Just Porter: An Amazing Backpack for Travelers (That Gives Back Too!)

Just Porter: An Amazing Backpack for Travelers (That Gives Back Too!)

It’s safe to say I’m a backpack girl. I toted a backpack all through high school and I carried both a backpack and frontpack around the world for a year. No sleek Madewell totes for this blogger.

 Courtesy of Just Porter
So when Just Porter asked me to review their new line of backpacks, I was stoked- first of all, their backpacks are gorgeous. And secondly, they support a phenomenal cause. For each Just Porter backpack you buy, Just Porter gives a backpack filled with school supplies to a child in need.
“For each bag purchased, Just Porter manufactures a give bag and fills it with school supplies then gives it to a child in need. But, Just Porter’s charitable giving goes beyond parachuting and dumping goods onto poor communities. They actually work with the communities to manufacture their Give Bags locally and purchase their supplies from the local markets. They are working at creating a sustainable solution using education and creating jobs in the areas they give.”
Which to me seems like a pretty genius business model- provide customers with a high-quality product and in return help break the cycle of poverty in developing nations? Yes, please.
The backpack I chose- the Hazen Professional. Photo courtesy of Just Porter.
So back to the backpack itself- as a self-professed backpack connoisseur, there are several essentials I look for in backpacks:
  • A tiny pouch in the top to store little things like jewelry, medication, lipbalm or an eyemask.
  • A laptop sleeve.
  • An organizer in the front pocket for things like pens, sharpies, hair ties and a little notebook.
  • A chest strap for hiking.
I’m pleased to report Just Porter’s packs have all of these features.  The only downside I could find was the lack of a water bottle pouch.
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So far I’ve used my Just Porter backpack on multiple ski trips and a business trip to Salt Lake City, but mostly to take my laptop to the local coffee shop. (Am I the only one who is physically incapable of blogging at home?)
Overall I really love my Just Porter pack, and find it incredibly versatile. I’ve used it a ton so far and definitely intend to use it when hiking the Rockies next summer. And of course I love Just Porter’s overall mission statement.
For more info on Just Porter, check out the video below, or their Kickstarter campaign.

Do you carry a backpack too? And what do you think of the Just Porter business model?

Just Porter provided me with a Hazen Professional backpack to review. As always, all opinions are completely my own.

Nerding Out at Harry Potter World

Nerding Out at Harry Potter World

Long before I was a traveler, I was a nerd. My favorite movie ever is Lord of the Rings, I played Pokémon until I was a senior in high school (no, but seriously) and I’m a lifelong Harry Potter fan.

I’ve not only read all the Harry Potter books in English (obviously), I’ve read quite a few in Spanish and French. And on my 11th birthday I was a smidge disappointed that I didn’t receive an owl.

So you’ll understand why I had to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios while in Florida over the holidays, even if it meant a five-hour round-trip drive.

And considering I’d been promising my baby sister, Bee, a trip to Disney for oh say, the last decade, I decided to kill two birds with one sorcerer’s stone. (Sorry, I had to.)

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Even the outside of Harry Potter World was impressive- doesn’t this façade seriously look like London? The London stock brick was spot-on. Harry Potter World

And then I spotted our first wizardly sighting of the day- The Night Bus. Harry Potter World

Next we moseyed over to King’s Cross. While “living” in London last year I transferred at King’s Cross almost daily, so walking inside made me feel a bit nostalgic for London, a city I miss every single day.

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter World

While on Platform 9 3/4 we spotted a not-realistic-at-all Hedwig, and then we boarded the Gryffindor-red Hogwarts Express.

Harry Potter World

Sadly, the Hogwarts Express ride was a bit cheesy. First off, I totally expected a sweet-filled trolley to roll by. But no chocolate frogs for this girl-  only lame sound effects and and the shadow of Death Eaters in the window.

But soon we were we were in Hogsmeade. From the second I saw Hogsmeade I was enchanted by everything from the crooked chimneys to the snowy roofs. Save the Floridian humidity, it was just like the real thing.

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Harry Potter World Harry Potter World

Our first beverage in Hogsmeade? Butter beer, of course. Harry Potter World

Butter beer was sadly… not very good. First of all, no alcohol (to be expected of course), and secondly it tasted like cloyingly sweet butterscotch.

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My knock-off @girleatworld pic. In full disclosure that’s my sister’s hand- as if my nails ever look that good.

Harry Potter World

Next we beelined for Hogwarts, which houses the best ride in the park, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. During the ride we tried not to vomit as we encountered everything from Dumbledore’s office to giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest. Harry Potter World

Harry Potter World  The sorting hat talks while you wait in line. So great.

Before leaving Hogsmeade we stopped at the Three Broomsticks for a pretty mediocre lunch, and then headed for Diagon Alley.

Diagon Alley was equally as impressive as Hogsmeade: a labyrinth of dark, narrow alleys, capped with giant, fire-breathing dragon.

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter World Harry Potter World

Ollivanders Wand Shop, where wands cost $40 plus dollars. I was surprised to see a lot of people buying them- quoi?

The absolute surprise of the day was Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. First of all, the old-fashioned, baby pink interior was adorable, and secondly the ice cream was gourmet. And y’all know I don’t use that word that lightly. Harry Potter World
I adored my salted caramel blondie cone, and my sister lapped up her sticky toffee pudding in a cup. Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste the other inventive and seemingly delicious flavors: Earl Grey and lavender, clotted cream, chocolate chili and strawberry and peanut butter.

Can Florean Fortescue’s please be a national franchise? I’d be so down.

After we demolished our ice cream cones my sister dragged me out of Harry Potter World to see some parts of Universal Studios. Having seen almost everything, I begrudgingly obliged her.

Despite a few minor let-downs, I loved Harry Potter World. And while I totally should’ve gotten an owl back in the day, seeing the faux Harry Potter World was still pretty wonderful.

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Have you ever visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Would you?

Penang is for Street Art and Hawker Centre Lovers

Penang is for Street Art and Hawker Centre Lovers

Want to know something kind of crazy? On my four-month round-the-world trip, during which I visited 10 countries total, I visited only three new countries.

And the only new one in Southeast Asia? Malaysia.

