Five Years of Stowaway

Today is the five-year anniversary of Stowaway! Hurrah!

In that time, I’ve gone from Chicago to California, from Wellington to Waterloo, from Budapest to Buenos Aires, from Luang Prabang to La Paz. One of the reasons I write this blog is so that readers can stow away with me on my trips to various places, and as usual, thanks for your patience as I catch you up on where I’ve been.

I won’t be catching you up today. Today I’m continuing my job and housing search in London, because I really want to try living here for at least a little while. Today I’m just going to rest on these five-year-old laurels and appreciate the journey that took me all over Chicago, around the world, and here to London, the latest home for this Stowaway.

As ever, thanks for reading. There’s still much more to come.


I’ve Gone to the Mountains

I made it! After a full 18 hours of travel, I arrived at my hostel in Quito late Friday night. Today I settle in with my host family and start two weeks of Spanish classes. The last time I was in a classroom setting was 2005, so it could be a shock to my system. Also, I really want to learn Spanish but I have to get over my conviction that I’m terrible at languages. Wish me luck!

Quito is high up in the Andes Mountains, 9,350 feet above sea level. I was just in Michigan, which is 800 feet above sea level. That’s a huge change, and I was worried about how altitude sickness would affect me, but luckily it’s just been headaches, which I get a lot of anyway. I took it easy on Saturday–well, I walked 3 miles to see the city, but then I drank a lot of water and napped. That seems to have helped a lot.

I wanted to give y’all a heads-up that an interview I did for a British podcast called Getting Better Acquainted will air on Wednesday. I talk about the first part of my trip, the ups and downs, and being a conscientious traveler. More details when I have ’em!

Finally, I left this:

We've had at least a foot of snow on the ground for over a month, and days so cold the schools close because kids waiting for their bus might get frostbite

We’ve had at least a foot of snow on the ground for over a month, and days so cold the schools close because kids waiting for their bus might get frostbite

for this:

The view from my window in the hostel in Quito. There is no snow.

The view from my window in the hostel in Quito.

Sorry not sorry, as the kids say.

Now What? The Short-Term Goals After Nearly a Year Around the World

I’ve been back in the States for a week, and I’m just now starting to settle in. It’s been a whirlwind of cleaning and organizing the stuff I carried around in a backpack for the better part of a year, meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in as long, going to one of my favorite weddings ever, and dragging my family along to my most-missed eating spots in town. But now it’s the second week here, the jet lag is behind me, and it’s time to think about what’s next.

Lots of this in my future

Lots of this in my future

As I’ve mentioned before, my long-term goals involve more travel and finding the money to make that happen. I will definitely be in the States through the end of September, and possibly through Christmas, depending on what kind of employment I find. But I’d like to skip winter again this year if I can, so in the new year (if not sooner) I’ll be heading off to Africa or Latin America.

In the short term, I’m readjusting to suburban America, which takes some doing–the politics, the modes of transportation, the distances from place to place, the foods, they’re all different. I’m also living with my parents again for the first time since I graduated college 8 years ago. That takes adjustment on both sides! We’re figuring out how to make it work for everyone; they’re quite content with their lives and I don’t want to get in the way of that, and they want me to be happy but also productive. Which sounds about right.

Here are my goals for the next few months:

1) Get short-term health insurance. This is easily the biggest difference between where I’ve been and where I am now. I’ve had health insurance through my various employers ever since I graduated college, and before that I was covered under my parents’ plan. If I were in the UK, I’d show the National Health Service (NHS) proof of residency and they’d assign me a doctor (who I could change if I wanted), and that would be that, no fuss. But as we know, it’s a very big fuss in the States. It’s scary to be without insurance here, so I’m shopping around to find a short-term plan that won’t charge a huge deductible or monthly fee. If you have any leads, let me know!

