Hey guys! So today I’m excited because my blog jut turned two. (And yes, I do refer to it as if it were my child.) Who would’ve guessed I’d still be blogging after all this time? I certainly wouldn’t have!
Anyway, a lot’s changed since last year’s blogiversary and in short, I’m really proud.
I’ve worked with a lot of great companies in the last year, from Best Western to Skywings Paragliding, and even hosted my first giveaway and started offering sponsorship. And recently a journalist from Forbes.com interviewed me which made the parents happy.
My traffic’s never been higher, and my page views have more than quadrupled in the past year- in one year this site’s gone from 6,000 uniques and 15,000 page views to 13,000 uniques and 64,000 page views!
(For the record I still have troubling believe this.)
Honestly though I’m happiest that I’ve managed to connect with such a great group of readers, regular commenters and real-life friends- you guys are really the best. Your support, particularly on more emotional posts, means the world to me.
I started this blog with four main goals: to improve writing and photography, make friends, earn a living and secure freelancing jobs. Four for four, I guess!
And just for the sake of strolling down memory lane, here’s are some of my favorite posts from the last 12 months.
Most useful: How to DIY A Budget Yoga Retreat in Bali, How to Start a Successful Travel Blog, How to Plan an Inexpensive but Awesome Trip Abroad
Most confession-y: Back Home, But What Next?, Why Working As a Digital Nomad is Not For Me, And Then Everything Changed in Vietnam, Why I Honestly Came to Bali
Best photos: Carnevale in Venice, In Awe of the Temples of Angkor, Magnificent Macau
Most adventurous: Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam, Paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland, Climbing Mount Batur, Bali’s Most Active Volcano Best Food Porn:
My Top Eats in Singapore, Authentic Thai, A Very Tasty Guide to Vietnamese Food
My personal favorites: Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan, What I Miss About Bali, A DIY Trip Down to the Mekong Delta, Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go, What I Miss (and Don’t Miss) About Living in France
And even though I’m ready to be a bit more settled, I’m still really excited to see where this blog takes me. Thank you guys for coming all for the ride.
So now I’d love to hear from you! What would you like to see more/less of on Ashley Abroad?
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?”
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.
During my four-month trip to Asia, I worked remotely as a freelance writer and blogger, earning the bulk of my income from freelance writing.
While I worked several freelance writing jobs, my main gig was as a Category Expert for Answers.com. Commissioned to write between 10 and 20 articles each month, I hustled hard to reach my monthly quota. Some months I would churn out one or two articles a day, other months I would ignore my workload for weeks and then lock myself in a hotel room for 72 hours, stopping only to eat, sleep and shower.
Over time I came to resent the weight of my laptop- the physical weight, as well as the emotional weight. The emotional weight manifested itself in a myriad of emotions: the guilt of not working harder, the regret of working so much on the trip of the lifetime and the resentment of knowing I had to work to continue traveling.
And while I loved having a consistent stream of income on the road, working as a digital nomad sucked the fun and excitement out of travel for me. No longer could I disappear for days. No longer could I flit about with few possessions. The pressure to work, work, work began to smother my enjoyment of travel.
Something about being a digital nomad didn’t jive with me but it took me a long time to pinpoint what it was. I finally realized that it’s not the physical discomfort of long-term travel; I can happily live out of a bag, sleep in a $7 hostel and wear the same clothes for months at a time.
What bothers me most about long-term travel is the lack of community. The disconnectedness you feel when you realize you’ll never see anyone in the hostel again, that the main social interactions in your life are drunken make-outs and two-day friendships.
Working on the road taught me I don’t want be a digital nomad. In five years I don’t want to be sitting in paradise with a Chang and a laptop, surrounded by strangers. And while that lifestyle works for some people, the idea of such a transitory existence fills me with dread.
In Asia I learned all of the beautiful surroundings in the world will never make up for what really matters in life- relationships with other people. While I’d love to be an expat again, I don’t think a long-term solo trip while working remotely will be in the cards.
