A Traveler’s Terrene

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

2009 in California! January 5, 2009

2008 passed with some of the most incredible and unforgettable memories of my life, and I couldn’t have asked of a better way to kick off 2009 then by hanging out with some of my closest friends back in the States after 1o months of traveling the world. Each minute I am home I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be surrounded by those who I love and missed.

Jamie and Beck graciously hosted Davey, Sarah, Tommy and I at their apartment in Pasadena, California. We spent New Years Eve with cocktails in hand playing board games before heading out to Barcelona, a fun Mexican restaurant, for tapas and a celebration of the coming year.  We decided to opt out on $30 cover charges and $10 drinks and headed back to the apartment after celebrating the stroke of midnight in the middle of the street with huge hugs and bright smiles.

The following morning we slept through the infamous Tournament of Roses Parade, but were able to get out the door by noon and walked to the Rose Bowl for a good ol’fashion, all-American tailgate! We made friends with the USC crowd, played football until our shoulders were sore  and found our way to Barney’s Beanery, one of the best sports bars in Pasadena, before taking Davy and Sarah to the airport.

For Jamie’s birthday the following day we celebrated with lime margaritas and played more board games before going to Gyu Kayu, a Korean BBQ restaurant and one of the most entertaining ways to eat a meal. I tried Korean BBQ once before and if you’ve never done it I would highly recommend that you put it on your immediate list of things to do. A small BBQ takes up the middle of the table, which after ordering your choice of raw vegetables or meats, you can grill to your own likening and perfection.  And nothing tops off healthy Korean food and garlic noodles than a round of Saki shots which we received complimentary by our waiter in addition to Jamie’s bowl of ice cream topped with a birthday candle. After dinner we were in route to another bar, when a rep from the club we were going to go to the night unexpectedly approached us and offered to get us in for free! Who can resist free? As you can imagine, we spent the remainder of Jamie’s birthday in the club on the dance floor.

The next morning after cream frosted cinnamon rolls and hot coffee, we packed our bags and made the two hour drive past green and brown palm trees, rolling dessert hills and hundreds of wind mills on our way to Palm Springs. We arrived mid-afternoon and after checking into our hotel we relaxed before firing up the grill and cooking up a steak and salad dinner. Although all of us were pretty tired from the previous three days of non-stop festivities…we knew we couldn’t be boring and decided to head to the Fantasy Springs Casino where Tommy’s beginner’s luck won him $50, the rest of lost a little pocket change and we all went home with smokey hair and clothes (yuck!).

Today we dropped off Tommy at the airport and headed to Starbucks for a much needed coffee. We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking the boardwalk on Venice Beach, having lunch/dinner at a Thai restaurant and catching the remaining glow of a burnt red sunset from  Santa Monica Beach.

Tomorrow I head back to snowy Seattle but hopefully I will catch a few of California’s golden rays before I leave. Thank you Beck and Jamie for such an incredible weekend getaway!


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.


Daily Challenge: Everyone Needs a Little Motivation November 11, 2008

I have my short and long term goals, but what about daily goals? Or even better, daily challenges.  I am competitive by nature, not the “I’m going to scratch your eyes out to win competitive”, but the “bring it on” attitude, or the “game on” I always like to say (picture the scene from Wayne’s World…).

Even though I am proactive by nature, there are times when I am lazy. Times when I procrastinate. Times when I just plain don’t care. Then…someone challenges me. “I bet you can’t do…”

 I feel a prickling sensation at the nape of my neck. I sit up straight, back arched in perfect posture, as I listen closely to what is being said…how dare someone suggest that me , a woman of the 21st century, can’t do something. I won’t claim I can do everything or rather, be good at everything, but I have enough courage to accept the challenge and try.

Has anyone heard me sing?  I am absolutely terrible. But, that didn’t keep me years ago from auditioning for a part in a musical and singing on stage in front of hundreds of people. (Mind you, after diligent practice I could sing the song quite well, but I would be your worst nightmare now if you allowed me sing to music in the car!)

Sometimes, all we really need is someone to play devil’s advocate and doubt us, assuming they know what we are and aren’t capable of doing.  Or, by contrast, sometimes, all we need is a little motivation. Someone to suggest we would be good at something or to complement us on our skills.  Whatever the case may be, sometimes we just need something to get us up and moving. To remind you to live an active life rather than a passive one. To propel you to better yourself or your situations.  To make life into a fun game, with new rules each day.  To try new things and explore. To force yourself to take risks even though you may be afraid. To humble yourself with failure, and become more confident with each success. And, the list goes on…

Each day, I will post a new challenge for myself. A mission to accomplish. (<insert mission impossible theme song here Da..da..da…da. Da..da…da..da.  Dada dddddddd….dada ddddddddd…dada.>) It will be anything from learning how to make authentic Italian homemade pasta to making a friend with a complete stranger; from volunteering a few hours at a shelter to taking a painting class. The options are endless.

