Why I Want to Settle Down (At Least for a Bit)

Why I Want to Settle Down (At Least for a Bit)

So I have an announcement! I got a job and am moving to Denver, Colorado, THIS FRIDAY. And I’m crazy excited.

While I had my heart set on San Francisco, rent prices turned out to be way too high. (4K a month for a two-bedroom? No thanks.) And though someday I’d love to live in the Bay, it’s just not in the cards right now.

But still, I’m heading west and I’m so happy about it.

Ashley Abroad

I’m also excited about my new haircut!

I’ll be working for a young, fast-paced tech startup based in Boulder. It has a gorgeous office with panoramic views of the Flatirons, as well as beer on Fridays, yoga at lunch and barbecues in summer. My role is to collaborate with bloggers and web publishers in the digital advertising industry which of course interest me.

In short, I got really lucky.

But along with a career, I’m also really excited to start a life. It’s no secret I’ve been wanting to settle down for a while- after a year of nomadic living I’m excited to sleep in the same bed every night and make friendships that last longer than a week.

And this isn’t forever- I want to live abroad again and will always be an expat at heart. I love foreign languages, culture and foods too much to live stateside for long. But this will be a great start for my career and allow me to save up some money.

Here’s why I’m thrilled to settle down for a while:

Career.

For a long time I’ve felt lost career-wise. At least now I’ll know if I’m heading in the right direction- before I was just speculating on what I might want to do.

Also, I’ll be able to figure out if 9-5 corporate America is for me. At 24, this is my first “real” job, so who knows?

Anyway, I couldn’t keep traveling even if I wanted to- I blew threw my savings on my round-the-world trip, and I no longer have a way to make a living on the road.

Answers.com fired all of its writers last winter, so my main source of income is long-gone. (I used to make $1200-1500 a month from that job alone.) Also, Google changed its algorithm so link sales have dried up. (I used to make $500-1000 a month from selling links- now I make next to nothing if anything at all.)

So while I used to make $1700-2500 a month on the road (which is more than enough to travel Southeast Asia comfortably), now I wouldn’t be able to support myself.

(Sidenote- I have no idea how travel bloggers earn enough money without a high-paying freelance writing job. It’s a mystery to me.)

Money.

I know as a travel blogger I’m supposed to eschew all material possessions and spend every dime on experiences, but screw it- I’m excited to have a not-meager paycheck for the first time in my life. I want to buy myself a few treats (like a GoPro!) and perhaps a second pair of jeans.

And while I’ll always be a minimalist who wears clothes until they fall apart, it will be so nice to buy things if my heart so desires.

That being said, I also want to save up money for future travels. Because you know, some things really never change.

Creative Projects + Cooking.

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This year I want to explore a few creative projects that are hard or impossible to do on the road. For one, I want to brew lots of beer. I’ve recently gotten into it and am head-over-hops in love.

Also I want to cook more. I want to recreate all my favorite French and Vietnamese dishes and throw lots of elaborate dinner parties. I freaking love dinner parties.

Love.

It’s hard to date when you’re hopping countries every week. And though some travel bloggers manage to find love on the road, I never did. A year of traveling taught me I’m a sensitive Cancerian who gets hurt easily, and I’m much more suited to long-term engagements than flings in Thailand.

So I’ll admit- I’d like to find someone. Maybe not a forever-thing, but someone to go on dates and ski trips with.

(And as an aside, I’ve been dating an awesome guy in Michigan whom I OF COURSE met a month before leaving. So great timing there. #storyofmylife)

My Own Apartment.

I can’t wait to have my own apartment as I haven’t had my own living quarters for two and a half YEARS. And my best friend from college is tagging along with me so I already have a roommate!

As boring as it sounds, a part of me craves routine. I want to have a neighborhood, a group of friends, a local pho joint. All in all, I want a more settled life.

. . . . . . . . . . .

The last two years of my life living in France and traveling the world were beyond amazing, but here’s hoping the next couple of years are just as wonderful in a totally different way.

And as Val so eloquently put it, to live will be an awfully big adventure as well.

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Shing from The Culture Map

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Shing from The Culture Map

Hey guys! So I’m really excited to share with you my first blogger interview with none other than Shing from The Culture Map! I’ve been following along with Shing’s travels for years and she’s awesome because a. she’s super fashionable and has great taste in everything and b. she’s a specialist in arctic adventures: think Scandinavia and Svalbard.

In this interview I quiz Shing on everything about her I’m dying to know: her life in London, childhood in Yorkshire and her love for street art and Scandinavian design. Without further ado!

 

Name: Shing Lin Yoong

Occupation: Product developer for a specialist tour company

Hometown: Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

Residence: London

Website: www.theculturemap.com

Kew Garden, London

Country count: 32

Favorite city: London or Berlin

Favorite museum: The Tate Modern.

Favorite blog (s): The Skint Foodie and That Emily Chappell. Neither of them are prolific bloggers but what they lack in frequency they make up for in detail. Both have exceptional stories and distinct voices.

Favorite hostel: Gosh, telling you the ones to avoid would be easier!

Favorite hotel: The Igloo Hotel!

Favorite piece street art:

There’s a city in Poland called Łódź that’s totally redesigning the way it looks through street art. Lifeless communist blocks have been brought to life by huge wall murals. They are bigger than huge, they are massive. It’s an awesome initiative. The one below is by Polish street artist, Sainer, who is also one half of Etam Cru.

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So I read you grew up in Yorkshire. How does Yorkshire compare to London?

They are chronically different. The people, mentality, economy, landscape, culture – the similarities are few and far between. For example, Yorkshire people are much friendlier, it’s normal for strangers to smile and greet each other, but do that in London and you’ve just committed a deadly sin. It’s very funny. Yorkshire has an abundance of nature too, incredible landscapes that inspired some of England’s most well-loved writers. The Brontë sisters were born in Yorkshire and Sylvia Plath was put to rest there. Of course London has a huge literary legacy too but there is something romantic and Gothic about the Yorkshire Moors that London can’t touch.

Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

However, London has many things that Yorkshire could only dream of having. The options are endless here. If you want to see live music from the world’s best musicians then you can any day of the week, and all the major museums have free entry. But whilst you can discover many free and interesting things to do and see, the cost of living is exceptionally higher. To rent out a one bedroom flat you could rent a 4-bedroomed house in Yorkshire with a large garden for cheaper!

 

What is your favorite café/park/neighborhood in London?

There’s a superb tapas in Soho called Barrafina, it’s small and doesn’t take reservations so there’s often a queue but worth it. Their motto is ‘great ingredients cooked simply’ and that’s exactly what they give you. When I need a fix of fresh air I go to Greenwich Park, as well as the nature it easily offers one of the best views of London’s skyline. When I have guests I always take them to Hackney, which stretches from East to North-East of the city and comprises of Shoreditch, Hoxton, Dalston and Islington. [Ashley here- I loved Hackney! :)] It feels and looks more creative and diverse than anywhere else in London. There’s also a lot of street art, and pocket-friendly eateries offering scrumptious food. I recommend trying one of the Middle Eastern or Vietnamese joints.

 

You recently traveled to Russia. What led you there and what was your overall impression?

The history, mystique, architecture and all those grumpy Russian writers were begging me to visit. I very much felt like I needed to more than I wanted to.

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However, it’s not an easy country to travel to, especially not in light of recent conflicts with Ukraine so my impressions are limited to areas in and around St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Quite a few people said I shouldn’t go, not just based on the aforementioned but other humanitarian issues too. I’ve got quite a few friends and family who are gay and believe, as well as other hetrosexual friends, that I should boycott a country that is openly homophobic. And whilst I do support this view, I also believe travelling and interacting with different countries is probably the best thing we can do to shrink social differences and bridge necessary gaps. Saying this, if I were gay, lesbian or transgender then I doubt I would want to go to Russia. I want to feel safe and I want to be able to express myself wherever I go. That’s not asking for much.

Then there is the matter of racism that I had read about. However, neither I nor my travel buddy who is Indian felt on any occasion unwelcomed, on the contrary, one of the biggest surprises we experienced was how helpful and kind the people are. To look at, Russians can appear rather stoic and severe but that changes when you interact with them.

My overall impressions of Russia were far more positive than we expect going by media portrayals. It’s a shame, Russia has such a vast and incredible history, culture and beauty, but the restrictive and narrow-minded ideology of its government casts a shadow over the positive reasons for going.

Tell us a little bit more about your love for Scandinavia.

It’s a love that keeps growing! There’s a significant stress on equality in terms of gender, distributed wealth and race. Norway is ranked number 1 on the Human Development Index report which measures worldwide life expectancy, literacy, education, standards of living, and quality of life. And Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland are all ranked within the top 25. Although Iceland isn’t technically Scandinavia it’s commonly associated as being part of Scandinavia because it was under Norwegian and later Danish rule until becoming independent in 1944, so it still shares many of the same intellectual qualities.

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Importantly, all these countries are very forward thinking when it comes to sustaining the planet. They are pioneers of eco-living. Most eateries take pride in using local and seasonal food, reward systems are put in place to encourage recycling, Copenhagen is continually named the greenest city in the world (as well as the happiness), and Iceland is the only country in the world that can claim to obtain nearly 100% of its electricity and heat from renewable sources. If that’s not something to aspire towards in a time where the planet is being brutalized by man then I don’t know what is! Because of all this you won’t find cleaner air anywhere else in the world. It’s the small things like drinking the purest water and breathing in the crispiest, freshest air that add to the overall enjoyment of being in this part of the world.

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And then finally… the nature and wildlife. The whole of Scandinavia is a melting pot of natural beauty but it’s the Arctic that really makes me feel what it’s like to be in awe of the universe. Being up there does something to you. The higher you go the starker and more powerful the landscape becomes, but at the same time it’s also incredibly fragile and hostile. The days can be extremely dark when the sun doesn’t go past the horizon. But every cloud has a silver lining if you get to see the Northern Lights during a really strong display, not just a few wishy-washy lines of white and pale green…

There are fewer animals, fewer plants, and fewer people. Go further up to Svalbard, the last stop before the North Pole, and you might see Polar bears, walruses, Arctic foxes, and ringed seals. Going to the Arctic and Scandinavia made me care much more about the planet. So in a way, this part of the world changed me for the better and I’m very thankful for that.

 

You always look gorgeous in your photos. What is your beauty routine on the road?

Likewise Ashley! I don’t think I have one, but I do like to keep things simple and natural. So plenty of water and fresh fruit and veg! Less is usually more in all facets, especially when it comes to packing. I’d rather re-wear my clothes than pack an unnecessary amount. I’m definitely not a glam traveler, or at least that’s not my aim! For example, I usually wear dresses, not because I’m trying to be fashionable but because I can’t be bothered thinking about what top I need to team up with what pair of jeans!

 

How do you afford your travels?

If I’m not travelling for work then I’m budget travelling. I save a lot of money on accommodation by selecting hostels and reasonably priced AirBnB apartments and I nearly always try and eat locally, use public transport and research free things to do in a place beforehand.

 

What do you splurge on when you’re traveling?

Food. Food. And Food.

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What is one thing you won’t do when traveling?

It’s really important for us to be mindful of where our money is going when we travel, before purchasing something I try and ask ‘who is profiting from this?’ So one thing I avoid is McDonalds and other global, fast-food chains. Keeping it local is key.

 

How long have you been blogging? Advice for travel bloggers?

I set up The Culture Map just over two years ago now. However, I did set up another travel blog in 2009 but only updated it once every 4 or 5 months so needless to say it never left the ground. Quite the opposite, the poor thing is dead and buried now. Consistency is therefore my advice to travel bloggers. This is still something I have to remind myself all the time. Also, travelling to offbeat destinations and finding a niche will help make your blog become more identifiable and memorable.

 

And just for fun- which country has the best-looking men?

