Lessons Learned from Backpacking

Me backpacking in Madrid, Spain (2014). Over packing and wearing uncomfortable shoes were two rookie mistakes I learned from, among many others,

Have you ever dreamt of backpacking around a continent, freely wandering between cities and countries seeing all the things you’ve always wanted to and experiencing the exhilarating thrill of checking off bucket list items one by one?

For me personally, it was once something I fantasized about but never imagined I’d have the courage to do. It seemed so intimidating and far too adventurous for me. Plus, I knew I was too high maintenance to fit all my belongings in a backpack I’d have to carry everywhere or to stay in hostels with complete strangers.

But three years ago, I decided I needed to go for it [and I did]. As a gift to myself for finishing my Master’s, I booked a trip to Europe and began planning an epic journey to explore five cities across four countries. And since I didn’t know anyone brave (or crazy) enough to join me, I did a majority of it all by myself.

I admit that I was a bit nervous but I knew it was the perfect timing for this trip since I had reached such an exciting point in my life. For years, I worked so hard on my career and school, and it was all paying off as I reached some major milestones in life- completing my education and landing a job that allowed me to move 5,000 miles away to follow my dream of living in Hawaii. I asked myself, who knows how much my life is about to change or if I will ever get the chance to do this kind of trip again? I knew I had to go for it and seize this opportunity.

It ended up being the most defining trip of my life. I felt so liberated and happy the entire two and a half weeks. It had a massive impact on me by changing who I am as a person and igniting a fire in me to be fearless in the pursuit of my dreams. It made me even more addicted to travel and more determined than ever to explore every inch of this earth that I can.

It turns out that I was right about how much my life would change in the three years following this trip. I had an incredible experience living in Hawaii that awakened my soul and helped me find who I am. I got to travel throughout Asia and now live back on the mainland in California as a military spouse. I never would have imagined the path my life took but the experience of this backpacking trip has definitely influenced me so much along the way.

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How To Get the Most Out of Your Trip

The Eifel Tower just after sunset in Paris, France (2014)

People travel many different ways. Some like to party or gamble, others want to relax on a beach, some want to hike the highest mountain or go on wild adventures like sky diving. Regardless of how you travel, the memories made are always a priceless experience.

One thing I have learned is that each trip will be exactly what you make it. In all my years of traveling, I have seen some people get the most out of their trips and others who seem to miss out. Even I have learned my fair share of lessons through trial and error over many trips. I believe that no matter who you are, where you go, and how you like to travel there are some very simple things to do and not to do in order to maximize your time and have a more soulful experience.

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Why New Orleans is My Favorite US City 

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Many people may not know this, but here is a little secret about me that may shock you. During my middle school and high school years, I was really into goth. I wore only black, listened to bands like Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and embraced all the darker things in life. This was very reflective of the hard times I was going through during that period. When my tortured soul felt misunderstood, the goth scene embraced me with open arms. Although that may seem depressing, I actually look back fondly at this time because I had a LOT of fun and it made me who I am today.

Obviously I am very different these days. I am generally a very positive and bubbly person that openly identifies as a hippie, I wear vibrant colors and floral prints, I’m tan, and I listen to a wide variety of music. On the outside, some would say I look “normal” but anyone who really knows me knows that I am definitely not a conventional person. Deep inside, the goth girl is still very much alive. I still love the music and fashion, which will never ever change. Some are surprised to learn that I still go to punk and metal shows whenever I can. And while my sense of style is quite bipolar and varies based on my mood, the truth is my favorite thing to wear is still all black, combat boots, leather jackets, band tees, etc. And above all else, I have a fond appreciation for alternative lifestyles that deviate from the mainstream. There is simply no way to classify what I have become or who I am today. The best word I have come up with is multi-faceted.

One thing that has remained constant throughout my life despite phases and changes I’ve went through is my obsession with all things spooky and dark. Very little gets me more excited than Halloween, horror movies and Tim Burton. Just ask my poor husband, who is forced to watch scary movies he hates.