2) Find employment. If I stay through the end of the year, I’d like something stable, but I also don’t want to feel bad ditching after just a few months. I’ll be signing up with temp agencies, which will hopefully provide me with admin or data entry work, or something that will put some money in my pocket. Of course, I’m always on the lookout for freelance editing work, so I’ll keep that search up, and I might try pitching some pieces of my own to online magazines and such as well. Be sure to tell your friends and neighbors they can hire me for odd jobs, housesitting, babysitting–just about anything!

3) Focus on the writing. I’ve been cranking out blog posts for y’all Monday through Friday for all of 2013, as promised, and I’m happy I challenged myself to do that. I’ll continue to make that a goal, but I’m also going to try my hand at more in-depth essays and pieces that someone other than me might want to publish.

4) Keep within a budget. It’s easy to simultaneously feel like I’m still traveling about and should experience everything at least once and the extra dollar or two isn’t that much, AND to feel like I’m back on familiar ground so all the old spending habits can come back. But I do not have the steady job I used to, and the whole point of this interlude is to save up for the next adventure. I have to keep that in mind.

Of course, there are other things I want to do, too: visit my friends in Chicago, make the playlist for my sibling’s wedding, learn new songs to sing with my dad, take walks with my mom, enjoy the beauty of a Michigan summer, read new books, and finally watch the new season of Arrested Development.

It’s going to be a good few months.  

Back in the States in a Week

I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but exactly a week from now I will be boarding a plane to return to North America. I’m in Budapest right now, and next week I’ll spend some time in London. Of course, there’s no reason to make flying home a simple process when it could be complicated: I’m flying from London to Toronto because it’s cheaper by several hundred dollars than flying to Michigan, and then I’ll get a bus to Detroit, and my parents will pick me up and drive the last hour and a half to my childhood home. After 308 days on the road, I’ll be back where I started from.

i heart michigan

I’m in Budapest with some friends right now, and we’re about to explore the basilicas and public baths, so I don’t have time for a major reflection on what nearly 11 months on the road means to me. (That’s definitely one of the things I’ve learned–how hard I have to work to make time to reflect, because there’s always something to see or do.) But there will be time for reflections and end-of-trip lists aplenty.

Don’t worry, the blog isn’t going anywhere! I’ve only taken you as far as Laos, after all. There’s still Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, the UK, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, Poland, and Hungary left to visit with Stowaway. And that’s just for the first part of the trip. I’m not totally broke yet, so I’m trying to figure out how I can extend the trip and carry on come this fall or possibly after the new year. There’s still so much of the world to see and I’m surprisingly not sick of living out of a backpack yet.

I can almost see home from here

Looking for home and far-off horizons

I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to do this trip, and there have been many times that I’ve looked around me and said out loud, “What is my life? Amazing, that’s what.” It’s all the better for the wonderful people I’ve met or re-met along the way.

Thanks to everyone who’s funded parts of this trip, and thanks to everyone who’s followed along on Stowaway as I make my way around the world. I’m happy to know that the blog brings something fun or thoughtful or new to your day, or at the very least provides photos to kickstart daydreams. That’s what my favorite travel blogs do, and I hope to do the same for my readers.

So stick around; just because I’m headed back to the States doesn’t mean Stowaway is going anywhere!

And for those of you I’m about to see in the States: I am so excited to hug you all! Minimum three minutes per hug. Get ready.

I'm headed home

I’m headed home

Image 1.

RTW Update/Birthday Post

Hello dearest fellow travelers! I’m writing to you from a guesthouse in Hoi An, Vietnam, and I thought I’d update you on how the trip is going so far. (We’ll get back to in-depth posts for each place I’ve been, in chronological order, next week.) Here’s where I’ve been and where I’m going through the end of next month:

September 2012: Hawaii & Australia
October & November 2012: Australia
December 2012 & January 2013: New Zealand
January and February 2013: Thailand
February 2013: Singapore
March 2013: Laos and Cambodia
April 2013: Vietnam and Japan
May 2013: Japan and England
June and July 2013: Eastern Europe
mid-July 2013: Back in the States!

st kildas melbourne sunsetI’ve hiked on a glacier in New Zealand, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, swum with dolphins at Kaikoura, bathed elephants in Thailand, cruised on the Mekong in a slow boat, scrambled on the temples at Angkor, and crawled through the Viet Cong tunnels in Saigon.

