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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Thursday, June 29, 2017

On What It’s Really Like to Work for a Cruise Ship


I’ve been asked this question a lot lately. And although working for this industry for the past couple years doesn’t necessarily make me an expert, I think I may be credible enough to shed some light on this very mysterious and elusive career.
See – the problem is that quite a few people probably have a very misguided idea of what working on a cruise ship is like. Some think it's glamorous - for good reason. The ships are beautiful… they travel to all these exotic places… there’s constant booze and entertainment… overflowing with delicious food… Which is all true.

For the guests.

Not for the crew.

On the other hand, some of you may have the misconception that crew members are treated like slaves in a floating prison. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration too.

It's a little better than prison.

So please allow me to set things straight – both for the curious cats who are interested, and also for my fellow crew members who are wrongly perceived. It’s time they found out the truth.



Let’s Start With…


THE PROS


1. THE VACATION.
 



Truly, for me, the best part about working for a cruise ship is THE VACATION. If you are living in the United States – you only get about 2 weeks of paid vacation per year. With tenure, some lucky folks get to accumulate more the longer they stay with the company. Still doesn’t beat this though.

My rotation is 4 months on, 2 months off. Which means I get about 4 months of vacation total per year. The majority of the crew members on my  current ship work 5 months on, with a 5 week vacation right after.

But I have to admit, my ship is a little different from the rest.

The crew members on the other ships usually work 6-9 months on, 2 – 3 months off.
Still not bad, right?

2. YOU GET TO SAVE MONEY --- If you’re smart.

When you’re at the ship, everything is paid for. Food, lodging, laundry, EVERYTHING. I can technically go for a full contract without spending a dime.

I do not have an apartment or a mortgage. Sold my car before I did my round theworld backpacking adventure. I don’t have any utility bills or insurances that I need to worry about. Nada.

So for me, this set-up is ideal. That even if the salary is lower than my previous corporate job, my take-away or my “cash on hand” is either even, or a little higher because I am factoring out the bills I used to have to pay.

If you are in the Philippines, or somewhere in South East Asia, or Eastern Europe, or South America, or the Caribbean– the salary is even better because you earn in US Dollars, not in your currency. Great opportunity to save and send money home to your families and loved ones. 

Now – if you are American, and you still have a mortgage, or an apartment, or bills to pay, and nothing changes in your lifestyle, and you decided to work on the ship --- this may not be the job for you if your sole purpose is to try to save some money. I would whip out a calculator and make a huge analysis before I take this job. Some positions make this worth it though… say if you were a higher ranking officer or a manager. Otherwise, I would think and calculate.

3. IT IS DIVERSE 




It is seriously a United Colors of Benetton advertisement, when you are sitting at the crew mess having dinner with a dude from Jamaica, a chick from Peru, a guy from South Africa, and a nice lady from Nepal. These companies take on crew members that hail from all over the world, and it’s really super fun to get to meet all these people and learn about their cultures.


 When I just got started and I was working on one of our International ships, meeting people from all over the world was definitely one of my favorite things about the job --- it made me feel like I hadn’t stopped traveling. 



My current ship is sort of unique in that we are the only US Flag ship in the world, so by law, we are required to have about 75% American workers, and 25% International.

But… it’s still fun… you know… getting to know someone from… uh… Delaware…




Shenanigans at the Crew Bar

4. YOU GET TO TRAVEL

And I mean this in 2 ways.

1st – If you get assigned to a ship that has an amazing itinerary, then it’s a win-win! Some of our ships go to Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and pretty soon – China. You may as well toss out your piggy bank because there’s no way in hell you’ll be able to save money if your itinerary is any of the above. How can you resist NOT seeing those places if your ship takes you there? You have to take advantage of the opportunity – I mean I would. I took this job so I could continue to travel! And being assigned to see those places is a dream.
My first ship took me to the Caribbean - and I hadn't seen any of those places before, so --- score!
This was in Cozumel, Mexico


I think this may have been Costa Maya or Roatan in the Honduras. I can't even remember anymore.


2nd – If you get assigned to a ship that has an itinerary that you don’t really care for, then you can save up the money you earn and travel during your 2 month vacation! Which is exactly what I do!

I am permanently assigned to our Hawaiian ship, and it’s pretty spectacular! But if you’re there year round, you can hardly consider that traveling anymore, especially if you look like a local. So after my 4 month contract, off to wherever-else-I-haven’t-been-to I go!


Beautiful photo I took of the Napali Coast in Hawaii

THE CONS


1. YOU WORK 7 DAYS A WEEK – NO DAYS OFF.


I’m not kidding. This is basically a 24/7 job. No rest for the wicked, type.  On average, a crew member works about 10 hour days, 7 days a week. You’d think it’s all fun and games, but it’s really not. It’s hard work.

In fact, some days, I find myself staring into the ceiling of my small cabin, wishing for at least one day off - out of my 4 months. I was wishing for 1 day out of 4 months!!! And my contract isn’t even that long. The other crew members who are working 8 – 9 months are probably wanting to throw their shoe at me right now.
It’s a lifestyle that you have to get used to. No weekends. No “Happy Friday’s”. Those don’t mean squat.