Because of this dark side of mine, New Orleans is a city I have always been fascinated with and dreamt of visiting. It’s full of dark history and a very distinct French flavor, which is another culture I’m obsessed with. As a kid, I would read Anne Rice books and fantasize of visiting the same streets where tales of vampires, ghosts, and voodoo queens took place. The Big Easy was always at the very top of my bucket list.

In 2014, I finally got to visit for the first time and fell in love. I have yet to come across a city that so deeply satisfies so many of my biggest interests and fascinations at the same time… food, history, culture, music, architecture, and especially the scary/spooky/horror/occult/macabre obsession. More than three years later, I am still delighted with how I planned a flawless and unforgettable trip, and I remember every detail vividly. As my favorite holiday, Halloween, approaches, my New Orleans nostalgia is especially great as I look back on what became one of my favorite travel experiences to date.

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Why You Should Travel As Much As You Can in Your 20’s

As Amanda approaches the big 30 in a few days, she shares some of her reflections on what your 20’s should be about

There are many general beliefs that people have about the magical time known as your 20’s. Most of them equate to it being the most important decade, where every decision you make will impact the rest of your life and define who you are. If that is true, everyone should spend the precious years of their 20’s wisely.

I am a firm believer that everyone is different and each of us has a unique path and timeline for our lives. There is no cookie cutter shape of how your life should be, no matter how much society tries to convince you otherwise. Many people feel pressure to meet certain milestones by the time they hit 30, but to me, there is really only one thing that is true about this defining decade.

Your 20’s should be a time of discovery.

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Why I Am Not a Fan of Shanghai

It is pretty rare for me to say the words “I am not a fan of” when it comes to somewhere I have visited. In fact, I am pretty sure there is only one place I can ever remember feeling that way about in all my travels and that is Shanghai, China.

Before I explain, I will caveat this by saying my travel buddy and I did not have a lot of time in Shanghai and probably missed out on things that would have made us fall in love due to lack of knowing. Maybe we just had a bad experience that does not truly represent the city and need to try it again. I would never label a city as one that I don’t like or do not recommend. I am just stating that I did not particularly enjoy my time there or become a fan. Most of the time when I travel, I am wowed and constantly in amazement. That is exactly why I love to travel so much. Somehow, I just did not experience that here for the first time ever. In fact, I could not wait to get home.

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Finding Bliss in Bali

            

When one thinks of exotic places in the world worthy of a top bucket list spot, Bali often comes to mind for many people. This tropical island in Indonesia is unlike any other place in the world, with an extremely unique culture and geography. Here you can find dreamy beaches, jungles, volcanoes, bustling urban life, and rural farming villages that seem to be stuck in an older time. It became a trendy destination due to Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ book/movie. But for me, it has always been at the top of my “places my soul needs to visit” list because this is without a doubt one of the best places on earth for those looking for a spiritual awakening or renewal.

After visiting this past November with my perfect travel buddy, I found Bali to be a paradox in many ways. Known as an intensely spiritual and scared place, many go to Bali seeking peace and the answers to questions they’ve asked their whole lives. It is famous for a plethora of spas, yoga centers, and new age retreats. However, there are also starkly contrasting aspects, such as a crazy Vegas-esque nightlife area, extremely hectic driving, overwhelming strips lined with endless boutiques and restaurants, and a completely oversaturated market for souvenir shopping and tourist activities. Some go here for luxury and pampering, while others go for the exact opposite – to be completely humbled. It is truly a place that can offer something to anyone. Personally, I found the mix to be delightful. If I wanted to relax and connect with nature, I could. If I wanted to party, shop, or go on an adventure, I could too. And I did a little bit of everything. The options available were limitless.

The Balinese claim that Bali is the center of the universe, and therefore, extremely sacred land. The energy found here is said to be cleansing and rejuvenating for the spirit. So in many ways, this trip was a pilgrimage for me to find out for myself if this was true.

Well, I can report that all the fuss is for good reason. Bali not only earned a new fan in me, but it quickly became one of my favorite places. If you’re thinking of visiting someday, here’s some information and details on the ups and downs of my overall amazing experience and one of the best trips in my life.