Oh that’s easy. Denmark. Oh, wait… then there’s Sweden too… ;-)

 

Thanks so much Shing for your thoughtful answers! And if you guys want to connect with Shing (or ask her any more questions!) here’s where to find her:

Want to be featured in my monthly blogger spotlight? Get in touch and we’ll talk!

The Taj Majal at Sunrise: A Photo Essay

The Taj Majal at Sunrise: A Photo Essay

Before leaving India I knew I’d have to make one last stop- the Taj Majal.

The Taj Majal is located in Agra, a few hours south of New Delhi. Built in memory of the Emperor’s third and favorite wife Mumtāz Mahal, the Taj Majal is one of the world’s most beautiful examples of Mughal architecture in the world. But you already knew that, right?

Honestly, I didn’t really want to see the Taj Majal. I kind of resent “the things you have to see while traveling” because the list is just so damn long.

So we awoke before dawn to see the Taj Majal in all its splendor. Impressions? It was smaller than I thought but the early morning light turned the marble a pretty shade of pink-orange conch shell. And dawn turned out to be an excellent time to visit, as the temperature is cool and the crowds are minimal.

Of course, we took the super touristy optical illusion and Princess-Di-on-a-bench shots. Obviously.

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And okay no, the Taj Majal isn’t my favorite tourist attraction in Asia. (I’m looking at you, Angkor Wat.) But I’m still glad to have laid eyes on it, and am especially grateful we went at dawn.

Mini Taj Majal Travel Guide:

Where we stayed: the ITC Mughal. It’s a steal with SPG points!

Where we ate: Peshawri. Amazing!

How we got there: We hired a private car from Le Meridién and it was a huge rip-off- something like $80 a person! Unfortunately all the trains were booked weeks in advance so we couldn’t take a train. The highways were an absolute joy though- a world away from the dirt roads on the way to Rishikesh!

Is the Taj Majal on your bucket list?

High-rolling in Delhi

High-rolling in Delhi

After a month of Yoga Teacher Training and 10 days hiking the Himalayas, we were back to civilization in New Delhi.

In the past five weeks, I had eaten meat once (goat stew), drunk one beer (Kingfisher- blergh), completed 100+ hours of yoga in 110-degree heat and lost countless pounds due to extreme physical exercise and a diet of lentils.

It was time for some fun. And some air-conditioning.

So after dropping off Alice at the airport, Joe, McCall and I headed straight to Le Méridien, courtesy of McCall’s SPG points.

I was thrilled not only to stay in a luxury hotel, but to feel air-conditioning on my skin and to have power that didn’t go out 15 times a day.

And then in one of those ironic, are-you-flipping-kidding-me-India moments, the power went out in the entire hotel while I was in the elevator. India, you got me good.

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On our first night back in civilization, we gussied ourselves up and headed to Le Méridien’s cocktail lounge for some complimentary snacks and champagne. Upon the first sip of bubbly, I was reminded why I will never give up alcohol for a prolonged period of time ever again.

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That night we headed to Varq, a swanky restaurant where Joe sweetly bought us dinner along with many bottles of wine. I have generally good feelings about the night but don’t remember precise details- apparently champagne and I had too intense a reunion.

The next day we headed to Agra to see the Taj Majal, an adventure that deserves its own post.

When we returned to Delhi, we stayed at Leela Palace, one of the most luxurious hotels in India.

And how did we come to stay in such a nice hotel, you may be wondering? Well hours before the Himalayan trek I realized I had forgotten to book a hotel for our return so I shot my dad a quick email- I needed a cheap hotel in Delhi, please put it on my credit card.

But instead of booking a crappy hotel on my card, he booked a really nice hotel on his.

When we waltzed in, a string quartet and a lobby full of lilies greeted us. My singular thought was, OH MY GOD THANK YOU SO MUCH DAD.

Sidenote- my dad is ridiculously thoughtful and knew I would be craving luxury after not showering for 10 days. When I asked why he chose Leela Palace he said, “It seemed like the kind of hotel where I would stay.” The man has good taste.

Also what’s great about India is that this five-star hotel cost only $200 a night- a bargain.

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Apologies for the poor iPhone photos, but Leela Palace was amazing. The bed was made of angel’s wings and the bathtub had a TV and was about four feet deep. As we settled into our room, a waiter brought us homemade lemon iced tea on a silver tray.

While we only got one night in the lap of luxury, it sure was blissful. Leela_palace_delhi_3

Leela_palace_delhi_4 Have I ever mentioned how much I adore room service?

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One night we went to Bukhara, a fancy restaurant where the Clintons have dined. Okay yeah, Bukhara is touristy and wildly overpriced for India. But the food was insane- I don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming of the ridiculously tender lamb skewers.

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Cooking class Delhi

We also did some cultural stuff, okay?

I love home-cooking classes, so on our last night in India we signed up for Farheen Cooking Class. Farheen, our chatty, pink-cheeked instructor, taught us how to make lots of our Indian favorites: chapati, parantha, chai, paneer butter masala and lentils.

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I learned a ton. Who knew chapati and roti are the same thing, just called by different names?

Also Farheen told us that North Indian cuisine is spicier and uses mustard seed oil and wheat flour, while South Indian relies on coconut oil and rice or white chickpea flour. Someday I’d love to travel to South India to taste the difference firsthand.

When we asked if her husband helped in the kitchen, Farheen laughed. “Men in India don’t cook!”

She also taught us tikka means cooked in a tandoor. I probably should’ve known that.

Indian_cooking_class_Delhi_1 The spices used to make chai…

Indian_cooking_class_Delhi_chai Homemade chai, which is crazy delicious…

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Making paneer butter masala, my favorite…

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So yeah, we had a great time in Delhi. We both ate and slept in style, capping off our trip with a bit of luxury.

And then- Joe and I were off to Thailand. With only one problem- we were flying into Bangkok during a military coup. So stay tuned for that adventure!

