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Why it’s better to travel alone

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Dragon Tiger Tower, Taiwan

Traveling alone makes me feel like I am in control of what I want to see, explore, eat, and do all at my own pace. Wanderlust is something that has taken control over me ever since I took my first trip abroad to Mexico at the ripe age of seventeen with my  best friend. Since then I have explored more than forty countries on every continent except for Antarctica.

I can say that I have traveled a lot by myself in the past six years. Bali, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and  South Africa. Many of the other countries I visited were on my cruise ship with shore excursions and friends. The travel I did on my own taught me so much about self reliance, how to read a map, figuring out the public transportation system (trains, buses, high speed rail), trusting my instincts, and being guided by my own natural intuition.

Top reasons for why you should travel solo NOW !

  • Build your problem solving skills
  • Learn to navigate the public transportation routes
  • Eat and dine whenever you want
  • No negotiation because you aren’t in a group
  • Mingle with more people at your own pace
  • More flexibility for last minute changes
  • See more, Do more!
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Taking a rest of cycling in Kyoto, Japan

Look. Traveling solo isn’t for everyone but it is something you should try at least once in your life when planning to see new places. Some people feel funny sightseeing alone and looking at magnificent places without someone special along side them but you don’t have to look at it that way. For me there is nothing more celebrating than making plans of places I want to visit without negotiating with others along the way. “What time do you want to eat? What do you want to do next? What do you want to do tomorrow? Do we have enough time there? Well if you don’t want to go there, I will go and meet you later” I seriously cannot imagine having these conversations when I travel because it will just complicate my plans and ideas. Trust me that you will meet really cool people during your travels. Once you take those baby steps and prepare your trip you will look back and realize that traveling alone was the wisest decision you have made. And in the case that it’s not for you at least it’s something you can add to your list of things you did in your life that you learned from that you can share with others!

 

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Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali

 

 

Reunited with the past: South Korea

I had romanticized being reunited with South Korea since the day I left August 25, 2013.

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Closing that chapter in my life living abroad in Korea was a difficult one. It wasn’t an easy decision to pack up all of my belongings and move back home to Connecticut but I knew that the time had come. All of my friends were finishing their contracts and putting the pieces together to build a new life elsewhere. What would I be staying for?

South Korea was the place I had called home since I graduated university. It was the place where I learned how to pay all of bills.It was the place that was kind enough to me on Christmas eve to add a full book of passport pages before I flew to Thailand on a last minute trip.  It was the place where I had my first “real job”. It was the place where I conquered my fears.It was the place where I had covered all the land quite literally. I visited every province, almost every city, almost every national park, and even venturing out to Ulleung and Dokdo Islands. It was the place I had paid off all of my student loans. It was the place that felt so lonely at times but full of people I knew that cared for me. I knew that one day I would go back and visit.It was the place where I failed to understand everything but somehow felt that I knew everything about Korea.  That was one thing I knew for sure.

Fast forward to September 2016 and I was picking up my checked bags and going through immigration at Incheon Airport. All around me were Koreans. All around me were whispers of a language I could barely understand. “yogi-yo” (Come here)… I heard in the crowds as I gathered my bags in search of the AREX (Airport Railroad) to Seoul Station. Shuffling through the crowds of families and more Koreans I felt a bit out of place. I didn’t look like them. I didn’t speak like them. Did I still know them?

Spotting a 7-11 convenience store with bright florescent lights I remembered my dedication to my favorite Denmark Yoghurt drink. Quickly grabbing the last yoghurt off the shelf and checking out, an expressionless young high school kid  rung me out. Really? My disappointment was slowly starting to build up as I walked out looking and recognizing all of my favorite korean snacks. Really giddy to find the counter to book my AREX ticket and kind of bouncing around with all of my excitement I booked my AREX ticket with the lady at the desk. I was explaining my excitement with her about reunited with South Korea after three years. I felt compelled to share the reason as to why I was in Korea. Blank expressions. Bland “ok’s” and “I see” mumbled back at me as she handed me my ticket. Really? I wanted to just flop on the floor and cry. What exactly had I romanticized about visiting Korea specifically?  Oh wait, that wasn’t what I was expecting. That’s not how this was supposed to play out.

Looking out the window from Seoul Station all of the skyrises and LG and Samsung apartment complexes all mirrored one another. Soon the open land of rice fields swallowed up the emptiness that would follow. The countryside of Gyeonggi province looked empty. Quiet. Quite like how Anyge looked. A place that I’m not sure I could ever visit again. Rewind to six years ago that was my first stomping ground village where my emptiness swallowed me alive. Studying the land carefully out the window as we glided by villages and mountains we soon arrived in Gumi.

