How I Can Afford To Travel!

My most REVEALING post to date! If you've been wondering how the hell I've been able to last traveling this long, well here it is! All secrets are out in the open! This post tells you how I do it, and how YOU can do it too!

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Working On A Cruise Ship

I somehow managed to get myself a job working at a Cruise Ship. This post is an inside look on what it's really like to live and work below deck. You never know... You might be enticed to work for one too, and travel the whole world like me! Read on to find out more...

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Scotland: My Favorite Country In The World

I've been to many places in several different continents, and have seen spectacular beauty... But every time I visit Scotland, every other country pales in comparison. Read this post to find out why at this point, Scotland was and still is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place on Earth...

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On Finding My Bliss In Italy

When you go on big trips like this, however cheesy it sounds, you always do end up 'finding yourself'. And there are moments... difinitive moments when you achieve clarity, contentment, and pure happiness. This all happened to me in Italy. Read my most soulful post to date, inspired by the full moon in Italia...

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On Being Featured In A Documentary

I somehow managed to get myself featured in an upcoming documentary about "Voluntourism". This may be the big break I've been waiting for! The trailer is out - and I'm in it! It looks so good, I'm so excited! See for yourself... watch it here!

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An Epiphany At Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is one of my favorite places in Italy. We hiked 5 villages in one day, and it was breathtaking! But something completely unexpected happened on the hike... An encounter with a complete stranger made me realize possibly one of the most important things I need to do with my life...

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My Ayahuasca Experience

Ayahuasca, is by far, the most INTENSE thing I have ever experienced in my life. I died and was reborn. It is both horrific and beautiful at the same time... I can't explain it in a few words. You HAVE to read my story to believe... I promise it will be worth your while...

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

When Things Don't Go The Way You Planned

When I first started planning my Great Escape, I had only originally intended to be away for 3, 4 months max. I thought that that's as far as my money is going to go as far as "touring" Europe.

I had also changed my blog theme from The 30by30 Project to a Travel Blog, with the original intention of keeping an online diary... to inform friends and family of my whereabouts.

Now, EXACTLY 6 months since I quit my job, I've been traveling for half a year, still within budget, and hopefully with enough funds to last me at least 6 months more... And this travel blog has done wonders for my trip, with definitely more use to me than just an online journal.


I'm a planner... but not an anal one. I like having OUTLINES in my head, not a detailed textbook. I at least would like to have a general idea of the direction of my travels, but once I get to a place - I like to keep things open.

At the first leg of my tour, from my trip from LA to Manila, all the way to the UK, everything was pre-booked and pre-planned. I went to 6 countries in 6 weeks because I was on a schedule --- I needed to get to the UK before Glastonbury. It was great because since I booked my plane tickets at least 5 months before, I got everything cheaper. The only downside to that was not being able to spend more time in New Zealand. I really would have wanted to change my flights just to be able to explore the South Island, but it would have been too much of a hassle.

6 countries in 6 weeks
Which is why on the second leg of my tour - where I currently am, I decided to keep things as flexible as possible. The great thing about being in Europe is that the flights from one country to the next are really cheap (for instance, my Ryanair flight from Italy to Greece only costs 14 euro), so I don't have to worry about booking way in advance.


I had this whole idea about my Italian adventure even before I got here... I thought I was going to work at a B&B for a few weeks, then spend the rest of the time touring up and down the country... From the Amalfi Coast down south, to Sicily, to Naples, to Rome, to Tuscany, and maybe a side trip to Juliet's house in Verona... That I would eat pizza and gelato everyday, and drive around the countryside taking photos of beautiful sunflowers.

Well, I couldn't be more wrong. What I ended up doing was soooo much better than what I have ever imagined.

I booked both The Shanti House and La Preghiera as my two volunteer opportunities through HelpX, and we all know how I absolutely loved both places for two very different reasons... (See previous posts here and here) After La Preghiera, my intention was to go to Naples to eat some pizza, and then go to Rome. But one of the friends I met at La Preghiera offered me a ride to Rome on the day I was leaving, and I'm not really in the position to turn down anything that's free - so I skipped Naples and went straight to Rome instead.