My challenge to you, is to play this game with me. Write a message on the Daily Challenge post about your accomplishments or failures, stuggles or achievements with each challenge. It will be fun, it will be interactive! Given certain circumstances, you (or I) may not be able to play or achieve each challenge. Maybe you live in a small town and don’t have the ability to take a painting class or you can’t afford a babysitter to watch the children etc. Or, my challenges may not be practical for you or vice versa.  Feel free to use my challenges if you want or create your own as in the end, it’s more important that you make up challenges that fit your lifestyle and your personal desires. Either way, just challenge yourself to do something each day. Motivate yourself to better yourself in someway. It can be big or small, lighthearted or serious; it just needs to a challenge you set for yourself, a goal you try to achieve for the day.

And, don’t forget to let me know how it goes…and, even better, send me challenges to accomplish as well.

Happy brainstorming and…game on!


Making the most of every situation November 10, 2008

I’ve been told my life right now sounds glamourous. It is, in fact, even for me, a girl born in the country, who lived next to a wheatfield, graduated high school with 43 other students, and learned how to shoot a rifle by age 16. (Although, the whole hunters education course was merely for my dad’s sake, I have no idea how a rifle works now!)

But, glamour, or class rather “doesn’t buy the groceries” as my dad always likes to say. He is absolutely right. Furthermore, it is all about your perception of the situation. If a married woman reads my post about the Fashion Week event, she may turn green in the face with envy. She may complain that she could never travel because she has a morgage, and her husband and her rent movies on the weekends because they no longer are excited by the bar scene. “My life is so boring, if only I had your life,” she says, ” you are so lucky.”

Granted, I wouldn’t trade my situation right now as it is the path I chose and want to lead, but if I was to look at her life I could be envious as well.  Let’s see, this woman has a house for starters. She didn’t live out of a backpack for 8 months, sleeping in dodgy hostel beds (sometimes with cockroaches and bedbugs)  or on cold train station floors. She can decorate her house, throw beautiful dinner parties, and each day come back to what she calls “home.”  I’ve been in transition for the past 8 years. During university, studying abroad, travelling, and when I did stay put for 2 years, I didn’t make my apartment feel homey because I was saving my money to leave again. 

“My husband and I rent movies on the weekends because we are no longer excited by the bar scene.” Woah, wait. That sounds like a pretty amazing night to me…cuddled up in the arms of someone you love. Being in love far succeeds some fluffy purple jacket that is “fashionable”. I mean can a fluffy purple jacket talk to you? Laugh with you? Kiss you goodnight? Didn’t think so. But, if you’re tired of the same routine then mix it up! Use your imagination. If you and your lover have always wanted to travel, but can’t because of time, money, house, kids (this list goes on…) then bring culture to you!

Here’s on idea off the top of my head:

Take a hat, put a handful of country names that you have always wanted to visit. Then, with your lover (or kids etc), draw from the hat…..drum roll please…Spain. Great! Spain it is. Now what? For the rest of the month you will be doing work as an “obligated tourist”…no excuses as you “must” take your lover to dinner at the Spanish restaurant for tapas, sign up for a month of Flamenco dancing lessons, drive to the international film store and rent Spanish films with subtitles, buy (or print off pages online) a language book and learn how to say the basic greeting to one another, drink Spanish wine as you cook a Spanish dinner together, decorate a room in the house, or a corner even, with bright colored Spanish flare, like red and orange pillows, where you can curl up and read a book on the history and culture of Spain. The options are endless, and with today’s multimedia technology and international communities right in your own city, you don’t need to go to Spain, to Brazil, to Italy, to go to “Little Italy”.  Within the city, and even your own home, you can explore Spain one month, India the next and so on. You can even invite other friends and couples to participate. You just need to be creative and active in your approach and you can bring culture and fun to your own life.

We are sometimes too quick to change our persceptions about the choices we’ve made in our lives, envying others on the choices they’ve made, what they have, and the amazing life they are living.  It’s not about the things in life that are important, it is about the moments, the memories and the experiences that make you happy. Everyone is different, everyone finds happiness in different ways.  And, moreover, is all about perspective. It’s about living the best you can in the moment or stage you are in. If you are married, enjoy being married. If you are single enjoy being single. If you are bored in both of these, you don’t need to reinvent yourself, just add a little adventure to your everyday life. Explore new things. Take on new challenges. Set more goals. Get creative with life, play with it and have fun. 

Try to live it as if the end of the day were death, forcing you each day to think hard about the way you are living your life. Is your life filled with moments you want to remember? Could you write a book of memories that you would want to read someday, or a film that you would want to watch if your life were a movie? 

