My Absolute Favorite Camera Bag + A Giveaway!

My Absolute Favorite Camera Bag + A Giveaway!

So today I want to tell you about my favorite travel camera bag- and yes, give a $100 Jo Totes gift card to one lucky reader!

I’ve written about this bag before- long-time readers may remember I listed it as one of my top ten travel products.

Jo Totes Giveaway

Why I love my Jo Totes bag:

a. It’s beautiful and stylish. See above!

b. It’s well-made. I’ve had mine for a year and a half and it’s in great shape.

c. It’s big. My bag can fit a camera as well as several lenses, and not to mention other valuables like my cell phone and wallet.

d. It’s street-smart. No one knows you’re carrying a valuable DSLR, which is great!

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Other Jo Totes selections

This bag has traveled with me around the globe. I used it a ton during my year in France, both walking around Paris as well as jaunting about the continent. I also used my Jo Totes this year on my world trip (although I sent it home after India- tweed doesn’t really suit Southeast Asia, now does it?)

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Hanging out in London… IMG_3988-001

Road-tripping down the French Atlantic coast… DSC_5250 copy

Weekend-ing in Strasbourg… (Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase.)

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Snapping shots in Madrid! (Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase.)

So here’s the exciting part for you- I’m giving a $100 gift card to Jo Totes way to one of my readers, to go towards purchasing the Jo Totes camera bag of their choice!

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment, follow me on Twitter, share about the giveaway or like my Facebook page. And you can share about the giveaway on Twitter each day for additional entries.

This giveaway will run until 8:00 a.m. on August 4, and then I will announce the winner on my Facebook page. Good luck!
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Twitter: @ashleyhfleck

Facebook: Ashley Abroad

Instagram: ashleyabroad

It’s my 24th Birthday!

It’s my 24th Birthday!

Hey guys! Today I’m 24. Which officially means I’m in my mid-twenties. Is it weird I’m mostly totally okay with that?

First off, I want to thank each and everyone one of you who responded to my twenty-something crisis post. I teared up reading a few of the comments- seriously, you guys are so awesome for sharing your sympathy and wise advice.

Okay, and back to the birthday. My family threw me the loveliest birthday at my lake house, complete with the same strawberry cake I’ve had every year since I was 16. And while I did receive some lovely gifts (a new Swarovski necklace!), the real gift was being home: riding old-fashioned bikes with my brother, sipping champagne with my grandmother, hearing my grandpa’s World War II stories over coffee. I adore my family. ash ash1

Also, I do have some exciting plans in the works. While I don’t want to prematurely announce them, I’m 95% sure of where I’m moving in September- but my lips are sealed until I sign the lease!

Until then, I will be right here. IMG_1981

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And I’m so excited to continue blogging about my world trip- I still have Switzerland, England, Wales, Spain, France, India, Thailand, Malaysia AND Vietnam to cover! There’s so much I can’t wait to share.

And long-time readers may remember that last year I posted a list of 23 things I wanted to accomplish in my 23rd year. Here’s how I did!

COMPLETED: (8/23)

Learn how to scuba-dive, get in the best shape of my life, learn how to cook Asian food, get 3 freelance articles published, fight muay thai, make a conscious effort to keep up my French and Spanish, try Stand Up Paddleboarding, pay off all my debt

WILL COMPLETE (I SWEAR): (10/23)

Move to a new city after the Asia trip, learn how to drive manually, get a job that I love, try surfing again, go to a music festival, volunteer for a great cause, attend a travel blogging or media conference, take a graphic design course, throw a surprise birthday party, run a 5K Color Run

HALF-COMPLETED/DEBATABLE: (5/23)

1. Learn how to use my camera in manual, learn how to shoot in RAW and edit with Lightroom.

I learned how to shoot in manual and use Lightroom, but still don’t know much about RAW. Oops.

2. Buy a new wardrobe.

Um, do a few ASOS dresses and two pairs of jeans count?

3. Buy a custom-design for my site.

Well, I got a new theme. But money was way too tight for a $5,000 redesign.

4. Learn how to do liquid eyeliner like a French girl (yup, still failing after a year).

Yeah. I think I’ve got this one but I’d have to run it by my French friends.

5. Keep blogging!

Well I took an intentional three-month break, but I fully intend to blog regularly now.

. . . . . . . . . .

And for next year? Here are seven goals. (Apparently 23 was far too ambitious!)

