If Not Now

I sat on the porch of my aunt and uncle’s beach house in Maine entirely doubtful of the future. My grandpa had just passed away pretty unceremoniously in his trailer quite alone and without much notice, until he was found of course. I was the one chosen to write his eulogy. It was one of the first times I had to think very deeply about someone wonderful in my life who I had just taken for granted. My grandfather lived a full life although he rarely left our home state of New Hampshire except for the occasional visit into Maine or Massachusetts and there was always that one trip to Las Vegas. Quite honestly, we couldn’t be further from each other. Me with my worries, him with his carefree nature. Me with a Master’s degree, and him illiterate. Me unemployed, and him always hustling. But man did he live fully. So I sat on the steps feeling quite sad for obvious reasons and quite disappointed with myself for not figuring out how to at least get a job.

My whole family went to the beach house after the funeral as we had planned to do even before my grandfather passed. My boyfriend who has been around long enough to be family pulled in a little later as usual in his Jeep Wrangler. Alone on the porch staring out at the ocean, he turned to me and said, “let’s go on the trip you’ve always wanted.” I paused. I didn’t have a job. I had no idea where my life was going. Even when life presents you with an amazing opportunity that you’ve always wanted, sometimes you back away because it’s just too big and perfect. But, thinking of my grandfather, I said yes. Ignoring all logical reasons that my mind could put in front of me to deter me, I decided to go. Because, if not now, when? And if later, remembering my grandpa, what if I never made it there?

Made My Own Souvenirs. It Was Awesome.

While I was on my trip, I didn’t buy many souvenirs for myself. I came home with a small assortment of postcards, an evil eye bracelet and three small bowls from Greece, a first American edition of Mill on the Floss from a bookstore in Brussels, a scarf from Lisbon (which I bought because it was starting to get cold), a thin cloth bag for groceries from Barcelona, and durable smaller bag from Ireland (which I used as a carry-on to lug back all the souvenirs I bought for family and friends). I don’t think that’s too much given that we were gone for three months. Matt and I figured that the photos I took would be our souvenirs. But printing a photo book is expensive (I’ve found more important things to spend my money on with our recent move). We printed out a few photos to hang on our fridge and put at our desks at work but not much else. Before we even moved to our apartment, I knew that we needed something to commemorate the trip by, something that everyone could see. I knew it wouldn’t be that photo book quite yet so I decided to make my own souvenirs to display our trip.

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At one point I thought I might buy a print for each country from some of the sellers on Etsy. Thinking about how that could really add up too, I decided to try my own hand at making some small maps to display. I bought some acetate, watercolors, paint brushes, and watercolor paper and then went to work with all of that plus the supplies I already had (Sharpies, a pencil, and a blade to cut the acetate). I printed out small maps of each country which I then traced on to the acetate with Sharpie. Then I used the blade to cut out my own stencils which I saved for future use. I traced the countries on to watercolor paper with pencil. I then went over the pencil with Sharpie and applied watercolor in a variety of colors. Finally, I used Sharpie to label each country. Right now each piece is mounted with an adhesive material (which shouldn’t destroy the paper) to our apartment wall until I get around to buying materials to frame each.

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I loved making my own reminders of our trip. It was a very reflective experience as I took the time to consider each country and our memories of that place while I was making each piece. I also used these as an opportunity to surprise Matt with the art for our anniversary and first apartment together. In the future we plan on saving our maps and doing something with those. Matt came up with the idea after we got home. Creating our own souvenirs with maps would also be a great option as Matt and I really used our maps; the maps became our own as we drew routes on them, marked important locations, wrote down useful information, and folded them in odd ways. Retrospectively, those could have been some of the best souvenirs would could have kept but we are pretty happy with our current alternative.

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Rut of the Return

I’ve officially been home as long as my backpacking trip was and that’s sad. Upon coming home at the beginning of December, the Christmas season was already upon us and Matt and I scrambled to find jobs. We definitely had plenty to distract us from transitioning to “real life” after traveling continuously. The chaos of the holiday season can certainly do that to just about anyone. After Matt and I both nabbed jobs, we waited for them to begin in January while enjoying the holidays with our families. Come January Matt and I started another two adventures by moving in together and starting our jobs. And we adopted a cat. While I struggled through mentally exhausting training at work, I began to lose my grip on my personal travel blog and my connection to my wonderful adventure this past fall. As March begins to end, I start to realize how lost I am without the irregularity of not only my backpacking life but also my student life.

