A Traveler’s Terrene

You only live once. What are you going to remember the most?

50 Reasons You Should Take a Mini-Retirement Now February 18, 2010

It has now been 2 years and 5 days since I left the United States to travel the world and take on the life of an expat. Of course it hasn’t been all roses, as there are many sacrifices you make when uprooting yourself to lead this type of vagabond lifestyle, but if anyone ever asked me whether I regret the choice I made: absolutely not.

Life is not to be lived in the “future”. Life is not about, “someday I will do that…”, life is about now or never. Be daring, be bold and as Nike’s infamous slogan goes, Just do it.

And, while you’re plotting your escape, check back daily for a little motivation and inspiration to keep you on course.  Also, check out another great source of inspiration, author and travel guru, Timothy Ferris, who more or less coined the new meaning of the word “mini-retirement” and is a huge inspiration towards keeping me from heading back to the 9 to 5.

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A Continual Quest February 19, 2009

It’s officially official…. in one week from today I am moving to Italy! Although, I already planned to be leaving, until I had my visa in hand nothing was certain. I flew to San Francisco last week, applied for my visa and a few days later walked out of the Italian Consulate’s white wooden doors with a huge smile spread wide across my face, my visa in hand, and the stripes of red, green and white from the Italian flag hung over the door frame waving behind me. Just over a year ago I was leaving Seattle for an around the world trip, now merely 12 months later, I am about to embark on a new adventure. What amazing moments are waiting for me in Italy? What new terrene can I explore?

The world offers endless possibilities if you continually strive for them. The key to accomplishing your goals and dreams is to not stop after completing one goal, but rather to keep challenging yourself to achieve all of your goals on your list. And, when that list is done–time to make a new one.

Never stop aspiring for your dreams after you complete your first round of goals. Of course, take some time to soak in the glory of your accomplishments, congratulations!  But, don’t think for a moment that you are done–your list of dreams should be constant, never ending. No matter how many goals you’ve accomplished or how much status or wealth you have obtained, you should never allow yourself to sit idle in life when you have the potential each day to fulfill a personal goal or to help others achieve theirs.

Obstacles are bound to cross your path stealing your motivation like two black masked men robbing piles of crisp green cash from the vault of a bank, leaving you empty and in disarray.  But, when all is lost, that is when your true strength perseveres. “Okay,” you should say. “What can I do right now to better my situation and what is out of my control?” Be relentless about identifying the things you can change, and let go of the things you can’t.

Life should be a challenge. Whether you create the challenge for yourself, or the challenge falls unexpectedly in your lap like Cancer or paralysis, you still have a reason to push yourself. Don’t give up. Strive for your dreams, and if your current dreams are too far away to grasp or have now become unrealistic given an unexpected situation, create a new list–keeping pushing yourself.

The true prize is your journey in persevering towards your goals, rather than the single moment when you actually achieve them. The gratification from holding a trophy is minuscule to the power of conquering the skills that allowed you to get there which were achieved from hours of practice, diligence to your goal and belief in yourself that–yes! my dreams are important, they are worth the effort.

 

Three Reasons I Heart Google January 16, 2009

For Christmas I asked for Microsoft Office for Mac; however, I am finding that although it is a great program, I am not using it for my writing like I imagined I would. Instead, I have become addicted to Google Documents. I still am exploring what Google Documents has to offer, but here are just a few of my top favorite features, which in my opinion are AMAZING!

1. Accessible anywhere–When I was on my around the world trip I didn’t take a computer and instead wrote story ideas, poems, thoughts and reflections all in multiple journals (I was a freak and carried two leather bound, one plastic covered, and two smaller journals.  One of my worst nightmares is to be caught idle without pen and paper!) The fact that I can freehand write, then type it into a Google document for safekeeping while I’m on the go is priceless. And, now that I am back home, I still prefer to type in Google documents because I never have to mess with uploading or downloading files, making sure I pulled the correct versions, or worry about leaving my files on my computer, hard drive or flash stick.