Arriving at Gumi station was a surreal feeling. It was my home for a year of my life. I thought back then that I had the best life. I lived right behind Gumi station and stones throw from downtown. Reaching the top of the escalator I checked all my heavy suitcases into a locker and with high expectations booked it to the same coffee shop where I use to for language exchange and coffee. My korean friend Eunye owned it but married a Swiss man so now resides in France so her mom operates it. There at the front counter was Eunhye’s mom. I have met her many times before. Her English was almost non existent but I always sat in her coffee shop with her daughter while she was in the back. My mouth was running a mile a minute in my own excitement and adrenaline to see her and pop in to say hi. All of Eunye’s travel photos were still on the wall and I was standing in the past. I was anticipating something more than a “nothing” response. Hmm… so I took the steps down Gumi station to a familiar hair salon that I use to visit.

The same round figured jolly lady who I once shared deep and challenging conversation on New Years Eve with was standing at the counter. I couldn’t believe my own eyes.”Your here!”  I had forgotten her name but knew exactly who she was. “Hi! Remember me! You curled my hair a few years ago but we talked a lot and you use to live in Ireland. I didn’t forget you!” I was literally filled with so much excitement to rekindle the past and share the picture of my hair that she styled so beautifully on my tablet. Holding the picture and asking her how she was I sank in confusion to receive next to nothing in terms of an expression, response, or acknowledgement for my present and excitement to see her. My “homecoming” reunion was seriously cracking right in front of me. To have been out of the country for three years now was realizing that Korea didn’t change. I was the once who had changed.

Reflecting on my week long jaunt with Korea was highlighted by my visit with a coworker from the last school I taught at. Jeong Im is my moms age but she opened her roomy apartment to me with open arms in Chilgok. Meeting me at the new tram station with bright hiking wear (totally ajumma style) the real Korea I knew was coming back. Treating me to a vegetarian restaurant we retreated back to her place eating and reminiscing over korean grapes which was purely nostalgia. Korean grapes are so deeply purple and a sweet taste of heaven in your mouth. Drinking chinese green tea on the floor and chatting I felt a rumbling that shook the whole room. A 4.5 magnitude earthquake had struck Gyeongju with aftershocks reaching the rest of the Korean peninsula.

The following day we found ourselves viewing the big city of Daegu from the tram that was recently built. Getting off at Seomun Market we toured the food stalls taking in the scents of fresh fruits in big red bowls, tteokbokki cooking over the stove, and ajummas selling hanbok. This was the Korea that I couldn’t wait to be familiar with again. Jeong Im and I settled on a small ondol style restaurant that served haemul kalguksu (seafood noodles). The warm steam made my nose run like crazy and the cold that I had been fighting for five days now was starting to heal. Seomun Market was a place I use to pass by when I use to visit Daegu. Our afternoon venture was so familiar and I loved it.

Jeong Im had recently retired and opened her own Korean style Jimjilbang spa. She had prepared all these wonderful spa treatments for me. With both of her kids moved out I felt like the third child she now had. Being treated with all these glorious spa treatments was I a princess for the day? I needed my tiara. After dripping sweat in the sauna a spa “menu” was prepared for me. Warm sweet potato, korean grapes, and a hard boiled egg with hot water. I will never forget the way that I felt in this moment. I could never come up with a gift savvy enough to wrap up my gratitude to Jeong Im in a box. No present could ever express how Jeong Im made me feel while I visited with her. Maybe I should just consider writing her a nice note and mailing it to her.

The following afternoon we reunited with teachers over warm songpyeon and an orange vitamin C drink (korean style). Sitting at my old desk that was once mine that faced the principal three years ago gave me a rush of old memories that were once my reality at that time.Every day sitting at my desk not understanding what anybody was talking about lost in translation while facing the principal was truly comical. I met the new principal introducing myself and listening him ramble to me about who knows what because well, I don’t speak Korean. I should have learned Korean beyond just learning the alphabet.   Sharing a steaming hot of seafood, side dishes, and warm rice with Mina and Hyun Ji who were my main coteachers at Jinpyeong Middle School really encapsulated the entire reason for why I went back to Korea. To share deep engaging conversation, laughing, and chatting together the past and present. Sharing with them where I am today. Telling my struggles with missing Korea. Explaining who I am today. This is the Korea I missed.