Mini Luxury Delhi Guide

Where to stay: Le Méridien, Leela Palace

Where to eat: Varq, Bukhara

What to do: The Red Fort, home-cooking class

Have you ever visited Delhi? Did you live it up like we did or travel more moderately?

Magic in the Mountains: My 10-Day Himalayan Trek (Part II)

Magic in the Mountains: My 10-Day Himalayan Trek (Part II)

You can read about part one of my Himalayan trek here.

After three days of trekking I finally started to get the hang of hiking. Okay, fine- both sleeping in a sleeping bag and uphill hiking were still miserable, but I was acclimating. And as we ascended higher and higher into the Himalaya, it was so beautiful I could almost forget my badly blistered feet.

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At higher altitudes, we saw less villages and more nature: magenta rhododendron, thick groves of oak and deodar, hawks circling in the crisp blue sky.

On day five we passed a flock of long-haired goats. The goatherd told us that one of his goats had broken a leg and he had to slaughter it. Would we like to buy a leg?

Why, yes. We would. And I will never forget watching our mule walk by with a freshly skinned goat leg in the saddlebag, hoof up. Hygiene, schmygiene.

That night we sat down for goat stew, and I can’t remember anything so satisfying. Ever. The goat was surprisingly tender and blanketed in a rich gravy. And after five meat-free weeks, the goat stew might as well have been a medium-rare ribeye with béarnaise sauce.

We awoke early on day six to hike to the top of the Kuari Pass. I knew the hike would be trying, so I used precious iPhone battery reserves to listen to music.

The ninety minutes to the summit were a battle. I paused to catch my breath frequently, and tried to bar negative thoughts which were invading my mind at an alarming rate.

Ultimately I felt ashamed for being the slowest hiker, and I couldn’t decide if it was my body or my mind that was the problem. In retrospect I know I was being too hard on myself; I was hiking the freaking Himalayas, jeez! But at the time I was beating myself up every step of the way.

The only consolation prize was seeing a Himalayan mouse on the trail. It was round and furry like a chinchilla, but brown in color. As far as rodents go, quite cute.

Once we crested the Kuari Pass, we were rewarded with the Himalayas in all their snowy glory.

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Fun fact- did you know Himalaya means “House of Snow” in Sanskrit?

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The rest of the day was blissful. We trekked across snow and golden grass on relatively flat terrain. The views were straight out of Middle Earth, which prompted Alice and I to quote Lord of the Rings at possibly excessive length.

Maybe it was the 14,000 foot altitude, but Alice’s impression of Gollum in her Essex accent just about killed me. “Why do you cry, Sméagol?”

Gotta love hypoxia.

This was also the day when I realized my hands were absurdly swollen. Twice their normal size, lobster red, skin as tight as a drum. Seriously, they were Frankenstein-esque.

That night I had a decision to make. Would I wake up at 4 a.m. to hike to the top of the pass, or would I sleep in? While I’d liked to say I was racked with guilt over the decision, in reality it was easy: sleep in, duh.

I’m not sure if it was the high-altitude sunburn, the blisters or the exhaustion, but I had no desire to squeeze in an extra five-hour hike. But I was a bit jealous when the others came back with photos of holding yoga poses high above the clouds.

The rest of the afternoon was the perfect rainy day. The four of us spent the day just relaxing: listening to Joe read Scott Foster Wallace, debating American/English pronunciations in the tent and taking dramatic mountain portraits.

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That night the chef prepared us an adorable cake in honor of our last night- how do you even make a cake camping?

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After dinner and cake the four of us huddled up in the meal tent and played Egyptian Ratscrew, Asshole and Oh Hell while sipping ginger tea out of Little House on the Prayer tin cups. It was freezing; we were blowing on our fingers all evening just to play cards.

Despite the cold, we headed out for one last bonfire with the crew. They sang songs in Hindi and Garhwali, passing around a strange local herb. The stars above us were dazzlingly bright, but unfortunately my attempt at astrophotography failed.

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The last day of hiking was so beautiful I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

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And then the second we descended from the mountain I saw an errant brown cow with a tie around its neck, and a group of Indian men who asked me for a picture. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself; Yep, I was back to reality.

Our trekking company, Red Chilli Adventure in no way paid or perked me for this mention. Overall we were blown away by Red Chilli’s food, service and professionalism- I couldn’t recommend them highly enough!

Magic in the Mountains: My 10-Day Himalayan Trek (Part 1)

Magic in the Mountains: My 10-Day Himalayan Trek (Part 1)

Let’s just get the tough stuff out of the way: my ten-day Himalayan trek in Northern India was hard. While I didn’t get altitude sickness, I did suffer from blood blisters and sunstroke. And obviously, there was the whole not showering for 10 days thing and hiking EIGHT HOURS UPHILL under the blazing sun.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not that outdoorsy. My cardiovascular health leaves something to be desired and as a Michigander I’m naturally adverse to hills.

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So yeah. The trek was character-building. But it also got me in the shape of my life and was full of some of the most beautiful moments (and views) of my travels.

Plus, how often do you get to spend 10 technology-free days with good friends in the Himalayas?

And thankfully this was no bare-bones camping trip. This was glamping. We had two guides, a cook, five porters and a team of mules to carry our bags. Not only did we enjoy multi-course meals each night, the crew set up our tents before we got to the campsite.

We even had a TOILET TENT. Who knew those existed?

Also, because this was India, our ten-day trek cost us $440 each- an absolute steal.

I set off from Rishikesh with my three trekking buddies (McCall, Alice, an English girl from Yoga Teacher Training and Joe, McCall’s friend) to reach the starting point of the trek. Meaning we endured the dreaded Party All Night song for ten hours in a minibus on tiny mountain roads. Also Alice puked about 10 minutes into the trip so not only did we have to listen to moronic Hindi music on repeat, the bus smelled strongly of vomit.

The first night, and I kid you not, we camped in a field of marijuana. And we took selfies with a few ornery water buffalo.

After our first night camping, the real work began: hiking. And despite a rigorous month of Yoga Teacher Training, hiking uphill made my heart beat faster than a chipmunk’s.