**Note my next big trip I might take my computer, but then  1) I would have to worry about battery life, and most places I stayed on this trip didn’t have electricity 2)I would be “weighted” down with fear of losing or getting my computer stolen 3) I write a lot when I am outdoors…dust…rain…sun…you name it…not so computer friendly…

2. Sharing Option: When I first started planning my trip I created a master spreadsheet of all of the things I needed to do, their current state and next steps. I also created a packing list, an estimated budget and a rough itinerary of some of the places I wanted to go. The majority of my trip, we travelled by the seat of our pants, going places people recommended, using the city’s I-site for information, or pulling information from guide books.  However, before leaving the states I put together a rough itinerary spreadsheet and sent it to my fellow travel companions and we were all able to modify, change, and add information in real time (no kidding, you can see the other person’s cursor moving and typing in the document if you are both working on it at the same time–a little eerie but cool.) Even though my parents never used it, I shared the files with them so they could have a rough idea of where we were (places/dates always ended up changing but at least they knew what country I was in!)

3. Revision History–Everyone writes differently. When I write I continually save throughout my writing (every 10-20 minutes or so) as I have gotten burned before, loosing everything I had written. Devastating, but lesson learned. Now a days it is common to have an autosave feature to back up your work as you type so you don’t have to, this blog for example does it for me.  I never found a feature like this in a normal Word doc (and maybe it existed but I never knew?), and sometimes I would write something, save it and realize that what I had written before was better but have no way of retrieving it because I saved over it! (and, yes, I’m not super techy so I’m sure there probably was a way to retrieve the files…)

With a Google Word Document, all you have to do is: go to your Tools Tab select Revision History and a full page including the date and edit revisions are recorded. You never have to worry about losing that “perfect sentence” again–you can always go back later on and retrieve it! If you kill off that character but wish you hadn’t—oh wait, he can come back to life.  And, the information is presented in a non-effacing way. You click on the dates you want, and can compare the difference in changes.

Genius. Love it.

 

Back in the U.S.A December 14, 2008

It was exactly 10 months from today that I boarded a plane for New Zealand. I left my family. I left my boyfriend. I left my friends. I left beautiful Seattle…my home. I challenged myself to take a risk, to be independent, to follow a dream of exploring the world and experiencing culture while it still exists.

I returned to Seattle three days ago with 50 some gigs of photos and experiences that have changed my life. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better trip, better travel companions or better memories while traveling the world.

And, now after 10 months…I am back where I started. I am sitting on a comfy couch in my brother’s warm living room writing on my laptop while the rest of my family (minus my brother Mark who is coming on Monday) sits next to me reading the newspaper or watching t.v. It is as though nothing has changed, everything seems the same. If it weren’t for me being curled up in my blue and green Tibetan shawl I bought in India, I may think that my around the world trip was just a figment of my imagination. But this soft blanket reminds me of all that I have experienced, all that I have DONE in the past 10 months. And, for this I smile.

It was hard to take the plunge and to leave my family, boyfriend, friends and my comfortable life in Seattle. My life was incredible before I left–why would I leave? One word: dreams. Everyone has different dreams and goals. Some people dream of becoming a professional basketball player, while others dream of being the best stay at home mom. There is no wrong dream, it is yours and it is what makes you get up in the morning with a smile on your face and butterflies in your stomach as you quest to fulfill them.

One of my dreams was to travel the world. Ten months ago I was 25, two years into my career but with no car payments, house payments or kids. I was free from the materialistic burdens that tie a person to one place. Besides leaving the people I loved, it was good timing and if I didn’t leave then, I knew I never would.

Now I sit here on the same couch I sat 10 months ago, only this time my body is warmly wrapped in a Tibetan shawl, my head is filled with incredible travel memories and my heart is content that I fulfilled one of my internal passions. I missed many people and things while I was gone, but they were here waiting for me when I got back.

Don’t be afraid to leave the comfort of your home.

Home, is a place you can always return.

 

Italy and London: Highlights and Memories November 3, 2008

1. Meeting two amazing Australian gals, Lotus and Daisy, on our ferry ride from Dubrovnik to Bari, Italy.  We instantly became friends and spent 3 days travelling together.