Other travel bloggers have touched on the same feeling:
When you are travelling, you are what you are in that moment, your most immediate self. The people you meet see only that version of you, and it’s hard to maintain your wholeness in this fragmented and transitory existence. – Hannah Loaring, Furtherbound
You see, when you’re sick with two kids, in a foreign country, you become aware of how fragile the relationships you have really are. There isn’t anyone to bring me chicken soup or to help Drew watch the kids, or to just stop by and see how we are. - Christine Gilbert, Almost Fearless
So on my big trip to Europe, India and possibly Asia, I’m not bringing my laptop. I’ll be traveling off of the money I saved while living in Michigan. I’ll be seeing lots of friends and spending as little time as possible as a solo traveler (I hate to say it but I’m really over solo travel for the moment.)
And I’ll be doing long-term travel my way.
I’ve been back from Asia for a month now, living at my parent’s house in Michigan.
I am by far the happiest I’ve ever been at home. Readjusting last time after a long spell abroad was more difficult- I felt listless, bored and irritated with the return of bad habits like snacking and scrolling through Facebook on my phone.
But this year is different. I’m even enjoying winter this year despite the polar vortex‘s best efforts.
This stems from something I learned while studying yoga in Bali- in order to survive a grueling, ninety-minute yoga session, it’s best to be present.
Don’t focus on the clock; suffer through discomfort to achieve your personal best. Don’t compare yourself to others; strive to be present, just you, on your mat.
This mindful little mantra of “staying present” not only applies well to yoga, but also to life in general.
I remember reading about Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea of happiness when I was 16 in her memoir Eat Pray Love. She wrote of “diligent joy”, or the idea that happiness is something you fight for every day.
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort,” she wrote.
Seven years later, I’ve finally realized this is true. And in addition to striving for “diligent joy”, I also strive to practice gratitude, another lesson I learned on my yoga retreat in Bali.
Not in the mood for class?
Be grateful to be practicing yoga in Bali with some of the world’s best instructors.
Be grateful for the crickets that chirp, the soft rain that falls down on the thatched roof, for the lush greenery.
Be so, so grateful that you have been given this opportunity to be here.
And along with a great tan, I’ve tried to take that lesson of practicing gratitude home with me.
Be grateful for the snow. Be grateful to be sitting fireside with a glass of pinot noir and an addictive TV show.
Be grateful for a winter walk with a friend, watching my little dog trip over snow-banks.
Be grateful for Starbucks dates with my sweet little sister.
And in accordance with my new year’s resolutions I’m making an effort to see my friends more. As my fellow Instagram addicts may know I spent last weekend in Chicago in a flurry of dinner parties, craft beer at the bar and catching up with friends. It was wonderful.
I’ll write about this soon, but I’ve realized my priorities have changed; I now know I need a community, a group of friends, people who I know and love and care about.
Along with many other lessons, Asia taught me long-term nomadic life is not for me.
I guess what it all boils down to is this; I’m really happy and I’d like to stay that way.
Wow, 2013. What a year. To be honest this resolution post has changed so many times I wasn’t even sure I should publish it. So many things I thought I wanted to achieve: becoming a certified translator, attaining professional fluency in French, moving to San Francisco, I have crossed off the list to make way for other goals.
To be honest, and this is strange to admit on a travel blog, I’m perfectly content at home and the idea of travel does not appeal to me in the slightest right now. (Ask me again in another two weeks and I might have a completely different answer, mind you.) (more…)
So for 2014 I’ve come up with four points I’d like to focus on in the new year: career, health, spirituality and friends and family.
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.
To be honest I’ve put my dreams of becoming a freelance writer on hold for now; this would take a while to explain, but essentially in this day and age it’s so hard to be paid fairly in a world where information is largely free (thanks, internet).
And I’ve learned I’m the kind of person who needs a certain level of stability in her life- four months in Asia taught me I’ll never be a full-time nomad. I learned that I’m much more of an expat than a backpacker- constant travel burns me out and ironically extinguishes my love for travel.
Health: My time in Bali was such a blessing as it gave me the chance to get back in shape, both mentally and physically. It also gave me a newfound and surprising love for yoga (surprising mainly because I used to be the most inflexible and imbalanced person on earth) and a desire to continue working on my 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!
Spirituality: Bali also sparked something in me that I’m still struggling to understand, but all I know is that I have a drive to integrate spirituality into my life. 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.