The highlight of the day? (Besides the rest stops?) Passing through a lovely little mountain village.

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The village was quaint in a ramshackle Himalayan way: awash in turquoise and blue and smelling of sun-warmed cilantro. As we passed the villagers said, “Namaste” and tipped their heads to bow.  The streets were strewn with red rose petals, and golden wheat and fields of potatoes grew outside the slate walls.

And being India, there were lots of cows.

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We stopped at a middle school for a lunch of yak-cheese sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs. The kids seemed excited to see foreigners, smiling and waving. They lined up in uniform to greet us, the girls with floppy white bows in their hair. I noticed their features were almost Nepalese and many of them had beautiful yellow-green eyes.

When we finally trudged into camp that afternoon the tents were already up, and water buffalos, donkeys and cows grazing.

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As I gazed out of the tent I had a “I’m-so-lucky-what-on-earth-did-I-do-in-a-past-life” kind of moment. It was surreal. I felt so much joy and gratitude to be in the mountains.

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Soon after we settled in dozens of kids approached, and we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon entertaining them. I felt like I was babysitting again as McCall, Alice and I played jacks with the girls, while Joe played cricket with the boys.

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At one point we sat in a circle with the kids and sang Sanskrit hymns. Oh yoga school, what have you done to me?

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At four we convened in the tent for a chai break. Over the course of the trek I grew to love tea time, as we sipped our chai over cards, cookies and jokes. There’s no quality time quite like camping.

That night we fell asleep among craggy rocks and little white flowers, listening to the jingling of the cow bells and the snort of water buffalo.

Okay fine, that made sleeping in the tent sound way more idyllic than it actually was. More like I slept fitfully during a violent, tent-shaking rain storm. Also I decided that I hate sleeping bags as they make me feel like I’m going simultaneously sweat and freeze to death.

The second day of hiking was a bit less blissful, as blood blisters began forming on my feet. Also McCall got severe food poisoning and we had to wait out a storm in a shepherd’s hut. A.k.a. we spent two hours wet, freezing and crouching in animal excrement.

But our campsite that night made up for any of the day’s woes. We slept in a fairy glen full of enormous white flowers and tiny streams.  IMG_8188

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(Confession- when I was drying my boots by the fire I partially melted off the back of them. I would.)

And if I didn’t think sleeping in a sleeping bag could get any worse, I was wrong. Because that night I tried sleeping naked as I heard it would help me stay warmer. Uh, no. During the night I periodically awoke shaking from cold and slick with sweat, my nose transformed into an actual icicle.

The third day was the hardest of the entire trek. Despite my SPF 50, I developed a high-altitude sunburn on my hairline and nose. During our eight-hour, mostly uphill hike, motivational mantras buzzed through my head, “Hike at your own pace”, “clear the chittah”, “stronger and stronger.” None of them worked very well.

And finally, out of desperation, I prayed to God to carry me the rest of the way because I was so blistered, sunburnt and exhausted I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I blame sunstroke.

Moments later three children spotted us, shouted for “candy” and followed us all the way up the mountain. As they got closer they started singing songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, which in their adorable accent sounded like “Tinkle Tinkle Little Staa”.

I joined them in song, racking my brain for childhood ditties like “Baa Baa Black Sheep” as well as the Gayatri mantra, Wakatrunda and Om Asato Ma Sadgamaya.

So what I’m trying to say here is that God sent three adorable Himalayan children to help me get up the mountain. Or something like that.

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As I crawled to camp, I knew I had just begun my Himalayan journey. But already I was proud of myself for pushing myself further than I ever thought I could go.

Have you ever done a trek in a foreign country? What was your experience like?

Our trekking company, Red Chilli Adventure in no way paid or perked me for this mention. Overall we were blown away by Red Chilli’s food, service and professionalism- I couldn’t recommend them highly enough!

What I Learned from Giving Up Meat, Alcohol and Complaining in India

What I Learned from Giving Up Meat, Alcohol and Complaining in India

This spring I attended a Yoga Teacher Training in India with my good friend McCall. Upon arriving in Rishikesh we took an ascetic wellness pledge. For the next 30 days we were to abstain from the following: meat, alcohol, coffee, sex, social media, make-up, body-hate, soda, complaining, swearing, smoking and worrying.

Not only that, but we would practice the following daily: flossing, sleeping for eight hours, hydrating,  praying before bed and waking up at 6 a.m. to run. We would practice self-control (Sanskrit- yama) and maintain an aura of positivity.

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On graduation day when the pledge was over! Hence the make-up.

So how did I do?

Honestly, quite well. I 100% abstained from meat, alcohol, coffee, sex, make-up, soda and smoking, and I mostly abstained from body-hate, complaining and swearing.

What did I not do well on?

While I refrained from worrying aloud, my mind was an anxiety-ridden chatterbox that wouldn’t leave me alone. A few pledges completed fell to the wayside (sorry, flossing), while others we abandoned midway through (running, due to the macaque attack). I also failed to give up social media entirely; I wanted to stay in touch with friends as well as post updates for the blog. And okay fine, frivolous social media usage is one of my vices.

But overall I drank tons of water, slept eight hours a night, practiced four hours of yoga a day, read dozens of books, drank fresh-squeezed juice and behaved more or less like a yoga-obsessed nun.

Here’s what I learned from the experience:

Tough love hurts, but it helps.

I’m a huge fan of tough love. Which is why I tried to have a thick skin when my fellow students (lovingly) gave me critiques such as, “You’re breathing like a basset hound”, “You slouch too much”, “You need to be more patient in your yoga practice.”

As a result? I stood up straighter, learned to breath properly and was easier on myself in class. Tough love works.

When you vocalize a negative thought, you internalize it.

Due to our no-complaining pledge, I wasn’t able to vocalize my worries or paranoias. Because I couldn’t ask a friend, “Um, so do you think x was being rude to me at lunch?” I let go of the imagined snub much more easily.