When Matt and I returned home, I, surprisingly, handled it the best. I knew what I would be facing. When I returned home after my study abroad experience in Galway, Ireland during my undergraduate education, my heart was heavy. I felt more more of myself in a foreign country than at home. I expected the same heartache and disappointment after my trip. Matt kept telling me that it wouldn’t be so bad, that we had a lot to look forward to upon returning home. We definitely did and we certainly have achieved a lot since ending our travels. I swear that taking that trip made our lives lineup finally. But Matt felt the loss of travel sooner than I did. I suppose I was just numb to the end of it all.

As March continues and we come into our fourth month away from travel, I begin to get more disappointed in myself. I felt so motivated while traveling. I learned something new everyday. I saw something I’d never seen before. I had goals. I wrote. I took photos. But now life is quite different. I work to pay my bills. I’m trapped inside most of the time due to massive amounts of snow and bitter cold. Not to mention that I’m in a city which is entirely new to me and I can’t even explore. It can be pretty depressing, quite honestly. You see, I am used to a life of irregularity. I thrive in situations in which every day is different. That’s why being a student and a traveler are both lifestyles that suit me immensely.

While I am no longer traveling and I feel the least productive I’ve ever felt in my entire life, things are still beautiful. I’m finally in my own apartment with my boyfriend and my first real pet. (Plants and the occasional fish at your grandmother’s really don’t count.) I have a job and I really felt like I would never find one thanks to the horrible job market. Plus I’m writing for Pink Pangea and I just got accepted to the English and Creative Writing Master’s program at Southern New Hampshire University. (I’m taking advantage of some killer tuition benefits from my new job as an academic advisor at SNHU.) Life is good but being stagnant sucks. And I swear that everything being dark all the time is the worst. Thankfully daylight savings helped with the evening being less dark.

So how to fix this funk? The first order of business was to secure a spot writing some articles for Pink Pangea. Check. The second act? Get classes lined up for April so I can work on my writing more. Done. Now comes the hard part. The part where I add to my life on a regular basis rather than get caught up in the monotony of it all. I’ve amassed a large collection of books and National Geographic magazines to get through. Plus I need to teach myself everything about digital photography. And I want to lose my weight from the trip. Thank goodness we did all that walking or I would have gained more. It’s certainly a time of transition. But that doesn’t mean I won’t make it through.

Most importantly, I need to keep writing and taking photos. I haven’t wrote in nearly two months on my blog. That makes me sad and even more disappointed in myself. As April approaches, I know I can make a better effort to write and practice photography. I need to. If my backpacking trip taught me anything it was that my passions are for travel, writing, and photography. I don’t need to leave the US to do any of these three. But I do need to make an effort. It will make me happier so I need to just stop putting it off. And there’s always the next big adventure to plan.

5 Travel Tips for Budapest

Budapest is a cool city. Matt and I did a lot of walking while we were there. There’s nothing more interesting than walking around a new city. I feel that walking around allows you to see unexpected things more frequently than when you just take public transportation. Matt and I walked everywhere in Budapest and we definitely got a great feel for the city for the amount of time that we had. Here’s some tips that we collected to help you navigate the city successfully.

 

Check out the view from the Fisherman’s Bastion and get a bite to eat.  This location provides a great lookout over Budapest. You can see the parliament building across the river. It is a great place to take awesome photos of the city. Matt and I also grabbed a bite to eat at the HB Cafe which is in the structure. Once again, it was an awesome view and we had some great food.

 

Walking around to see the sites. Matt and I managed to snag a hostel in between the river and where Heroes’ Square are. These two areas of the city are in opposite directions. We split our trip in half visiting each area. Walking along the streets we got to see the true character of city. Check out all the museums, castles, bookshops, and restaurants along the way.

 

Public transportation can be confusing. Plan ahead. Matt is awesome at figuring out our public transportation routes. We typically utilize public transportation solely to get to and from the airport. Budapest’s public transportation is a beast. Matt spent lots of time working out how to get to and from the airport. It was a bit more complicated considering we had taken the train in so getting to the airport was new for us in that city and we took a very early flight. It’s definitely doable but take the time to do the research and a lot extra time incase you get lost.

