Traipsing Round The Globe: Month 1

Traipsing Round The Globe: Month 1

Um, so remember when I said I was done blogging for a while? Well, I couldn’t resist sharing a monthly update of my trip! This is a real time update that covers the last 40 days. (My trip started February 20 so I figured I’d squeeze that bit in with March!)

I’ve spent the last five weeks in Europe. In short, Europe feels a lot less, well, thrilling after going to Asia. In fact, traveling here hardly feels like traveling at all; it more feels like a heightened and happier version of everyday life. I’ve spent the last five weeks wandering about in a happy daze, visiting friends, enjoying near daily doses of sunshine (weird right?) and picnicking in parks. And of course, I threw in a few random adventures like skiing in Switzerland and road-tripping to Wales with a bunch of British guys. As you do.

Venice

In short, everything has been delightfully familiar and I’ve felt so, so happy. Also, after many -20 degree Michigan days, I’ve been extra grateful for the balmy spring weather in Europe.

 

Where I’ve been:

NYC (2 days)

London (2 days)

Venice (5 days)

Switzerland (9 days)

London again! (2 weeks)

North of England (4 days, during my stay in London)

Wales (3 days)

Madrid (4 days)

Paris (3 days and counting!)

 

Highs

Madrid Club

Seeing so many friends! I kicked off the trip with my college roommate/best friend, Alyssa (we had a ridiculously good time, needless to say.) I followed that up with seeing Edna and the Googlers in Venice, a German family friend in Switzerland, Amanda and my little brother Andrew in London, English friends in the north of England, blogger friends in Madrid and French, English and American friends in Paris. And thanks to their hospitality I only had to pay for seven nights accomodation out of six weeks!

Couchsurfing in London with a house full of Spaniards was ridiculously fun. We had several house parties in which we barbecued, made tortilla de patatas,  drank vino and listened to Galician music. Plus, I got to speak Spanish for about three days straight!

Venice canal

Carnevale in Venice. While carnevale itself was a bit of a let-down (basically Venetian carnevale is  occassionally seeing old people in costumes walk by, not quite the debaucherous outdoor masquerade I had envisioned) I got to spend a week in beautiful, canalside townhouse with an incredible group of American expats. So. Much. Fun.

skiing Switzerland

Skiing in Switzerland. I grew up skiing every weekend and raced in middle and high school; Needless to say, skiing is my favorite sport. Also due to watching Warren Miller movies as a child I’ve been dying to ski in Switzerland; so, life made.

Hyde Park

Spring in London. I spent a few weeks in London feeling the happiest I’ve felt in ages. I simply enjoyed the blooming flowers, leisurely picnics in the park and many, many food markets with Amanda (p.s. if Amanda ever gives you a food recommendation PLEASE take it. Girl knows what she’s talking about.)

Wales

Road-tripping to the North of England and Wales. I headed up to the north of England to see Lauren, one of my good English friends who also worked as an au pair in Paris. What was supposed to be a weekend turned into an entire week in which we road-tripped to York and Wales with a car-full of new English friends who share a love for the Arctic Monkeys and seaside Welsh towns. Sometimes it really is best to just ditch the return ticket and go with the flow.

 Meeting Awesome Blogger Friends in Madrid. One of my favorite things about blogging is meeting other bloggers. And honestly, I couldn’t have enjoyed the company of my Madrid roommates, Amanda, Julika and Jessica more. During our long-weekend in Madrid, during which we stayed in an adorable, travel-themed apartment provided by Go with Oh, we partied at Kapital, ate metric tons of Spanish ham and basically all became best friends.

Spring Paris

Returning to my beloved Paris. What can I say? There’s nothing better than spring in Paris. And there’s also nothing better than seeing some of your best friends after almost a year. In Paris I’ve been staying with a Parisian guy-friend who has been forcing me to speak French (ha) as well as allowing me to stay in his swanky apartment in Puteaux. It’s been so good to revisit my second home- and I still have four more days to enjoy it!