I’ve made friends in every country I’ve been to, and I’ve visited old friends along the way. I’ve eaten food I’d never seen before. I’ve bargained for wedding presents at night markets. I’ve clung to the edge of a motorbike, stood in the back of a pickup, and jolted along in a tuk-tuk. I’ve had a few epic nights and a lot of relaxing days.

I’ve also had some not-so-great times. I got shingles in Australia and concussions in New Zealand. Last week I was hit by a car in Nha Trang, Vietnam. I was flung backwards into a pot of boiling water, which burned my thigh and some of my back, and a mystery object stabbed my calf, leaving a deep wound. I’ve had a tetanus shot, stitches, and enough antibiotics to make me fit for eating (political joke!). The healing process is very slow and I’m real shaken up. I’ve moved up to Hoi An to rest and recover, and will probably move on again in a couple days.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ve said for ages that I wanted to start this trip before I turned 30, and I did it. I have to say that I didn’t think I’d be spending my 30th popping anti-inflammatory pills and seeking out plain foods–I mean, 30 isn’t that old, right? But here I am, and while on the one hand I feel very alone and sad for myself, on the other hand, the magical internet means I can talk with my family on my birthday, and pretty soon I’ll feel well enough to be able to go out and enjoy the sights of this city (another World Heritage site, incidentally).

So that’s where I am and what I’ve been up to; I hope this round-up was helpful (and brief enough) for those of you playing along at home. If you’re in the States, I hope to see you this summer when I come back for my friend’s wedding. If you’re somewhere else in the world–when can I come visit?

As ever, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

Still searching out new horizons

Still searching out new horizons

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Spend it All on the Dream

If you’ve seen me in the last month or two, and you’ve asked me how plans are shaping up for my trip, first of all: thank you. Second of all: I’m sorry. Because I’ve recently realized that almost every time someone’s expressed interest in this exciting adventure of mine, I’ve responded with, “Yes, but I’m so worried about the money. It’s so expensive.” And that is a super annoying response.

Counting every penny

It’s annoying for a few reasons, right.

1) The basic middle-class-white-woman-in-the-US problem, wherein just by those demographics alone, I am in an impossibly higher income and standard-of-living bracket than so many of the people I’ll be meeting on this trip. Privilege is a complex thing, so it’s never as easy as “other people have it worse than you, so quit whining”; it’s more “other people have it worse than you, so what are you going to do about it?” For me, the answer involves voting across all levels of government, making public stands with others at rallies and marches, calling my representatives on big issues (don’t just email!), and coming up, volunteering with various organizations. That’s all well and good, but the basic distastefulness of fretting over funds for a year-long pleasure trip in a world so fundamentally unequal remains.

2) This isn’t exactly an attainable thing for a lot of people I know, either. Most RTW blogs like to talk about how anybody can do this! live your dream! cast off fear! And that’s a nice sentiment, but it blithely ignores crushing student loan debt and wretched wages in this economy, not to mention health problems and family obligations. RTW trips aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but even for those who’d like to take one, there are very real and sizable obstacles. I’m unattached, not in a career job, debt free, and in good health–a relatively rare confluence of conditions.

3) I have saved quite a bit of money! I never did the hardcore saving, giving up daily luxuries and forgoing drinks at the bar; instead, I enjoyed the heck out of my life in Chicago and still managed to put away a few hundred dollars every month for this trip. I’ve done dozens of calculations, and I’m pretty sure that barring any disaster (knock on wood), I can at least make it through eight months of travel, enough to get me to England for my grandmother’s 80th birthday celebration. Of course, I intend to keep traveling after that, but if that has to be the grand finale, well, that’s not too bad.

If the trip ends sooner than expected, I’m okay with it ending here.