Friends and Family: In 2013 I learned that my happiness plummets when I’m not around friends and family for an extended person of time. So in 2014 I want to spend a lot more time with loved ones who are spread out across the globe. 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.
Not that that’s out of the way, how did I do in 2013?
Well here the goals I set at the beginning of 2013, a progress report midway through the year, one final recap of those goals I set.
And I’m pleased to say that overall I did pretty well actually!
1. Learn fluent French.
3/4 Check. I’d say I’m conversational and would need to go back to become fully fluent. Still, I made a lot of progress.
2. Get back in shape.
I am so much happier when I am in shape and so in 2013 I need to work out often and eat cleanly.
Check! Though I still would like to tone up and lose a little more weight I’m feeling a lot better.
3. Build this blog.
I want to continue to build this blog to become not only a way to make connections with other bloggers and travelers but also to become a source of income. My measurable goal is a PR of 3 and $500 a month by June so that I can use some of the money to take that long-awaited trip to Southeast Asia.
Check! This blog has truly become something I see myself maintaining long-term… thank you so much guys for reading!
My current goal is to have a travel piece published at least once a month.
Eh, sort of. While I have a great job as a French Category Expert with Answers.com that keeps me traveling I didn’t get my work out in 2013 as much as I had hoped. But I did have an article about Peranakan cuisine published The Culture-ist and had interviews and articles featured on lots of other blogs and travel websites – see my featured page.
Overall 2013 left me disheartened about freelance writing altogether. Read this New York Times’ article for more info.
What are your goals for 2014? I’d love to hear so comment below!
Ah, France. The country that I called home for nearly a year. The land I tearfully left almost four months ago. There was so much about living in France that was lovely; I particularly miss all the French goodies that are difficult to procure here in Asia, like wine, cheese and bread. (Don’t even get me started on cheese.)
But life in France wasn’t all macarons and Matisse; there were certainly downsides to living in baguette-land. Without further ado…
What I miss:
Weekend Trips around Europe.
From top left clockwise: a snowy December day in Cologne, Germany, the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, a picturesque square in Colmar, France, and red phone booths in London.
In Europe you can visit surrounding countries with relative ease, and I love how such a remarkable range of linguistic and cultural diversity exists within such a relatively small space.
During my time in Paris I made time to visit an apple farm in the north of France, Christmas markets in Cologne, the magnificent mosques in Istanbul, London‘s quirky neighborhoods, and the medieval cities of Alsace.
While living an hour and a half from Paris was definitely a pain in the cul, I couldn’t help but love my beautiful 10th century town. Boasting a château, an enviable market and lots of winding, medieval streets, Saint-Germain-en-Laye was always a breath of fresh air from Paris’ fast pace.
During my time in France my command of the French language drastically improved (meaning I could kind of talk at the end, versus knowing not a single mot at the beginning). I personally think French is the world’s most beautiful language – I still adore the sound of it.
Hot Chocolate at Paul’s.
Because there’s nothing better on a chilly winter day than a mug full of melted dark chocolate.
The Art Scene.
I love how Parisians are so incredibly nonchalant about art- they just love it, duh. I’ll never forget asking a French guy I was seeing at the time what he was up to on a lazy Sunday. “I’m at the new exhibition at the Grand Palais with some friends. You?”
I’m sorry, but an American guy would just never say that.
There are so many incredible museums in Paris and they’re always hosting fascinating exhibitions (my personal favorites are the Grand Palais and Pompidou). I doubt there’s another city in the world that’s quite as art-obsessed as Paris.
Still-warm baguettes, apple tarts in fall, super-fresh butter lettuce, tiny magenta radishes dipped in salt, a decadent cheese course after Sunday lunch, a Staub Dutch oven filled to the brim with choucroute garnie… I miss cooking French food so much.
Choucroute garnie: my favorite winter dish ever.
My daily breakfast: toasted pain de campagne with goat cheese and creamy Fjord yogurt with raspberry jam.
Roast chicken thighs with rosemary… served bone-in, skin-on, of course.
Making crêpes at home- I always made my dessert crêpe with peanut butter and jelly. You can take the girl out of America but you can’t take America out of the girl.