And because I couldn’t vocalize deeper insecurities like, “Do you think I’m bad at yoga?”, the insecurity didn’t manifest and I kept working hard.

I’m not cut out for a vegetarian diet.

I had an idea of how a vegetarian diet would make me feel: clean, light, nearly transcendent. Unfortunately, I felt none of these things. I had less energy and bruised like a peach, and often found myself fantasizing about burgers.

But one plus is that giving up meat for a month gave me so much admiration for vegetarians. You guys are seriously rockstars.

Correcting your posture sucks at first.

For years I didn’t stand up straight. Having a big bust as a teenager caused me to slouch, and since then I’ve had chronic pain in my neck and shoulders.

The first few weeks of standing up straight were painful. I had to remind myself every moment to keep my spine straight, and it hurt to sit cross-legged as the muscles in my upper back were so weak from disuse. (Meditation was hell at first.)

But eventually standing up straight became (almost) second-nature, and the chronic pain went away! And it turns out you look worlds thinner and more confident when you have good posture.

Giving up coffee made me sleepy at first.

For the first week of Yoga Teacher Training I fell asleep in our academic classes frequently due to both jetlag and caffeine withdrawal. I hadn’t realized how thoroughly addicted to caffeine I was until I gave it up!

But after a few weeks I began to feel alert in the mornings even without coffee. (I’m sad to report that I have since relapsed.)

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My hilarious and lovable meditation teacher, Swami Ji, meditating on a rock in the Ganges. My lethargic tendencies prompted him to nickname me, “Sluggish baby.” And when he read my palm he discerned I was intelligent, and said, “Ah yes, sluggish people often have good minds.”

I care way too much about other people’s opinions.

Halfway through training a friend pointed out to me that I have a bad habit of asking for reassurance. For example, I say, “Wow, it’s so hot out.” And if no one agrees I say, “Don’t you guys think it’s hot too?” (P.S. I have since nixed this obnoxious habit.)

Yoga Teacher Training taught me I care way too much about other people’s opinions in terms of small things, but also big things. I’ve learned that if you were to follow everyone’s advice you would be paralyzed by indecision because their advice would contradict one another’s. So it’s best to take the advice of others with a grain of salt, and ultimately rely on yourself to make decisions.

I am way too hard on myself and it gets in the way of my progress.

I realized during Yoga Teacher Training that I have a complex and fear that I’m a lazy, pleasure-seeking person. While many of my accomplishments would point to the contrary, I carry around the idea, especially in regard to physical activities, that I’m lazy.

This self-doubt doesn’t help me; rather it hinders my progress because instead of focusing on the task at hand, say, a challenging yoga position, I berate myself for not being flexible and strong enough.

While being too hard on myself is still a problem, I’ve tried to learn to forgive myself and treat myself with the same compassion I would treat anyone else. Because self-doubt gets you approximately nowhere, ever.

Gratitude is the enemy of anxiety.

This is a lesson I’ve learned time and time again; gratitude is the enemy of anxiety. For me, anxiety goes like this: first I compare myself to others, then I worry why I don’t have a perfect body/Ivy League diploma/highly lucrative blog, proceed to feel inadequate, wonder what I’m doing with my life, retrace my past to see where I went wrong and ultimately declare, “Well, I’ve already messed my life so badly that I’ll never be able to remedy my mistakes. I have left nothing to live for.”

The best way I’ve found to combat anxiety (along with drinking a jug of water, spending time in nature, going for a run and laughing) is practicing gratitude for what I do have, and realizing how lucky I am.

So each night before bed McCall and I each came up with three things we were grateful for, from the opportunity to come to India to the fact that we had electricity that morning and we were able to toast our bread.

(One of the funnier gratitudes was when McCall unironically stated she was grateful to have both running water and electricity in the same day. Lolz.)

I don’t want to be perfect.

Personally, I feel society (and Pinterest) pressure us to be this idealized, near-perfect woman. This woman has rippling abs, drinks green juice, gets to bed early, Instagrams sunsets, runs, does yoga and never swears.

India taught me that I don’t want to be perfect. By the end of the month I missed IPAs and cheeseburgers and feeling pretty and talking to boys. The ascetic lifestyle, while great for a time, is dull and restrictive.

And you know what? Sometimes I swear and sometimes I’m sarcastic and sometimes I sleep in. And I’m not sorry about any of it. Because you never remember the nights you stay in and get a good night’s rest. And flawed people are entirely more interesting than perfect ones.

I may not want to be perfect, but I do want to be better.

India taught me that I’m no monk- I will never forgo meat or coffee permanently. But I do have a few vices I aim to cut out completely like complaining, body hate and worrying. But ultimately giving up so many things taught me so much about myself and bettered me as a person- though I won’t be doing it again any time soon.

Have you ever done a similar ascetic pledge?

What to Pack for a Yoga Teacher Training in India

What to Pack for a Yoga Teacher Training in India

When I was packing for my Yoga Teacher Training in India, I failed to find a single packing list on the great wide web. And unsurprisingly, once I got to India I realized that I had packed poorly: I brought one pair of athletic shorts, one maxi skirt and absolutely no snacks. I also didn’t consider that the near-vegan diet would leave me in dire need of iron pills.

So please allow me to humbly remedy the internets and share what you should pack for a teacher training in India.

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As an aside, you will inevitably buy hippie pants in India, regardless if you do yoga. Accept it.

Your Own Mat + Yoga Towel

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The shoddy mat I used for a month

When you’re doing four sweaty hours of yoga a day, you might as well do it on a clean, cushy yoga mat. My yoga school provided thin, ratty mats so I purchased my own. If I could do it over again, I’d bring my own mat as well as a yoga towel to prevent slipping.

(Personally I love the Jade Harmony with a YogaRat towel.)

Iron Supplements

Despite eating a vegetarian diet rich in spinach and lentils, I still wasn’t getting enough protein or iron at Yoga Teacher Training. A daily dose of iron would have been a godsend, though I imagine a multivitamin would have done nicely as well.