In Rome, I stayed for 4 days at a hostel. I was at a 10 bed mixed dorm, and all of us staying there ended up being friends, and toured the city together. I had such a great time with everyone, but I really wasn't enjoying being a "tourist" anymore. Yeah, sure... Rome is Rome... Beautiful city, great architecture, fabulous history... but it felt like just another big city to me... and I missed the day to day life at The Shanti House and the company at La Preghiera.


This was when I realized I probably won't last too long as a tourist anymore, and at this point in my travels, I need something more steady instead of hectic. And so - I made a command decision to skip Croatia all together, and go straight to Greece for another HelpX opportunity. (The original plan was, Italy-Croatia-Greece)

I figured, it's probably going to be similar to Greece anyway... and if it's really THAT beautiful, I can always visit it the next time I come back to Europe. If Greece is as amazing as everyone says it is, then I'd want to spend my remaining Schengen days exploring the Greek Islands (and devouring their food).

After Rome, I took the train up to Genova and spent a few days with two girlfriends I met at The Shanti House. Then on Friday, we drove up to Milan for a mini Shanti House reunion to see our musician friend, Alessandro Ponti, play. It has been SO great to be reunited with my favorite Italian people... It's like being at The Shanti all over again!

I'm leaving for Greece on Tuesday. October 1. Fresh start.
So, no... I never got to eat pizza at Naples, nor did I get the chance to explore the Amalfi Coast or visit Sicily or drive through Tuscany to see sunflowers (the sunflowers are all dead... they only bloom for 10 days in June apparently). But I think what I ended up doing was so much better... See, even if I wasn't able to do or see the things I wanted - I STILL ended up falling in love with Italy.
None of the BEST things that I experienced here were planned... and so now, I'm looking forward to more things that are unknown.


I'd say just go with it. In my case, pathways to greater experiences are just opportunities disguised as setbacks. A missed flight, a delayed train, getting lost, things not working out... I always imagine "The Adjustment Bureau" at work when these things happen... It just means that the universe is trying to point you towards the direction you're supposed to be in.
It helps to have a little faith. Everything happens for a reason... and wherever you are, there you'll be. ;)

I love you, Italy!
See you later, Greece!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Finding My Bliss In Italy

I am writing this blog post by the windowsill of my bedroom, facing the full moon, here in La Preghiera – my current Help Exchange residence in the heart of Umbria, Italy. I have no sense of time, whatsoever… I don’t know what date it is, unsure about the day of the week, and I couldn’t care less.

I know some of you might think I’m just trying to be poetic --- because, I mean – WTF, right? The setting is *too* idyllic! The full moon, a window, Italy… sounds too good to be true… BUT IT IS!

I may start to sound like a broken record, having said this over a few weeks now… but I fucking LOVE Italy. I do. And it’s not in the way I thought I would.


Help Exchange (work volunteering) is an experience that I would recommend to anyone. I’ve only had two so far (one at The Shanti House and one here at La Preghiera), and both have been so rewarding and life changing in very different ways. 

The Shanti House helped show me the beauty of Italy… The food, the music, the culture and the people.  La Preghiera validated (even more) the reasons why my decision to leave everything that I thought was important behind, and made me sincerely and genuinely understand that EVERYTHING that happens to us in life is based on the CHOICES that we make, and at any given moment – we can CHANGE our circumstances if we decide to DO SOMETHING about it… That no one is truly “STUCK”.


Here at the B&B, my tasks are varied. I iron sheets, help set up rooms, do the dishes, cook lunch sometimes… and last weekend when they had a wedding here, I basically just helped out with a little bit of everything, to make sure the wedding ran smoothly. I work with 3 other volunteers – Richard, the 23 year old Englishman from Birmingham, Eduardo, the 27 year old Brazilian-Italian from Sao Paolo, and Gracie, the 30 year old Taiwanese. 

All of us come from VERY different backgrounds, but for some serendipitous reason, all of us have found a kindred spirit in each other.

We have different stories, but the recurring theme in our group is that all of us defied society, and broke free from the machine we call a 9-5 job, to travel in pursuit of a life that was better than what we had. We refused to settle… believing with all our hearts that the world has something bigger and better to offer.

During the times that the four of us would take a day or night off, we would talk about what we would be doing at that exact hour if we were still in our respective homes… and how incredibly grateful we are that we were where we were instead.