 

Take the tram up to castle hill. Sure, we could have walked up to the castle. But we didn’t want to. It was fun to take the tram up the hill even though it was a bit expensive. A panoramic of the city slowly comes into view as you ascend the hill. And it was nice to not have to walk up that steep incline.


Check out a Hungarian secret box.
Matt and I found these after we got off the tram on castle hill. We collected coins for my cousin during our trip and needed a box to put them in. This type of box is so cool. You have to remove secret panels in order to get to the key. It was an awesome souvenir to bring home.

10 Interesting People I Met While Backpacking

A big part of travel is the people you meet. And it’s not just the locals. Travelers in general seem to be a really interesting group. There are so many different types of travelers all with different styles of backpacking and reasons for their journeys. The people I met while traveling definitely colored my trip. They were windows into different worlds while also being individuals that I typically connected to very easily because they share the same passion for travel as I do. Each is unique in their own way and they certainly give lessons to reflect on. Here are ten instances of interesting individuals I met on my backpacking trip in 2014. Spoiler alert: there was only one that was a bad experience. What does this mean? Travelers are awesome the vast majority of the time. In my opinion at least.

That Guy from Tennessee – This guy was a real treat. He used to be a carpenter and sold the house that he bought pre-recession and fixed up. He’s probably in his mid-twenties. He bought a second house and then his girlfriend broke up with him…. which spurred his trip. His friends currently rent his second house while he travels the world. Matt and I met him after he woke up from a long night of drinking in Brussels (he went to Delirium). While tipsy, he decided to climb a construction crane and take pictures of the city. This guy left town pretty quickly as he prefers hiking to the cities. According to him, all cities smell like piss.

That Guy from South Africa – Matt and I also met this guy while we were in Brussels. He hung around the hostel for about as long as we did (probably longer). This guy was most likely in his mid-thirties. I won’t forget him for a long time because of the way he reacted when I asked him what he did for work. (Just so we’re clear, he was drinking a bit at the time so his emotions were probably running differently.) He told me that he works in the printing industry. The he got really sad and quiet. He said he hated his job but he was taking a ten week vacation from it. I just remembered how sad it was that he hadn’t found what he wanted to do yet and I hoped I wouldn’t find myself in that situation.

That Ballet Dancer – This kid was cool. I met him in Brussels as well. He moved to Paris for a month to start his dancing career but he couldn’t find an affordable apartment so he decided to move to Brussels with his boyfriend. This guy says he has to dance to keep from getting depressed. He also started a study abroad program for dancers from his old university to go to Argentina. His program allows students to dance fifty hours a week while they usually only get to do twenty at their home university.

That Yoga Instructor – This lady was traveling around Europe for twelve days and was exhausted. I met her in Amsterdam while I was at a laundromat. She said she was on a quick vacation but would return home to a white water rafting trip and yoga instructor workshop. She sure was busy!

That Guy from New Zealand – I met this guy in Amsterdam. He matched the age of Matt and I. He was also traveling with his girlfriend… and his fishing rod. This guy fishes whenever he can. When he came up to the room to get his fishing gear, it was later at night. He was going to fish on the canal. I was impressed with his dedication to what he loved no matter how far from home he was.

That Cute Kid on the Bus – On my way from Munich to Berlin, I had a nine-hour hellish bus ride plagued by motion sickness and constant overheating. This kid made all the difference though. Let me paint a picture for you: four year old boy, moppy brown hair, red t-shirt that says “Single and Lovin’ It.” And he counted all the buses we saw from the moment we left Berlin. Maybe that would annoy some people but I couldn’t help but smile. My favorite of the day: “Double Decker Flix Bus” (in excited kids voice with German accent). The kid just found so much joy in counting buses and detailing all their important aspects. Talk about appreciating the little things.

The Old Guy Who Lives in a Krakow Hostel – I don’t know the circumstances that brought this man to live in the hostel for the past two years but he seems to be enjoying his life. He reads and walks around a lot. This guy is also the guardian of the hostel. He put a dad in his place for leaving his young daughter alone in one of the dorm rooms. And he protected our breakfast from getting eaten by a pesky newcomer who hadn’t checked in yet (sometimes he is overprotective). You could always hear this guy’s voice when he told stories so I didn’t even have to actually meet the guy to get to know him. And he also played really awesome music, really loud at dinner time which I enjoyed.