Protein Bars, Almonds and Peanut Butter

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Love you mom and dad! 

During Yoga Teacher Training, I woke up at 6 a.m. every day but breakfast wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. I don’t know about y’all, but I struggle with waiting so long to eat. Pack non-perishable snacks like Lara Bars, almonds or peanut butter that are high in protein and calories and will give you a boost.

A little parental shoutout- during my training my parents sent a box full of Lara Bars, almonds and other essentials all the way from the states. I seriously don’t know how I would’ve gotten through teacher training or my 10-day Himalayan hike without those Lara Bars!

Pepto Bismal and Imodium

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The eggs and crêpe that launched 24 hours of misery

Ever heard of Delhi Belly? Well it’s a thing. Chances are you will get food poisoning in India and it’s better to come prepared. I took Pepto Bismal when I had an upset stomach and Imodium when I had diarrhea- let’s just say both were essential.

Shorts and Sleeveless Athletic Tops

This is very Captain Obvious of me, but India is hot, especially during the rainy season. Pack shorts rather than full-length yoga pants, as well as lots of breathable athletic tops. (Even thinking about doing vinyasa in 110 degree heat wearing full-length Zellas gives me heatstroke.)

I personally love Gap’s athletic line because it’s attractive, sleek and often on sale.

Eyedrops

The air pollution in India is bad so your eyes may suffer from dryness- mine certainly did. I found even reading in bed irritated my eyes quite considerably! So pack eyedrops and you’ll be good to go.

Face Wipes

Again, the air pollution in India is really bad, so I used face wipes throughout the day to clear my face of grime and sweat. Trust me, you’ll be so happy to have them.

A Multi-subject Notebook and Pens

In India I took seven classes a day: hatha, mantra, anatomy, yoga philosophy, therapy, vinyasa and meditation. While I used a single moleskine for all of them, it would’ve been smarter to use a notebook section per class in order to easily go back and review.

Maxi skirts and dresses

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My India travel uniform. Plus I got the skirt at Primark for only £10!

In India, women often expose their midriffs but never expose their legs. So ladies, bring a few maxi skirts and dresses for exploring the streets- they’re cute, comfortable and colorful, and you won’t get unwanted attention. (Okay, you still will. But it’s not as bad.)

For more info on what to wear in India (and India travel in general!) check out Hippie in Heels- I especially loved her Do’s and Don’ts of How to Dress in India.

Miscellaneous:

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When the power was out (which was 10+ times a day) we would hang the headlamp from the showerhead in order to shower. #OnlyInIndia

Other essentials include a headlamp (above), doorstop (to use at night for safety),  hair ties and flip flops. I also used this antitheft crossbody bag while in India and it served me well.

Have you done a Yoga Teacher Training in India? What did you forget to bring?

Note- this list contains Amazon affiliate links and I will earn a small profit if you purchase through them. Thanks for keeping Ashley Abroad afloat!

What is a Yoga Teacher Training in India Like?

What is a Yoga Teacher Training in India Like?

This spring I completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India. My 30-day training was hard, physically, emotionally and spiritually, but ultimately so worthwhile.

Yoga Teacher Training improved me in a myriad of ways, from my posture to my anxiety to my downward dog. Ultimately it was a humbling experience; I realized I had so many things I wanted (and needed) to change about myself, and I left the training a calmer, kinder and more patient person.

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My awesome, international classmates!

I chose to go to India for Yoga Teacher Training for two reasons: India is the birthplace of yoga, and India is the cheapest place in the world to do a Yoga Teacher Training. My month-long program cost $1,250 and that included instruction, food and accommodation- quite the bargain!

So I wanted to show you a day in the life of a yoga student in India, as well as share with you you the logistics and costs.

6:30 Wake up

I wake up to my alarm at 6:30 a.m. for my first breakfast of a Luna bar and a handful of almonds. (Thanks to my dad for sending snacks all the way from the states!)

7:00 Shatkarma

Today we have shatkarma on the rooftop, a cleansing ritual we practice every other day. While one morning this meant imbibing a half-gallon of salt water and vomiting (I chose not to partake for ahem, “feminine” reasons), usually shatkarma just means we cleanse our nasal passages with a neti pot. Which is way, way easier than puking.

7:30 Hatha Yoga

Next up is hatha yoga. It’s a great class to wake up to because it’s a lot gentler than vinyasa yoga!

“Hatha” is a combination of “HA” (our right side, associated with aggressiveness, action, the sun) and “THA” (our left side, associated with stillness, peace, the moon). Thus, Hatha yoga practice is the unification of our right and left. Hatha yoga is the foundation of all modern forms of yoga, and its mastery gives you a solid base to progress in other forms of yoga.” – Vinyasa Yoga School

We end the class with pranayama, or breath control, which I find boring and unpleasant.

9:30 Mantra class

After hatha is mantra, in which we learn to chant Sanskrit mantras. Our resident monk, Swami-ji, teaches this class. While many students complain about this class because they “didn’t come all the way to India to sing”, I love it because I think the hymns are beautiful. And okay fine, I love to sing.

10:30 Breakfast

And finally, second breakfast! (Why yes, I am a hobbit who needs two breakfasts.) Every morning we have a western breakfast of fruit and toast, paired with crazy delicious chai.

Though sometimes the power is out during breakfast so we can’t toast the bread. Considering toast is my favorite food I’m quite the sad panda on those days.

11:30 Yoga Philosophy

In yoga philosophy we learn all about important Hindu texts and ideologies like the Yoga sutra, Bhagavad Geeta and the eight limbs of yoga. I enjoy yoga philosophy because I find Hinduism fascinating, though sometimes I mix up the texts- there’s a LOT of yoga philosophy to learn!

12:30 Therapy India_Yoga_School_massage

Therapy is everyone’s favorite class. In therapy we essentially learn how to give a really good massage. My favorite subsect is marma therapy, in which we learn how to manipulate pressure points and release energy blocks in the body and mind.