1. Make a conscious effort to be happy and make friends wherever I move this year.

2. Post at least one recipe a month on this blog. I miss cooking, especially cooking French food!

3. Stay in shape. I’d love to run my first 5K and get into pilates.

4. Keep up my French and Spanish. Y’all know how much I love languages.

5. Write handwritten thank you cards. It’s just classy.

6. Get better at dancing. Perhaps belly-dancing or salsa?

7. Try a wreck dive. Now that I’m an Advanced Open Water diver I’d love to do this.

. . . . . . . . . .

So, do you set goals at your birthday? Or is it just me?

Back Home, But What Next?

Back Home, But What Next?

Confession: recently I’ve been having a bit of a crisis.

I’m back home and savoring the Michigan summer as always. But the one question that plagues me day after day is, “Okay, so what now?”

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As many of you know I just returned home from a four-month trip around the world: Europe, India and Southeast Asia. My trip was perfect. Truly, it was the best, most confidence-building trip I’ve taken. I was so, so achingly happy for most of the trip and don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much.

Leaving my laptop behind served me well- instead of planning out blog posts I lived in the moment and only endured a few anxiety attacks in which contemplated my imminent doom and old age. (Loveee those.)

So now I’m at a crossroads- continue traveling or look for a job stateside.

The problem with the former option is that there’s nowhere I’m itching to visit in particular. And living in hostels loses its charm eventually- there are only so many times you can discuss the same three questions with strangers: Where are you from? Where were you last? Where are you going?

The latter option frankly terrifies me: Sign a lease? Work in an office all day? Live in the states? Be… normal?

For a while I hoped I’d follow the C’est Christine trajectory- a year in France, a year traveling Europe and Southeast Asia and after two years of non-stop fun, to settle down stateside.

But now that I’m home, I have no desire to settle down here. On the contrary, I walk around with a knot of anxiety in my chest. It’s like a pesky little voice is constantly whispering in my ear, “You do not want to be here. You do not want to be here.”

Which makes me ask myself, what on earth is wrong with me? Why can’t I enjoy living in my own country? Do I have to be abroad to be happy? What about my family and friends I love so much?

I have a few ideas of what to do next: move to Australia, learn German, teach English in Japan. Yet none of these are lifelong goals, they’re whims. More like well, that would be cool, right? kind of goals. Which isn’t the passion-fueled life I’d like to be living.

I sometimes wonder if I’m living up to my potential. I come from a very bright family, from a long line of inventors and entrepreneurs. While they rack up scholarships to Yale and gigs at Google I flit around the world and “live in the moment.”

While I was in India and Southeast Asia, I was traveling with two friends who work as a management consultant and an investment banker. While they are incredible warm and supportive friends who gave me lots of sound advice, being in their company made me feel… unaccomplished.

I didn’t go to an Ivy League. I don’t make 120K and I don’t have a job with amazing benefits and intellectual coworkers. And a part of me wishes I did.

Spending time with such hard-working (and happy) people also made me wonder, “Could I pull 16-hour days on a regular basis? And if I didn’t enjoy it, does that make me lazy?”

Recently my little brother commented, “Ash, I have no idea how you travel all the time. Don’t you get sick of being broke?”

Which yes, frankly, I do get sick of being broke. I want to be able to order a glass of wine at dinner without worrying. I want to buy my friends birthday presents that cost more than $30. I want to be able to put $500 on my credit card without having a panic attack.

So here I stand, absolutely, 100% unsure of what to do next, uncertain of what will make me happy either short or long-term. I stand here utterly humbled and afraid for the future. Luckily I still have youth on my side, but how much longer will I be able to say that? How long will I have that free pass?

And I don’t want to wrap this up with my usual pithy, optimistic conclusion. I wrote this for my own catharsis as well as for the sake of other twenty-somethings grappling with the same problem.

And I also wrote this to humbly ask for your advice, any and all life or career advice you can give me. Because I honestly have no idea what my next move should be.

Traipsing Round the Globe: Month 4

Traipsing Round the Globe: Month 4

Hey! Welcome to the fourth update of Traipsing Round the Globe, a real-time recap of my round-the-world trip! Check out months onetwo and three if you haven’t read them yet.

Hey guys! This edition of Traipsing Round the Globe is coming to you (slightly belatedly) from the Windy City. And okay, I know I say this every month but Month 4, the final month of my RTW trip, was the craziest yet. After six weeks of the ascetic life India, I swung hard in the other direction once I hit Southeast Asia and reveled in non-stop fun.

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Where I’ve Been:

Koh Tao, Thailand (7 days)

Penang, Melaysia (4 days)

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia (1 day)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (5 days)

Melaka, Malaysia (2 days)

Halong Bay, Vietnam (3 days)

Hanoi, Vietnam (4 days)

The rest- at home in suburban Michigan!