My visit to Korea surprised me. I think I expected everybody to be just as ecstatic as I was to visit a place I use to live. A foreign friend once told me that Korea was always going to be there. I was the one who had changed and change after all is not a bad thing.

 

Tsushima, Japan

Out of all of the trips I have taken around Asia and Africa   I have only been on one trip with a group of friends. It was during Chuseok holiday (Korean Thanksgiving) and it was early September. The leaves were slowly starting to change to luscious red, oranges, and yellows. The air was beginning to feel much cooler after such a humid summer in Korea. Autumn in Korea has always been my favorite season and two girlfriends of mine had agreed with me to go on a three day cycling and camping trip in Tsushima, Japan with a small group of expats. The weather would be the same as Korea and the best part was that we didn’t have to plan a thing!

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After taking a quick ferry from Busan our days consisted of dreamily cycling the rolling hills heading northbound along beautiful and isolated island called Tsushima. My body was in complete peace and tenderness as I soaked in the small traditional simple living of Japan. The nostalgia of crisp apples in the market and the deliciousness of fresh sushi being rolled along with bento boxes took my sense to a whole new place.All of the newness of our first day was extremely comforting if that makes any sense.  In fact, many Japanese travelers who I have met in my travelers have never even heard of this island. What made this trip so enjoyable was that there was such little planning and decision making for us girls to make together. I think our biggest group decisions were: where we were going to pitch our tent, which Japanese grocery store we would park our bikes to pick up some food, and at what time we would take short water breaks to stop and take pictures.

I enjoyed this kind of travel because at the time this trip was so low key! It was almost too good to be true. We woke up at the break of dawn to watch the sun rise over the scenic waters with cascading hills and mountains in clear sight. As we cycled we contemplated our life goals, dreams, and ideas. This was the kind of trip that for the rest of my life I will carry with me the smells, sights, surroundings, and feelings. I will carry with me the glorious smell of autumn in Japan as we cycled along the sea watching local fisherman catch their daily supply. I will hold with me my appreciation of warmth and togetherness as we all huddled together around the warm campfire in the cold evenings with warm mugs of hot drinks under the stars with the campfire roaring in front of us.

 

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I will forever be in love with this weekend jaunt on the quiet and quaint island of Tsushima. Cycling the countryside of Japan on Chuseok weekend was one of those experiences you have that when you retell small pieces of the story all of the fine details are still fresh in your mind. Thank you Savannah and Adina for a trip that I certainly have not forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My personal travel style: super ‘travel’ savvy

A local kimbap shop in rural South Korea

My personal travel style would have to be titled “travel savvy” while still being on a budget. Enjoying local foods, cafes, markets all at the local level instead of finding “western” places. When I am traveling I cannot afford to plunge into expensive hotels however I steer very far from backpackers and cheap hostels to my favorite, airbnb.. Let me explain.

There are a lot of places to see in the world. There are a lot of things that I have done and more that I want to do. With that said, whenever I am traveling I find unique ways to cut back on travel costs while still traveling in comfort while enjoying all that’s around me. Let me give you a perfect example.

Two years ago I spent a week in New South Wales, Australia on my own and my main focus was Hunter Valley and seeing the Blue Mountains. First thing first I did a little research on public transportation in that area. Renting a car, organizing a private tour and hiring a taxi was out of the question. In the Sydney Tourist Information Center they actually recommended me joining a tour but when I found out what that would cost me I refused. I knew there was a much cheaper way.

I began my adventure in Sydney Central Train station with a one way ticket booked to Katoomba which was roughly a two hour train ride through gorgeous scenery and mountains before reaching my final destination. The train ticket cost me no more than 20$ Australian dollars. I pre booked a youth hostel ( but now I always travel with Airbnb) that had good reviews right in town near the train station and a two day hop on hop off red bus that toured me all around the Blue Mountains regions. Two days was the perfect amount of time to see all of the beautiful highlights that this region had to offer.  My rule of thumb is to always compare my dining options and find the best deal to get the most for my “bucks”.

I never cut back my spending on foods to eat a cup of noodles or cheap snacks instead of local meals to save a couple bucks. However, you will see me eating in s super fancy type restaurant. Instead what I do is sort out all of my options of places to dine locally by asking around and using tripadvisor to steer me in the right direction. As a lover of food and fresh ingredients I absolutely love trying all the foods that are native to where I am visiting.

Do you travel on a tight budget? What kinds of goods do you find your cutting back on? What do you not mind spending money on?  I would love to know!