2. LIVING ARRANGEMENTS – Dorm style.
Like in college, only worse.

It’s not going to be easy for most to have to adjust to living with 3 or 4 other people in a small confined space, especially if one has never lived with other people before.
Because of the position that I am in, I am one of the more fortunate ones who get to enjoy the privilege of having a solo cabin. It’s small – but it never really bothered me as long as I was by myself.
This is my current cabin. And that's Falcor, my dog.

 The majority of the other crew members live with 2 to 3 other people in a very small living space, and that could be a major issue for some people. If you are lucky, you get roomed with people who are fun and you actually get along with. This is the dream. 

Essentially, this is what a (contraband) Cabin Party looks like, in a normal Crew Cabin :) It's nice and snug.

If not… If you get roomed with someone weird, or messy, or OCD, or someone who is downright crazy --- then, good luck.

A friend of mine said she woke up in the middle of the night to her roommate staring at her. Naked.

This story gave me nightmares for weeks.

3. CABIN FEVER

Sometimes you're too busy, and you have a crap schedule, that you don't really have time to get off the ship. And sometimes because you're so busy, that even if you do, you'd rather sleep. Living and working and eating and breathing inside the ship can make one go a little crazy if one doesn't take care of one's self. You don't really have the luxury of driving out to a pub to meet up with your friends after a hard day's work. All you have is the crew bar. And you have to watch your alcohol intake, because cruise ships have a very strict alcohol policy (Your BAC can't go over .04). 

Let's see... What were my favorite things to do on land after work, that I couldn't really do while I'm on the ship:
  • Grocery Shop and then Cook
  • Go and watch a movie
  • Happy Hour Thursdays with my friends
  • Happy Hour any day with my my friends
  • Boxing & Muay Thai 
  • Watch a concert/show
  • Go have a picnic in a park
Yeah. I miss all of that. But at least I don't do the dishes. And I don't do my own laundry.
Silver lining!

4. MISSING YOUR LOVES

It's definitely difficult being away from your loved ones. I have a relationship with my phone, which is reliant on WiFi on the ship that is expensive, even for crew. I've seen my little nephew grow up via photo messages and video chats. I can't even imagine how much harder it is for crew members who have families and kids back home, being gone for months at a time. It's definitely a sacrifice.


Look at that CUTIE!!!

IN CONCLUSION


This job is not for everyone. It's a lifestyle choice, and it either suits you or it doesn't. Having said that - I really do think that the experience of working at the cruise ship is what you make of it. I know a lot of people who have made a lifetime career out of it, that allowed them to pay off debt, buy a house, and send their kids to college... not to mention, travel the whole world!

I also know people who quit after working for a day. Claustrophobia or something. And good for them... better quit earlier than endure something you clearly don't like. 

As for me -- at the moment, it works. I think at the beginning I resisted the idea. I thought I was only going to do one contract... and now I'm on my fourth. Time flies...

I don't know how long I'm going to be able to do this, but I'll stay as long as it works for me and my chosen lifestyle.

My first instinct on my first few days on the ship was to quit. So I went from hating it... To tolerating it... to appreciating it... to -- now, not thinking it's so bad after all. I focus on the perks... The reasons why it's great... I focus on the PROS.

Besides... once you've gotten used to the long hours, the 70 hour work weeks, the cabin fever and the sea sickness... Working at the ship can actually be a lot of fun.

Well, I... at least make my own fun. ;)







Have you worked for a cruise ship? Are you interested in working for my ship? Leave me a comment below and I'll help you get started!





Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Worst Travel Experiences




On my previous post about traveling alone, I've mentioned that my purse was stolen in Buenos Aires, and said it was probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me while I was on the road.

Uh.. That's actually..... debatable.

Even though I did lose about 500 USD, my credit cards, ID, and phone, and I felt completely violated... there were actually a couple more "unspeakable" incidents that never made it to this blog... and i didn't write about it then - for several reasons. The biggest of which is that I didn't want anyone to worry about me, especially my family.

Why write about it now? Well - I guess I thought maybe people could learn a thing or two from what had happened to me. I used to have a little shame or embarrassment about it in the past because I wanted to encourage people to get out there and see the world, or at least get out of their comfort zones ---- NOT scare them away.


Looking back though, I guess they weren't THAT scary anyway. And if anything, I'd like to make sure that everyone understands that with good preparation, a proper mindset and sheer willpower (OK, and maybe a little bit of luck), there's always a way to get yourselves out of danger. 

THE ONE ABOUT THE ABOMINABLE AUSTRALIAN BOGAN



I was in Uruguay doing the backpacking route down the coast of the country jumping from one beach to the other when I came across a really nice and fun hostel by the shore.

It was one of those places where everyone that was staying there just became quick friends because of how the bar and the lounge was set up. It was conducive and encouraged "participation". 


In my dorm room of 6 beds, I only had one roommate -- The Abominable Australian Bogan (AAB). Huge guy, about 6 feet 5, a little older, but with a young spirit. 

Him and I hung out by default, just to keep each other company. We joined the other hostel guests for pre-dinner drinks down by the lounge, but decided to do dinner somewhere else.

We walked a little bit, found a nice restaurant, had a great dinner, great conversation. He even paid! Said he really appreciated the company. I thought it was sweet.

