Well, I’m back in America after 5.5 straight months being other places. The last week has been a cyclone of old friends and burritos–two of the things most noticeably absent during my travels. Unsurprisingly, everyone has a lot of questions about my trip. But because talking about myself makes me uncomfortable, I mostly deflect these by pointing across the room and shouting, “Look! Bees!” Then, while my friends are distracted, I escape through a network of secret tunnels. I don’t feel great about this tactic. So as a sort of apology, I’ve created a new FAQ. The next time we hang out, instead of joyously relaying tales from my trip in the great oral tradition, I’ll simply hand you a business card with a QR code that leads to this post.
What was your favorite place?
Nepal. The weather was bleak for much of my trek, but nothing could beat the moment I looked up and saw the top of the tallest mountain on earth through the clouds, as if someone had cleared just enough of a foggy window for me to sneak a peek (or peak). Nothing could beat that, except for maybe the steep 1000 meter climb to get to the view. Nepal starkly contrasted from anywhere I’d been before with its lush green forests, craggy gray peaks and tourist buses that blasted Bhangra music starting at 6 am. Everything felt just a little more difficult, but not in a frustrating way. In a way that reminded me to slow down because getting annoyed wouldn’t fix the problem. I made great friends, shared a cab with a monk and went paragliding. But above all, I loved Nepal because, even though it was my second country, getting there felt like the true start of my trip.
What’s the craziest thing that happened?
I didn’t get sick, injured or robbed. I wasn’t tricked into smuggling drugs across a border by a handsome Australian. I didn’t fall in love with Javier Bardem or find a map to a dystopian beach community. Mostly, my trip was completely devoid of insanity. While horrible for my future as memoirist, this was actually a good thing–except for not falling in love with Javier Bardem. I would have been OK with that.
What country had the best food?
Laotian food sits somewhere between Thai and French on the culinary spectrum, which is not a bad place to be. You get the intense flavors of Thai food plus access to decent baguettes and croissants.
Do you feel like you’ve changed at all?
Sure, I used to only over-pronounce French words. Now I over-pronounce Thai words too. I also start every story by saying, “During my time in Cambodia…”
What was the hardest thing about traveling for that long?
I hate to lift this veil, but long-term travel is not a vacation. Yes, it’s much better than conference calls, spreadsheets, and squeezing in a run at the end of a 12 hour workday. But it is also exhausting. Over the course of five-and-a-half months, the longest I stayed anywhere was ten days. That only happened because I was too tired to even think about re-packing my bag and sitting through another long bus ride.
Long-term travel means you’re always on the go, planning, sleeping in new dorms, repacking and wearing the same two shirts. Eventually almost everyone burns out on the constant movement and stops absorbing the experience. For some, it happens at two weeks, for others two years. It took me about four months to hit the wall and buy my ticket home. While I’ll definitely miss being on the road, I can’t wait to live somewhere for awhile, sleep in my own bed and wear a variety of outfits in non-wicking fabrics.
What did you miss the most?
If I were a better person or a liar, I’d say friends and family. Alas, the truth is, I missed my conditioner. You can find most drug store items, or at least approximations, all over the planet. But finding decent conditioner proved impossible. Between sun, saltwater and my ardent refusal to cut my hair, my ends developed the texture of a Christmas tree in February–and shed just as much.
How did you like traveling alone?
Well, I was almost never alone. For me, the primary benefit of traveling solo was that it made me completely open to meeting new people, including an awesome Canadian lady I traveled with for about six weeks. We’re now lifelong best friends and if she tries to get out of it, I have plenty of intel I can use for blackmail. One word, Heather: monkeys.
I did get a little lonely in Turkey. My biggest mistake was starting the trip staying mostly in private rooms instead of dorms. I had a bad cold and didn’t want to keep everyone up with my Nicole-Kidman-in-Moulin–Rouge-style death rattle. Plus, truth be told, I was nervous. I’d hosteled before and had mostly good experiences, but I was worried that, at 28, I’d be the oldest person there or have trouble making friends. Both of these, as I soon learned, were ridiculous concerns. It turns out people stay in dorms well into their 70s. Also, I am very likable. (Translation: I buy friendships with beer and candy.)