Stop making excuses about not being able to live your life the way you’ve dreamed. If you want to do something, set a goal, figure out a plan for how to get from A to B, and persevere.  Not everything will go as planned (which has a peculiar way of working out for the better in the long run) nor you may not achieve every goal, but at least you are trying to proactively create the life you want to lead, and that is all you should ask and expect of yourself. Give your best effort to be the person you want to be and you will be happier, you will feel in control of time, instead of watching time and the years pass by. 

Don’t regret the past. Don’t look forward to the future. Enjoy the moment you are in…and start living the life you want to remember!


Highlights and Memories Sections Updated! November 3, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 6:18 pm
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Phew! The last of the highlights and memories are now posted. These are just the tip of the iceberg so if you want to know more about my globetrotting days send me an email at cgswain@gmail.com or a blogpost and I would be happy to tell you more about my adventure, or answer any travel questions you may have! 

My biggest piece of advice to future travellers is not to plan too much of the travelling portion. Definitely get your life together before you leave (contact your bank, cancel your car insurance, make Dr/dentist appts, figure out your budget etc.), but as for the travelling portion, I found it more spontaneous, adventurous and fun to travel on a whim. You could prebook plane tickets like I did, although I ended up changing mine a handful of times and ended up with large change fees, so even those you may want to only plan a few months in advance to keep your options open, as with travelling–things are bound to change. 

When you arrive in a country, your first stop should be at the town’s information office or your hostel counter. You can get flyers, brochures and information on the top things to see, meet other travellers and talk to people who have been there and done that. The only pre-research I would suggest doing before arriving is to read up on the history and current state of the country. By reading a few books about the history of a country you get a broader picture of the countries past, which more often than not, has a direct influence of their current situation. It’ll also help give you some perspective on the country’s language, religions, and customs.  Briefly reading up on the current state of the country is also important to ensure that you are travelling during a safe period. (When I was travelling I missed the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit Chengdu by only a week, was on an island in Thailand when the cyclone hit Burma, and evacuated Srinigar immediately when protests broke out in the city center. Some incidents are unavoidable, like natural disasters or random acts of violence, but others often can be prevented by watching the headlines and making sure that the political situations in the country are deemed safe enough to traveller.) Other than that, just take things as they come and enjoy the ride…not solely the destination!


Recap: Malaysia June 23, 2008

Filed under: Malaysia,Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 6:31 pm
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Malaysia: Highlights and Memories

West Malaysia

1. Walking the streets of Penang while marveling at the contrast between the old run down buildings, colonial architecture and Chinese temples mixed and mashed along side each other on the same street.

2. Drinking Malaysian coffee while listening to jazz music in a quaint little neighborhood cafe. This deep black roasted coffee could possible rival (dare I say) Italian espresso, it really is that good.

3. Miscalculating new currency.Suzanne eyed a beautiful piece of art at a shop on our way out to the Botanical Gardens.

“Wow, that’s only $20,” I exclaimed after converting 200 Ringgit to American dollars in my head. She agreed it was a steal of a price and within moments had the purchased piece of art in a sack as we walked out the shop door. About half a block away from the shop, Suzanne stops dead in her tracks.

“Wait!” She suddenly comments. “That wasn’t 20 dollars…that was 200 dollars!”

Ahh, yes…that would be correct. We were still in the mindset of Thai Baht, not Malaysian Ringgit.

4. Discovering the world’s most hidden jewel, the Perhentian Islands.What originally was going to be a three to four day stay at Perhentian Kecil turned into nine days. Life was too good. $5 for a bungalow off of a soft white sand, clear torquise water beach, who could ask for more?

5. Becoming fast and close friends with 20+ fellow travellers from around the world. We spent practically every moment together, swimming, playing volleyball, talking about life/travels, snorkeling, and thinking up amusing ways to pass the time–like digging a 4 foot hole to play charades in or dressing up in ferns and flowers for a night out. The best part of travelling is the people I have met along the way and the surprising tight bond of friendship I have formed in such a short time.

6. Touching a wild sea turtle! We spent the afternoon on a snorkeling tour around the island where we saw reef sharks, vibrant shades of coral, a variety of fish and my favorite, a sea turtle. I hovered over the turtle as it lazily glided below me. Then, as it came up for air, I swam right alongside it, hand caressing the smooth shell until it began it’s decent to deeper depths. It was in that moment, that I knew I wanted to explore more of the underwater world.

East Malaysia (Borneo)

1. Watching the cute orange Organgutans at the Sepiloc Orangutan Sanctuary. With their long arms and slow graceful strides they made their way along a rope tied between two trees to where the bananas and milk awaited for them. I felt like a child at a zoo intently watching their every move.