But thankfully, Malaysia was so historical and surprising and different from anywhere else I’ve been (besides Singapore, perhaps), that it made me feel like a less lame traveler.

Out of all the Malaysian cities I saw, I fell hardest for Penang. From the crumbling Chinese shophouses to the Peranakan mansions to the creative bursts of street art all over the city, Penang was a dream for this colonial history-loving traveler.

Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Penang_shophouses I bunked up in Georgetown, Penang’s historic and touristic center, for four nights. It turned out four nights was too short a sojourn, and I found myself wishing for more time at trip’s end.

I missed a lot: the Photography Museum, Kek Lok Si Temple, a Peranakan cooking class. What can I say? It was about a zillion degrees outside and after more than three months of travel I just wanted to soak in my surroundings, rather than bop from tourist site to tourist site.

But despite my wishes to avoid any and all humidity, I managed to see, eat and do quite a lot.

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Visiting the Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Since childhood I’ve had a fascination with both colonialism and the inner workings of Chinese households. (Which probably stemmed from Ties That Bind, Ties That Break. Anyhow.) Penang3 Which is why I absolutely loved the Pinang Peranakan Mansion- an immaculately restored Straits-Chinese home filled with turn-of-the-century treasures like Victorian furniture, vintage china and bedazzled Nonya slippers.

I spent hours there taking photographs and examining the hundreds of antiques on display, as well as fervently wishing I could time-travel back to early twentieth-century Penang and attend a soirée at a wealthy Peranakan trader’s home. Alas.

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Wandering the Clan Jetties

The clan jetties of Georgetown have stood for more than a century. They began as sheds used as resting places for the dock-workers, and eventually developed into communal dwellings with a Chinese clan occupying each jetty. (Interestingly, the same six clans still occupy the jetties.) IMG_9837

I found it neat that people still live in the stilt houses- while wandering I spotted motorbikes, pet cats and laundry flapping in the wind. While there were lots of tourists, the jetties truly still are family homes.

While there’s nothing to do at the clan jetties per se, they’re worth a wander while in Georgetown. IMG_9859

Searching for Beautiful Street Art

I apologize for these overexposed street art photos- in Penang I made the fatal mistake of trying to take photographs in Asia during the day.

But despite these so-so pictures, the street art in Georgetown was seriously impressive. My British travel buddy Dylan and I spent an entire afternoon combing side streets and found some beautiful murals. And waited our turn to pose with them of course. IMG_9820 IMG_9828 IMG_9832

I particularly loved work by Lithuanian-born arutist Ernest Zacharevic. Most of his work depicts Malaysian children doing everyday things like swinging on a swingset, playing basketball or flying a kite. But what makes his work so special is the 3-D nature of his work, with the inclusion of real objects.

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Eating at the Hawker Centres

When in Malaysia eat as the Malaysians eat, right?

In Penang I was delighted to find Singapore-style hawker centres, filled with a similar mixture of Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian stalls I came to love in the Little Red Dot.

CF Hawker Centre

One particularly sweltering afternoon while seeking cold water and fans, Dylan and I popped into the CF Hawker Centre. There we noshed on wanton mee and popiah, though sadly neither were quite as good the ones I had in Singapore.

I particularly appreciated the… unsavory selection of Western food, which included “Hawaii Chicken with Cheese”, “Chicken Gordon Bleu” and “Jumbo Sausage with Black Pepper Sauce.”

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Red Garden Food Paradise

Our second hawker centre of the trip was Red Garden Food Paradise.

When we arrived for dinner we were far too early- the vendors hadn’t even started grilling. So we filled our stomachs (and our time) with a round of beers, which as always in Malaysia, was over-priced.

(To be fair I guess that’s what you should probably expect in a predominantly Muslim country.) IMG_9967

And when at long last the vendors started cooking, we tucked into chicken rice (soon to become my Malaysian staple), stewed eel (blergh) and chicken satay with peanut sauce (a favorite of mine from my time in Indonesia).

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Staying at Roommates Penang

While in Penang Dylan and I stayed in at Roommates Penang, a quaint hostel located in central Georgetown. I absolutely loved the traditional Chinese shophouse façade, as well as the location: Roommates is located near all the UNESCO sites, street art and hawker centres.

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I’ve stayed in dozens of hostels in Asia, and I can safely say Roommates is a good one- first off, the AC was glacial- essential in Malaysia in June. Secondly, I loved the privacy of the cubby bunks, and that the dorms only fit four people.

One downside was the lack of a common area- as someone who is always looking to meet other travelers I would’ve loved an area to socialize. Still, watching illegally downloaded Game of Thrones in our private, air-conditioned cubby bunks was pretty glorious.

Have you ever visited Penang? 

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 A big thanks to Roommates Penang for hosting me in Penang. While they offered me two nights, I stayed a few more because I sincerely enjoyed my stay.

At Long Last… My New Site, Become An Au Pair!

At Long Last… My New Site, Become An Au Pair!

I’ve hinted and hinted and hinted at this, but the day is finally here- Become An Au Pair is now live!

As the name suggests, Become An Au Pair is a site dedicated to helping young women (and men!) get all of the information they need to au pair abroad.

Before I left for France to au pair, there was almost no au pair info online- I was left to dig through a few bland corporate blogs and long-abandoned Blogspot accounts.

Deciding to live with a family for a year in a foreign country is a big deal. The internet needs more resources for young people looking to au pair. Which is where Become An Au Pair comes in.

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I entertained the idea of an e-book but ultimately decided to go with a site because I want it to be a living thing that is always accepting contributions. After all, I receive dozens of au pairing questions a month and it turns out I don’t know anything about what it’s like for Kenyan au pairs in Belgium or Australian au pairs in the U.S. or Irish au pairs in New Zealand. Which is why I want to hear from all kinds of au pairs on all kinds of subjects.

While the site is pretty bare-bones at present, I’m super excited about where it could go because I want other people to have as wonderful of an experience au pairing as I did. Au pairing allowed me to learn French, make international friends and live abroad for a year, all while being paid. And at 22, what could be better than that?

