Category Archives: adventures

India

India is the most difficult country I’ve ever traveled.

It is difficult to buy train tickets. Difficult to cross the street. Difficult to find clean public bathrooms, to communicate with taxi drivers, to feel the beads of sweat soak into your conservative outfit. To keep your heart from breaking when experiencing the largest divide between extreme poverty and excessive wealth I’ve ever seen in such close quarters. To know who is exhibiting great kindness when they read confusion on your face and who is grinning as they try to rob you blind.

I sigh, and tell people that this is harder than I like. I like the rows and rows of tourist travel agencies who you can cross examine in Vietnam. I like the street food you can trust in Peru. I like the sellers who bargain easily in Morocco and the 7/11s in Thailand. I like the tried and true backpacker route of Southeast Asia. 

But it’s also difficult for me to stop smiling here. It is difficult for me to turn my brain off as it buzzes with everything new I am learning and every mistake I am making. It is difficult to be angry when those mistakes only cost a few dollars to fix, and I find myself grinning from ear to ear every time we find ourselves in the wrong place and squish into the back of a rickshaw or onto a non-AC bus to get back on track. It is difficult to stop eating, even after a bout of food poisoning gave me my first opportunity to use several of the air sickness bags on one of our flights. It is difficult not to be in awe of the travelers here who embrace the difficulty in order to stay and do good work. It is difficult not to trust these people who smile and gawk and waggle their heads.

It is difficult to feel ready to go back to where it will be easy, when I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this place.

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twenty-seven

The Bartender asks me why I haven’t been updating my blog more since I’ve been in Peru. I tell him it’s because I don’t write as much when I’m happy. I’m not sure if that completely sums up this past year, but I wouldn’t change anything.

Back in my stable life, I finally learned to let go of some of the most toxic relationships in my life and I feel lighter than ever. I built stronger bonds with my students than I thought possible, and I spent my time cultivating relationships that are two-sided, honest, and important to me.

And then I left—again—to remind myself that I can take care of myself, that I don’t need more than I can carry, that I trust strangers and love challenges, and that new places are full of beautiful surprises.

The Bartender is a much bigger believer in monogamy than I am—I guess it takes longer than a year to erase past disappointments. But even at three weeks apart, he is as loyal and affectionate as ever. It’s strange to feel like I have so much to come back for.

I think I’m going to like twenty-seven.

wanderlust

I arrive in Lima at 11pm and feel anxious for about 20 minutes, before I situate myself at the hostel rooftop bar and get invited to a party. I get back to the hostel at 6am the next morning, and spend my first day in Peru lounging off my Pisco Sour hangover.

I plan to stay in Lima for a few days before heading south toward Cusco, but I am quickly convinced by a nameless Israeli boy with an irresistible smile to go north instead. Within an hour, I have cancelled my hostel reservation and booked the night bus to Huaraz for five days of trekking in the Andes.

I’ve missed this.

Lessons on the way home

This is the end of my trip, but I’m not really sure what that means yet. I am physically going back, but it will never be the same.

I’ve learned that time and distance aren’t as fixed as you might think. That money is worth less when it just sits in your bank account. That what you wear doesn’t matter at all. That the vast majority of people are bursting with kindness. That any nationality can travel like an Ugly American.

And I’ve learned that I’m still not sold on love at first sight, but traveling together in a foreign country can create it pretty fast. That some friendships can survive anything and some won’t last more than a day—and that’s mostly okay. That traveling the world is much more manageable and beautiful and thrilling than you’d ever imagine.

But most importantly, I’ve learned that the end of this trip is not the end of everything. As incredible as this year has been, this will not be the best year of my life. I won’t even say for sure that this will be the best trip I ever take. I still have too much time left for that.

everything has changed

I kiss the English boy goodbye with dry eyes for the first time, and I know it’s because for the first time, I actually believe that I’ll see him again.

We’re thinking November, but I’m crossing my fingers for the unlikely July.

I hitch a ride with his best friend to the bus stop an hour away, where I wait an hour and a half for the four hour bus to London. I’ve given myself a half hour transfer before my two hour bus to Brighton, which turns out to be more than enough time because it’s delayed. It takes me over ten hours to travel 200 miles as the crow flies.

I’m tired of travel—exhausted, really. The hurry-up-and-wait at check ins, the long layovers and uncomfortable bus seats, the worrying and prebooking and getting-to-know-you conversations and the awful feeling of goodbyes that are possibly forever.

My flight home in one week can’t come soon enough.
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on solo female travel

Before I went traveling, my 90-year-old Chinese immigrant grandmother clucked her tongue and told me not to.