Lows

I won’t lie- there weren’t many lows. But no trip is perfect, so here goes:

In a last-minute packing mishap I forgot a lot of stuff, including my brand new Tieks! I’ve really got to pack more than three hours before leaving.

Um, my four days of solo travel in Switzerland kind of sucked. First of all, I currently hate solo travel and secondly I spent an absolutely fortune. Literally thinking about the money I spent in Switzerland makes me sick: a $60 hostel bunk I have to make myself, a $7 crappy salad at the grocery store. If you want to ski the Alps, head to France or Austria. Your credit card statement will thank you.

Not having a computer was equally a blessing and a pain the ass. I probably needed time away from the screen but running a blog remotely was not the best.

Gaining approximately 8 billion pounds. Um, all I have to say on that (rather hefty) front is THANK GOD for India.

And finally I have no idea what I’m doing after India so I’ve been freaking out about that. Does anyone have any suggestions on what to do in June and July?

Favorite shot

  East End Street Art

How cute is this octo-phant by Alexis Diaz? I loved exploring London’s East End for both the incredible eats as well as the incredible street art. Honestly if I ever move to London (which I’d love to do) I think I’d settle in the East End.

As you may have noticed all of these shots are from Instagram! I’d love to be friends there so here’s a link to my account: @ashleyhfleck. And yes, I just changed the name to keep things consistent with Twitter!

20 Signs You’ve Been in Southeast Asia Too Long

20 Signs You’ve Been in Southeast Asia Too Long

Use Grammarly for proofreading because typos are for dirty backpackers. Ha.

You’ve been in Southeast Asia too long when…

Chang starts to taste good. And Singha tastes even better.

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You no longer flinch when you jump into an ice-cold shower.

You consider $2 to be an outrageous price to pay for a beer.

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You haven’t had a massage in two weeks and that feels like a really long time.

You’ve had your clothes and wallet stolen when skinny-dipping.

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You carry a huge bottle of water wherever you go.

It seems completely normal to take off your flip flops before entering a building.

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You refer to tank tops as singlets and mopeds as motorbikes.

You’re starting to get an English accent because 70% of the people you meet are from England. You also use expressions like “taking the piss” and “I can’t be asked.”

You have survived at least one border crossing.

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You have scars all over your legs from scrapes and mosquito bites.

You have to throw out all your make-up because you’re too tan.

You’ve stayed at a hostel with bedbugs.

5 pints of beer no longer makes you tipsy.

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You’re definitely templed out.

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You’re a pro at using squat toilets…

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…And you throw toilet paper away in the trash without even thinking.

You own more than one pair of hippy pants.

You can get a good night’s rest on an overnight bus.

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You’re emotionally attached to your backpack.

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And even though you have to sleep here…

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You get to eat here.

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And party here.

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And lay out here.

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So life is pretty damn great.

Have you ever backpacked Southeast Asia?

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Why Working as a Digital Nomad is Not for Me

Why Working as a Digital Nomad is Not for Me

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.

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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.

Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan

Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan

After my three-week yoga retreat in land-locked Ubud, I was craving ocean air. So I booked a ferry ticket to Gili Trawangan, a tiny, teardrop-shaped island off the coast of Lombok.

Though Gili Trawangan (or as it is locally known, Gili T) is geographically close to Bali, culturally it’s worlds away: most of the islanders are from nearby Lombok, a predominantly Muslim island that speaks Sasak, not Balinese.

Gili Trawangan in a word is utterly, stupidly beautiful. The first time I stood on the beach and looked out at the tourmaline waters and backdrop of sharp, navy blue mountains, I couldn’t believe my luck; my last week in Asia would be spent here?

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During my week on Gili T I carved out a blissful routine; waking up to a banana pancake breakfast, riding my bike around the island’s sandy main road, snorkeling with sea turtles, sipping a Bintang with my toes in the sand.

