I’ve spent over half of the year traveling, at my own expense, to states and countries I’ve never seen before. And now I’m home, where I began life, and developing my unique attributions to this world. It feels weird, but in a good way. I perceive my homeland so much differently now than 20+ new cities, 10 new states, and 4 new countries ago.
Landing back in America was a bit surreal to say the least. I mean, I lived in 3rd-world elements one week shy of 5 months, so arriving back to a clean, well-organized environment was somehow overwhelming. I would say it took a solid 3 days for everything familiar to set it, and then it was like I never left. The moment I stepped out of the terminal at the airport, I was surprised by the fall chill in the air, something I did not anticipate upon my arrival, even though it was one week until Thanksgiving. Driving a car again was interesting, I was on high alert hoping I remembered how to do everything. But 30 minutes down the highway, and I felt as confident as the day I left. I stayed at my brother’s house in Houston the first night, then the next morning we road tripped to Longview, where I was cheered for by my mother and not let go of for a solid five minutes. I became super stimulated by the familiar cleanliness, smells, childhood photos, my favorite snacks. It was all overwhelmingly familiar that I caught myself just staring at the house I once took for granted, unwilling to let go of this pure sense of gratitude.
“We won’t fully know where we’ve been until we return to where we were, only where we were may not be as it was because of who we have become, which, after all, is why we left.” -unknown
What’s next for me? I’m moving to Austin, Texas, in January in hopes of finding my career. I’ll still be teaching yoga, AND I’m ready to dive into a job I can be in and develop myself in. It’s a scary yet extremely exciting transition period in my life, and I can’t wait to witness what is bound to unfold.
Until then, I wanted to drop some knowledge on solo traveling, since that’s what I’ve been improvising for the past 5 months. If you have even an inkling to travel on your own or long-term, this may come in handy for you:
The worst thing about traveling long-term is the preparation period beforehand. Not only are you purging your belongings and everything holding you down, but you need to prepare yourself smartly. Which is something I didn’t do that great a job of because when I started this trip I thought I was only going to be gone a month and a half. But thankfully I pulled through, with a little help from fellow travelers who told me tips on little ways of saving money and staying safe:
- Finances take the most preparation, and traveling internationally you have to deal with ATM fees and whatnot. Worry no longer. All you have to do is get a Charles Schwab checking account, free to sign up. Then externally transfer your savings over. I thought it was too good to be true, but it’s not. I never had to worry about getting charged ATM fees. Initially is does charge you, but then you get refunded at the end of each month. Also, Charles Schwab is known for great customer service, and it’s true. You’re not fighting the automated voice, you get transferred directly to a real, human person who is friendly and helpful.
- Insurance is necessary if you don’t want to worry about getting hurt or losing valuable items. Your United States insurance plan doesn’t matter abroad, so it’s best to get travel insurance. There’s multiple options you can find online, but I heard about World Nomads travel insurance from famous travel blogger Nomadic Matt and Lonely Planet, and it really was worth the cost. Although I never had to use it, having it gave me peace of mind. It is an expense, having it for a month and a half cost me $130, but it covers nearly everything (lost, stolen or damaged valuables, medical emergencies, cancelled flights, etc.) there’s a whole list it shows you.
- Phoning home. Once you’re out of your country, use Google Hangouts for calling home. Download the app on your phone NOW. This site is not widely used for what it’s intended to do, but something they don’t advertise is free calls to your home country. Skype and other international communication sites will charge you for out of country calls, but not Hangouts. **SIM card necessary? I would suggest getting a SIM card in the country you’re in if you are there for 2 months or more. Otherwise, rely on Wifi. It all depends on what country you’re in, but even in 3rd world countries they have Internet cafes, or if you stay in hostels or hotels they typically always have Wifi. More importantly, enjoy not always relying on the Internet!
Gear I wish I packed…
- Fanny pack. These are cool when you’re traveling, all the Europeans are doing it. Not only that, but they are safer than a regular wallet or bag, and convenient for carrying small items. I ended up buying a cheap tourist one that broke on the last day.