And I don’t just miss home-cooked food actually. I just miss all of France’s amazing food.
Confession? I think I miss goat cheese the most.
Clockwise from left: pistachio and cream gelato from Pozzetto, tarte flambée in Alsace, GOAT CHEESE and bavette aux échalotes with fries and a glass of red wine. Heaven.
The Postcard-worthy Among the Commonplace.
This was one of my best friend’s metro stop. No big deal.
Learning about daily life.
I loved spending a year in France because I passed through all the seasons; from the first dusting on snow atop the ivory Sacré-Cœur to the verdant bloom of the Seine’s banks in summer.
I was also present for every holiday (except Christmas), and by living with a French family I celebrated them all à la française.
Galettes des rois in the bakery window for La fête des Rois, King’s Day in January.
Lily-of-the-valley for sale on May 1, French labor day.
Wine-heavy dinner parties, nights out in Paris that ended at 7 a.m., house parties in Le Marais, afternoon tea at friend’s apartment, drinking cider on the banks of the Seine in summer, Thursday morning runs in the forest, picnics in the park… so, so many good times with such great people.
What I Don’t Miss:
The whole “c’est la vie”, deal with it, attitude got old quickly. As did the dog shit everywhere.
And I’ll just say it – sometimes Parisians can be downright rude, especially in customer service situations. My one visit to the American embassy in Paris reminded me of all of this, which was efficient, 15 minutes long and incredibly pleasant. Sigh.
It’s no secret that France, and especially Paris, is very expensive. Here are a few examples of the exorbitant prices:
€68 for 8 items of dry-cleaning.
€2.80 for the smallest water bottle at McDONALDS.
€5.80 for 25 centiliters of beer (a small glass, fyi).
None of this is okay. None of it at all.
While in France I earned €125 a week and was saving up for a trip to Asia. Meaning I had to pinch my pennies the entire time and cut my hair in the sink. Yay.
The Crappy Coffee.
Contrary to common belief, French coffee is awful. It’s always, always burnt (unless you go to an Italian-run café or a hipster spot like Coutume) and the baristas re-use the grinds. Unless you order your coffee with steamed milk, it’s pretty terrible.
Having To Look Good All The Time.
Hungover on a Sunday and needing Advil from the pharmacy? Don’t even think about walking there in a hoodie and sweatpants. But if you just can’t be bothered to gussy yourself up, brace yourself for steely glares.
Waking Up To This.
With a note instructing me to clean it. My life was like Downtown Abbey, except that I lived in the basement.
Confession again – for the entire time I was in Paris I bought child tickets on the commuter train and metro. (Sorry, the adult price was €8 round-trip! Like I’m going to pay that four times a week.) So on more than one occasion I was caught by the RATP, the subway police who incited terror in our hearts and fined us.
It’s still a small point of pride that I managed to convince them to let me off the hook every single time. Win.
What do you love/hate about France? Have you ever lived there?
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If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Asia and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook.
It’s no secret that I was unhappy for the first month or so of my Asia trip.
Okay fine. I was inexplicably miserable for the first month of my trip. I descended into a dark place where I battled depression, anxiety and an overall despair for the future. For a while I seriously considering flying home. (How anyone could have a near mental collapse in a tropical paradise is beyond me, but here I am.)
And similarly, it’s no secret that I partied a lot in Thailand and Cambodia. And countless pints of beer, excessive sun and lack of sleep and exercise do not do your health any favors.
While I turned a mental health corner in Koh Rong due to some much-needed alone time as well as tremendous support from friends and family back home via Skype (love you guys!), and have felt so much better ever since, I still wasn’t feeling 100%.
I came to Bali because I was in rough shape, both physically and mentally. I specifically ventured inland to Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali, to reboot and recharge. And I have to say - I couldn’t have picked a better place for a retreat.
From the verdant rice paddies and intricate Hindu sculptures to the streets strewn with yellow frangipani, I feel like I’ve stumbled into an exotic, macaque-addled dream world.
The Balinese leave daily offerings on the street to honor the gods – palm baskets carefully filled with rice, flowers, cookies and incense. It’s a beautiful gesture of gratitude, and Ubud feels like such an inherently spiritual place.
