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?

Advertisements

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.

IMG_0559

IMG_0572

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.

IMG_0557

IMG_0574
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.

IMG_0584

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.

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.

Health Tips for Extended Travel

Health can be a big issue when you’re abroad. It can stop your trip right in its tracks. In order to make the most of your time, take some precautions while you travel. Here are my top health tips for extended travel:

Go to All Your Appointments: Physician, eye doctor, dentist, you name it. If you go to them for an annual, make sure you have gone in the year before your trip. It helps to give you peace of mind that you know there isn’t anything too crazy going on.

Get Your Prescriptions All Lined Up: This one can be tricky. Insurance companies don’t like to give out medicine at the reduced rates even if you swear up and down that you are leaving the country, won’t have access to the pharmacy you need to go to, and have written proof of your trip. I had this happen to me when I studied abroad in Ireland and for my backpacking trip. Get ready to cough up some extra cash to get your meds. If you’re only going to be out of the country for a few months, it’s worth it to get your medicine in advance. I haven’t ventured into what happens when you’re gone for longer.

Get Extra Prescriptions: Hopefully your doctor will understand your situation like mine did. When I went for my annual physical, I told the doctor that I wanted to bring some antibiotics along with me just in case. She completely agreed and wrote up a prescription for them. I didn’t use them but knowing I had them at the ready gave me peace of mind.

Stock Up on Medicine You Typically Use: Bringing your medicine is a good way to ensure your health. I brought cold medicine that I typically use and was so happy to have it on hand. You shouldn’t bring a whole store with you but bring what you know you’ll need and use. I knew I would need cold medicine, Motrin, Pepto Bismol tablets, and Vitamin C packets so in my bag they went. I used them all.

Know What You’re Getting Into with Medicine Abroad: It’s good to know that you might not be able to easily obtain medicine abroad. It won’t be too difficult but it is different than the USA. Sometimes you can’t just walk up to a shelf and get the cold medicine you need without asking. (On my most recent trip, I asked for them to get contact lens solution for me twice.) In Europe, you’re going to need to go to a pharmacy to get medicine. It’s not like in the states where you can grab something at a supermarket or a gas station. Be prepared that you might have to search. This is where having your medicine already with you comes in handy. The more you travel, the more you’ll pick up on patterns on where you can find things you need.

Stay Hydrated: I would always feel worse when I didn’t have enough water in my system. It definitely is hard to stay hydrated when you travel. You constantly move around and are distracted by other things. Plus, I would drink less on travel days just so I wouldn’t have to use the bathrooms as much. But I found that to be silly after the first few times I did that. I would feel horrible and cranky. I would also occasionally get terrible headaches from it. Keep yourself hydrated. I brought a water bottle with me the whole time. It was a plastic pouch so I could roll it up and save space in my bag. It also had a clip on it so I could save room in my bags even when it was full. You can also just buy water bottles along the way and reuse them which is what my boyfriend did.

Get Exercise: This tip isn’t that difficult. If you walk everywhere like Matt and I did, you’re basically golden. When I’m active I feel much more awake, refreshed, and ready for anything. Plus, I get sick less frequently when I exercise. I did occasionally run while we traveled. I hope to add more exercise into my routine on future trips.

Get a Flu Shot: If you are into getting the flu shot and you’re leaving for a trip during flu season, consider getting this done before you leave. I asked the pharmacist if the strain anticipated in the US would be the same as in Europe. He said he was unsure but suspected not. Then he said it ultimately couldn’t hurt to get it anyway. So I did just in case. I’d rather not have the flu while traveling.

Take Time Off When You’re Sick: When you get sick during your journey, it is really, really easy to just keep going and attempt to ignore your illness. There’s so much to do and see that you just don’t want to miss anything. Don’t do this to yourself. I attempted this in Budapest. I took a day and a half off when I got a cold and then went out the next. I ended up really sick and feverish by the end of that day and had to take about another day and a half off. It wasn’t worth it. I should have just killed the cold in two days and then been able to spend more time in the city rather than effectively wasting a whole day.

Take Preventative Measures: Vitamin C helps me so much. When I feel a cold coming on, I take some. It is particularly useful when you are staying in hostel rooms where there are many other people. Ultimately someone will be sick at some point and you will be exposed to those germs. When I start to feel a tickle in my throat or feel I’ve been exposed to too much to not take preventive measures, I use my Vitamin C packets and it sets me straight. Use your typical preventative routine while you travel.