Highs:

Koh Tao, as always. The time I spent on Koh Tao this year was a dream. I spent ten days there completing an Advanced Open Water dive course, sipping buckets at beach bars and zooming around on the back of an Aussie guy’s motorbike. And I finally saw a Muay Thai fight- fascinating!

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Falling head-over-flip-flops in love with Penang. So I have a new favorite city in Asia- Penang, Malaysia. From the crumbling colonial architecture to the ornate Peranakan mansions to the creative bursts of street art all over the city, I couldn’t have found more to love in Penang.

Finding my favorite hostel in the world. Haven’t been to Reggae Mansion in KL? Go now. Reggae Mansion was literally the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in and I’ve stayed in 60+ hostels around the globe! And I even tried my first karaoke in front of a large crowd at the rooftop bar. (But did you know American Pie is NINE minutes long?)

Another bonus- due to this blog almost all of my accommodation was comped while in Malaysia. Win.

Malay food. Upon arriving in Malaysia, I dove right into the national cuisine, which being a fusion of Indian, Chinese and local Malay food cultures, was downright delicious. I heart hawker centers.

Being adopted by a group of local girls in Melaka. While in Melaka I connected with a local girl and she and her friends essentially adopted me and drove me around to all their favorite food spots. They also taught me how to pray in a Chinese temple which was a very lovely and moving experience. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Eating everything in Vietnam. While I enjoyed the food in Southern Vietnam more than the north, I still relished every opportunity to enjoy my beloved Vietnamese food as much as possible. And at $1.50 for a meal, I indulged often and heartily. image (2)

Taking the party cruise in Halong Bay. Sailing through an enormous bay full of limestone karsts surrounded by fun-loving backpackers? Yes, please. The trip was infinitely improved by the great group of people I met on the boat, and we ended up hanging out every night until the end of my stay in Vietnam. image (3)

Coming Home. While I was sad to say goodbye to the beer and backpacking lifestyle, home has been wonderful. Each time I come home I’m reminded by what funny, loyal and generous friends and family I have, and it comforts me that no matter how long I’m gone nothing ever changes. I’m a very lucky girl.

Lows:

The Cameron Highlands.  Um, sorry, but the Cameron Highlands were so pointless. Cool, I got to take a picture of a tea plantation. Yawn.

Experiencing yet another creep in the street. Um, why does this keep happening to me? Anyway, this time it was a middle-aged man at a bus stop. As I was slightly tipsy, I screamed profanities at him while my travel buddy tried to pull me away. So vile. image (5)

Ripping up my shoulder in Vietnam. Tubing in Halong Bay? BAD idea. I nearly screamed when I hit the water and am still wincing in pain two weeks later. Ouch.

Favorite Shot:

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Yeah. So I miss $9 Thai massages with a view of the ocean.

Enough about me! What are you up to this summer?

Back From My World Trip and Kicking Off the Blog!

Back From My World Trip and Kicking Off the Blog!

Hey lovelies! Guess who’s back in the beautiful US of A? This blogger.

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Life is good- I’m happy to be home, as always, but I won’t lie- I’m feeling the post-Asia blues a bit more acutely than usual. Life here is just so much more expensive and boring (no offense, Michigan!), and I miss the chaos and the cheap beer and the plastic stools of Southeast Asia.

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The best part of being home- my little brother and sister.

Regardless, now that I’m home the blog is back on! I’ve missed blogging a ton in the last four months, and not having my laptop definitely changed my travels for better and for worse.

And while I’m trying to stay grateful and enjoy the moment, my head is clouded with worry: worry about finding a job, settling down (or not?) and especially about replenishing my very lean bank accounts. (How one can spend $3,000 dollars in one month in Southeast Asia is a mystery to me, but here I stand.)

I’ve never had less of a plan than I do right now, and the world is truly my oyster- my current job hunt stretches from Shanghai to Paris to San Francisco. I may be anywhere in a year.

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Anyway, enough about me- how are you guys? How are your summers going so far? Any travel plans?

Tons and tons of bisous,
Ashley

Traipsing Round The Globe: Month 3

Traipsing Round The Globe: Month 3

Hey! Welcome to the third update of Traipsing Round the Globe, a real-time recap of my round-the-world trip! Check out months one and two if you haven’t read them yet.

Hey guys! This round-up is coming to you from the idyllic island of Koh Tao, my favorite spot is Thailand! As usual I’m finding it hard to leave- I’ve already been here four days and am planning on staying at least another three. Whoops.