OK I would like to make it clear that there was absolutely NO flirting involved here. Not on my part, at least. And IF he was (and I doubt he did), then I never picked up on it.

In fact, when we went back to the hostel, him and I hung out with different groups of people. I went over to the young exchange students, and he went over to the adults. He must have turned in early because I didn't see him for the rest of the night. 



This was my crowd at our hostel under the moonlight in Punta Del Diablo, Uruguay

I came back to the room, he was still awake, just playing with his phone. I said hi, talked his ear off about this young college dude that tried to hit on me just then, and we both laughed about his failed efforts with me.

Everything was completely platonic, totally friendly.

Until a few minutes later when the lights were out and we were both just fiddling around with our gadgets that he freaking crawled onto my bed, and said something lame like - "So I want you to show me your blog from your iPad."

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" I yelled as he sort of tried to maneuver his way on top of me.


He was like, "Come on, it will be fun."

Thank goodness for the little self defense trick I learned from one of my friends --- I was wearing a little hair tie on my wrist, attached to a key. I call this move, the "Deadly Key Fist". (I wrote about this on my Self Defense Article)





I slipped the key into my fingers and aimed it (sharp edge) at his eye and said,
"I swear to GOD, Dude, if you don't get off of me, I will fucking stab you in the eye! I'll do it!!! Get off of me!"

He went a little cross-eyed as he tried to focus on the sharp weapon about to poke him in the eye, and then backed off.

"Awww Really?" he said as he jumped out of my bed, laughing to himself - I think to mask his nerves or shock. 


"Oh my God, Abominable Australian Bogan! Jeezas!" I said to him angrily, but he said nothing. He just went back to bed as if nothing happened.

I, on the other hand, packed my stuff with lightning speed, and dashed out of that room. I went down to the receptionist and said - "Listen, I cannot stay in that room. That dude is an asshole. You need to put me in another dorm."

The receptionist, seeing my disheveled hair and wild eyes, looked like she wanted to say something or ask what happened... but I stopped her and said I just would rather not talk and just to please give me another room.

She didn't say another word and handed me another key.

I left before anyone in the hostel even woke up, to catch my very early bus ride back to Montivideo... Thanking my lucky stars that I didn't use that hair tie to pull my hair up that night.




THE ONE ABOUT THE JACKASS COUCHSURFING HOST NINCOMPOOP


When I went to Rio for the 2014 Rio Carnival, I couchsurfed at this place in the center of Rio, owned by 4 Brazilian guys. They were, apparently, the premiere Couchsurfing Hosts/Spot in Rio. I had to "apply" to surf with them by submitting some kind of essay about myself and what I could "contribute" to the group -- as apparently they were hosting a whole bunch of people, and I was fighting for my spot.

Really.
I know, right?


To my defense, they had about a million excellent reviews, and the idea of coming into Rio with a whole house full of surfers/travelers really appealed to me, especially since I was traveling alone. Which is why when they "approved" me - I was over the moon excited! It was such an ideal scenario, coming into Rio for the Carnival with an instant group of friends!


THIS was the apartment. THESE were the boys, their friends, and the surfers.

Well, when I arrived, it was all I ever imagined and more. I got there, and already there were about 12 people in the apartment, already drunk, giving me hugs and shoving caipirinha's in my hand! It was a shock to my system - but it was Carnival, and I was out to have a great time!

I think there were about 6 or 7 of us Couchsurfers in that apartment. All girls from different countries, all single, all cute.


Hmm...

4 Brazilian Guys who opens their apartment up for female cute Couchsurfers only....


That should have already tipped me off right there.

The boys who lived there will each have one girl in the room, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and the rest will sleep in the living room in either the hammock or pull out couches or extra mattresses.

It was, in essence, the ULTIMATE Couchsurfing Experience.


I was assigned to one room - and yes, you guessed it, it was the Jackass Nincompoop's room.

It was fine at the beginning. He seemed nice, very respectful, kind, and super accommodating. 

Slept the first night fine, woke up to follow Bloco's the next day (Blocos = Samba Moving Street Floats), stayed up till 2am in Copacabana, drinking and partying with the rest of Brazil.

It got ugly when we all went home to crash for the night.

What I didn't realize is that the Jackass Nincompoop (JN) wasn't just drunk, he was high out of his mind -- and I'm not even sure what kind of substance he was on, but he wasn't all there.


I was already on the floor on my mattress when he came into the room and plopped onto his bed. All of a sudden, I felt his hand rubbing my back - and it wasn't a very "friendly" rub, if you know what I mean.

"So... How are you..." he mumbled.

I moved his hand away from me and said - "I'm good, JN. Just trying to sleep. Good night."

But - he did it again. This time, he started touching my hair, too.

"So... How are you..." he said again. I don't know what his problem was as I was sure he knew more English words than that.


I took his hand away again and said, "JN, you don't want to do that. Trust me. We're friends right? Let's just sleep. We had a long day. Boa Noite."

He started massaging my back again and said, "Why... Friends can have fun, right? I was nice to you, right?"

OK he wasn't getting it, so a little more forcefully, I threw his hand away from me and said, "Dude! STOP IT. No!" --- I think it's important to note that at this point, my free hand had already found its way into my bag and on my pocket pepper spray.