2. Sleeping on the floor of Lilly’s boyfriend’s apartment, a girl we met while walking on the street in search of a hostel.  We arrived in Bari like we always do with no accommodation booked. I asked a woman and her daughter for directions to a hostel, and instead of giving me directions they kindly walked us the 4 blocks.  Unfortunately, however, it was booked as was the 10+ other hostels, guesthouses and hotels we tried calling. Closing in on midnight, the four of us gals began debating on whether we should sleep in the park or the floor of the train station. Lilly and her mom refused to let us sleep in such a “dangerous” place, and took us home with them instead. So, thanks to these two wonderful Italian women, we slept under a roof, hooray! The following morning, the mom drove over to help take us to the train station (as we had too much gear to all fit in one car), and brought us a thermos of hot coffee and biscotti for breakfast! Such incredible hospitality. I heart Italians!

3. Enjoying a wine and pizza night in Naples.

4. Walking the old cobblestone steps of Pompei.If you are going to Pompei be sure to look closely at the walls and street as you will find quite “interesting” street signs that point to brothels.

5. Almost missing our train to Rome, we made it thankfully! Unfortunately, however, Suz and I missed our connecting train to Florence. Apparently there is another train station in Rome. Go figure.  So, what did we do? Spend money on a hostel for a short night sleep or spend the night on the cold hard floor in the train station?  Yes, yes, the train station it was–anything to save a few $$’s. Plus, where else do you get to yell at drunken bums to stay away in broken Italian?

6. Meeting up with Suzanne’s friend Corinne in Florence and going on multiple girl’s nights out! Corinne brought with her the whole MAC counter and we spent a few hours prior dedicated to makeovers, red wine, and gossip.

7. Being spoiled by our favorite waiter Thomaso, who was the spitting image of Jimmy Hendrix or Lenny Kravitz with his gorgeous crazy hair and rockin glasses.

8. Thomaso taking us on a private tour of the restaurant’s wine cellar, where a fresco by an unknown artist had been discovered less than a few decades prior.  It’s  amazing to think how many Renaissance works of art are probably hidden throughout the city, and throughout Itay for that matter.

9. Being spoiled by our favorite cafe/wine bar owner, Pino, who made us the best panini’s in all of Italy as well as invited us to a wine tasting in his cellar room, during which the connoisseur was being interviewed by a New York Times journalist.

9. Going out to amazing Italian discotecas!

10. Italian coffee, red wine and armarena gelato…the three best things on earth…and all found here in Italy!

11. Speaking Italian… The sounds. The way words roll of my tongue. The challenge. I LOVE it.

12. Making friends with the staff at a restaurant in Verona and being spoiled with free wine, appetizers, entrees and chef hats!

13. Visiting Romeo and Juliet’s balcony, and touching Juliet’s breast….yes, yes, believe it or not it is the main tourist attraction.

14. Suzanne (sister Zesma) and I enjoying our last meal together before she left for Africa. We spent the entire dinner rehashing the past six months of travelling together, and only made it through four months before she had to go. Definitely will finish at our reunion dinner in December. Sister Zesma–Thank you for being such an AWESOME, ADVENTUROUS, and AMAZING travel companion. We had an epic journey, and I can’t wait to start planning World Tour, numero due! Love you!!!!

15. Reuniting with my dear friend Ilaria. She’s from Italy but we lived together in Seattle my senior year of university. I stayed with her for almost 2 weeks in Milan where I explored the city while she worked and went out with her and her friends during the nights. She is absolutely fantastic and I am so happy to see her again!

16. Ilaria and I flying to London to visit our other ex-roommate, Rob for a roomie reunion! Everyone was sick (except me) but we still rallied and had an amazing weekend catching up on the past 3 years! I can’t wait to go out with the stunner shades that I bought us all.