Where I’ve Been:

Rishikesh, India (11 days)

The Himalayas (Uttarkhand) (11 days)

Bangkok (4 days)

Koh Tao (4 days)

Highs:

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Becoming a certified yoga teacher!

This month I wrapped up my 30-day Yoga Teacher Training and guess what- I’m now certified to teach yoga! Yoga has seriously made such a difference in my life- from helping me control my anxiety to keeping me strong and flexible. I don’t feel ready to be a teacher just yet, but someday I can’t wait to share the gift of yoga with others.

And while I sadly had to bid adieu to my incredible classmates, I also got to say goodbye to two-hour vinyasa classes on 110-degree days. Dear God. Also I won’t lie- I was happy to leave the cow-shit and fly-ridden streets of Rishikesh far, far behind.

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Trekking the Himalayas.

This one was a literal high- a high of more than 14,000 feet to be exact! I’m not sure if I’ve fleshed this out fully, but I’m not hugely into camping- in fact, this nine-day Himalayan trek was my second ever camping trip! So I was super proud of myself when I managed to survive the world’s highest mountain range. While there were days when I was practically dragging myself to camp (namely, the eight-hour, almost all uphill day when I got sunstroke, yay), most days I was just soaking in the Middle Earth-esque views and having a blast with my fellow trekkers.

Three nights of luxury in Delhi and Agra.

And after a bare-bones month in rural India and nine days not showering in the mountains, a girl deserves a little luxury, right? So my two travel buddies and I pooled our Starpoints and rupees for some pretty swanky digs: Le Meridien and Leela Palace in Delhi. Leela Palace was utter luxury- from piles of white lilies and a string quartet in the lobby to beds fit for a sultan to unsolicited lemon iced tea being literally delivered on a silver tray, this hotel was the perfect break from the grit and grime of the five weeks previous.

 

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Seeing the Taj Majal at sunrise.

See above. Gorgeous, right? While the Taj was admittedly quite out of the way, overall its beauty made the hassle well worth it.

Re-embracing civilization in Bangkok.

Um, post-India Bangkok might has well have been Boston. I spent my first day in Bangkok strolling the swanky Siam Paragon mall, perusing H&M and swilling a vanilla latte. Joy. And okay fine, I did some serious damage on my credit card at the Bobbi Brown counter- budget be damned.

Also after 5+ weeks of fan-rooms, AC felt like a thousand tiny angels all kissing my skin all at once. Glorious.

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Becoming a beach bum on Koh Tao.

My Koh Tao schedule: wake up to poached eggs and fresh-squeezed pineapple juice, bathe in the warm, turquoise-blue waters, read Game of Thrones, drink Chang(s), meet friends for dinner on the beach, fall asleep to the waves crashing to the shore. Repeat ad infinitum.

Lows:

White-water rafting on the Ganges.

My Indian white-water rafting experience was insanity: manning a raft full of fully-clothed Indians who couldn’t swim, hearing the shrieks of a terrified, soaking wet infant, watching a mottled-blue human torso drift by. Um, who brings a 10-month old on a raft? WTF?

Dealing with the administration at my yoga school.

Let’s just say I did not leave on good terms with the owner and to be honest I wouldn’t recommend the school (or to be honest the city, Rishikesh) to anyone who wants to do their Yoga Teacher Training abroad. Post soon.

Blood blisters and high-altitude sunburn in the Himalayas.

Em yeah. I would’ve hoped I was made of more solid stuff but apparently I have a fairly delicate composition. Ouch.

Flying into a country with martial law.

Oh, so you know how Thailand is under control of the military, has a curfew and is under martial law? I flew here anyway. And while the only repercussion was that I couldn’t enjoy Bangkok nightlife as I would’ve wanted, it was still a possibly risky decision to come here. Oh and for the record- there’s no curfew on Koh Tao!

Blowing way too much money.

So I’m now traveling with an (awesome) friend who works as an i-banker in NYC- soooo my budget isn’t quite as water-tight as usual. To be honest I’m not too worried though- I’ll be home within a month anyway!

Not knowing what’s next.

Right now it feels like one chapter of my life is closing and another is beginning, which leaves me feeling more melancholy than I would have thought. As much as I want to start my career and settle down somewhere (and have a freaking apartment of my own, finally!), I know I’ll miss these carefree globe-trotting years of my life.

Favorite Shot:

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So enough about me! What were your May adventures? Any shenanigans? Spill in the comments.