I looked at him and he was totally out of it. Drunk or stoned or high - whatever it was, he didn't look right.

He kind of stumbled out of bed and left the room... my hand still gripping the pepper spray. I was nervous - but I think I was more annoyed. Sooo annoyed at myself for being naive enough to land myself in that kind of situation.

I calmed myself down for a bit and just tried to go to sleep.

But JN came back about 15 minutes later. Plopped himself on the bed. His hand went and rubbed my back, and said....

"So.... How are you...." as if nothing ever happened. I swear, I thought I was in the twilight zone.

"Jeezas Christ, Jackass Nincompoop!!!! What the fuck is wrong with you???" I yelled, and I stormed out of the room.

Obviously, I couldn't sleep after that, and the wheels in my head were turning. I was formulating a plan to get myself out of there.


Now - THIS is when Travel Magic Happens.


About 6 months prior to that, while I was staying at a hostel in Rome, I met this Brazilian guy, George.  We were roommates, spoke only long enough for us to add each other on Facebook (as travelers usually do), and went our separate ways. We literally only spoke for 2 seconds. Our relationship after that was just "likes" on each others photos on FB.

Well, when he found out via my posts that I was headed to Brazil, he shot me a message and very kindly offered for me to stay with him and his partner for when I went to Rio. He did warn me that his house was about an hour away from the main city via the Metro, but wanted to put it out there anyway.

I told him that it was so very kind and sweet of him to offer, but that I already found accommodations in the city --- however I would love to see him and hang out!


Well - in my desperate moment, curled up by the hammock after the gross incident with JN, I sent George a message. I said something like, "George, I know this is completely last minute... I need your help. It's a long story and I will tell you all about it when I see you - but if the offer still stands, can I please stay with you? I cannot stay here anymore..."

And without any questions or hesitations, George just said - "YES. Stay here with us. I'm coming to get you."


My Brazilian Angel.


This is my hero, George!

May I please reiterate that at this point, I had only met George that one time in the hostel in Rome, 6 months prior, and we hadn't spoken to each other apart from him offering his home to me.

And so no matter how horrible my experience was with JN, George and all his kindness, just made EVERYTHING worth it.


I stayed with George for the rest of my trip in Rio, going back to the couchsurfing house only to hang out with the girls that I met, JN completely oblivious to the fact that I had moved out.

I spoke to one of the 4 guys who was living there and told him about what JN had done. He was livid! I told the girls about it, too, and they told me that something similar had happened to a couple Chilean girls that came in previously. Apparently, JN had tried to get one of the girls in bed, and when she refused, he basically kicked both of them out - saying they don't have room for them anymore.

What a dick!

I was mortified, thinking again how lucky I am that I had George to save me.

In defense of the other 3 boys - who were all completely different from JN, when they found out about the incidents, they totally slammed JN, apologized to the girls and to me on behalf of JN's behavior... And I found out a few months later that they kicked him out of the apartment. 


LESSONS LEARNED


1. Whenever one finds oneself in compromising situations (like examples above), one MUST be firm in saying "NO" or "STOP". One must be strong, and never be afraid to show strength or fight back if necessary. 

2. Will never again stay in a "Mixed Dorm" hostel, unless I had no other choice. 
(On a side note: I did end up staying at a mixed dorm by accident when I booked a room via AirBnB recently in Manhattan - but my roommate was a little person, auditioning to be one of the Elves at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It was, apparently, his lifelong dream to be one. 




I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I think he was pretty harmless. There was a twinkle in his eye....)

3. Will never underestimate the power of good self defense. Will continue to carry defensive weapons like pepper spray, and/or deadly key.

4. Will always remember to ask for help, when needed. 


I have completely put these incidents behind me. I'm actually still really good friends with one of the 4 dudes in Rio - Obviously not JN - and we just roll our eyes when we talk about it. Considering the fact that their apartment was very small and there were about 12 people in the house at the time that JN tried to harass me, we both agreed that I was in no real danger because anyone could have woken up to seize JN if anything were to have happened -- assuming of course that I haven't already beaten the shit out of him.

Did I mention I was a boxer?





And even in the hostel with the Abominable dude... The hostel was small, the walls were thin, packed with people... I could have easily been able to produce a bloodcurdling scream to alert anyone within 3 miles of us, if he continued being a stupid imbecile.

So - these were definitely nerve-racking experiences, with a danger level of - I'd say 2 and a quarter stars out of 5?

Were they awful? 
Heck yeah.

Did they turn me off from traveling alone or CouchSurfing or staying in Hostels?

Eff no.

If these were some of my worst travel experiences, then I'd say George coming to rescue me was one of my best. It just really proves that sometimes, the brightest light appears even in the darkest moments. I have always believed in the magic of kindness, and it manifests in the times you need it the most. At least it has for me, on many occasions.




I was practically a stranger to George, but he took me in at a moment's notice... and so even if I was still really peeved off by JN, George's act of genuine goodness really touched me, and it turned my experience around... That when I think of Rio, I think of him, and it makes my heart happy.