 

10 Stocking Stuffers for Travelers

Christmas stockings can be a real pain. When Matt and I decided to exchange stockings one year, I found out that I actually had to fill a bottomless pit. It started to get expensive too. Nonetheless, it is a fun tradition to continue. In the spirit of the holidays and to help you fill that black hole, here’s a list of stocking stuffers that you can give to the traveler/backpacker in your life. All items listed are geared towards utility.

 

An eye mask and earplugs: Give the gift of sleep! Hostels can be noisy and bright. People are in and out of the rooms frequently. For times when a traveler wants to sleep, both items will come in handy.

 

A small quick dry towel: Not all hostels provide towels. At the very least hostels will charge a fee to rent a towel. A compact quick dry towel will be used when towels aren’t provided to travelers. And it will save them money from renting a towel.

 

Travel size toiletries: Toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, brush, floss, deodorant, perfume, etc. These items will get used up by your traveler.

 

Small LED flashlight: This little gift will help your backpacker navigate the hostel at night or in the early morning without disturbing sleeping roommates.

 

Spork: You’d be surprised at how often a utensil will be used. Travelers might end up at a hostel without a kitchen or need to eat something on the go. Having a spork handy is always helpful.

 

Medicine: Motrin and tablet form Pepto Bismol will be used at some point on an extended trip. Buy some medicine to help ensure your loved one’s health.

 

Extra SD card and battery: Do you know what kind of camera they’re bringing? An extra SD card and battery can let them always get that next shot.

 

Pens and small pad of paper: These will be super helpful when a traveler needs to jot down directions, do a bit of research, or remember a travel tip. They are items that will get almost daily use.

 

Bungee clothesline: These compact and helpful gadgets can ensure that a traveler’s clothes get dried quickly when they don’t have access to a spot to hang their clothing.


Cash:
Money always helps a traveler. To make it a bit more meaningful, give them some money with the stipulation that they use it on something fun for themselves rather than using the cash to pay for essentials.

10 Useful Backpacking Items That You Might Opt Out Of

Packing for a long trip can be a difficult thing to do. You don’t want to bring too much or too little but you don’t want to miss anything important. As my trip has progressed I’ve honed in on the objects that I find very useful that one might think, “Hey, I can probably get by without that.” Consider these items in the list below a couple of times before deciding you can go without them. You just may end up needing them.

 

