey…and ain’t nobody got time for that, especially when you’re on an amazing adventure!
The bottom line is that women have every right to travel alone and explore all the amazing things this world has to offer, but we do face a special set of challenges. The key is to remain aware, practice good judgment, and stay in tune with your feminine instincts!
Sometimes, even the most mundane details in life become important. Over the past month, I have reflected a lot on my stuff, mostly as a function of planning for my upcoming travels. I will be living for 3.5 months solely out of a backpack, which is both terrifying and exhilarating. Many travelers sell all of their possessions before embarking on such a journey, but it is not my intention to go “full nomad.” After all, I will be returning to the U.S. to start law school in August (location TBD!) so I neither want nor need to get rid of every single thing. However, it is safe to say I have started a systematic downsizing process with my possessions. Such a seemingly mundane task, I’ve found, is actually quite cathartic and leads to a good deal of self-reflection.
In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo writes that one should ask whether an item sparks joy. If it does not, one should thank it for its service and then discard the item. This single piece of advice has been tremendously liberating. Whether it’s something as small as an extra pair of socks I never wear, or as significant as an old card from an ex I for some reason have kept around forgotten in a drawer, I have been discarding a good amount of my possessions. Do I really need this huge TV, or did I purchase it to please someone else in my life? Do I really need ALL of these sorority t-shirts from 5+ years ago? I have found Craigslist, the Salvation Army, or even the recycling bins in my apartment’s basement to all be worthy destinations for these items. This process is ongoing. I estimate I am about 75% packed for my move on April 28. However, I now count this chore of packing as an important step forward in my traveling this summer and the new direction I am taking in my career and life.
I’ve loved my studio apartment in NYC, but it’s time to downsize.
Logistically, how does it work to pack up everything you own and live from a backpack? Fortunately for me, I realized my lease in NYC was up at the end of April around the same time I had a life-changing realization that now was the time to take my career in a different direction and finally attend law school (which, for those of you who know me, I’ve been talking about for years. I’m finally getting around to doing it!) I decided the months between the end of my lease and starting law school would be ideal to take the big trip around the world I’ve dreamed about for so long. I would be saving money on rent, but what would I do with my stuff? After some phone calls and Google research, I decided on Manhattan Mini-Storage. They cover the cost of the move into the facility, and offer a discounted rate after a 3 month period (I will be using it for 4). When I come back in August, I will hire movers to transport my whittled-down possessions to one of two fantastic cities (yet to be finalized). In the meantime, I will live out of my trusty backpack. More on how to pack specifically for that later!
I also cut down on costs by making friends with the employees at my neighborhood grocery store. The last two times I’ve moved, I’ve purchased boxes from the moving company or U-Haul. Now that I am looking at a traveler/grad student budget, I just wanted to avoid spending money on cardboard boxes if at all possible. Fortunately, all it took was introducing myself to the team at my local grocery store, being friendly, and explaining my situation. I have been stopping by regularly every few mornings for the past few weeks to get some amazing paper towel and cereal boxes. They’ve even started saving these boxes for me specifically because they know I like them them most! If you’re looking to do this too, be sure to get there before 11am or they may go ahead and crush the cardboard.
The big lesson I’ve learned is not to let my stuff own me. Have you experienced the life-changing magic of tidying up? It truly is life-changing.
Hi, I’m Gracie, a 27 year old New Yorker, native Alabamian, law student, and lover of travel. I’m excited to share my journey with you.
I started this blog to encourage and inspire people to travel, no matter their age, background, or prior travel experience. I left the US for the first time just 2 years ago, and over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to travel to 4 different continents–just me and and my trusty backpack! I hope the information and stories I share will help readers travel with confidence and purpose. I also look forward to using this blog to share my thoughts about current events within the US and around the world in an effort to promote dialogue and understanding across the political spectrum.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” - Sylvia Plath