I think it was my chubby friend, Buddha, who said - life is neither good nor bad... it just is. (Not sure if Buddha actually said that, but let's just go with it)

Perhaps I shouldn't look at these as my worst experiences - but rather just see everything that I've been through as a collection of experiences that make up my so-called life. 

I learn more when I stumble... and my joyous and most grateful moments often happen after terrible times of despair and gloom. 

At the end of the day - I keep moving forward... as we all should!

I have lived to tell these tales after all...
(Mom - if you are reading this, don't freak out!)

I sincerely hope that none of the things I wrote about has put anyone off from traveling or taking an adventure. Things happen, you get challenged sometimes, and you deal with it. You move on.

If you're not convinced - next week I'm writing about my FAVORITE travel experiences, and I'm sure I'll change your mind. :)

Aloha!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Favorite Travel Experiences


Let me preface this by clarifying something: These are my favorite experiences while I was doing my round the world backpacking trip --- NOT necessarily my favorite places in the world.

An experience could be just that - an occurrence... or a moment... and could have nothing to do with the place I'm in. 

Well... could... not that it didn't.

It was hard to choose because I really had some of the best times of my life while I was doing this round the world backpacking trip, and there were so many moments worth mentioning. I wanted to put more, but I consolidated it to about 10. It's still a lot - but all worth it, I promise.

If you've been reading this blog from the beginning - get ready to be nostalgic. If you've just stumbled across this blog - then get ready to have your mind blown. :)

Here it is...

10 of my Favorite Travel Experiences (in no particular order)

*Click on the titles to read the full stories behind these moments



1. George's Heroic Rescue - Rio, Brazil


On my last post about my worst travel experiences, I talked about how my friend, George, who was still practically a stranger back then, saved me from what would have been a horrific Couchsurfing Experience. To recap: after finding myself in a very compromising position with my Couchsurfing host - George swept me off my feet and offered his home to me, a stranger, with no questions asked... which basically restored my faith in humanity. His kindness kept me going, realizing that there is still genuine goodness in this world. He is why I love traveling to begin with! Meeting people like him!


2. The Japanese Tea Ceremony - Tokyo, Japan


How many of us could say they've been dressed up in an authentic Kimono and served authentic green tea by actual Japanese tea masters in Japan? I had such a fun time feeling like Mulan while I was being dressed, and I was so impressed by how delicate and graceful the whole ceremony was. 


Please bring honor to us... Please bring honor to us...

The Japanese Tea Ceremony, I felt, was an exact representation of Japan: Traditional, simple, beautiful. I was so sad to get out of that Kimono, but will always be grateful for the time I spent wearing it, drinking this wonderful tea.


3. The Wall At Gubbio - Perugia, Italy

While I was volunteering at a small, posh, bed and breakfast in Umbertide, I had made a special friendship with 2 of my fellow volunteers - Eduardo and Riccardo. On one beautiful, sunny day, our hosts gave us their car for the day to explore and enjoy our time off. We ventured out into a small walled city, Gubbio, and just hung out and spent the entire day there. We stopped walking for a bit to take a break, and we sat - literally on the wall of Gubbio, overlooking  the beautiful country, and basking in the sun.



The three of us spoke about how similar our stories were... quitting our jobs to explore the world and explore ourselves... Trying to find our bliss. Eventually all our hearty chatter turned into transcended silence, as Riccardo played an Italian classical song, aptly called, "The Journey" on his phone.




Three strangers - turned good friends - on an old historic wall overlooking a field in the blazing sun- right smack in the middle of nowhere, Italy - enjoying life and each other's company. It was then that I realized how content I was with who I am, and with where I was at that point in my life. I was just there, completely present, and insanely happy. It was - the very definition, of feeling infinite.



Eduardo, Eartha, Riccardo = Love

To this day - I think about that wall and remember... that that feeling is what everyone should be able to experience, at least once in their lives. And I will forever be grateful that I did.

(*Editor's Note: My article - "Finding My Bliss In Italy" is still one of my favorite blog posts. It's not as popular as the others, but it's one of the ones where the words truly flowed from my heart)


4. The North Island Road Trip - North Island, New Zealand


At the first leg of my trip, going around New Zealand was the first time I was actually completely alone.  I had rented a car to drive a completely foreign land, all by myself, on a right hand drive car (read: completely opposite of what I'm used to). This experience was special because this is when I truly felt like I was out of my comfort zone. I was scared, yes... But I think this was also when I found real courage.
I drove through a high and dark mountain during a hail storm in a tiny car, literally thinking - "I could die here, right now..." but being okay with it, because I was just ape-shit happy I was out in the world, doing what I really wanted to do... Instead of being stuck in a cubicle. And I was in New Freaking Zealand... I just had laser eye surgery a couple months prior, and my eyesight was just beginning to heal. I remember thinking that everything started to look like it was in high definition, which even heightened my experience further. The country is just so devastatingly beautiful, I was constantly out of breath, even if my jaw was on the floor from awe the whole time.



YES. This is a photo I took after the freaking Hail Storm! I know, right?

I was so in tune with the Universe, I kept feeling like I just knew I was on the right path. It was amazing... and I can't wait to go back to explore the South Island the second time around.