That Douche- On our way back to Krakow from the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Matt and I happened to sit in front of this guy who was talking to a few people he had just met. I love when you get to know somebody by eavesdropping. Especially when they are trying to look really cool but they just come off as a douche. The group was talking about Auschwitz. My ears perked up because Matt and I planned to go in a couple of days. The Douche informed the group that he was disappointed with his visit because it was so “repetitive” compared to the two other concentration camps he visited previously. Really?! REALLY?! Genocide is just too repetitive? Auschwitz wasn’t impressive enough? Thank goodness one of the guys he was talking to gently put that guy in his place. It was ridiculous.

That Brazilian Guy- This guy goes on multiple trips each year. If you live in the USA, you probably aren’t aware of the fact that people around the world actually have vacation time. I’m not talking one or two weeks. I’m talking up to six weeks! Amazing, right?! Now why can’t we get on board with that? But I digress. This guy knew so much about so many places because his vacation time is always spent traveling. He was basically a walking compendium of travel knowledge. It was great to have an actual person to ask if we should stay in a certain place for a certain amount of time or what have you. He held his travel books with such a gentle hand and stooped over them like a reverant scholar. He loved travel and only wished he could do it more.

Those Marathon Runners- I give props to these guys. While Matt and I stayed in Athens, we happened upon the Athens Marathon. Two of the runners were staying in our room. Staying in a hostel can be rough. But staying in a hostel and then having to run in a marathon the next day can potentially be hellacious. Fortunately everyone in our room was quite quiet for them. One of the runners had been training for a while. The other hadn’t done much physical activity for a month. They both finished with good times and then we watched them hobble around for the next day.

6 Things I Learned While Backpacking

Minimalism: You don’t need as much stuff as you think you need. Backpacking teaches you that. I had everything I needed but nothing extra. It’s a really liberating experience because you aren’t weighed down literally or metaphorically by extra stuff. It has inspired me to minimize that amount of material things that I have in my non-traveling life. Admittedly, it has been a bit hard to cut back on items that I have but everyday I am closer to letting go of things that I don’t really need. I believe it will bring me closer to how I felt when I traveled. I’ll be more focused on living and have more money for experiences rather than items.

Give Yourself a Rest:I believe that in the USA people are extremely focused on working. This, in my opinion, can lead to people not caring for themselves on lots of levels: physically, spiritually, intellectually. And I get that because that’s what I did. It’s very easy to get caught up in work and sometimes you need to (thanks college debt). It’s also very important to make sure that you take time for yourself. Going on this trip I took time for myself and I was the happiest and healthiest I have ever been emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The world just felt so much better.

The Person You’re With Impacts Your Journey: I’m very much a go-it-alone type of person. So this was a lesson that I needed to be reinforced. If you have a great friend by your side, you’re good to go. Matt was a great travel buddy and he’s a great person to have with me in normal life too. Life is just one big journey. This trip really taught me that who you surround yourself with has a direct impact on how pleasant and fulfilling that journey is. It’s important to nurture good relationships in life.

People are Good: It’s pretty easy to be cynical. Overall on this trip, the good enormously outweighed the bad. I saw so many amazing creations, ate awesome food, met interesting people, and visited cities all with their own unique people and cultures. You’ve got to love the human race and what it’s capable of. So when something bad happens in this world, I try to think of all the positives. It makes life feel better and less hopeless.

You Can Be Who You Want: This trip allowed me to really figure out who I am, who I want to be, and how I hope to grow. I feel like I really want to work towards these goals because truly being who I am on an everyday basis and focusing more on my goals makes me happier. Part of that means letting go of others’ expectations for me and also making sure that I stay on track to achieving my goals when I am so easily distracted by unnecessary things. Like TV. Or Facebook. They have place but they shouldn’t consume as much of my time as they normally do. And the reward for cutting down on that instant gratification will allow for me to build a more profound and extended happiness upon the goals of who I truly am and want to be.

Exuberant Contentedness Is Possible: I can’t tell you how happy I felt on this trip. At some point everyday I would have an overwhelming feeling of joy. And everyday I had a consistent feeling of complete contentedness. Knowing that a feeling of being truly content actually exists makes me want to work towards continuing whatever it was that brought me to that state. I’d never felt anything like that before, at least not for an extended period of time. Well, except for when I studied abroad in Ireland. But it was even more profound than before. Maybe because I found myself where I wanted to be completely on my own terms rather than placed there by certain circumstances. It’s so nice to know that being completely content is a thing that can actually happen. I’d lost hope until I took this trip.