But a few thanks are in order. Thanks to all of the young women who reached out to contribute guest posts, such as Melanie from Don’t Forget Snacks and Alex of Bon Voyage Mon Chéri, who sent in such wonderful posts that were not only informative, but personal, funny and honest.

Also I know several girls are waiting on post templates and don’t worry- I will send them within the week! I’ve been super busy launching the site but can’t wait to get back to you ladies.

I’d also like to thank Julika, Jessica and Amanda, my ever talented/supportive/hilarious blogging buddies, for all their help. And for hearing out terrible names such as The Au Pair Collective and Au Pair Story, ha.

Which brings me to my final point. If you’ve been an au pair and would like to contribute, I would love, love, love to hear your ideas. At present I have several categories that sorely need contributions:

  • Stylish girls who would love to share packing tips
  • Americans who have worked in Italy
  • Americans who have worked in Spain
  • British/EU who have worked in Australia or the United States
  • Africans who have worked in the EU/USA

My email is ashley {at} ashleyabroad {dot} com so please get in touch!

Have you ever been an au pair? And what do you think of the site? All ideas/ suggestions welcome!

My Top 15 Travel Photos of 2014

My Top 15 Travel Photos of 2014

Sorry guys! This post is yet again belated. But once again I couldn’t resist sharing.

So long-time readers may remember when I recapped my favorite photos of 2013. While my travels in 2014 were slightly less than 2013 (11 countries as opposed to 15) I still got around- after all, I circumnavigated the globe! So I thought these photos would be a nice skip down memory lane for all those who followed along.

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A warmly colored residential canal. Venice, Italy.

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Gondoliers navigating Venice’s labyrinth of canals. Venice, Italy.

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A reflection of a Ferris Wheel on the pier at Brighton Beach. Brighton, England.

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A young Garwhali girl in the Himalaya. Uttar Pradesh, India.

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Looking out at the snow-tipped mountains. Uttar Pradesh, India.

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The last day of our epic Himalayan hike. Uttar Pradesh, India.

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The Taj Majal at sunrise. Agra, India.

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Locals chowing down at a wet market. Bangkok, Thailand.

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A fire-dancer on the beach. Koh Tao, Thailand.

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One of Koh Tao’s stunning sunsets. Koh Tao, Thailand.

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Muay thai fighters sparring. Koh Tao, Thailand.

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A street scene in colonial Georgetown. Penang, Malaysia.

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Verdant tea fields. Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.

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A girl selling dumplings at a food market. Melaka, Malaysia.

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A fisherman’s home. Halong Bay, Vietnam.

So let’s hear it! Which travel photo is your personal favorite?

Life Out West: Months 2 and 3

Life Out West: Months 2 and 3

While on my RTW trip I loved posting monthly updates as they’re so much fun to both write and look back on. So I figured why not recap my new life out west too? Read about month 1 here. All these photos are from Instagram, @ashleyabroad- find me there for slices of daily life!

So in Months 2 and 3 I continued to love life in Colorado and adjust to the old 7:30-4. But most importantly in January I got my own place! (After crashing with not one but two family friends- what a mooch.)

As of late I’ve been working, skiing and obsessing about my new apartment. And once in a while I squeeze in a boozy brunch, as pictured below.

Brunch

Highs

My very own bachelorette pad.

I got so lucky with my apartment- not only do I get to bunk up with my college roommate Alyssa (featured in posts such working backstage at NYC Fashion Week and Venetian carnevale), I also get to live in a spacious and beautiful place. Plus, it’s smack-dab in the middle of my favorite hipster neighborhood and we only pay $1750 a month, a steal compared to my San Francisco/Chicago/London friends.

And can I please gush about how glorious it is to have my own apartment after 2.5 years of nomadic living? Maybe this novelty will wear off, but for now I’m relishing every second in my new pad. Though I admittedly spend far too much time fretting about Amazon packages and perusing Etsy. Photos/post soon!

Ski trips galore.

Keystone

My goal this winter was to ski three weekends a month and so far I’m almost meeting it! In the last five weeks I’ve done three ski trips: Winter Park, Keystone and A-Basin.

One huge highlight was renting a gorgeous, 10-bedroom house last weekend with a bunch of my college friends. It was so lovely to see everyone and not even expensive with 15 people.

Question- how many of you would be interested in hearing about ski trips? Because I’d love to write about them.

Dating someone great.

I’m not sure how much I’ll share about this facet of my life, but I’m seeing someone who makes me smile. Sorry for being such a tease, ha.

Continuing to explore Denver.

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While I haven’t spent as much time out and about as I’d like (ski trips and moving don’t allow for much of that), last month I uncovered my favorite Denver discovery so far: The Source. The Source an artisanal food market housed in a former 1880’s brick foundry building. I’ve been twice so far and on both visits enjoyed delicious coffee, tacos and craft cocktails.

Florida for the holidays.

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While I’m not a huge beach bum, I loved spending the holidays with my fam in Florida. In Florida I just soaked up the sun and attempted to relax: I played tennis, shopped with my siblings, swam in the surf and cooked an enormous leg of lamb for Christmas Eve dinner. Ten days well-spent.

Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios

Disney

Um, Hogsmeade guys? The best. Over the holidays I dragged my 15-year old sister to Harry Potter World to geek out about butter beer, stroll through Diagon Alley and devour a salted caramel blondie waffle cone at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. Post very soon.

Watching my savings grow.

Call me Scrooge, but one of my favorite parts of working a salaried job is watching my savings grow each month. By 2015 I hope to have saved 20K so please chide my frivolous apartment spending, mmkay?

A business trip this month!

It’s so crazy to me that a year ago I was a beach-bumming blogger and now I’m going on a business trip. More details later but here’s a hint- my company’s sending me to a blogging conference!

Lows

Feeling unhealthy.

Ugh, gone are the days of funemployment when I had time to work out twice a day. Now I wake up at 5:45 a.m. every day and return at 5, so finding the energy to move after such a long day is tough.

So to combat this my roommate and I are pledging to a. not drink alcohol for the next month, b. cook every meal and c. do something active each day.

Not blogging enough.

