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 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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What Makes the Perfect Travel Buddy?

Amita and I, with our matching purses we got in Bali

Who you travel with can make or break your trip. As most spiritually in tune people know, energy is contagious. So you always want to be around people who are on a similar wavelength as yourself, especially while traveling.

Let’s face it. Traveling can bring out the worst in anyone. You’re completely out of your element in an unfamiliar place. Things can and will go wrong. At times, you will likely be pushed to your limits, stressed, tired, and uncomfortable. People deal with the inevitable ups and downs differently. How you handle and cope with it may differ from even the people you care most about. Also, you and the person you’re traveling with will pretty much be together nonstop. Will you get on each other’s nerves or get tired of one another? Sometimes you don’t find out until it’s too late and you’re stuck in a foreign place with someone you realize is not the travel buddy for you, wishing you could just be by yourself or just go the heck home. Worst of all, you could even damage your friendship for good with clashing too much. Ugh.

So while finding someone willing to go on a trip with you is pretty easy, finding a perfect travel buddy is pretty difficult and rare. Over the years, I have had both good and bad experiences traveling with others. I realized that even some of my best friends who I love dearly are not always the best to travel with. This caused me to explore solo travel many times because often, I would rather just go by myself. (See my post on solo travel here to learn more about why I often prefer traveling alone.)

But as much as I love solo travel, even that has its down sides. Who is going to take pictures of you, split costs with you, and laugh hysterically with you at the crazy things you encounter?! There is truly nothing like sharing a great travel adventure with someone else. Just think of all the fun you can have together, the memories you will make, and the bond that will form. With the right person, it can be a true joy and totally enhance the experience. But with the wrong person, it can be a complete nightmare and a waste of your vacation days.

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A Southwest Road Trip for the Soul

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As much as I love traveling to foreign countries and getting new stamps in my passport, my wanderlust spirit does not have to go far to be wowed. America truly has a wide variety to offer, including not only famous cities but also a phenomenal National Park Service that grants us access to our many incredible forests, deserts, historical areas, and natural wonders. I have done quite a bit of traveling within the U.S. (my favorite cities include New Orleans, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, my beloved hometown of Washington, D.C., and of course, my amazing new home in Honolulu) and there is still so much more I have yet to experience. I often think to myself from the perspective of a foreigner, and if I were from another country and visiting the U.S., I don’t even know where I’d start! Think about it – we really have it going on! There are endless things to see and do all within our own backyard.

While other modes of transportation, such as air, may be more convenient and preferred, there is still nothing like a good road trip. One of the best things about this country is that many fabulous destinations are within short distances of each other, so you can hit multiple landmarks in one shot. That is exactly why the American road trip is such a treasured pastime for so many adventurers. There is something about the open road and the freedom that comes with it that is healing, especially for us free spirits. I am a firm believer that human beings have an inherent desire to wander and explore our incredible planet. In addition to being fun and teaching us some of the most valuable lessons in life, more importantly, this is how we become more grounded and connected to the earth we inhabit. Not only that, but it will make you appreciate how awesome our country truly is.

As much as I love living in Hawaii, that is the one thing lacking here. Road trips are not an option when you live on a tiny island like Oahu, since I can’t drive for more than an hour without eventually driving my car into the ocean. So I can completely understand why so many people claim they get island fever here. While I am totally satisfied with the endless adventures Hawaii offers me, I can admit that I did begin to miss being able to get up and go. Being from the east coast, I used to take advantage of this all the time. I would drive up to NYC almost every weekend at one point, and even took 10+ hour road trips all the way to Chicago and Toronto. As long as I had good music and good company, I actually enjoyed those road trips. But I never realized until I moved from the mainland to Hawaii how much I took them for granted.

Something about a road trip in the Southwest specifically allured me and has always been calling my soul ever since I can remember. Earlier this year, I realized the nagging urge was stronger than ever. Maybe it was from listening to too much Queens of the Stone Age. But something just kept telling me that driving from Vegas to the Grand Canyon would be badass. Not only in a rock star kind of way but in a spiritually liberating way. I had been fantasizing about going on this trip for years and I could never figure out why I wanted it so bad, but I was determined.

Well, this past May, I finally made it happen and got to check this bucket list item off my list. A good friend and I left Hawaii for a week of road tripping from Nevada to Arizona. It was definitely an amazing and memorable experience. However, it certainly was NOT what I expected in a lot of ways….

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Must Have Items for Jet Setters

Travel is wonderful and without a doubt my greatest passion in life. So it may surprise you to learn that as much as I hit the friendly skies, I absolutely hate flying. It doesn’t help that I live in the middle of the Pacific ocean, where any flight I take is going to be long – at least 5-6 hours to get to to the mainland or 8-9 to get to Asia. It can be pretty miserable. Passengers are crammed like sardines onto the packed plane for hours, surrounded by germs, and fed inedible food (if any at all). To alleviate this, I try my best to be prepared so my flights are as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. I always make sure my carry-on bag is packed with everything I’ll need during the trip to my destination.

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Why You Should Give Solo Travel a Try

Solo travel in Madrid
Amanda traveling solo in Madrid, Spain – November 2014

Since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of traveling the world. As I got a little older and finally started having enough money to fund some of these dreams, I encountered another problem. Who do I go with?

In my early 20’s, me and my girlfriends would always talk about taking trips together, but usually they were not able to due to financial reasons. And for those who did have the money to splurge, they usually had kids and other responsibilities that prevented them from being able to. Not having someone to go with and not wanting to go alone delayed me from taking many awesome vacations over the years, and had me putting it off until “one day”.

Now, there were several times when it all worked out and I did take trips with girlfriends or with guys I was dating. I have always enjoyed this each time, but it did make me realize something. You simply can’t travel with everyone.

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