5. Impromptu Snowboarding in Sierra Nevada - Granada, Spain


I was in Granada and I had no idea there was even snow! When I found out that Sierra Nevada was basically not even an hour away from the hostel I was staying - I was determined to snowboard up there, no matter what!

And so at dinner in the common area of the hostel - I announced to anyone who would listen that I was going Snowboarding in Sierra Nevada the next day, and asked if anyone was interested in going with me. One of the girls who just arrived said - "I'd go! I just don't know how..."
"Well..." I said, happily... "I happen to be a very good trainer! Buy me a drink and we're even?"
"Done deal," she said! And off we went!I love it when things like these work out... It was almost too easy :)



It was so beautiful up in the mountains, she turned out to be such a great student, super fast learner, and after about an hour of training in the Bunny Slope - she was up there with me doing Black Diamond runs! Ah-may-zing!

This was a completely unplanned event, we had a wonderful time, came back to the hostel exhausted but soooo satisfied.

I love this experience because it was totally unexpected, unplanned, but completely worked out - like they always do in the end. It was nice to have a little break from the whole backpacking trail and venture out into the snowy mountains just to have fun.


6. The Scottish Highlands Bus Tour - Scotland


I've always said that Scotland is my favorite country in the world. After this tour - I basically sealed that statement forever, locked it down, and threw away the key. I am obsessed with this country! The MacBackpackers Bus Tour we had was made epic by our tour guide, Graeme... A kilt-wearing true blue Scot, whose heritage runs deep in his veins. He had stories and fables and legends for days... His passion flowed through his words - made me want to pledge my allegiance to Scotland and take a knee!



Castles and Mountains and Glens and Faeries and Rivers and more Castles. It was like a fairy tale come to life - with amazing tour mates to boot!
I love Scotland forever!


7. Ayahuasca - Cusco, Peru


Of course, Ayahuasca. My mind-altering hallucinogenic encounter with Pacha Mama. I went to Cusco to take a 3 day Ayahuasca retreat to go through this intense experience, in the hopes of achieving clarity... To know what to do with my life as my round the world journey was coming to a close.

Because of this, I've known what it's like to die and be reborn. I've been put in touch with the universe and my own divinity, and everything... EVERYTHING became clear after ingesting this drug or medicine or brew. It changed me completely... And once you've gone down this path of enlightenment - there's no going back.



It was because of Ayahuasca that I decided to take a leap of faith yet again, and move to Brazil. Apparently, it was something I knew I wanted all along - I just couldn't see it because of my fears. This is probably one of the most monumental and noteworthy things I've ever done - not just on this trip but in my entire life.


8. Volunteering in Huaycan - Lima, Peru


What really led me to Peru was the opportunity to volunteer at the organization called The Light And Leadership Initiative. As a volunteer, I taught English as an after school program to these underprivileged kids in the poorest section of Lima. I lived in a volunteer house with 11 others, the fiercest, most kind-hearted people I've met, right in the middle of the little Huaycan community.



It was just so rewarding, being allowed to be a part of this organization that helps out this much... And I was so excited to be able to contribute my skills and talent, to benefit these beautiful and sweetest children who were just so eager to learn. I fell in love with these kids, the organization, and the simple lives we all led back in Huaycan. Even if I was only there for a short while, the experience was so special, that Peru will always hold a soft spot in my heart. What an amazing organization - and how lucky am I to have been a part of it...


9. On Calling Brazil Home - Sao Paulo, Brazil


When I moved to Sao Paulo after my Ayahuasca "visions" told me to go back to Brazil, I didn't know what to expect. I was broke, running on credit, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. But the stars aligned right from the first day I got there. I was surrounded by good people, I found an apartment after 8 days, got hired by 3 different companies as a "Freelance" English teacher (read; Under the table), and acquired 4 private students. I knew I was there for a reason...

It wasn't without its struggles though... I had to learn a little Portuguese to get me by because people hardly spoke English. It was a little expensive over there that I was living from paycheck to paycheck. But what the hell... I was living in Brazil and I lived like a local! Ate their food (more like devoured), used their public transportation, tried to dance the samba, pretended I was interested in football, and towards the end - got mistaken for a local Brazilian! I've made it!




It was great to experience life in Sao Paulo. I felt like I truly blended in, was so blessed to be constantly surrounded by such bright lights - amazing people, literally friends that I will have for life, and I will always think of Brazil as one of my homes...





Surviving in Brazil was something I consider to be one of my greatest achievements. I had nothing when I got there... I completely relied on blind faith and pure determination that I was going to do my best to make it work - and it did. I worked my butt off, but also felt like something cosmic was helping make doors open for me. I was being guided (as I often felt like I was during this adventure) by an invisible force... And as incredibly cheesy as this may sound -- I really think that it was the force of love that made things so great for me. The Universe knew that I summoned all my courage to be there because I was following my heart.




It was in Brazil that I realized that what my friend, Maui, told me was true: I really DO bloom where I am planted. If I made it there, I can make it anywhere. :)


10. The Shanti House - Borzonasca, Italy

My short stint of volunteering at the Shanti House completely shaped my Italian experience. We had Italian guests (who are more friends than guests, really), Italian owners, an authentic Italian cook (with a moustache and a permanent cigar on his mouth), way up in the mountains in the small little village of Borzonasca, away from civilization. Seeerrriously... can't it get any more Italian than that!?