I’ve accepted that my old schedule of two 1,500-word, carefully photographed posts a week is not going to happen so I’m going to have to be creative. Going forward I will be sharing more collaboration posts and quick ski trip posts. I’m even thinking about doing monthly posts about blogging revenue… would this be of interest to anyone?

The insecurity problem.

Ugh. If I could change one thing about myself it would my eternal insecurity (that or my tendency to lose/forget everything.). But really, I compare myself to others and then feel so stressed I end up in tears. I think I need to get “Comparison is the thief of joy” tattooed somewhere because this is such a problem.

Missing France.

Is this a ridiculous thing to put on my lows list? But seriously- so many people I love live in France and it kills me that I haven’t been in almost a year. Plus, the cheese, bread, yogurt,  etc. suck in the U.S. and frankly I’m over it. I want my 90-cent baguettes on every corner back in my life. #francophileforever

Up next:

Well, nothing too different! In February I foresee lots of ski trips and Denver exploration, and this weekend I’m going to a porter tasting and a reggae concert. (And okay fine, I’m also going to Ikea, the bane of my life.)

Blogging-wise I’ll be writing about ski trips, Harry Pottery World, Florida and Denver. I’d also love to tackle my trip to Malaysia as well as some French recipes and blogging advice.

Announcement- guest posts needed! Please get in touch if you either blog and work OR if you have worked as an au pair. I may have some opportunities for you!

The 15 Best Things I Ate in 2014, And the Absolute Worst

The 15 Best Things I Ate in 2014, And the Absolute Worst

I know this post is um… a bit late. And some bloggers would’ve scrapped it all together. But you guys know how much I love food so I really couldn’t resist sharing.

Dear lord, in 2014 I ate well. So well that I just had to recap the greatest hits, because guys, there were many.

Whether I was in Madrid or Malaysia, or a London food market or ski-in Swiss restaurant or a Vietnamese street cart, I was chowing down on something delicious.

What I love too is that all of these meals brought back good memories, what is exactly what good food does. It’s personal. It’s emotional. It’s sentimental. It makes you smile, even in retrospect. 

Seafood Pasta // Murano, Italy

While I was disappointed by the food in Venice, on nearby Murano I had one of my favorite Italian meals of all time.

After a bit of sightseeing on the island, we moseyed into a little hole-in-the-wall to have lunch. A few spritzes later, out came a succulent seafood pasta brimming with razor clams, shrimp and mussels.

While I normally find seafood pasta ho-hum, this was anything but. Nom.

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Swiss Barley Soup // Grindelwald, Switzerland

For starters, I freaking love soup. I love everything about soup. I love that it’s homey and warm and wintery, and that you can sop it up with bread. Because carbs.

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But I especially love soup while sitting at picnic table in Switzerland, sipping a local pils and watching clouds drift lazily over the Alps. While the slopeside food in Switzerland was gourmet (Colorado, let’s step up our game please), this traditional barley soup dusted with dried wildflowers was the best thing I tried.

Swiss barley soup on the ski slope? 12 francs well spent.

 

Okonomiyaki // Brixton Village, London

As I rhapsodized rather extensively, London is a foodie wonderland. During my three weeks in the Big Smoke I ate more than I should have and frequented lots of food markets.

One of my favorite finds? This okonomiyaki at Okan in Brixton Village. Okonomiyaki is a savory pork and scallion pancake topped with fish flakes and spicy mayonnaise, and while the one I had at Okan was the first (and only) I’ve tried, I’m pretty sure it was top-of-the-line. I mean look at it. v

Bao // Netil Market, London

Seriously guys. That bao though. I can barely look at this picture without feeling sad and I wish I were kidding about that.

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I discovered this delicious creation at Bao Bar at Netil Market, where bao is the only dish on the menu.

The doughy bun was filled with slow-braised pork belly, pickles and cilantro and dusted with peanut powder, a dish that was not only delicious but visually and texturally appealing. Perfection.

Bread and Butter Pudding // East London

This bread and butter pudding was like crème brûlée on uppers: it had a toffee brown-butter flavor, a crispy crust and a luscious crème anglaise. As I wrote in my post, I was literally sighing with happiness over this bread and butter pudding, and that’s not even hyperbole. IMG_1291

Salted caramel tart // East London

Okay, okay. I know we’re all kind of over salted caramel and it’s en route to become as banal as chocolate lava cake. But this salted caramel tart was absolutely delightful: decadent, nuanced, chocolatey and topped with coarse sea salt. Plus, I had it at Pizza East, a super chic restaurant on the Eating London tour which I absolutely will return to.

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Cream Tea // Lincoln, England

At long last, last year I ventured to the North of England. Up north I tasted many English specialities for the first time: crumpets, Sunday roast and my favorite- cream tea.

Who wouldn’t love piles of buttery scones, moist lemon cakes and the best smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches ever, all washed down by a pot of tea?

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And the ambiance was bar-none- a quaint, timber-framed tea shop perched above a swan-filled river. How very English.

Smoked Mackerel with Poached Egg and Prosciutto // Brighton, England

It’s no secret that I loved Brighton- and after riding rollercoasters on the pier, I found my new favorite seafood restaurant, Riddle and Finns.

There I ordered smoked mackerel on a bed of colcannon, drenched in a sauce reminiscent of my beloved New England Clam Chowder, topped with a poached egg and crispy prosciutto. Yes.

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Bacalao // Madrid, Spain

Wow, bacalao. While as we all know, fresh cod is well, meh, salted cod is another beast altogether. (Geek moment- the history of cod is actually fascinating and I would totally recommend this biography on cod.)

Anyway, if you’re ever in Madrid head to Casa Revuelta for bacalao, a crispy, salty intensely flavorful cod creation that you should probably wash down with Mahou and enjoy with friends and/or Spanish strangers.

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Indian feast // Delhi, India

On my first night out in Delhi, my travel buddy and I beelined to Bukhara. Bukhara is one of Delhi’s fanciest restaurants, the kind of place the Clinton’s go when they’re in India.

While normally a raging tourist trap is the total opposite of my scene, I’m so glad I headed TripAdvisor in this case. At Bukhara McCall and I gorged ourselves on the best Indian of our lives: juicy, charred lamb skewers, vats of creamy dahl and buttery piles of naan. And at the end of our trip, we went to Bukhara’s sister restaurant in Agra for a near identical meal. In both cases, we struggled to walk after.