17. Seeing my friend Jan, who I met and travelled with in China, who came down to London for the weekend!

 

Turkey: Highlights and Moments October 29, 2008

1. Suzanne’s wallet being stolen on the tram within the first hour of arriving in Istanbul. Although this wasn’t a highlight, as that was her favorite wallet, she said it was worth it to have the money stolen for the experience she had while filling out the police report. Not only was she gawked over by numerous men at the station and invited to dinner, but she was also driven back to the hostel in the back of the police car, lights flashing and going at a mad speed (during the 5 minute drive back.)

2. Sitting down to dinner at 6pm, only to remember that it was Ramadan, and although the restaurant was packed, dinner would not be served to the customers until around 7pm when the sun set. (Luckily, since we had a show to go to at 7:00 they served us earlier, although we felt quite guilty being the only ones eating in the room of starving people!)

3. Going to a Belly Dancing performance, although the waiter who was enamored with us was by far more entertaining. Suzanne and I quickly found that all you had to do was make eye contact and you would have a string of suitors. The waiter supplied us with 2 bottles of free wine, endless appetizers, fruit, dessert and even made me a flower out of paper!

4. Being offered free apple tea, a glass of wine or a beer whenever we walked past a restaurant.

5. Enjoying the gorgeous views from the Galata Tower. We looked down on the sparkling Bosphorus Strait, grey stone lined city streets and countless mosques that scattered the endless rolling hills but whose spiraling towers guided your eyes to their points like the runway lights for a plane. I’ve always thought Prague to be the most beautiful city; however, Istanbul has taken it’s place.  Istanbul is like a dream city, you truly feel like you are a princess both with the surrounding architecture and the constant affection of admirers.

6. Enjoying our first dark beer (literally called “Dark Beer”) in over 5 months at an outdoor restaurant on the riverfront.

7. Watching a Dervish Concert–the men dressed in all white, twirling and dancing–at the historic train station while eating roasted chestnuts.

8. Walking to one of the main parks where a Ramadan festival was taking place. Street vendors lined the area with toys and trinkets for the children, and multiple stalls and booths were set up selling traditional Turkish food.

9. Walking to the ferry to purchase a ticket, but being stopped by a man on the boardwalk who wanted to sell us a tour on a smaller ferry boat. We told him we couldn’t afford the price of the tickets (which came to about 20 US dollars each) so with a brief talk to the boss, we were able to get on free as well as served hot Turkish coffee as soon as we sat down! We cruised down the straight admiring both the Asian and European side of Istanbul, the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents.

10. Being showered with presents after we got off the boat. We only stopped to tell the man thank you for letting us take a free tour, but while we sat chatting with him he quickly got up and went to his car to bring us back little Turkish flags, rings and necklaces. Spoiled, with a capital S!

11. Enjoying a massage and soaking up the warm water and hot steam at a traditional Haman Turkish Bath. After sitting in the bath house, we waited our turn for our massage, which was great but I was quite shocked to find that in addition to a massage, there was more or less a naked scrub down that followed–imagine big foamy brushes, exfoliating crystals and buckets of water. Quite similar to a car wash.

12. Getting a tattoo.  Well, a henna tattoo that is. I’ve always detested tattoos from an early age (mostly due to my dad’s strong opinion against them) but after the final touches were drawn, I do have to admit I quite liked it and felt pretty “cool”. And, although I will never get one as I am extremely fickle about loving something and then hating it, I can now relate to why people do get them and see how it could be quite addicting.

13. Eating dinner at the Ramadan festival, and trying the most random concoction of a baked potato which included basically  every vegetable and condiment imaginable piled onto one potato. Mustard and salsa, check. Green beans and cooked cabbage, check. Tomatoes and peas, check. Hot dogs pieces and corn, check. Let’s just say it was “interesting”, and although you should always try local food, this is definitely something I will skip on my next trip back…