2. Spending three days exploring the Kinabatangan River and jungle. I sat in a small motor boat as it slowly moved alongside the shores of the jungle. From a distance we saw tree fulls of Long Tail Macaws and Proboscis monkeys swinging among the branches, squabbling over food, and lazily sleeping in the nooks of the trees. A Spitting Cobra snake glided through the water, our boat tailing it closely–I waited in fear for it to leap from the water and bite me. Small crocodiles with their eyes peaking up from the muddy banks of the river seemed to glare at us as we continued on.

During our walk through the jungle, I stomped through the muddy trail in my rubber boots like a 5 year old child–I enjoyed the feeling of getting dirty. Variety of bugs lined the floors and sunlight shone down in beams through the small open spaces of the trees. We left the path and went on a hunt in search of the wild orangutan making rustling noises nearby. Our guide, chopped down leaves with his machete as we followed behind. My arms and legs covered head to toe, were still attacked by leeches that “leeched” out at us from tree leaves like a small child reaching for it’s mother.

3. Getting my PADI Certification and diving in Sipidan, one of the top 5 dive spots in the world. Ed, our English instructor extraordinaire, led Suzanne and I to depths of up to 18 meters where a whole new world awaited all this time. Before me stood a reef containing hundred of thousands of different types of coral: pale pink shaped mushrooms, squishy red tubes and elephant ear sized discs just to name a few. Swimming past me where Angel and Parrot fish while lobsters with their long antennas peaked out from the holes in the rocks. Little Nemos shyly hid in the anemone while Green and Hawksbill turtles lazily moved past, holding my gaze until they disappeared out of sight. Ed had us tickle a Garden eel’s head and pointed to a pregnant pufferfish swimming past. A blackfrog fish blended perfectly into the midnight color coral and as for the crocodile fish, I almost mistook it for grains of sand.

When I thought it simply couldn’t get any better, a school of a 1000+ barracuda swam overhead, casting a shadow that blocked out the sunlight that shone from above. The glittering silver fish glided past as I watched in complete awe, it is a moment I will never forget.

As our dive came to a close we moved up to 5 meters for our 5 minute stop, playing underwater sports games to pass the time. I wound my body up and threw Suzanne a pitch. As she hit the invisible ball, Ed dove to his side and made an impressive “catch.” Moments later we were swinging golf clubs and watching them fly into the distance.

Diving. I think I have found my new addiction.

*A shout out to Suzanne for being the best diving “buddy” ever!*


Recap: Thailand

Filed under: Round The World Trip,Thailand — italicana kitchen @ 6:30 pm
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Thailand: Highlights and Memories

1. Meeting my friends Brian and Suzanne at the Bangkok airport. Brian came out for 3 weeks and Suzanne met up with me for the remainder of the trip (and then is continuing on for 3 weeks in Africa after we split up in Italy…speaking of which I still haven’t bought a plane ticket home…!).

2. Staying with my good friend’s Aunt and Uncle in Bangkok. We were spoiled and treated like kings and queens. Thank you Scott, Cynthia, A.J., Abi and Austin for your amazing hospitality, a real bed and great home cooked food!

3. Thai massages. $6/for 1 hour. Need I say more? Absolutely heaven.

4. Thai food: Phad Thai, pumpkin curry, banana pancakes, mangos & sticky rice and fruit shakes, just to name a few of my top favorites.

5. Eating barbecued grasshopper. The grasshopper was surprisingly somewhat palatable, the maggots on the other hand, were a completely different story. No joke…they tasted like Jack and The Box tacos. I wonder, is this a coincidence or possibly the same recipe?

6. Tropical fruit: Mangos, pineapple, mango steams, dragon fruit all being sold for cheap by street vendors on every corner.

7. Riding an elephant. The act of sitting atop such a massive beast was absolutely thrilling; the cruelty of the teenage boys who used long wooden sticks capped with sharp steel hooks to prod the elephant to move, ruined the experience.

8. Koh Phangan Island. We spent over a week at Hat Khom and Hat Yuan beach where we met a handful of amazing new friends, I finally got rid of my Seattle-pasty skin, sea-kayaked around the bays and swam with tiny stinging jellyfish in the sparkling turquoise clear water.

9. Railey Island. Besides the picquresque pinnacles, I wasn’t too impressed with the island-life itself as one half was a honey-mooned packed resort area and the other a backpacker strip on muddy beach lined with sunken trees and taxi boats. Brian, Suzanne and I did, however, go on quite a hiking adventure to a secluded lagoon (although Brian was the only person to make it down the trecherous mud lined verticle walls) where we met a Brazilan named Caio and all four of us became friendly with the mud, painting our faces like warriors before jumping into the water to body surf the thrashing waves.

10. Getting food poisening. Definitely not a highlight, but it was quite the experience to come down with food poisoning on a travel day and spend over 24 hours holed up in a room once we reached our destination.