It was my first volunteer experience via Help Exchange - and is probably the best, too. So many things happened at the Shanti House, from discovering my inner Italian, to being featured in a documentary, to having a little Italian romance, to being a part of this huge Italian family (who, to this day, still asks me to go back there).




When I think of Italy, I think of the Shanti, and our many nights filled with food, wine, cheese, great music, friendship, passion and love.

Italy is not Rome or Venice or Florence. 
Italy is a very small little commune in the northwestern part of the country, in the province of Genoa, up in the region of Liguria. Where the earth is lush and the wind is fresh... The heart of Italy is in the Shanti... and my heart will always be with them.





TADAAA!


That's 10! It has been such an awesome journey... And it's exciting to think that there's so much more to look forward to. 


I really wanted to add a lot more to this list... But I guess that's the beauty of keeping this website running... You can always just poke around my blog archive and see for yourself.... Then you can let me know which stories you liked best. :)

I realized I've frequently been looking back on the stuff that I've done in the past... My glory days, so to speak... I think maybe it's time to start talking more about the things I have been up to as of late...

Until next week :)




Thursday, June 8, 2017

Honest Truths About Traveling Alone


People usually gasped anytime I said that I was out there (wherever I was at the time) backpacking by myself… And even more gasps and fake faints upon the realization that I was traveling by myself – as a woman.

I get it, but at the same time, I don’t.

What are we all really afraid of? Is it because, as women, we are prone to more danger than men? Is it because we are really perceived as the weaker sex – that we need people around us to protect us all the time? Or is it because of just the mere fact of being by one’s self that we fear? The loneliness… The being alone part?

Well, do you want to know the truth? 

In my experience… When you’re traveling by yourself, you’re hardly ever alone. Not really. Unless you want to be.

I was gone for over 18 months. The trip was mine.

And most of the time, I was only really ever truly alone while I was traveling from one place to the next. On the plane, the bus, the train, or the car. Yes, there were moments when I chose to wander off somewhere by myself, but I think a little isolation is part of the experience.

If I weren’t visiting my family or my friends, I was either Couchsurfing, Voluntouring, or staying at hostels.

ACCOMMODATIONS = LOTS OF PEOPLE

Couchsurfing

When I Couchsurfed, I was very lucky about the hosts that I stayed with. They were very accommodating, generous with their time, and I ended up either hanging out with them, or with the other couchsurfers staying there, same time as me.

This is my Couchsurfing host, Karen, and fellow surfer, Dulce :)

Work Exchange/Volunteering

When I was “voluntouring” via Helpx and Workaway, I was working with other volunteers, and I usually found voluntary employment in hostels or B&B’s. I was constantly surrounded by people, and constantly meeting new travelers!

This is how we did lunch while I was working for a hostel in Italy
These were my fellow volunteers working for a luxurious B&B in Umbria, Italy
This is us, folding sheets, while volunteering at a hostel in Tel Aviv, Israel!

When I stayed at hostels… well, this is when I had to get a little smart and creative.

First of all – I chose to stay at hostels that had a really nice common area. I had a tendency to choose the smaller ones with a more homely vibe. I was very diligent in doing my research, and I read a LOT of reviews. It’s just that the smaller ones with a good common area sort of draw people in, and the space invites the guests to hang out… therefore making it SO much easier to meet people.
HBB Hostel in Sao Paulo during the World Cup!
I have NEVER been in a situation where I didn’t make at least 1 friend while staying at a hostel. As a matter of fact, the acquaintances usually start right at the moment when I check in. If someone there sees you with a backpack, it’s automatically – “Hey! Where u from? What’s your story?” And BOOM. Instant best friends.

Instant besties at our hostel in Lisbon, Portugal
Second – when you are by yourself, and people see that, they usually are the ones to approach you anyway. I’ve always believed that people, in general, are kind. And if they see that you’re alone, they’ll reach out and include you. 

Instant Friends from our hostel in Rome!

So if your excuse is that you’re shy --- then tough luck. You can’t wiggle your way out of this one because people come to you regardless. They introduce themselves to you, they invite you to tag along with them… Trust me. There’s usually always at least ONE person in the whole hostel who will act like the host/ess, or the glue that will turn the whole joint into an organized (sticky) group tour. And most of the time, if you’re lucky, that person is me.

Obviously it helps if you have a more outgoing personality, and making friends with strangers is second nature to you. But even if I think of myself as one, I do have moments when I get a little shy or embarrassed to start up a conversation. I learned though, that sometimes even just a little smile goes a long way. Or a stupid question like – “Do you know where the toilets are?” or “Hey, what kind of currency do we use in this country?”

Once when I tagged along with these Danish girls to go and get all muddled up in the Dead Sea! This mud is magic, BTW

One time, I bumped someone on purpose and said, “Omg I’m sorry! HEY! Nice shirt! Where are you from? I’m Eartha.”

Lame. I know. But we ended up being friends and traveling together for 3 days!
Just remember that most of the time, they are just as scared as you are when it comes to these things… you know, like meeting strangers. But keep in mind that strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet!