“I’d be in my car, cursing my tie, driving to work”, Richard said. “I’ll be on my computer in my square cage”, Eduardo said. “I’d be on my desk, looking behind me to make sure no one was around, and I’d be recording an a capella song on my Ipad”, I contributed.

The point is, we weren’t happy… and we did something about it… Took a risk, and here we are, right smack in the middle of Italy, enjoying food, the sun, the scenery, and great new friendships.


Most of the things we did were very simple. After dinner, we’d skip out to the nearest local bar, drink cheap beer and talk about our day. On one afternoon, we took the car out, drove to a nearby church on top of a hill, had a picnic with beer and cigarettes, and sang some songs with my ukulele. 

Yes, that is a picnic!

Our view from the top of the hill
Another time, we drove to Gubbio, a small town about an hour away. We walked, had some pizza and gelato. Walked some more, found a wall with a stunning view and just sat there for about an hour or so…basking in the sunlight and taking life in.  We talked, had some laughs, played some mood music… but mostly we just sat in silence. I always thought that one of the true tests of friendships is being able to enjoy each other’s company without saying a word… I know it doesn’t sound as wild or exciting as most of the traveler’s tales out there… but that day on that wall with Richard and Eduardo was probably the most content I’ve ever felt.

Gubbio daytrippers
My favorite wall in the world


One of the special perks of traveling so much is the opportunity to meet people who are just like you. Kindred spirits who ignite your soul and remind you of who really are by seeing bits and pieces of yourself in the other.  One of the downsides of traveling so much is that most of the time, your encounters with these kindred spirits are very short… because just like you, they too have to keep moving forward. 

Richard, Eduardo, Myself, our den mother, Giulia, and Gracie

But see, this is one of the reasons why we must always live in the moment. We must try to make every second count, because nothing in this short life of ours is permanent. I hope everyone soon realizes that we don’t have to spend any more time being unhappy, for the mere fact that there is so much to be thankful for.

I am SO grateful for that wall… for my new friends… for Help Exchange… and for Italy. I never thought I’d ever say this… but I think I may have found myself in Italia… and for the first time in my life I think I can  say with a little more pride that I am comfortable and satisfied with who I am.

None of this would have been possible, had I not have taken a leap of faith. If I hadn’t taken the risk of leaving everything behind... I’d still be on my desk back in LA, staring at a world map on my computer, feeling absolutely miserable.

And as for you, dear reader… if you are as happy with your life as I am with mine… may we both be blessed with many more happy suns. Salute’!

If you’re not… If you feel like you’re “stuck” in a cage like we once were… then my dear, dear friend… What on Earth are you waiting for?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From Shanti to Preghiera

Buon Giorno! Greetings from Perugia! I have moved on to my second HelpExchange stint at another B&B called La Preghiera in the middle of the country, about 5 hours away from The Shanti House. But before I elaborate on that, let me backtrack and give you guys the scoop on the last few weeks at the Shanti…


My previous post was all about my day off spent at the Cinque Terre.  My friend and co-worker, Shanty and I spent the WHOLE day there, jumping from one village to the next. We went swimming, went hiking, took loads of photos, ran like we’ve never run before (to try and catch the last train), and managed to see absolutely EVERYTHING. If you’re ever planning to see or hike Cinque Terre,  I would recommend doing it in 2 days instead of rushing it like we did. There were definitely areas where we wanted to stay longer but couldn’t because we were pressed for time. The trains don’t run as frequently as we thought, so a lot of time was spent just waiting for the next train to arrive. I was SO exhausted, I ended up with a crippling migraine that lasted for 2 days. Look at my photos though… It’s definitely worth the pain, right?
But what I didn’t mention in the last post was that – in Cinque Terre, we were being followed by our very own paparazzi.


I mentioned a few weeks ago that 3 Polish Documentary Film Makers were going to The Shanti House to film me and my other work volunteer peers for a Documentary about working and volunteering abroad. Well, they arrived and they did just that! They conducted interviews with all of us, asking us questions about our stories, and why we were doing what we were doing. They filmed us working around the Shanti, and tagged along on our day off at Cinque Terre… It wasn’t too bad… they filmed us for a bit, and then joined us for a dip on the beach afterwards.
This was taken during my interview! :)
I think they have a really good thing going for them… The subject (working/volunteering abroad) is really interesting, it’s useful for travelers, and it’s going to be a helpful tool for anyone who wants to be able to travel on a budget. The project/documentary is called, “Don’t Pay Me”, and you can check out their website here.