There were so many moments that had me longing for my camera: a girl riding a lime green bike on a path strewn with magenta flower petals, a man washing his horse in the ocean with a cone-tipped island behind him.

But it was good to take a break from photography, from documenting every moment; it was healthy to just be. Sometimes it starts to feel like everything I do is for this blog. When I travel I spend my days writing posts in my head, snapping photos and imagining how they’ll be formatted on a web page.

On Gili I just soaked it in; dodging horse-carts and kinky-tailed cats on my bike (there are no cars or dogs on the island!), waking up to the call of prayer at the mosque, savoring my daily slice of homemade banana coconut bread, the juice of a freshly sliced mango.

I also found a few new ways to stay active- stand-up paddle boarding. It’s a low-key workout that let me slip into a near meditative trance; I found such joy paddling around and staring at the clear water and reefs below me.

Aside from reveling in the island’s backpacker nightlife (a much-needed escape from my ascetic existence in Ubud), here is what I got up to on Gili T.

Scuba-diving with Sharks and Sea Turtles

No visit to Gili Trawangan would be complete with a bit of diving- I splurged on two dives during my week-long visit. The diving on Gili is truly exceptional, and as my dive instructor put it, “Gili T makes Koh Tao look like a swimming pool.”  

On the first dive I tried deep-water diving for the first time and descended to 30 meters (nearly 100 feet), and after a slight mask-clearing panic I saw my first lion fish at Haliks. The instructor showed us a few deep-water diving tricks: how red becomes purple at 30m underwater (i.e. a red coke can looks like a cherry coke), and how when you break an egg the yolk stays together and you can toss it around like a volleyball.

On my second dive at 18 meters (60 feet) at Shark Point I spotted lots of sea life: a baby reef shark swimming inside a cave, four sea turtles and one enormous sea turtle that was about the size of Blastoise. (Props if you understand that reference.)

Indonesian Cooking Class

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On account of my growing love of Indonesian food (which may strongly involve peanut sauce), I signed up for a cooking class at Sweet & Spicy Gili Cooking School.

On the menu?

Gado gado with peanut sauce, nasi goreng, steamed fish in a banana leaf, curried chicken and pandan balls rolled in coconut. Gili LR1

After the class we got to feast on all the food we made! The cooking class was the perfect activity for a rainy afternoon, and I definitely plan on recreating that addictive, spicy peanut sauce at home.

Price: about 350,000 IDR, $28 USD

Night Market

The best place to have dinner on Gili T is the local night market. Frequented by both locals and backpackers, the night market serves up tons of Indonesian delicacies on the cheap. I was so annoyed I discovered it on my second to last night!

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 Satay skewers: I loved the squid, beef and chicken. They give you a paper cone of peanut sauce to accompany your satay too!

I ventured there with a big group from the hostel and munched on satay with peanut sauce and grilled red snapper with spicy sambal. It was so much fun to have dinner with a big group, sitting around a picnic table and drinking beer for hours. Gili LR2

Left to right clockwise: three types of satay (chicken, beef, fish) soto ayam (chicken soup), grilled red snapper with sambal. 

 Sunset Bar

On my last night in Gili I rode my bike with some hostel roommates to Paradise Sunset Bar to watch the sunset. While the cloudy sky made for a lackluster sunset, we still got to enjoy a couple of Bintangs in a picture-perfect setting.

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All in all my week in Gili T was so special and I think back to my stay on this tiny island all the time.

Practical Info:

Party nights on Gili T are Weds. and Sat. Irish Bar is particularly fun for dancing!

Where I Stayed: Gili Hostel. I don’t know if I can recommend this place- when I was there the bathrooms were so filthy it was hard to breath and the beds were fumigated due to a bed bug infestation. But the rooms are large and the upstairs lounge has a lively common area.

And the hostel’s right next to the mosque so be prepared to be woken up by the loud, early morning call to prayer.

Also the shower water is brackish so girls, use buckets of leave-in conditioner.