- Dry sack. You never know when you’ll need to keep your phone or electronics from getting wet, whether it be getting caught in the rain on a hike, or wading through water during high tide to get to town. They pack super small, don’t take up any weight in your pack. Just get one, they sell them at REI.
- Ebooks. Biggest mistake on my part packing-wise: bringing books. Like many people, I prefer reading out of an actual book, feeling the pages, and turning them one by one, BUT it is not worth carrying that extra weight while traveling. One option, which I attempted, would be bring one book and trade it out at book exchanges along the way; however, you more than likely won’t find the book you’re looking for or even find one in your language. Trust me, even one book in too much weight in your backpack. I ended up leaving books at exchanges or giving them to people.
- Portable speaker. There are so many bluetooth portable speakers out there, and used many types from other travelers, although I wished I had my own from time to time. Especially since I was teaching yoga along the way, it would have come in handy to have music playing during my classes. I tried out multiple of brands from other travelers, and I have to say the JBL Charge 3 is the best in my opinion. It’s water resistant, easy to pack, great sound quality, and the bluetooth doesn’t cut out like some other brands.
- Swiss army knife. I did without just fine, but I feel that would have been a valuable addition.
- Headlamp. I actually did pack one of these, but it was the most useful item had on the entire trip. Surprisingly a lot of travelers I met didn’t think to bring one, and were using their phones as flashlights.
- Current Lonely Planet guide book. I was traveling with a guide book in Nicaragua that a friend lent me that was from 2013. I didn’t think it would be an issue, but many attractions that the book recommended were not what they made it out to be in the book. I figured that was because the book was a few years old, things change all the time, so it makes sense. It still came in handy for the maps, and made for an interesting read overall, but if I could go back I would have invested in a new one.
People ask me how much I saved and how much I budgeted per day for the trip. In all honesty, all I did was save as much money as possible for six months, and only used half of it. And I didn’t have a daily budget; basically, my “budget” was to choose the cheapest options on everything I needed: cooking or getting the cheapest meal on the menu, staying in co-ed dorms in the hostel, taking the public bus instead of private shuttle. Of course occasionally I would splurge on a few things that I wanted to do, but I would choose wisely. I mean sure, when I was teaching yoga at locations my accommodation was paid for, and volunteering places is a great way to save and stay somewhere long-term. You’ll be surprised how much you don’t spend if you choose to be frugal, I mean traveling long-term becomes your lifestyle, so it’s not like you’re on vacation the whole time. And I did the math: I spent WAY less money traveling in six months than I would have spent living back home. The only difference is I didn’t have an income, so even if you had a little money coming in you could get by for a long while.
10 Greatest Hits…
I’ll leave you with the top 10 moments during my travels in Central America, click the links to get the whole story from my previous blog posts:
- Kayaking to Hospital Point
- ATV Island Exploration
- Midnight Hike to Highest Point in Panama
- Teaching Yoga in a Park in Panama City
- Nature’s Waterslide
- Costa Rica Road Trip Through the Jungle
- SUP Yoga in a Giant Volcano Crater
- School Bus Ride in Nicaragua
- Most Epic Sunsets in Popoyo
- Driving Scooters to Waterfall Hike
This wraps up my life-changing solo travel adventure, but this won’t be the last of my vagabonding lifestyle. Traveling is such an important part of my life now, I realize how much it develops me as a person, how much I learn and grow when experiencing new places and meeting new people. Although I have no definite travel plans in the near future (except for Big Bend to ring in 2017, but more on that later), I am confident I will never stop traveling. It’s all about priority: if traveling is a priority to you, you can make it happen, even if you’re not making lots of money, there’s always ways around it. Now that I’m back home I catch myself thinking that I need to know what’s going to happen next. And then I’m constantly reminding myself that I don’t need to know, and that’s the beauty of it.