Find a husband first, she said. Then you can go traveling with him.

———-

I yelled at a Turkish boy at a party last weekend. He was upset because I wouldn’t dance with him, I wouldn’t drink excessively, and I was nicely sidestepping his aggressive advances.

If you have a boyfriend, why are you even here?

He spat this at me as if I should know better than to accept invitations if I’m not interested in sleeping with anyone there, as if my existence is meaningless if I don’t want him.

I shout back a stream of English that might’ve been beyond his comprehension, but makes the whole street turn around and stare, and sends me back to my hostel room sobbing.

———-

All through Asia I refused those probably uncertified motorcycle taxis that hang around outside clubs to take people home. I heard tons of male friends tell great stories that started on the back of one and ended in a bar full of locals, or a tiny streetside food stand, or even driver’s home. You never really know what’ll happen—the major pro and con to that form of transportation.

I give in once in the middle of Vietnam, at three in the morning after a huge fight with the English boy. I lean back and hold on to the bike but the driver reaches around and puts his hand on my thigh. He takes me to my hostel, but not before asking for my Facebook.

———-

A Canadian girl moans about her white skin and blonde hair and blue eyes.She is going to India, and knows she will be stared at, catcalled, treated like royalty.

I can’t get behind her in this. It’s like cursing the fact that you’ve been born with a massive advantage, one that the people around you fiercely desire. And if that means you’re slightly uncomfortable, well then maybe for once you are catching a tiny hint of what some people feel like when they watch the white-dominated media, or get discriminated at at airports or job interviews.

———-

I gush about Morocco—the history, the culture, the food, the people. Another American girl is shocked.

My friends told me they hated it, she says. They were always getting stared at for their shorts and tank tops.

I didn’t wear shorts and tank tops, I tell her.

———-

Traveling as a solo female is this—all of these scenarios that don’t come up in the calls home to my parents. It’s being shown Taken (and Taken 2) by my Houston friends after announcing my trip, and being gasped at by the majority of the people I meet. It’s the terrifying times I felt unsafe, the frustrating times I chose to play it safe and missed out on a high risk-high reward opportunity.

But it’s also instant trust, instant camaraderie among other travelers just because you’re smiling, just because being a solo female is the least threatening persona on earth.

It’s the English girls who invited me to share a room with them to save money. The Dutch boy who invited me along to the north of Laos. The German bus driver who let me ride for free because I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket. The English boy who walked me home from the bar. The American girl who let me use her laptop to try and find my stolen phone. The Vietnamese man who rented me his motorbike. The Thai hostel owner who let me store my bags for free. The Laotian man who taught me how to properly eat soup. The German boy who invited me in on his New Year plans so I wouldn’t be alone. All the new friends I made who let me sleep in spare beds and showed me their city.

I am lonely sometimes, and scared sometimes, and angry sometimes.

But more often than not, I am surprised by my strength, encouraged, impressed, and humbled by others’ kindness, and so grateful that I have been lucky enough to live this.

on hospitality

I stay in London for three nights (which costs about the same as a week in Southeast Asia, sigh) but it only takes one before blowing my nose leaves black gunk from the pollution on the tissue. This city gets inside of you that quickly.

I am lucky enough to have friends in London who take me to pubs and try to talk me into staying. And while the tourist side of England is nice—the central bit is surprisingly compact (and the museums are free) and this might be the first city where there are some historical things that I’m actually vaguely knowledgeable about—I like this pub culture more.

Despite prices and weather and the general lack of British friendliness, I could live here, I think.

———-

I arrive in Istanbul when the protests are starting, closing the public transportation and presenting me with a long, confusing, and expensive journey to my hostel. On the way, I pass fully decked-out police officers with massive automatic guns, riot shields, and armored vans, and I wonder why it is that only America has such a negative reputation when it comes to police and weapons.

———-

If the British toe the line of being too unfriendly, the Turkish are on the opposite end of the spectrum. I am told that tea is an essential part of their culture and never to refuse an invitation, but I am also warned about the blatant womanizing. And so, as expected, this leaves me too often in an uncomfortable position. This might not be the time or culture to try out rejection without using the excuse of having a boyfriend. By day two I am exhausted, and I start sticking to silent tight-lipped smiles every time I’m approached.

———-

I’ve been looking up flight tickets every day, trying to find the right time and location and price to buy. I think I have it almost worked out, this last frustration of travel planning before I find myself back at home, but I’m hesitating. There’s still so much left I want to see.
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