TOURS BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER

Another thing that I did quite frequently was go on Free Walking Tours, or random city tours and excursions. These usually lasted for about 1 to 3 hours long, and about 80% of the time, the whole group ends up having lunch, dinner or drinks together afterwards. Instant buddies in a strange land!

Friends I've made on a walking tour in Athens

I went on a Greek Hiking Tour once and I was in Santorini by myself. On the boat on the way over, I met a few groups of girls, and we all just sort of ended up in a little pack. We exchanged emails and we basically hung out with each other the whole time I was there. I even ended up traveling to Mykonos with one of them randomly, and her and I became really good friends.

My ladies in Greece! We are still friends :)

DANGERS ARE EVERYWHERE ANYWAY


OK. When I look back on all the places I visited, I think I was on my guard the most while I was in Argentina, and Rio. I was heavily warned by both travelers and locals, mostly about pickpockets and such. And I did see and feel danger while I was there… that everyone was just wary of one another.

My bag got stolen when I was in Buenos Aires
. It was a rookie mistake. I was in a very posh area of the city, having lunch with a friend. I usually do not let my purse leave my body, but on this occasion, I put it on the ground next to the wall and I was stepping on the strap. Sadly, it was still swiped from under me without me even noticing it. I regret being stupid. But then again, I was having lunch with this gorgeous Uruguayan model and I think anyone else would have been just as distracted.

He is a real person. His name is Fernando. Dangerous.

In Rio, during the 2014 Carnival, it felt like the dangers were a lot worse. So I didn’t even bring anything out with me. My money and my lipstick were stuffed in my bra, and I had nothing in my hands. I hardly even brought my camera out. I relied on others to just send me the photos they took.

Trying to protect my dignity in Rio!
But in all of these instances, I always had my wits about me. I was smart. I never walked alone in the dark by myself, and I never allowed myself to put myself in dangerous situations. I always had a keen sense of awareness, and I always carried my pocket pepper spray!
In hindsight, I was very lucky that in all the traveling I did – getting my bag stolen from under my nose was the worst thing that happened. And I’d like to think it’s because I put my adult hat on and took care of myself pretty well.

THOUGHTS ON BEING ALONE

During the moments I was actually on my own (pretending he's beside meee...), it wasn't so bad. The thing is, when you are in some form of isolation, you really end up learning a lot about yourself.

For instance, I learned that when I'm by myself, there is a LOT of internal monologue going on. I talk to myself constantly, and I narrate as if I were telling myself the story of what is currently happening to me. 


For example... "Oh... I can see that there is hail. Right. I am right in the middle of a hailstorm and I am freaking out. It sounds like someone is shooting a machine gun at my car. Oh my God. What shall I do? I will stay calm and keep driving. Just keep driving... Just keep driving driving driving.... Oh look, a rainbow!"

Is that weird?

Yeah this was my drive during the internal monologue you just read above.

One of the most significant alone times of my journey was when I was driving through the North Island of New Zealand. It was during the first leg of my trip, and I was driving through the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen in my life, on a right hand drive car, up and down a mountain. I was completely out of my comfort zone in a completely strange land, populated by mostly sheep.

Meh-eh-eh-eh-eh!

I felt completely isolated - and with that, came a little fear, but that's okay... Because along with the fear came a little courage, and a very strong sense of self awareness. I realized that as I was talking to myself... comforting myself through this whole process - I made myself laugh. It wasn't so bad learning that I actually liked my own company -- and THIS is very important self-love stuff.

One of very many "scared" selfies I took, driving in NZ on my own
Your location plays a lot into the experience too, because it's hard to achieve a good sense of solitude when you are surrounded by the noise of the city and society.

But when you are in a place as beautiful as this....

Gasp.

...things become really clear. Outward silence bring inner silence, and it is usually then that you learn your life's greatest lessons. 

I remember feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that exact moment. I remember feeling grateful that I made the decision to take a leap of faith. And I remember thinking to myself, that I must always remember that when I am alone, I am not necessarily lonely. 


All I know for sure is that I felt more alone when I was living in LA than I did when I was traveling the world solo. And while I was out there, I learned a great deal about myself that I never would have known had I stayed in the comfort of my old life... trapped in the four walls of society.

These experiences of solitude tested and challenged me to understand who I really am and what I really wanted out of my life. And because of this, I am a better and happier person. 

AND SO


Now that I have experienced both traveling by myself and with a partner, I can definitely say that there are perks to doing both. It's great to travel with someone, yeah... But it's equally satisfying going on a trip by yourself.

I just think that if you've been wanting to go on a trip of a lifetime but you're putting it off because you're still waiting to meet that one person to go and travel with... Well, you may as well toss that suitcase out because I think you may end up waiting a very veeerry long time.
Don't postpone these kinds of adventures because of the fear of being alone. You're never gonna get to do anything if you keep giving into those reasons why you shouldn't do it.

Believe me, if you go, you'll end up having a great time, make a ton of friends - real ones, and I bet --- you're probably even going to meet someone special while you're on the road. It's happened to me a few times... and trust me... A little romance never hurt anybody ;)

I heard someone say that the "You only live once" quote is false. "You only DIE once," is more accurate. And I completely agree. You do only die once - but you live EVERY DAY. 

So let's make it count.