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Paneer butter masala // All Over India

During my six-week stint India, paneer butter masala was one dish that I ordered again and again and again.

I took the following picture at a roadside restaurant but it wasn’t the only place I had it- I became borderline addicted to the rich, buttery joy that is paneer butter masala. Accompanied by nan slathered in ghee, obviously.

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Duck Soup // Bangkok, Thailand

While abroad, I’ve been known to find one amazing Singaporean hawker center/Vietnamese street stall/rundown Italian café, and return daily. The following duck soup stall in Bangkok was no exception.

Truly, this duck soup may be the best dish on this list. While I procured it at a humble street stall across the street from Lub d Silom, it would’ve been at home in any self-respecting Michelin restaurant.

Slippery rice noodles, braised duck thigh, a smattering of herbs, the umami broth of dreams… can you blame me for having it every day? bangkok_noodles

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Pandan Noodle Dessert ??? // Penang, Malaysia

One of the things that delighted me most about Malaysian food was that it was all new. As I had never been to a Malaysian restaurant at home or abroad, Malaysia was my personal food discovery paradise.

While normally I research food very carefully, I have no idea what the following dish is. It seemed like pandan noodles topped with palm sugar and grated coconut and should probably be in every trendy restaurant ever.

If you know what this is- speak up- and please, send along a recipe! IMG_0036

Curry Laksa // Kuala Lumpur

Is this dish not just gorgeous? And not only gorgeous, but tasty. I could truly tuck into curry laksa every damn day.

Curry laksa was one of my favorite dishes in the two weeks I spent in Malaysia: a creamy, flavorful broth filled with deep-fried tofu, cockles and al dente egg noodles, all topped with chili paste. YUM. Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Curry_laksa

Bánh cuốn // Hanoi, Vietnam

I ate a lot of delicious street food while in Northern Vietnam in June: miến lươn (eel vermicelli soup), bún bò nam bộ (vermicelli with grilled beef), Hanoi-style phở, nem rán (fried spring rolls) and more.

But the best meal I had was bánh cuốn with bacon, mint and chili that I groggily procured one hungover morning. 10502303_10202458931095076_5349817400597072481_n

The meatiness of the grilled bacon, the acidity of the lime vinegar, the fragrant crunch of the herbs… oh god. Take me back.

Though overall I definitely prefer southern Vietnamese to northern, and Saigon rather than Hanoi style phở, this Northern Vietnamese dish was hangover gold.

And to add insult to gastronomic injury- this dish cost 35,000 dong, or less than $2.00. That’s sales tax.

Worst meal of 2014: Nutella crepe (with black hair) and rotten eggs // Rishikesh, India

Hey, you can’t win ‘em all. My worst meal of 2014 was by far this brunch from hell in India.

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The meal started with such earnest intentions- my travel buddy and I were going to enjoy a leisurely brunch on our one day off from yoga school. The waiter first dropped off the Nutella crepe, which I tucked into happily. It tasted… off, so I opened it to discover several long, black hairs.

Normally I brush off hair in food- it could be mine after all, right? But in this instance there was no way- it was too long and black.

So I turned to my eggs, which again, tasted off. I called over the waiter and asked, “Sir, are these eggs bad?”

“Yes, they are.”

“Um, what? Why would you serve me rotten eggs?”

He shrugged. “Because the man who was supposed to bring the eggs this morning never came. It is not my fault.”

So I paid the bill and left. Which in retrospect, why on earth did I pay? The result of this terrible brunch was, shocker- debilitating food poisoning. My travel buddy threw up in a bush and I went home to vomit violently for my entire day off. Good times.

 

A little late, but what was your best meal of 2014? Or more fun- your worst?

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Julie from The Red Headed Traveler

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Julie from The Red Headed Traveler

So today we’re hearing from Julie of The Red Headed Traveler, a long-time commenter and fellow food-obsessed wanderer. She nerds out about literary destinations just like yours truly (she’s been to Neruda’s houses in Chile too!) and loves to cook- I especially want to try her Potato Pizza recipe. Because yum.

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Name: Julie Tulba

Age: 29

Occupation: Librarian

Hometown: Philadelphia

Residence: Pittsburgh

Website: www.theredheadedtraveler.com

How long you’re been blogging: 4.5 years

 

Country count: 19

Favorite city: Paris

Favorite museum: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid)

Favorite blog(s): Tasting Page (food porn and recipes at their best), The Wanderblogger (tales of expat life in London and travel throughout Europe), and Trailing Rachel (I literally just discovered this blog but like the fact that she’s a full time worker like me who has similar interests, i.e. food and travel).

Favorite hostel: I haven’t stayed in hostels in a while but I loved the Hostel Oasis in Granada, Nicaragua and Milhouse Hostel in Buenos Aires.

Favorite hotel: Either the Aston Mahana on Maui (It wasn’t anything fancy but all rooms were oceanfront and literally right on the beach, you could hear the waves crashing each night) or the Westin Palace in Madrid (I’m a sucker for historical properties, especially when they’re super luxurious.)

Favorite piece street art (with a photo!): It’s located in one of Pittsburgh’s residential neighborhoods, fittingly, close to an Indian restaurant.

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It’s fun to be interviewing a fellow Spanish major! Where did you learn Spanish? Do you use your Spanish a lot when traveling?

I didn’t start learning Spanish until my freshman year of high school. But unlike many other Americans I absolutely loved the idea of learning another language and perhaps with the exception of history (well, I minored in that), I truly didn’t want to study anything else in college. Sadly, I don’t use my Spanish as much as I would like when I’m traveling; this is probably due to the fact that until my trip to Peru last year, I hadn’t been to a Spanish speaking country in over five years which was terrible! I also live in Pittsburgh which is probably the only major American city that DOESN’T have a sizable Spanish speaking population. Needless to say I get incredibly jealous when I travel to other American cities and there’s signage in both English and Spanish. That, and cities that have more than Tex-Mex fare (I pine for the day a pupeseria opens here).

In addition to Europe, it seems like you’ve traveled a ton in Latin America. What draws you to that part of the world?

