A little while ago I came across Carrie’s blog and we bonded over our love of travel, books, and our guilty pleasure of watching the Bachelor. 🙂 I read on her blog about her decision to take a year off of school to work and travel to 8 countries in just 6 weeks in South East Asia. She wrote a great post explaining why she made this decision and how it changed her and I was so intrigued and knew I had to ask her to be a part of the interview series. She graciously accepted and now I get to share her awesome stories with all of you.
My love for travel actually started at a very young age. My father has a job which gives him the opportunity to travel around the country to go to forums and conferences. Because I was born and raised in a small town in rural central Wisconsin, it was always very important to him that me and my siblings got to see other parts of the country and realize that places even in our country were so different from one another. My siblings and I took turns traveling with my dad on his business trips. My first trip across the country with him was to Lake Tahoe, California at age 7. By the time I graduated high school I had traveled to almost 35 states in the US.
Her first visit to Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.
Telling my parents. Hahaha. I spent A LOT of timing thinking about the decision and when I sat down and really thought about it, I knew in my head and in my gut that I needed time off from school to figure some things out. It was always very important to my parents that their children earn college degrees. For my parents, the biggest worry was that I would leave school, and then not want to go back. I gave them my word over and over and over again that I would go back and get my degree. Even though they were extremely worried they trusted me. I took my time off and I went back to school and finished my degree.
I actually traveled by myself for the first time this past November when I visited the Dominican Republic. All of my other trips abroad I was either with someone or I was meeting someone once I arrived. I was very realistic and deny not deny my inner conscious when it told me I wasn’t ready to be on the other side of the world completely alone. Now that I’ve done a few extended visits to South East Asia and other places I think I would feel alright on my own. Solo travel can be amazing if you are ready for it. but if you are not ready, do not push it.
There were cities or countries that I definitely felt more at ease in than others. Each time I traveled to SE Asia I was with a boy, that alone usually made me feel pretty safe had I been traveling alone or with another small petite girl I would have been more worried in some situations.
Making friends at monkey village in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
That the world is some place that I can be a part of. Learning about places and seeing pictures of other countries is great, but more so than just knowing facts and figures about places and cultures I can actually be a part of those same places and cultures. When you really strip it all down to it’s bare bones we all are people trying to make it, we crave love and belonging and want to protect and provide for our families. In American maybe that means working 9-5 as an accountant and living in the suburbs. In Indonesia maybe that means spending your days in the rice fields, and making sure your children learn to read and write. The standards of what we want are different, but at its core, we want the same things.
Absolutely! Whenever I would meet people that I really connected with on the road we would exchange facebook information before we parted ways. It’s nice to keep in touch with these people because they also share my love of travel, and both have experienced the ups and downs of life on the road.
My first trip to Asia I spent almost the entire time getting the full “experience”, which included eating off of street carts and going to the local food markets and hawker stations. I know some people will tell you that places like these are “unsafe” however I got the most authentic food from places like these and never once got sick from eating it. The one time I did get food poisoning was while in Malaysia. We had been on the road for a few weeks now and we both desperately wanted American food. We were staying in the center of a large city, so there was a mall and some Western food options. We went to Chili’s that night and I got a burger and fries. The next day I was curled up in the fetal position not able to move. Strange but true.
One thing I have learned is that when feelings hit, you need to actually take the time to feel them. Pushing them away or refusing to feel them makes them fester and in the long run makes them much much harder to deal with. At times I would feel like a baby or ungrateful for missing some of the comforts of back home, but when this happened I tried to spend some time alone, walk to a beach and really focus on feeling lonely. When I took the time to admit those feelings and let them run through me, I found that after a little time I felt 100% better.
Also, I brought my laptop along with me for all of my trips. So I was a big fan of facebooking with family and even skyping when homesickness was at its worst.
I want to step foot on every continent, Antarctica included. I took 4 semesters of Spanish in college so I’m eager to travel to central and south America, especially Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, and Easter Island. I’m from German, English, and Polish heritage so I have always wanted to visit Europe and find the cities and towns where my family originated. My older sister lived at worked in Africa for a about a year, she’ll be going back shortly so I’m excited to visit her in Kenya.
The beach on the Gili Islands in Indonesia
I wrote a post where I talked about this topic some. Evaluating your reasons for traveling is important. My first trip to Asia, I was looking to escape my life and most importantly to escape some problems that were looming over me. I escaped it all for a month, but when I came back my problems were right where I left them waiting for me. I was naively surprised that things hadn’t figured themselves out while I was gone. Every time I’ve come home from a long trip I have experienced some kind of a “funk” being back at home. The first trip was by far the worst, the second less, and the third less even more. Getting back to the structure and routine of your life back home can be daunting when you’ve just spent extended time on the road with absolutely no structure or routine.
My older brother was a rugby player in college, and his rugby team took a trip every year to play in a tournament in Phuket, Thailand. After his first trip to Thailand he was hooked and even now 8 years removed from college he goes back to Thailand every winter, sometimes for weeks sometimes for months. I choose Asia because my brother was living over there at the time escaping the Midwest winter. I was 19 went I took my first trip across the world.
The research I did for my first trip was minimal mostly because I was to be traveling the whole time my brother who now spoke Thai and had been there several different times. I really didn’t care what we did or where we went, just being out and having the experience was what I really needed. My other two trips back I did a little more work trying to figure things out for myself. I discovered Lonely Planet travel guides and those made it pretty easy to plan things for myself more.
I have made 3 separate trips to South East Asia. The First time I traveled in Thailand and Laos. The second time I traveled exclusively throughout Thailand and it’s southern islands. The third time I made a big sweep: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
By far I have spent the most time in Thailand, and for that it will always feel like my second home. I did a post a while back talking about the first time I felt true freedom in Koh Phi Phi Thailand. Nothing will explain my time in and my connection to Thailand better than that post.
Indonesia comes in a close second. The beaches of the Gili Islands are some of the most beautiful I have ever experienced, and the tiny little Buddist village of Ubud in central Bali, is one of my favorite places I have ever been to. Ubud is one place where I could see myself living for an extended period of time and being very happy.
I really don’t have an interest to go back to Cambodia ever again. Cambodia left images in my head that haunt me to this day.
Cambodia under went a massive genocide in the late ‘70’s and early 80’s. During this 5-year time The Khmer Rouge and their leader Pol Pot killed more than 2 million people (about 25% of the country’s population) at the time. Being in the capitol city, Phnom Penh, where the regime first gained its control was a heavy feeling. Many of the people walking the streets are survivors who lost their entire family and there is a certain sadness that remains in the air.
While staying in Siem Reap to visit Angor Wat I remember walking through the streets after dinner and the mostly naked children just flocking to me begging me for food. Every where you go in this world there are beggars and homeless, but in Cambodia it’s not the adults begging it’s the children and to this day those thoughts come back to me and it sends chills up my spine.
It has been almost 3 years since I’ve been back to Asia. I did almost all of that traveling while I was in my first two years of college. Once I came back I was very eager to finish college and get my degree. I knew in order to do this I had to focus on my classes. Although it’s hard for me to stay in once place at times, getting my degree was an important and necessary thing, so I put most international travels to the side to focus on that goal. Now that I’m graduated I’m excited to do look into more traveling!
At Angor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia
I love her sense of adventure and her spirit. I’ll share part two of her interview next week, about happiness and her career.