After 3 and a half weeks, a truck load of pasta, 20 jars of Nutella, 30 new friends and one heck of a farewell party, my stint at the Shanti House finally came to a close… I am both blessed and cursed for the experience. Blessed, because it was *so* special to be a part of the Shanti Family… Cursed because nothing will ever compare.

My last night at the Shanti... A farewell concert at the basement!
Now, every other place I’m going to work for will pale in comparison. The Shanti Experience truthfully and genuinely made me fall in love with Italy, the language, the people, the food, everything! I didn’t want to leave… I wanted to stay and sweep their floors forever… but just like anything else in life, there comes a point where you just gotta move on… There’s still so much of the world to see, so much to discover! The beauty about it though is that I know I can always come back… and I will J
With Franco and Martina, the BEST hosts you could ever ask for!

Now, I’m at this new B&B called La Preghiera in a little town near Perugia, the capital city of Umbria… right in the middle of (nowhere) Italy.
It’s a beautiful place… definitely more luxurious and upscale compared to The Shanti… but the experience is different. We don’t/won’t have as much interaction with the guests, for instance… It’s a proper bed and breakfast, much like any other posh ones out there… Beautiful, clean, proper, and quite lavish… There isn’t as much freedom here, and it isn’t as relaxed either…  It’s not awful or anything… I’m just biased because I think The Shanti House is perfect. 

This is my room!!!
I will say though, that the best thing about this place so far is the company. I have 3 other “co-workers” staying/volunteering here with me through HelpExchange, and I *loooove* them . They are the perfect representation of one of the reasons why I travel – which is to meet amazing and like-minded people. They all have interesting stories… Stories that I can completely relate to because they’re similar to mine. Why we left home, why we’re traveling, what our next steps are… I’ve only been with them a few days, and already I feel like we’ve gone through a war together.  My blood brothers… or something dramatic like that. The point is – I’m so glad they’re here, I’m so glad I ‘m here with them, I’m so HAPPY that I met them, and I’m sure I will be best friends with them by the time my stint here ends (if we aren’t already). :)

Top to Bottom: Eduardo, whom I will marry for love, Richard, whom I will marry for convenience, and
Gracie... whom I will visit in Taiwan :)


I dunno, man. There’s really something special about Italy, and I can’t put my finger on it. When I chose to stay and explore this country, my intentions were only to experience the food, see the beauty, and learn about the culture… but what I’m getting is so much more than what I had anticipated. I really didn’t expect to love it so much here – and I haven’t even SEEN Rome, or eaten pizza in Naples yet! Ayyy Dio Mio… Who knows what will happen… I still have a *lot* of time here and it should be interesting to see what develops.

In the meantime… I have some ironing to do.

Ciao! ;)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Unexpected Epiphany At Cinque Terre

Because I've just been to Cinque Terre, one of the items on my bucket list, and one of the primary reasons for coming to Italy, I really should be doing the usual routine - which is me writing about the details of the trip. Maybe starting it off on how I spent my one day off from the Shanti House to explore the 5 villages with my fellow work exchange volunteer, Shanty... How we woke up at 4:30 am to make sure to catch the 6 am bus to the train station... How we hiked one village to the next, Amazing Race style... Showing you guys one beautiful photo after another... etc... blah blah blah.

Not this time though. This time, I'd like to share a short story from our hike, that is more significant and impactful (is that even a word?) than anything else I've experienced on this trip so far.


When Shanty and I got to Monterosso, the first of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre, we went to the information center to get a map and figure out the best routes to take to explore. We were told that the most beautiful, yet most difficult hike, was the first hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. It would take us 2 hours to make the journey, but the views are spectacular, the lady said. 

The beach at Monterosso
I've done a few hikes in the past, but not enough to call myself a hiker. 3 kilometers in 2 hours didn't really sound so bad though. How difficult could that be, we thought. So Shanty and I just went for it!

10 minutes in, already I felt the pangs of regret. 3 kilometers horizontally, yeah, but that doesn't include the vertical ascend! For half an hour or so, all we did was climb... climb... climb...
To the Angelenos... if you think the Santa Monica stairs is an ass whooper, try hiking up the Cinque Terre!! Jeezas. I knew it was going to include a fair bit of climbing - it *is* a mountain after all... but not to that extent! Those stairs just wouldn't quit! I'm not asthmatic, but I was gasping for an inhaler!