So, what’s next?
Ah, good question. As my dear friend Carrie pointed out in a burst of Oprah-esque wisdom, this is the beginning of the real adventure. While traveling, I always had some idea of what was going to happen. Even those times I showed up to a bus station and picked a destination at random, I knew I’d arrive in a town, find a guest house, explore for a day or two then move on. While I wasn’t bound to a location, there was a pattern to my existence. Now, for the first time maybe ever, I’m not entirely sure what’s on the horizon. It’s a little scary, but so is trying to find a hostel late at night while being trailed by stray dogs. So, what’s next (besides several rounds of rabies shots)? I’m not sure yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.
Below are the bare essentials for trekking in the Everest region in September/October. Even in the high-altitude chill, you probably need less clothing and more tolerance for your own filth than you think. Showers and washing water are pricey above 3000 meters–roughly 400 Rs (4 USD) for a hot shower, and 200 Rs for a tepid tub for washing clothes. Most items on this list can be purchased in Kathmandu on the cheap, so be selective about just how much of your local outdoor store inventory you suck up before heading to Nepal. You adorable gear vampire, you.
One pair of trekking pants. I highly recommend the zip-off kind you swore to Michael Kors you’d never be caught dead in. I wore mine almost every day because I have very little regard for personal hygiene or imaginary oaths sworn to fashion designers. Buy these in Kathmandu’s backpacker haven, Thamel. You’re probably just going to burn them and all photographic evidence of you in them at the end of the trek, so why invest more than $12?
Thermal pants or leggings are great for times you finally decide to wash your ug-o zippy pants. You can also use them for teahouse lounging, as a base layer on cold days, or as part of a Cat Woman costume. If you are a lady, or a man with class, and you want to wear leggings as pants like a Jersey Shore cast member, bring a long shirt to cover your badonkadonk. Yeah, I hate being culturally respectful and modest too. If I could trek in a NASCAR bikini the way God intended, I would.
Two t-shirts (one long enough to hide my legging-clad tukus) and one long sleeve shirt, all made of wicking fabric, were sufficient. I also brought two tank tops but it was too cold to need them after the first day.
Three pairs of travel underwear.
Two sports bras! I brought one, not anticipating the amount of cleavage sweat I’d produce. That’s how I ended up spending an evening wandering around Namche Bazar awkwardly miming ladies’ undergarments to a bunch of baffled male vendors. I was eventually able to buy the world’s ugliest, least supportive bra at a grocery store. So, yeah, bring your bolder holders, ladies. Or be prepared hire an extra porter to carry your boobs.
Two to three pairs of liner socks and two pairs of wool hiking socks. Definitely test them with your boots prior to trekking.
Boots. You are going to be walking from four to nine hours a day. Needless to say, boots are probably the most important item on this list. I wore Salomon Quest 4Ds, and the three boys I trekked with sported similarly hardy foortwear. Before heading out, I was worried I had picked an overly aggressive boot, especially because I run in minimalist shoes. But I’m fully converted and will sing the gospel of a solid sole and good grip to the end of my days. The terrain changes from rocky to muddy to icey, and you will want a boot that can handle it all. While you can hike in low boots, I really appreciated having added ankle support because I’m a chronic roller. My boots also had plenty of toe room for long days of downhill and to allow my feet to swell. No matter what you bring, make sure your shoes are broken in, comfortable and waterproof.
Three jackets: A light fleece, a packable down puffer and a rain jacket. Bring rain gear from home to ensure it’s actually waterproof. The other two jackets can easily and cheaply be purchased in Thamel.