But of course, it’s not perfect – there are tons of fellow tourists clogging the streets, as well as relentless vendors in the street hawking wares and services. You want taxi?
Bali’s also a bit pricey compared to the rest of Southeast Asia – right now I’m paying $15 a night for a shoddy private room as well as $5-10 per meal, which are expenses that are adding up quickly.
But it’s so worth it. Ubud is exactly what I need.
One of my goals at 23 is to get in the best shape of my life, and I’m trying to do just that.
I attend yoga and pilates daily, and consume a diet of leafy salads, smoothies and grilled meats. And I’m attempting to cut out alcohol and white flours. (Okay, I slipped and had a glass of white wine last night. I’m sorry.)
Also I’m loving my classes at the Yoga Barn. Though unfortunately they don’t offer bikram yoga (hot yoga), they have a fascinating list of classes I can’t wait to try like acro yoga (partner yoga), sound meditation healing and capoeira.
I’m also catching up on freelance work as well as getting way ahead as I have a jam-packed month ahead in December: a few weeks of diving on Gili Trawangan, and then precious time with family and friends back home over the holidays.
But I have to admit – I’m a bit lonely. As much as I’m very over sleeping in noisy hostel dorms, I miss the camaraderie of my fellow travelers. Sheesh, am I ever happy? When I’m with a big group I need alone time, when I’m alone I crave company. Ugh.
I have a lot of work to do in the next ten days, but I’m here, I’m working on myself, and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. And if in ten days I have made strides in making meditation a part of my life, finding a balance between freelancing and travel and slowing down my monkey brain (oh, and if I’ve become slightly bendier), I’ll be pleased.
Have you ever created a retreat for yourself? Where was it?
Note – I was not perked or paid by Yoga Barn for this mention – I’m just very happy with them and wanted to share with all that might be interested in practicing yoga in Bali!
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If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Asia and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook.
This post is a little departure from my normal posts-I wanted to record what I felt on my first night in Asia, as well as reflect on the difference between what I had expected and what it was actually like.
It’s dark and I’m sitting in the passenger seat on the wrong side of the car. I see statues on the side of the road, wooden and grouped together in threes.
“What are those statues on the side of the road?” I ask the driver and hostel owner.
“Terracotta statues. You know like in China. 2,000 years old.”
“Are these ones that old?”
The hostel owner chuckles. “No! These are made from the earth. How can they be so old?”
I laugh softly at my silly mistake. Maybe being in Japan is less like being culture-shocked, and more like being a child again. I look out the window and see the same stars in the night sky as I see back home: the three straight dots of Orion’s belt, the swoop of big dipper’s cup.
We arrive at the hostel. I walk upstairs to my room and see my bed is a mat on the floor.
“Oh. Is it normal to sleep on the floor?” I ask my Korean roommate laying on the next bed, her face aglow in the light of an iPhone.
She smiles. “Yes, that is the Asian way.”
I settle down onto my mat, and arrange my things by my feet. I feel the cool breeze coming in my window, and hear the sound of cars rushing on the highway, the summery sound of chirping crickets. Maybe I’m not so far from home after all.
As I try to fall asleep, I repeat my reality like a mantra. “I’m in a hostel in the middle of the Japanese countryside. I’m in Asia.” It feels too surreal to be true.
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Asia in so many ways has surprised me. Each of the countries I have visited so far, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand have been so incredibly different. From the absolute silence in the streets of Japan to the bright lights and chaos of Hong Kong to the laid-back, beachside life of southern Thailand, I’ve realized first-hand just how varied Asia really is.
The squalor of Thailand surprised me at first- after reading countless blog posts about the country I had foolishly anticipated a Gaugin-esque, palm-tree paradise. I hadn’t imagined the snarl of telephone wires, the omnipresent 7-11s, the flea-bitten stray dogs.
But finally, finally after weeks of food poisoning and near-constant anxiety for the journey ahead I feel at peace. I’ve spent a happy week on Koh Tao, filled with sweaty mornings fighting Muay Thai, quiet nights in the bungalow and productive afternoons spent working on freelance and blog work.