While I’ve certainly traveled to and lived in countries where I didn’t speak the language (South Korea for starters), there’s no better feeling than going to a country that doesn’t speak your native language yet you speak theirs. So language definitely plays a major role as to why I’ve always loved traveling there. But Mexico was the first country I ever visited (when I was 16 I was an exchange student there for the summer) so needless to say the country and its people always have a special place in my heart and I always love going back. I also love history, bright colors, and good food, and in my opinion every single country in Latin America in some facet has all of those things. Latin America is probably one of the most culturally rich and fascinating places you could ever visit-a true myriad of senses.

Considering I’ve just started a 9-5 I think it’s incredible that for the past four years you’ve been blogging while working a full-time job AND writing a book! How do you juggle it all?

It’s tough and now more than four years into blogging, the “burnt out” feeling definitely has started to pop up more frequently. I post somewhat fanatically (about four-five times a week) but recently decided for my own sake it was worth taking a step back. Since I started regularly blogging, I always try to have at least two or three posts in my repository at all times; it helps knowing that if I’m not up for writing/trying to think of new content, I at least have posts already done. It also lessens the pressure of “having to write,” and instead makes me enjoy the writing part more.

Having a repository of stored posts also helped out a ton when I was working on my book. I wouldn’t say my blog was relegated to the back corner during this time as I still posted regularly, but all of my creative energies were definitely going into my book’s writing and editing.

I’ve gotten good with time management where my blog is concerned. Ask me about my exercise regimen and other non-blog activities and you’ll see that it’s still a major work in progress! But it doesn’t matter how old you are, time management is tough for sure.

You wrote in one of your posts that being a part-time travel blogger is more laborious than being a full-time one. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

For 40 hours a week, I work in a job that has nothing to do with blogging, social media, or even writing. So everything I post on my blog is written during my own personal time, which some weeks doesn’t feel like too much when you add up all of “life’s activities.” It’s a personal commitment of mine to keep my blog for sure (as in I’m neither obligated nor required to), but in a sense it still feels like a second full time job with all the work I put into it (and I’m sure other part-time travel bloggers definitely feel the same). There are definitely days where I would like to say to the blog “to heck with it all” if work was stressful or I have a lot going on in my personal life but those feelings are short-lived. I know I would be more disappointed in myself if I did just “abandon” my blog prematurely!

You recently wrote and self-published a book of fictional short stories! That’s awesome. How long did it take you to write and what’s the response been like? And did Candace Rardon do the illustration for the cover?

I started writing them in the late summer of 2013 and by early winter 2014, I was finished, although for a couple of them I did make major revisions. Learning to write dialogue was also tough, that is if you want it to seem natural and have fluidity to it. Then there was the never-ending editing process! The response has been overwhelmingly positive which means the world to me, especially several responses that have come from people who told me they were never really “short story” fans. Many also were just surprised that I undertook such a venture. Yes, she did the cover art too and as many people know, she is simply amazing! And also one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet (well, this is a cyber-context but I’m sure she’s even sweeter in real life!).

So you’ve said “I’m not a backpacker and will never be.” That’s rare in the travel blogging world! Would you care to elaborate?

When I travel I like to travel comfortably, and no, that definitely doesn’t mean five star hotels and champagne and caviar at every meal. (For the record I also shop at Ross and TJ Maxx and drive a tiny hatchback, so I’m not a big spender by any means!) But if there’s a particular restaurant I want to dine at on a trip, I will. Working full-time allows me to not have to always limit myself when I travel and that’s key to me. I still obviously exercise moderation but I’m neither pinching pennies nor racking up huge credit card debt when I’m on the road. I know many travelers believe that travel is more about the experience and less about the secondary things (eating, accommodations) but to me those things ARE part of the overall experience. One of the hotels I stayed at on my trip to Peru was built on top of Inca ruins (there was even a small gallery of artifacts recovered) and used to be a former Spanish convent. Paying somewhat more on my hotel room definitely offered an extremely unique and memorable experience.

I’m also a chronic over packer which doesn’t exactly mesh in the backpacking world (I know, bad…) and after a nightmare stay at a Costa Rican lodge on Chira Island during my semester abroad there (our rooms were infested with mutant grasshoppers), I decided that I would only stay at places where the walls WERE connected to the ceiling!

So you mentioned on your blog that you’re married. What’s your experience been like traveling alone vs. traveling with a romantic partner?

So tough (well, partially kidding here)!, But especially when your romantic partner’s idea of the perfect trip is the exact opposite of yours! Traveling alone is obviously ideal in the sense that whatever you want to do and wherever you want to go, you’re the one calling all the shots. Traveling with your significant other definitely means compromise, especially if you have different tastes in stuff or your partner isn’t as adventurous as you are. We’ve been traveling together since 2007 and while there are some destinations I’m dying to see, they’re much lower on my husband’s radar (well, some are probably not even on his radar), everything I’ve wanted to do in the destinations we have visited, I’ve done. And thankfully I have carte blanche where restaurant selection is concerned-it pays to be an advanced (and somewhat anal) planner!

You love to cook. (Me too!) And I read that you love to recreate recipes you try abroad in your own kitchen. What are some of your favorite international recipes you’ve cooked at home?

Shakshuka from Tunisia (a great vegetarian dish of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce)

Mango Ice Cream from Puerto Rico (ice cream maker NOT needed)

Chicken Makhani from India

And just for fun- I love to make croque monsieur at home too! What’s your recipe?

I actually haven’t made a croque monsieur (I sure have feasted on them though), however, I have done its counterpart, the croque madame. Here’s my recipe.

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So let’s hear it! Anything else you want to know about Julie?

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

Goals for 2015 (And How I Did in 2014)

Goals for 2015 (And How I Did in 2014)

Hey guys! As you may have read 2014 was quite a year. And honestly I’ve never been happier.

From 17 to 23 my goals were the same: write for a living, speak multiple languages fluently, travel the world and get in shape. And crazy enough I was able to accomplish all of them!

But my goals are different now. Now that I’m settled I’m finally able to do so many things I had been craving: create a comfortable, beautiful space, date, brew beer, have a wardrobe of more than black tank tops (ha) and most importantly, build a network of good friends.