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Spiritual Awakening in Sedona

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There are a few places my spirit has called me to visit during my travels, but none have had the same effect on me as Sedona. When I learned more about this soulful city in Arizona a few years ago, a fire was ignited within me. I had to make my way there. And soon.

The first reason for this was obvious. It looked absolutely mesmerizing and I knew it would be even more incredible to witness in person. This delightful desert town is nestled among remarkable red sandstone formations and vast forests. The unique scenery has frequently topped lists of the most beautiful places to visit in the U.S. So it is a perfect stop and a fun road trip when visiting other popular Southwestern destinations (only four hours from Vegas and two hours from the Grand Canyon by car).

But the main reason I wanted to go was much deeper than just scenic beauty. Sedona was and still is considered an extremely sacred place for Native Americans. That’s because Sedona is home to four vortexes, which are powerful energy centers that radiate healing and renewal. The element of mysticism has attracted New Age and spiritual crowds to visit and even relocate here over the last few decades. Since I consider myself a spiritually conscious person and this is basically spiritual mecca within the U.S., I was on a mission to visit and experience this for myself.

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8 Things I Learned While Traveling that Totally Surprised Me

8 Things I Learned from Traveling

Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with travel. Over the years, it has been the greatest teacher I could ever ask for. I not only learned about the world and other cultures, but I learned a ton about myself along the way (especially via solo travel). However, I will admit that many of these lessons were pretty surprising and even life changing. Here is a list of the eight most important and surprising things travel taught me over the years. Enjoy!

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The Top 5 Things To Do in Puerto Rico

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Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a place very near and dear to my heart. I will openly admit that I am extremely biased about how amazing it is, but it’s easy to see why it is a favorite destination for so many. They do not call it la isla del encanto (the island of enchantment) for nothing. The rich history, blended from Spanish, native Taino, and African roots, is what makes Puerto Rico known for its distinct sabor (flavor). Although the small island is just over 100 miles from east to west and 35 miles from north to south, it is packed full of beauty, adventure, and culture. There is so much to offer, including quintessential Caribbean beaches, old world remnants, gorgeous mountains, vibrant Latin music, delicious cuisine, and the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. In my opinion, there is simply nowhere else that can compare.

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Why Everyone Needs a Bucket List

A lot of times, you will hear the phrase “bucket list” thrown around, especially when people rave about something being a bucket list item. But what does this really mean? And do people really have bucket lists?! Or is this just something they talk about and never actually write down?
I am here to tell you that, yes, bucket lists are a real thing and that every person, including you, should have one!
The common definition for a bucket list is basically a list of things to do, see, or accomplish before you die (or “kick the bucket”). This is not to be confused with goals, which are everyday things you work towards or achieve over time, or bars you set for yourself. These could include things like buy a home, get married, have kids, earn a degree, get in shape, make a certain amount of money, or have a certain job. Goals don’t necessarily get crossed off the list once they’re completed, but rather will always be a part of your life in some form.
On the other hand, bucket list items are the dreams and desires you hope to experience. Basically, the things that most people put off until “one day”. Many equate this to travel destinations, like hiking Mount Everest or seeing the Pyramids in Egypt, which are perfect examples. However, they can also be things like to volunteer, learn an instrument, skydive, or read a difficult book. Sometimes goals and bucket list items will mesh together, such as learning Italian or running a marathon. But usually, bucket list items are adventures. They help you live unapologetically as if tomorrow is your last day. The only problem is that most people don’t keep actual bucket lists so they never actually do any of these items.
Why do people have the tendency to push off the things they are most passionate about? I know so many people who wish they could start a bakery, or dream of visiting Europe. But what is stopping them? Financial limitations, busy schedules, having children to raise, and not being able to take time off work are among the common excuses I hear (yes, I am here to tell you, they are excuses). However, the most common response is that they just haven’t gotten around to it yet, and will some day.
But here’s the thing. There is an extremely high probability that “some day” will never come if you keep procrastinating and assuming that there will be a better time. Your time here is limited. I am here to tell you that the time is NOW.
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