One thing I hate about being in Asia is that I feel like I’m not connecting with anyone who lives here. Which makes sense- I don’t speak Japanese, Cantonese or Thai. And if there’s a considerable language barrier, how will you ever be able to connect with the locals in any real way? I don’t know what it looks like inside of a Thai home or what the perception of ladyboys is or how Thais feel about their neighboring countries. I don’t really know anything about Thailand at all.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself as a traveler over the past eight years it’s that it’s not enough for me to jump off rocks and look at temples- what fascinates me most about travel is speaking other languages and gaining the perspective of people who live there.
But we’ll see- all I know is that Asia has plenty of surprises in store for me yet.
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What were you thoughts when you got to Asia for the first time?
While our first stop in Thailand was Phuket, my travel buddy and I were not enticed by the built-up and pricey peninsula. So 14 hours after arriving in Phuket we headed for nearby Krabi- and wow, am I so glad we left.
The beautiful road to my hostel
The Ao Nang hostel we chose was among the best hostels of my life. From the speedy wifi to the open-air, banana-stocked common room it was the perfect place to throw myself into my work. And work I did: After a slow summer of blogging I had to play a lot of catch-up, as well as tackle a hefty workload with my French Category Expert job for Answers.com.
As of this month I am making enough money to support myself on my travels (as long as I travel somewhere inexpensive), and it makes me really proud to say that. But between 20 articles a month for Answers and 4 posts a week on Ashley Abroad, I don’t think I’ve ever typed this much.
Krabi is the perfect place to work- I’m now a serious fan of Krabi holidays. But a part of me feels guilty- why did I come all the way to Thailand to sit around and work 12-hour days on my laptop? I’m realizing more and more that the go-go-go pace of my younger years will be impossible to maintain on this trip. I’ll need to travel slower, stay places longer and will be at the mercy of fast wifi connections.
And while there are certainly some downsides to the digital nomad lifestyle, there are so many pluses. All I can do now is work hard and enjoy life in Thailand- there are worse things than rewarding a long day of work with a $6 massage or a couple of Chang beers. I’ve got money and time and all of Asia to explore- so slow is the way I will go.
Have you ever worked as a digital nomad? Do you have any tips for me going forward?
In my short 23 years, I’ve spent a decent amount of time abroad. There was the summer I spent in Ecuador at 15, the five, choripán-filled months studying in Argentina, the three blissful summers in college I spent au pairing in France, the many trips down to Chile to see my then-boyfriend. But no stay abroad was as long as my recent year-long stay in France. So naturally, I figured that coming home to the states would be different this time.
But I have a confession- it’s not weird being home. Like not weird at all. Maybe it’s because both France and the states feel like home at this point, or maybe it’s because I’m used to the cross-continent shuffle that has become my life.
But being home just feels like… well, being home. It’s the same leafy, oak-lined streets, the welcome-home meal of hummus with lamb tips, the lazy weeks spent reading in lounge chairs and taking sunset cruises at my lake-house. In short, coming home hasn’t been a shock. I slipped right back into my old life so easily it was almost as if I had never left. My time in Paris almost feels like a dream, a surreal, summery haze of sipping cider on the Seine and walking home past castles and linden trees.
Is there anything better than sleeping in your own bed after a year away from home?
But there are a few differences this time, particularly in regard to my palate. I find that most food now tastes flavorless, but yet is too salty or two sweet. Even my favorite salsa now tastes way too sugary, and it makes me wonder about how much sugar is in even savory foods in the United States. After tasting a Ghiradelli brownie, a sweet treat I used to love, I found it cloyingly sugary. I wondered to myself, “Did I really used to like these?”
I’m also having trouble relaxing- after months of near-constant stimulation and staying up until seven a.m. on weekends, I’m struggling to enjoy my summer by the lake like I usually do. (Which is a shame because it is amazing here!) I also find many of my old bad habits are slowly come back- surfing the web idly on my phone or sneaking spoonfuls of peanut butter in the pantry. Even though I should be thrilled to be home, some days I feel listless and unhappy.
But despite a few setbacks, I’m trying to enjoy this time with my family and friends because it will be gone too soon. In two weeks I make my way to L.A., and a week after that I fly to a region I’ve been dreaming about for years- Asia.
What has surprised you about coming home after a long time away?