But contrary to what I had imagined, my settled, 9-5 life isn’t all work and no play. I’m having the time of my life. Here are all the things I hope to accomplish this year: Montana_Ranch_Portrait

1. Advance my career.

I’m really enjoying my new job. In November I set the company record for the most accounts signed in the first month – hopefully I can keep up that momentum! A promotion wouldn’t hurt either…

2. Grow Ashley Abroad.

I always knew I loved to blog, but it wasn’t until recently I knew how much. It takes true dedication to open your laptop after staring at a screen all day, but I love writing, photography and connecting with awesome people on the internet too much to let it go.

My blogging goals for 2014 are to blog twice a week and receive 100K page views a month. I think it’s doable but I can kiss my Sundays goodbye.

3. Ski. A lot.

I won’t lie- my skiing skills are rusty. And plus, I grew up skiing in Michigan- Colorado is a whole ‘nother ball game. So this year I want to become a more proficient all-mountain skier and master moguls and deep powder.

4. More music into my life.

This is shameful, but I’ve been to like four concerts in my entire life. (Hey, I was counting my pennies for travel as a teenager- shows were not my priority.)

In 2015 I want music to have a much, much bigger focus in my life. I plan on attending concerts in Denver regularly and hitting up Red Rocks this summer.

I also, and this is slightly embarrassing to admit this to the internets, have been harmonizing a lot recently with musician friends. In 2014 I want to become a better singer. Yep, I just wrote that.

5. Languages

Want to know something funny? I speak French better now than I did in Paris. Thanks to a Senegalese friend at work I speak a good hour of French every day, something that was hard to come by when I lived in France.

So in 2015 I want to keep up my Spanish and improve my French. I’ve also been toying with the idea with learning Italian or German because I’m debatably insane.

6. Save 15K by the end of 2015.

I already have 6K in the bank so a 9K savings goal actually is pretty reasonable. That being said I have a lot of pay for, namely furniture and new ski boots ($600).

I’m also thinking about putting my savings in a Roth IRA but need to go to Fidelity and have everything explained to me because I know nothing.

7. Get new mystery website up and running.

I can’t wait to announce this but I have plans to launch a website very soon. It’s going to a super helpful resource, database and forum- to be announced soon!

How I did in 2014:

Career.

In 2014 I want to make big strides in my career. Right now I’m weighing my options: diplomacy, marketing and hotel management are all on the table.

Check! In 2014 I dropped the digital nomad lifestyle and got a job at sovrn where my blogging background is super useful and I love my coworkers. Plus, I get to live in Colorado and ski a lot. Wins all around.

Health.

In 2014 I want to keep doing yoga and try out some new workouts like Crossfit, Art of Strength and running a 5K Color run!

Check! In 2014 I got in the shape of my life by doing a Yoga Teacher Training in India and trekking the Himalayas. I also managed to try Crossfit (not my thing) and run a 5K (not really my thing either). And I’d love to do a Color Run in 2015!

Spirituality.

In 2014 I want to make time for one big spiritual trip: the Camino de Santiago, studying yoga at an ashram and Burning Man all come to mind.

Check! Studying yoga for a month in India was extremely spiritual- I learned a ton about myself as well as yoga, meditation and Hinduism. The experience was grueling but turned me into a much more positive person- I couldn’t be happier I did it.

Friends and Family.

I’m so lucky to have such wonderful, supportive friends and family so in 2014 I want to make an effort to spend more time with them.

Check! I spent so much time with friends and family in 2014 and it was the best. I visited friends all over Europe, traveled with one of my best friends through India for six weeks and traveled with two friends in Southeast Asia. Once I returned to the states I spent four months with family and friends in Michigan and caught up with lots of my Chicago friends. I’ve made lots of friends in Colorado and my college best friend moved out west to live with me- I’m so fortunate to have such great people in my life.

Let’s talk! So what are your goals for the new year? Comment below, I’d love some inspiration!

2014 – A Traveler’s Review

2014 – A Traveler’s Review

I won’t lie- my annual end of the year wrap-up (see 2012 and 2013 here) is one of my favorite posts of the year.

And like 2013, 2014 was a big ‘un. In 2014 I took a four-month, round-the-world trip in which I bopped all over Europe, did a Yoga Teacher Training in India, trekked the Himalayas for ten days and returned to Southeast Asia for diving, partying and street food. After my trip I spent the summer in Michigan and settled down in Denver in October.

While I’m thrilled to finally be stationary I’m grateful that I got to travel as much as I did in 2014- I visited no less than 11 countries, 19 cities and six states, and slept in 47 beds, one tent, one floor and three couches.

Despite a few rough moments, 2014 was the best year of my life so I wanted to look back on all my shenanigans and adventures. And yes, there were many.

January

January was frigid. I spent January cooped up inside my parents’ house in Michigan blogging and freelancing, venturing out only for yoga class. Which ultimately was fine- I needed to save up for my world-trip!

One lowlight was getting my hand stuck to a door (briefly) when it was 20 below. Oh, Michigan.

February

In February I lost my well-paying job with Answers.com. In the end this was a blessing in disguise as I decided to leave my laptop at home and just travel again, free from stressful deadlines.

Best friend Alyssa in tow, I spent a few sunny days in NYC and then jetted off to Europe. We couchsurfed with a house full of Spaniards in London and rented a canalside house with Edna and company for Ventian carnivale. Both adventures involved lots of red wine and little sleep, as you might imagine.

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March

I kicked off March in a pretty grandiose way; skiing in Switzerland. Ever since I was a wee tot in a ski harness I’ve dreamed of skiing the Alps, so I was thrilled to check it off the bucket list. And plus, I got to stay for free at a close family friend’s Swiss chalet- bonus!

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Before leaving Switzerland I squeezed in paragliding in Interlaken and tobogganing in Grindelwald and Gstaad. (Which by the way is ridiculously fun- can we please bring all-mountain tobogganing to America?)

But truthfully my solo travel in Switzerland was my least favorite part of my European adventures- I was bored, lonely and paying way too much for everything.