"Why the fuck did we do this?"

I asked Shanty, in between wheezes. My sides hurt, my legs were sore, I was sweating like a fat kid in a candy store. I felt like I was thrown into a marathon that I did not prepare for. I was running on pure adrenaline and even that was almost exhausted too!

I wanted to turn back. Seriously, I did. I was so tired, I wanted to cry like a baby. And I'm supposed to be athletic!!! All I wanted was to go back down, jump in the ocean and let the salt water drown my salty tears.

But just when I was about to tell Shanty how I felt... almost miraculously... a guy appears about 30 steps above us and said, "You're almost there! Keep going!"

"REALLY?" I yelled back, incredulously.

"Yeah! See that point where my friend is? That's the top! You're so close! Keep going!"

Dio Mio.

"I love you!" I said to the complete stranger. He laughed - but I meant it. I really did feel genuine love for him.

Fueled by encouragement, Shanty and I pushed on with vigor and revitalized strength... until finally... BOOM! We made it to the top!

View from the hike! :)
As I gasped for air, and with trembling fingers tried to open my water bottle, I remembered Melchizedek, a character from one of my favorite books, The Alchemist. Essentially, he is a symbol of encouragement who appears in different shapes and form to people who are on the verge of pursuing their personal legends but are hindered by doubt. He gives the final push, so to speak.

And it made me realize that - even if climbing up the Cinque Terre stairs isn't exactly my "personal legend", I've met so many Melchizedek's in my life... Significant people, friends and strangers, who help push me forward... 

View from the Hike :)
People who, at the very edge of my despair, and sometimes desperation and doubt... appear out of nowhere to provide encouragement and reassurance.

Like the time when I was swimming in the Malibu waters for the triathlon... when the waves were too strong and I didn't think I could even reach the first buoy... a lifeguard appears beside me out of nowhere just to be able to tell me, "Keep swimming! You can DO this!"

Or the time after I graduated from college, in that period where I didn't really know what to do and every job I applied for seemed hopeless... A friend of mine pushed me to apply at this call center, even if I didn't think I had the qualifications for it, nor did I have the drive to try, having been discouraged from all the recent rejections... She said, "Go for it", and I did... And that job set off a string of events that led me to my life right now... My amazing life that would not have been possible hadn't it been for the training I got from working there, or the incredible life long friendships I've made with my co-workers.

And now, that dude... That wonderful stranger at Cinque Terre, who at my sweaty breaking point, yelled out, "You're almost there," forcing me to muster the remaining ounces of my strength to push on... to be able to see and marvel at the beauty that awaited me at the top...

These reflections made me realize that this is what I want to do with my life. I want to *be* someone's Melchizedek. I want to be able to help, encourage, and inspire people who are on the brink of despair or de-motivation --- to Keep. Moving. Forward. I'd love to be able to make people feel the way I did when the Melchizedek's of my life came to my aid...

Professional Encourager. Spirit Booster. Whatever... I'll come up with a title somehow. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but this is definitely something I'll be working towards. 

You never know how close you are to your goal...
I've met quite a few people on this trip who have a lot of questions about what I did, what I'm doing, and how I'm doing it... I can tell, based on their questions, that these people are on the verge of wanting to make big changes in their lives too... I speak so passionately about taking a leap of faith and following your bliss, I can only hope I'm pushing them towards the right direction by sharing my story.

Not to sound self-serving or pompous, but I LOVE everything in my life right now... Every little sacrifice I had to go through to get to this point now seems so puny compared to the rewards. The point is, I know exactly what it's like, being in a position where you're just so hopeless and lost and desperate... And I know for a fact that once you make a decision to do something about it... to take a plan of action... the Universe just opens doors for you. It just does. It is the law!

Who would have thought that an innocent little day off at Cinque Terre will trigger quite a poignant epiphany from me? It's amazing how things work out sometimes.

After Shanty and I have finished a few hours of hiking, and we were enjoying our packed lunch at the piazza, she asked, "Do you want to do another hike?"
I turned to her and smiled.

"Fuck no."

And I went and bought myself a gelato.

One epiphany a day was enough. :)
Cinque Terre Survivor