14. Suz and I sitting contently, sharing our potato dinner in the middle of the park. Dressed in our fisherman pants and sarong to cover our shoulders with our wet hair pinned up and mascara running down our faces as we just left the Turkish bath.  In short, we looked horrendous, but with literally doing nothing other than sitting there, we were offered free apple tea, then later serenaded by 8 guys (one singing us songs with his guitar) and given sweets, bracelets, necklaces, and rings.  Quite the ordeal!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not trying to boost my own ego with these accounts, it’s just that I’ve never found a culture of men who were more extreme with their lavish gestures and constant acts of affections. Even Italian men wouldn’t be able to compete! (gasp!) All I can say is for women who are going through a breakup, forget the sad love films and containers of ice cream; instead, buy yourself a plane ticket and head to Istanbul! It’s pretty much a guaranteed fix to cheer you right up:-)

 

India: Highlights and Memories

1. Arriving in India, and being invited to our travel agents Iffy and Joma’s home for dinner with their family. We sat on the floor, Indian style, eating the most amazing curries, rice, and vegetables with our hands. It still amazing me how hospitable locals are to foreigners.

2. Changing our flight on a whim from Leh to Srinigar with hopes of trekking and fly fishing in the rugged Kashmiri outdoors.

3. Touring Dal Lake by Shiraka, a small row boat. The lake was clear as glass, and dotted with pink lotus flowers. The mountains, trees and houseboats reflected on the lake as though they existed as their own entity and not just a double. I played music through my speakers. It was relaxing and tranquil, the ride as like a unforgettable daydream.

4. Listening into our intuition to leave Srinigar early when news of riots and protests erupted in the city center–leaving one boy dead after being hit (accidentally) by a policeman’s tear gas canister. Shops were closed and protests were suspected to continue due to the lack of support by the government to provide supplies and shelter to the Hindus during their pilgrimages. It was unfortunate to leave, but with this news as well as the upcoming India Independence day, it was not particularly safe to stay as we did not want to be caught in a wrong time-wrong place situation. Beautiful Srinigar, I will be back. One day.

5. Flying from Srinigar to Leh and glimpsing our first views of the Himalaya Mountains!

6. Lazily spending three days in Leh acclimatizing, reading books, trying different Indian cuisine, and wondering the shops and walkways.

7. Hiring a jeep with 2 other travelers and journeying to Nubra Valley, travelling alongside the cliff’s edge on windy roads and crossing the highest motor-able pass in the world.

8. Exploring a handful of monasteries. My favorite, was a giant construction perched atop a hillside cliff 100 feet away from a roaring waterfall. The sound of the rushing water and the isolation of the monastery gave the place a magical feeling.

9. Riding two-humped camels through sand dunes!!!!

10.  Leaving on a trekking trip with Reme and Gabriel, brother and sister from France, and getting a flat tire about a 15 minute walk from our starting point destination. After a hilarious photoshoot, we walked the remainder of the way to our campsite where we met an Italian couple and spent the remainder of the night playing cards and speaking in 3 languages.

11. Reme and Gabriel left after 6 days, but Suz and I signed up for a 14 day trekking trip. We woke up each morning to hot tea outside our tent and a warm breakfast waiting in the cooks tent. We walked 4-8 hours a day through stunning landscape, crossing valleys, rivers, climbing 4 passes-the highest being over 4950meters high and celebrating with swigs of Chang beer (a homebrewed wheat beer made by the locals).

12. Suzanne and I nicknaming our guides, cooks, and ponymen “gangsta names”, there was G-Unit, T-Dawg, Ice Cube, Flava Flav, Diggity, Dr. Dre, Q-Diddy, LL Cool J and Snoop Dawg. Since Indian names were hard for us to pronounce and easy to forgot, we used these nicknames and it was a HUGE hit. They in turn nicked named us Indian names, Reme was Gime, Gaby was Achan, Suz was Zesma and I was nicknamed Padma (meaning flower), and called Pame for short.

13. Helping T-Dawg, our amazing cook, make Momos–a Tibetan pot sticker type dumpling.

14. Witnessing a rainbow in the dark. I would have never imagined this was even possibly, but there it was a beautiful full sized rainbow lit up by the glow of the full moon.

15. Putting together a limbo competition while listening to music from our Ipods.  Our cooks, guides, ponymen–everyone participated. It was so much fun!