4) It is just plain obnoxious to complain about how broke you are. Unless you were born into cyclical poverty or are having a really rough time making ends meet and genuinely wonder how you’ll make rent this month, please don’t complain about your finances. (Not to say there aren’t good sites for talking about the very real money problems we all face, especially young people trying to figure out how it all works.) Setting aside whether anyone else would want to go on the trip I’m about to go on, no one wants to hear me moan about my money woes. We all have them.

Seriously, no one wants to hear about your money woes

Okay, but I’m still concerned about money for this trip. You can skip this if you’re already burned out on the subject (I don’t blame you), but in case you too are planning a RTW trip and wonder why no one ever seems to talk about this on their RTW blogs:

1) It’s all about stability, right? It’s scary to leave the best apartment I’ve ever rented, and a decent job, in a city I love, not to mention all the people I’ll miss. It feels selfish and foolish to leave an office job in this economy. I hate job hunting–it’s all the worst parts of dating without any of the fun parts–so I haven’t looked for anything in the last five years. But I have many friends who have moved jobs, and it’s been rough. Some of them looked for over a year to find something in their field, and these are really qualified people. It’s a scary thought, coming back to an economy that I can’t imagine will be much improved (and if a certain someone is elected in November, might well be worse). Sure, there’s the whole spin of “I’m a great candidate because of the new experiences my travels afforded me,” but let’s be real, that’s no clincher.

Does “sat on a beach in six countries” make me upper management material, Bob?

2) As I’ve shamefacedly admitted before, I’ve been so focused on this trip for so long that I haven’t made any plans for my return. At this point, I think I have $800 saved in a separate account labeled “Back to Life, Back to Reality.” That is… one month’s rent in Chicago. Not even one month’s rent plus security deposit. I’m really into planning things (shocking, I know), and it freaks me out to be setting myself up for a day-to-day life with no clear picture of what comes after, or how I’ll pay for it.

3) I’ve always prided myself on my independence, but there’s living on your own in the country you grew up in, and there’s being totally alone in countries that use a different alphabet from yours. I’ve gotten good at laughing with a carefree air whenever someone expresses surprise at the idea of traveling solo for such a long period of time, but inside, I’m thinking, “Yes! It is super scary!” I know it will be far more wonderful than frightening, but it’s still scary. Money is the cushion that eases any new/scary situation, so I think I transfer some anxiety about traveling solo onto the more tangible issue of traveling with enough money.

4) With limited funds (and limited time), it is impossible for me to visit every place I’m interested in visiting. This has been a hard one to accept, as you can see by the many times my proposed itinerary has changed. I have serious FOMO about travel (I hear the kids are using that term). I’ve read so many accounts of amazing experiences in just about every country in the world, and I’ve been anticipating this trip for so long, that I’ve convinced myself it won’t be worth it if I don’t do everything all in this one go. Yeesh! What pressure.

I have a lot of pins, okay?

I don’t generally consider myself someone who gets worked up over money issues, because I’ve been fortunate enough to always make enough to be comfortable (those two years in the publishing industry excepted). So these overwhelming fears about having “enough” have taken me by surprise. I see where they’re coming from, but they’re no good. I gotta move past them.

Partly, that involves adjusting my approach to travel in general, and that is something I’m looking forward to doing. I won’t be engaging in the kind of slow travel that some do, but I will be slowing down my usual pace considerably. Rather than zipping from sight to sight to make sure I get everything checked off my list, and rather than worrying about how much it’s going to cost to do all that checking off, I’m going to go at it a bit more leisurely. A week in one location here, a couple weeks in another location there, and I hope to come away with a better understanding of the places I visit and the people I meet. Incidentally, this approach also cuts down on the cost of plane tickets.

I think it’s a sign.

It’s probably terribly gauche to post a PayPal link after a post like that, but here it is. I am genuinely easing up on my anxiety about money, but if you’d like to shut me up about it once and for all, and also fund a swim with dolphins or a volunteer project with elephants, please check out the post here. No worries if you don’t! I’d hate to drive away readers with pleas for money, so I’m trying to keep these few and far between.

Images 1 and 2 mine. Image 3. Image 4. Image 5.