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After Switzerland I flew to London. My three weeks in London were a dream. My days went as such: wake up and have at least three cups of instant coffee with my lovely host, Amanda, wander out for eggs and soldiers, meet up with my little brother in Regent’s Park, explore food market in trendy neighborhood and/or enjoy picnic with pinot noir and pâté. Ad infinitum. (Well, I wish.)

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During my time in the U.K. I also popped up to the north of England for a week to visit friends, had Sunday roast in York and road-tripped to Wales, where I drunkenly attempted to swim in the glacially cold Welsh Sea- fail.

Next I Ryanair’d it south for a press trip in Madrid. Amanda, Julika, Jessica and I bunked up in an adorable rental apartment, ate Spanish ham, partied at Kapital and basically all became best friends. The four of us still talk daily and are now plotting our next “Sisterhood of the Traveling… Blogs” adventure.

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April

April was split between Paris and India. Could two destinations be any more different?

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In Paris I revisited all of my favorite people and haunts. It was lovely; I enjoyed balmy spring weather, charcuterie-laden picnics, reading seshes in the Place des Vosges and cider on the Seine. And the Parisian guy-friend I was staying with made me speak French the entire time which was great for my French skills!

From Paris I departed for Delhi to meet up with my good friend McCall. After a six-hour, backroads taxi ride we arrived in Rishikesh, our hair caked with dust, grime and god knows what else. (Driving in Northern India? Not fun at all.)

In Rishikesh we began our monthlong Yoga Teacher Training. As I’ve written, the training was tough; I abstained from just about everything and was surrounded by cow shit, flies and dahl, all of which wore on me quite quickly. But we spent the training with a wonderful group of international students and I got in the shape of my life, so overall it was such a worthwhile experience.

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May 

In May I graduated from Yoga School barefoot and bindi’d (no seriously) and the next day embarked on a ten-day Himalayan trek.

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Hiking the Indian Himalaya was one of the travel highlights of my life. From singing Sanskrit songs with cute village kids to waking up to the Himalayas in all their snowy glory, the experience was as special as it was physically and mentally grueling.

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After the Himalayas McCall, Joe and I enjoyed a well-deserved luxury weekend in Delhi and a trip to the Taj Majal at sunrise.

After one last delicious Indian meal Joe and I flew to Bangkok in the middle of a coup and rounded out the month on my favorite Thai island- Koh Tao.

June

I spent the first ten days of June on Koh Tao, despite my best intentions to leave much sooner. What can I say? I heart that little island.

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But at least I got a few things done. I completed my Advanced Open Water, braved night-diving and saw my first muay thai fight. I also met an incredible crew of people and enjoyed the legendary Koh Tao nightlife.

Before leaving the island I met up with my friend Dylan (whom I met through friends in the north of England, incidentally) and together we endured a 24-hour slow-boat and bus journey to Malaysia. Within hours of arriving I was head over heels for Penang: a city of street art, colonial mansions and sumptuous street food.

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After Penang we dropped by the snoozeworthy Cameron Highlands, and spent almost a week in Malaysia’s capital city. In KL I enjoyed a pretty blissful schedule: wake up, go find amazing street food, see a site, then head to the hostel rooftop for beer, hookah and karaoke. Rinse and repeat.

After KL I traveled solo to Melaka. There I connected with a Chinese-Malay girl on Instagram who ended up showing me around Melaka for the next couple of days. As always, I enjoyed travel so much more with a local as my host.

And after Melaka? I booked it to my favorite country in Asia, Vietnam. All I did in Vietnam was eat crazy quantities of Vietnamese food (obviously) and live it up on the Halong Bay party cruise, where I met another incredible group of people.

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And at the end of June I flew back home dirty, sunburnt, broke and exhausted, but with a huge smile on my face. (Well once I got over jet lag, of course.)

July

Despite my best intentions to relax after four months of travel, I bounced around the states quite a bit in July. I spent the fourth in Chicago and road-tripped to Hilton Head for a week of drinking games and beach time.

I returned to Michigan in time to turn 24, celebrating with loved ones and a huge strawberry cake at my cottage.

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I also threw the worst house party in the history of time, which my friends and I still refer to as “The Comedy of Errors.”

August

In August I spent a lot of time with my family up at my cottage but headed to San Francisco to look for an apartment. While San Francisco apartment hunting turned out to be a bust, I got to spend a blissful Labor Day weekend at my friend’s ranch in Montana.

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September

In September I buckled down on finding a job. I also ran a 5K with my dad, cut off a significant amount of my hair and learned to brew beer.

While I tried to carve out a solid routine at home, in September I started to get restless and sick of living at home. And honestly began fearing I’d end up spending the winter unemployed and hating my life.

October

In October I thankfully landed a job with sovrn, a kick-ass digital advertising company, so I bought some work clothes and relocated to Denver. Working a 9-5 was certainly an adjustment. I learned a few things; commuting sucks, paychecks are great and ping pong at the office is the best.

By the time Halloween rolled around I was so tired from work that I fell asleep at 9 p.m. Womp, womp.

November 

In November I got into the swing of a 9-5 and really started to love life in Colorado. I quickly made a close-knit group of friends and signed on 22 accounts at work in my first month, the company record! And things got even better when my best friend Alyssa moved to Colorado to be my roomie.

I also enjoyed a super-fun Friendsgiving at my friends’ beautiful Victorian home. While I missed my family and grandfather’s 25-pound turkey, I was still counting my blessings to already have close friends to spend Thanksgiving with.

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December Boulder

In December I continued to work hard at sovrn but slipped up on the blogging front- I only posted four times in December! I also continued to have a busy social life and even squeezed in a skiing trip to Winter Park with one of my best friends from high school.

At the end of December I flew to Florida to spend the holidays with my family. I took my 15-year old sister to Universal Studios to see Harry Potter World, where I proceeded to nerd out and photograph everything. (Seriously though guys- Hogsmeade was amazing.)

In Florida I also clocked an ample amount of beach time and slept in numerous times- glorious.

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Thank you all for coming along for the ride in 2014. I’m so looking forward to seeing what the new year brings us so here’s to a 2015 filled with health, friends, family and adventure.

Your turn! Tell me the highlights/lowlights of your year!

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