1:00 Anatomy Rishikesh_Yoga_School_Classroom

Okay, I’ve never been much a of science/math person so anatomy is admittedly not my favorite class. And by 1 p.m. I start to get hungry and I’m kind of over sitting on the ground. But still, it is useful to learn about the body’s muscular and skeletal systems in reference to yoga.

2:00 Lunch

After anatomy is lunch! Lunch is a simple, vegetarian meal of chapati (flatbread), steamed vegetables, dahl (lentils) and fresh vegetables.

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I won’t lie- this meal was great for the first week but I grew tired of it quickly as it’s nearly identical each day.

2:30- 5 p.m. Break

After lunch we take a much-needed break. I spend this time either reading Game of Thrones in my room, drinking mango juice on the Ganges with classmates or practicing my yoga flows upstairs. (Okay fine, I did the latter option like twice. A girl’s got to get her GOT on.)

The one thing I don’t do? Walk the streets. This is the hottest time of the day in India so I avoid the heat, cows, monkeys and crows by not venturing outside.

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My friend McCall at work doing a headstand!

5 p.m. Vinyasa

After break is the most physically strenuous class of the day, vinyasa. As a person with the natural flexibility of a Russian lumberjack, vinyasa is my daily torture session, but one from which I leave feeling refreshed and proud of myself.

Also during vinyasa it’s often 110 degrees outside and the instructor turns off the fans.

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6:30 p.m. tea break

After vinyasa we have our second cup of chai of the day!

7:00 meditation

We cap off the day with meditation. Interestingly enough, meditation is both a physically and mentally strenuous practice. Although the longest we ever meditate is for 45 minutes, my upper back aches something fierce and my brain takes ages to quiet.

Sometimes we meditate outside under the stars, which is lovely. I love watching the sun set over the Ganges and hearing the peacocks squawk in the mountains.

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8:00 Dinner

And after all that work, we enjoy a well-deserved dinner. Dinner is simple and vegetarian, just like lunch, though I’m often too tired to eat much.

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Logistics:

In Rishikesh I attended Vinyasa Yoga School. The training cost $1,250 which included training, three vegetarian meals a day, hotel accommodation and a weekly field trip. (Or as I not-so-lovingly called them, the weekly clusterfuck.) The training was 30 days long and six days a week.

I loved the instructors at my school but was less fond of the management- essentially every time we voiced a concern, it fell upon deaf ears. Also the owner tried to get us to pay under the table which was shady, needless to say. The hotel where we stayed was passably nice but the power went out 10-15 times a day and there was no AC.

The last week of classes we taught class to our fellow students. This was the toughest part of the course as we had to put our yoga skills to the test and direct two hour and a half long yoga classes (both hatha and vinyasa). We also had our final yoga philosophy and anatomy exams.

Overall I would recommend doing a yoga teacher training in India- while there are some downsides, it was overall so interesting to learn about about yoga where it comes from. Although if I could do it again I might’ve done it somewhere rather than in Rishikesh as Rishikesh is quite touristy and dirty.

Have you ever been interested in doing a Yoga Teacher Training? If so, would you do it in India?

Things That Scare Me + This Month’s Sponsors!

Things That Scare Me + This Month’s Sponsors!

So I’ve realized that I’m stuck in a rut. While I’ve been diligently job-hunting, blogging and working out at home, I haven’t done anything truly exciting in a really, really long time. While I consider myself an adventurous and try (almost) anything kind of person, when I’m in Michigan I get kind of… boring. And while I won’t be here forever, I still need to maximize my time in the Mitten and spice things up.

Which is where my new blog series, Things That Scare Me, comes in.

Things That Scare Me is an effort to start pushing myself out of my comfort zone- i.e. I’m going to start trying things I find scary!

Here are few “scary” activities I’ve brainstormed:

a. Sign up for voice lessons

b. Try speed-dating

c. Buy a stranger a meal

Do you guys have any ideas? I’m really excited about this so let me know if you have any (relatively scary) suggestions!

 

This Month’s Sponsors

And onto this month’s sponsors! I was so thrilled that so many readers responded well to my sponsorship program. I’m now offering paid ads so if you’re interesting exposing your blog to 65,000+ monthly page views and lots of incredible, travel-passionate readers stop by my sponsorship page!

(Note if you’re having trouble seeing the Passionfruit ad prices just shoot me an email- ashley {at} ashleyabroad {dot} com and I’ll send them over. I’ve heard using Internet Explorer helps!)

 The Blonde Travelista

Blonde Travelista

Best of the Blog: Why Don’t Americans Travel? // Australian Differences and Slang // San Diego Safari Park

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Caroline Made This

Caroline Made This

Best of the Blog: What to Expect // The Dressing Room Mirror // How I Organize for an International Trip

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Curiosity Travels

Curiosity Travels

Best of the Blog: Finally Being Honest: The Story About How I Really Feel About Korea // This Is The In Between // Lessons I’ve Learned About Life and Travel in 2013

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Melanie Fontaine

Melanie Fontaine

Best of the Blog: Hiking in Borrowdale at the Northern Lakes, Lake District // Snapshots From Sichuan Province, China // Goodbye Norway: One Last Visit To Fløyen

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Mind Body Travel Mind Body and Travel

Best of the Blog: Top 5 Things to do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico // Hiking Trails in Breath-taking Zion National Park // My First Impressions of Chengdu

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One Trip at a Time

One Trip At a Time

Best of the Blog: London in One Day: The Itinerary // A Drizzly Day at Dover Castle // Design and Structure of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries

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 Progression of Happiness

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Best of the Blog: BHow to Travel More in University // Tips for Long Distance Best Friends // New York City’s Top Ten Attractions

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Best of the Blog: Albarracín: The Most Beautiful Village in Spain // 5 Ways to Speak Spanish Like a Spaniard // How to Drink Coffee in Spain

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Best of the Blog: Let’s Talk Tea // A Celebration of Love // Türk kahvesi, for the present and future

Two Feet One World

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Okay shoot! What are some good ideas for the Things That Scare Me series?