Where to Eat: Night Market!

Where to Dive: I had an amazing experience with Blue Marlin- my Kiwi instructor Mike was amazing so ask for him.

Have you ever ventured to Gili T?

Note: None of the diving or classes I received were comped- I just want to share some great experiences I had with you guys in case you ever make it to Gili T! And you definitely should!

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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 TwitterFacebook or Bloglovin.

Simplifying My Travel Photography Setup

Simplifying My Travel Photography Setup

Confession- I heart photography gear. My shopping cart on Amazon is perpetually filled with camera gear I desire (and can’t afford), and DP Review is kind of like my virtual candy store.

Normally when I travel I bring an SLR, a point and shoot, a smart phone and a whole bunch of tech gear. But no longer!

These days, as smart phones are endowed with such impressive photography skills, there’s really no point in a point and shoot. This year on my big trip to Europe I’m taking along only my SLR and iPhone. (more…)

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My new set-up!

One weak spot in my camera set up is that I don’t have an underwater camera- I’d love, love the GoPro HERO3+:Black Edition but can’t really justify the $400 price tag.

(Also my little brother said, “Why do you need a GoPro? You can’t even do any cool tricks.”) Ouch, little bro.

iPhone 5s

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Instagrams of my snowy life in Michigan… all courtesy of my new iPhone 5S!

 I upgraded to an iPhone 5S from an iPhone 4 this Christmas and am so impressed with its photographic capabilities. Now I actually enjoy using Instagram!

Photo editing apps really amp up iPhoneography- I’m particularly a fan of Snapseed.

In Europe I’ll use my iPhone on days when I don’t feel like lugging my SLR around and for nights out.

Accessories: Case and screen cover

Favorite camera apps: Snapseed, A Beautiful Mess, Afterlight

 

Canon EOS Rebel T2i with Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens

While someday I’d love to upgrade to a full-frame SLR like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III for now I’m more than happy with my Canon EOS Rebel T2i. Plus, it’s way lighter than the Mark III.

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I love my new lens’ bokeh!

And after my beloved Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 started malfunctioning in Asia (I accidentally bumped it into a tiled wall, ugh) I upgraded to its big brother, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4.

I absolutely adore this lens. It takes such crisp, quality images with the creamiest bokeh (that’s photog-speak for a blurry background)- I can’t wait to try it out in Europe. Thanks Candace Rardon for the recommendation!

The only problem is that it’s a 50mm so I can’t capture wide shots. For wider shots I use the Canon kit lens, the Canon EF-S 18-55. While I’m not a huge fan of this lens, I can’t afford an upgrade right now. Someday.

Accessories: extra battery, LCD screen protector, camera bag

 

BlackRapid Metro Camera Strap

I love this accessory so much I had to write a whole blurb about it. Anyone who uses an SLR NEEDS to get this strap.

While a normal camera strap goes around your neck, resulting in neck soreness and limited motion, the BlackRapid Metro Camera Strap goes across your body and allows you to access the camera in a fluid swinging motion, much like a rifle strap.

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Me demonstrating how the strap works. Putting these pics on the internet is proof of how much I love you guys!

I will never, ever go back to a regular camera strap.

 

Editing Programs

Photo editing goes such a long way. Last year I invested in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 when it was on sale for $100 and I LOVE it. While the learning curve is steep, once you get the hang out it it’s a cinch. And the editing capabilities are worlds away from Picasa, the photo editing program I used for years.

And I actually do still use Picasa for organizational purposes. With Picasa I can quickly access my photos in an easy to use format (Lightroom can be confusing for organization because photos seem to “disappear” easily.)

Take a look at the magic of Lightroom:

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Before

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After!

Photo Backup

I have lost so many photos in the past because I never backed up. Don’t make that mistake!

I use Time Machine on my Mac to back up my entire computer, and I bring an external hard drive when I travel. I also have another external hard drive at home just in case I lose the other one traveling.