16. Watching the mountains change colors, from purple to yellow to green to gold over the course of our 14 day trek.

17. Washing our laundry on rocks in the river with the warm sun on our backs.

18. Taking baths in river streams.

19. Finally developing a taste, and love for tea!

20. Teaching our cook, guide, poneyman and two monks how to play the card game “Spoons” in the tent.

21. Standing less than 50 yards away from a herd of 30-40 Ibex, and after watching them graze in the grass for 20 minutes, I ran after them shouting with a Seagull voice just to see them stampede. It was remarkable watching them run.

22. Skipping rocks on Tsokar Lake with Zesma, G-Unit and T-Dawg.

23. Going to Yoga classes at a meditation center.

24.  Zesma and I renting bicycles and riding out of town with a daypack, and stopping in a small village called Thiksey for the night.

25. Waking up before dawn and hiking to the top room of the monastery. We sat on the floor in a room of 30+ monks who were sitting on cushions, chanting their morning prayers and being served breakfast (tea, water and wheat flour, which they mix together to form a dough-like substance). Most of the monks were young boys and it was quite hilarious watching them play and joke while they were supposed to be chanting.

26. Riding a few hours to another small town, and instead of carrying on in the rain, we convinced a car to strap our bikes to the top of the roof and let us hitchhike back into Leh. This whole conversation was done in hand gestures as they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Ladakhi.

27. Flying to Leh and hiring a driver to take us to Jaipur and Agra.

28. Going to a Bollywood film with our driver and his friend.

29. Walking around he Monkey Temple, a temple outside of Jaipur, and taking a photoshoot with local children and women dressed in beautiful Saris and henna-painted hands and feet.

30. Walking around the Taj Mahal and taking pictures of the white marbled temple at sunset.

31. Being asked to be in photos with an Indian family (grandparents, parents, children etc.) which turned into a 10 minute photo shoot.

32. Witnessing the burning of bodies in Varanasi. 300-400 bodies are burned a day and are ignited from a flame that has supposedly been burning continuously for over 2000 years. The bodies are carried by family members on bamboo poles and weaved grass mats and are wrapped  by scarves each family member gives as a final gift. The body is tipped into the Gange River, the face and body splashed with the holy water. After drying, the scarves are removed and set to the side and the body, now wrapped only in a cotton sheet, is placed on top of the wood and a man in charge places more wood on top of the body and finally ignites the wood from a neighboring fire. The cremation process takes 3 hours, leaving only the collarbone from a man and hipbone from a woman in the pile of ash. After the cremation is finished, the brother or closest relative extracts a bucket of water from the Gange and extinguishes the fire. The workers gather the ashes in a bucket and hand it to a man who is wast deep in the river. He pours the ashes into a weaved basket, filtering the ashes to salvage any pieces of jewelry or bits of gold that were buried with the deceased. These items go into the pocket of the owner of the crematory. The expense of a cremation depends on the type of wood selected, but for Iron Wood (similar to Sandlewood which is used to mask the smell of the burning body) costs roughly 250Rp per Kilo of wood. Each cremation requires an estimated 200 Kilos of wood. For the families who cannot afford this, other families chip in until enough is purchased and the body can be burned. Since Varanasi is deemed one of the holiest cities in India, the majority of people bring their loved ones here to be cremated, as they believe that here the body will be released to Nirvana.  The only bodies they do not burn are pregnant women, children (under the age of 16), animals of any kind, and people with leprosy. Instead they are weighted and dropped in the middle of the river. Despite the cremation process that takes place in and around the Gange River, we rode in a boat at sunrise watching men, women and children bath and wash their clothes in the river, as they deem this water to be holy.

35. Standing on a rooftop over looking the banks of the river, while watching locals perform Puja, a type of blessing.

34. Going to a restaurant recommended by our travel agent, and ordering a South Indian dish that was similar to a crepe. We ordered the one that looked like it has the most variety of stuff in it, but turned out it just meant that it was the biggest. The crepe was bigger that my arm!