  1. Sewing Kit: I flip flopped on this item a bit. I usually find myself using a basic sewing kit at home about twice each season. With that in mind, I decided to bring a miniature sewing kit (a couple of needles and a few types of thread). It has been so useful. I neglected to think through the fact that the few pieces of clothing I brought with me would be used a lot. I’ve had a few holes in my clothes that I’ve needed to fix just from the wear that I’m putting on them. (Matt and I typically walk six or seven miles a day not including the walking we do at actual sites.) Plus I’m up against the unfortunate fact that women’s clothing is made more poorly, in my opinion, than men’s clothes. It seems to just fall apart faster. I’ve used my sewing kit five times so far in a month and a half. You won’t regret bringing a small sewing kit. It’s so compact you won’t even know that it is there anyway.
  2. Hanging Toiletry Bag: I read in a blog that I should bring a hanging toiletry bag. I figured that I might as well because I needed a toiletry bag anyway. It is amazingly useful. Often times in hostels I will only have access to a couple of hooks in the showers. With a hanging toiletry bag, it ensures that I have one less wet item to deal with. My bag has three compartments so it also helps to keep all of my bath items organized. The hanging aspect allows for easy access to the items that I need. I’d highly recommend this item to anyone staying in hostels.
  3. Reusable Plastic Utensils: Matt scoffed when I told him I bought us each a reusable plastic utensil. I remembered from our short two week trip a few years ago that we ended up needing utensils and didn’t have any. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. We used them pretty much immediately. When Matt ate his first waffle in Brussels with whipped cream and speculoos, the little fork he gave him to eat the confection with broke on the second bite. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the utensil with me that time. We came back to get waffles again the next day and Matt ordered the same item. We brought the reusable utensil and Matt finally conceded that the reusable fork/spoon was one of my best traveling item ideas. I picked out utensils that have a fork at one and a spoon at the other. They barely take up any space so they are totally worth it.
  4. Collapsible Water Bottle: This is another item that Matt found amusing but soon agreed that it was a great idea. I bought a collapsible Vapur water bottle for the trip and I absolutely love it. It also comes with a clip attached to it so I can tote it along on the outside of my bag easily. And the top snap closed nicely (I haven’t had any accidental leaks yet, fingers crossed). There are two great things about this water bottle. The first is that you save money buying multiple water bottles. The second pro about this item is that you save space with it. You can clip it to your bag so it won’t take up space inside your bag when the bottle is full. When it isn’t filled with water, you can roll the bottle up and put it in your bag.
  5. Bungee Clothes Line: I’ve used our clothes line a few times while we’ve been on this trip. It’s great to help dry items that you can’t put through the dryer or if you don’t have time to finish the drying process at the laundromat. It doubles as an effective line to hang up some towels to dry them and create some darkness in your bunk. (Matt ends up using the clothes line for this after I’ve used it to dry some of our clothes.) This item isn’t absolutely necessary but it does make life easier. It gives you an extra spot to dry clothing which can occasionally be hard to come by on a hostel bunk. My clothes line has clips on each end. To shorten the line I simply wrap it around a post a few times on each end before I clip it. It works perfectly. It came with suction cups too but those things seem too rinky dink to ever work with sweaters which is what we usually end up drying on the line.
  6. Compression Bags: As a backpacker you are traveling with as few items as possible which means a small bag for the stuff that you do decide to bring. You might think that you don’t need to worry about organization of your stuff if you aren’t dealing with much room but you do. I have two compression bags that I put all my clothing into. One bag holds all my shirts, sweaters, mittens, scarf, hat, and pants while the other holds my workout clothes, undergarments, rain jacket, socks, and pajamas. Even organizing my stuff into two separate bags helps me to keep track of my clothing and allows for less stress while I’m repacking. The bags also help compress that items down a bit so you can pack more into the small space you’re dealing with.
  7. Eye Mask and Earplugs: I’ve been blessed with the gift of typically being able to sleep through anything. At the end of my rem cycle I do wake up if a light is on so an eye mask can come in handy if my roommates leave the light on or if I want to sleep for an extended time on transportation. I use ear plugs occasionally. Though I haven’t ever felt really unsafe in a hostel, I tend to not use them for safety reasons. When I use an eye mask and earplugs I am even more dead to the world than usual. Although I am not typically sensitive to sound while I sleep, loud noises can wake me up if they’re made repeatedly (i.e. loud drunk roommate screaming). Ear plugs help block that out so I can get some shut eye. Sleep is precious when you backpack. You’re always in a new environment so you don’t sleep as easily. The lights are going on and off frequently. People are noisy. Earplugs and an eye mask can come in really handy. I always have them next to my pillow just in case I find myself having a bit of trouble sleeping or if I get woken up and the nuisance won’t go away.
  8. Quick Dry Towel: These things are magical. They don’t even get that wet when you dry yourself with them. The dry time is so quick that your towel won’t be that wet even if you pack it away shortly after you shower. You should bring a towel when you backpack so you can avoid fees to rent towels. You might as well bring a quick dry towel so that you don’t have to use a wet towel every morning. I purchased a medium size one. I can’t wrap myself up in it but I don’t really need to anyway. I just dry off and get dressed immediately. The towel is big enough to wrap up my hair while I do my makeup. It’s perfect for my needs.
  9. Osprey Farpoint 70 Bag: My backpack is awesome. It has a detachable daypack that I use as a carry on. It is so convenient for travel because you can easily attach the daypack to the bag and then you have one huge bag instead of having to put a backpack on your front as well. It is a little bit more expensive to purchase this type of bag but you are buying convenience. In my mind, convenience is worth a lot. I would recommend the bag that I purchased to anyone who is in the market for a bag.
  10. Kindle: I have been reading a lot on my trip. I’m on my fifth book right now which happens to be the third in the Game of Thrones series. (I also read the first two Game of Thrones books as well as Four Fish and Death at SeaWorld.) These are big books that I would never have space for in my backpack. The Kindle has been so useful. It saves me a ton of space so I can read as much as I want. Plus I can carry it with me everywhere. And it saves me money in that I don’t have to pay to ship the books back home when I run out of space in my backpack.