One thing I probably should start doing is cloud backup- though some places I travel to, like Southeast Asia, don’t usually have fast enough wifi for that.

What’s your travel photography setup like? I’d love to know!

Note: None of the companies listed paid or perked me in any way for mentioning them. And the Amazon links above are affiliate links for which I will get a small commission. Thanks for supporting Ashley Abroad!

Climbing Mount Batur, Bali’s Most Active Volcano

Climbing Mount Batur, Bali’s Most Active Volcano

On my last week in Bali, I decided I needed to break up my serene yoga and coconut water routine with something a bit more… adventurous. So I signed myself up for an early morning trek to Mount Batur, Bali’s most active volcano.

When my alarm jolted me awake at 2 a.m. (the earliest alarm I’ve ever set), I wondered if I really need to incorporate “adventurous” activities into my Bali itinerary.

Nevertheless I piled into the van with my fellow trekkers and drove to a nearby coffee plantation for a tea and coffee tasting and a banana pancake breakfast. After my 2 a.m. wake-up call the coffee was quite welcomed.

In pitch blackness, we started out the trek on flat ground. Rocking out to Grizmatik and SBTRKT, I led the group thinking, “This is easy! Why don’t I do this more often?” My false confidence began to soar as I fantasized about my next climbs: Macchu Picchu, Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, Mount Rinjani on nearby Lombok… if this was so easy, then why not?

As my loaner flashlight started shorting out I wished I had brought a headlight. And as the incline became agonizingly steep I wished I was warm in my bed.

When I removed my headphones I realized how hard I was panting- yoga clearly hadn’t been enough cardio prep for this volcanic excursion. I took a moment to catch my breath and let everyone pass me- I don’t know about you guys but I find it stressful to worry about people behind me getting fed up with my slow-pokiness.

Thankfully, our sweet guide noticed I was struggling and offered to carry my backpack. Relieved of my heavy dSLR and water bottle, I started to feel a little hopeful. But when I asked the guide how long we had left, he cooly responded, “Only 30 more minutes.”

My internal reaction was along the lines of WHAT????? But fortunately we weren’t heading to the summit of Mount Batur, only to Sunrise Point.

As I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain, I asked my guide how often he climbed Mount Batur.

“Almost every day.”

Jesus.

When we reached Sunrise Point I rejoined my fellow trekkers in a  simple concrete shelter. The far-off mountain was still shrouded in a grey haze, so we sat down and relaxed, awaiting the sunrise. Ubud Trekking LR

Watching the fog roll in, I savored a banana sandwich and hard-boiled egg. Though the sharp-toothed macaques who were leaping around and stealing food made me feel a bit… unsettled.

Confession? I don’t like monkeys. They creep me out.

IMG_1323                                                 It’s like a cross between a rat and a human… 

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Once the golden-rayed sun made its appearance, we took a few shots and headed to the crater, where I snapped my best photos of the day- if I do say so myself. IMG_1332

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Macaques eating the offerings, par for the course on Bali.

And once we returned to the summit my hostel roommate and I staged a mini mountainside photo session. When in Bali…

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On the way back down the mountain I found myself slipping on loose, brittle, igneous rock. Even with the slipping, I much preferred descending the mountain as I felt less like dying and could actually hold a conversation.

We then crawled back into the van and drove home and on the way we saw adorable Balinese schoolchildren from the window. In my dog-tired state I realized they weren’t coming home from school, they were going to school. As so much had already happened that day, it was incredible to me that it was only 10 a.m. Normally I’m barely awake at 10 am.

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And while I was sore for the next few days, my hike to Mount Batur was an untraditional Thanksgiving that left me feeling very, very thankful.

Have you ever climbed a volcano?

I was not paid or perked in any way by Pineh Bali Tours. I would highly recommend their tour as they were super professional, punctual and needless to say had the sweetest guides ever. The trek is 400,000 IDR or about $35, including all transport and food.

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f 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 TwitterFacebook or Bloglovin.