Mittens would have been amazing! They are the item I most regret not bringing. I was much colder than I expected for most of the trek. Thin glove liners didn’t do much on the coldest mornings or on top of high passes. If you have poor circulation like I do, your hands will take a long time and a lot of physical exertion to warm up at altitude.
I picked up an amazing yak wool hat in Kathmandu. It was mostly too hot for the trail but I lived in it each night at freezing cold teahouses. I also packed a baseball cap for sun protection.
A buff or bandana can serve many purposes: sun protection, neck warmer, anti-windburn device, pirate disguise. Buy yours in Thamel.
Trekking poles. Listen, Macho Man Randy Savage. I know you think you’re too cool for poles. Just like you’re too cool for bike helmets, smart phones and ATMs that dispense small bills. Why the hostility towards things that clearly make the world better? Buy a set in Thamel, for roughly $0 (rounding down) and watch your life improve.
A headlamp for nighttime squat toilet adventures and reading once the teahouse power has been cut for the evening.
Two liters worth of water containers. I carried two Nalgenes instead of a Camelback, mostly because they were easier to clean and worked well with our water filters.
A SteriPen is a must if you don’t feel like waiting around for half an hour for iodine tablets to kill all the nasties in your water. Also, it looks like a tiny light saber, which is awesome!
Snacks. There will be days you go six plus hours between teahouses and need to bring your own fuel. If you don’t feel like blowing your budget on $3.00 Twix at teahouses, I suggest you pack cheaper treats from Thamel.
Playing cards and a good book or Kindle. When wifi is available, it’s expensive and slow making it impossible to stalk your ex on Facebook or watch clips from old episodes of So You Think You Can Dance? You’ll need to find non-Internet sources of entertainment. I know. It’s the worst.
Sleeping bag liner and sleeping bag. Buy the liner, rent the bag. My bag, rented in Thamel, cost less than a dollar a day. It was suitable for -10 degrees, but I would have preferred something slightly warmer. At the shop, make sure the bag is clean and the stuff sack closes properly.
Tampons and other lady products. Some teahouses might sell them, but I wouldn’t bank on it. If you’re a Diva Cup devotee, make alternate plans. You won’t have access to running water for a good portion of the trek.
Toiletries and a small first aid kit, including a decent supply of baby wipes. Because did I mention how expensive showers are? Also, BYOTP (toilet paper).
I took the anti-altitude sickness drug Diamox (Acetazolamide) daily starting around 3000 meters. Obviously, I am not a doctor and you in no-way-shape-or-form should blindly trust medical advice I provide. Check with your health care provider before taking anything please. Also, read up on altitude sickness before you start your trek.
Roughly 1500-2000 Rs per day you plan to trek. This should be more than enough to pay for accommodation (100-300 Rs per night) and food (between 100-600 Rs per meal, depending on altitude and what you order). Credit cards are not accepted and the last ATM, in Namche Bazar, might not work. Plan to take out your cash in Kathmandu.
A camera you know how to use because we all know you’re mostly doing this trek to make your friends back home jealous.
If you’re anything like me, planning your Nepal trek is causing you more stress than choosing between two equally neon pairs of running tights! Your endless web queries have led deep down a well, and you’ve finally hit rock bottom–this blog. Don’t worry. I’m here to help. I’ve already done all the Googling for you and prepared this handy dandy FAQ. It includes loads of practical trekking tips gleaned from my two weeks around Khumbu, also known as the Everest region, in late-September of 2013. My route, Three Passes, was similar to the Everest Base Camp trek with a few key distinctions: It’s a loop instead of going out and back; It’s less popular; And, as the name implies, it involves climbing three steep passes, making it more physically challenging. (You can’t see, but I’m flexing in front of a mirror right now.) That said, all the points below apply to both routes and most Nepal trekking.
First things first. Do I need a guide?
That depends on your route, map skills, and past trekking experience. Because my group comprised all trekking newbies and embarked on a less popular route, we found our guide Jami, booked through Green Valley Trekking, indispensable. He handled logistics when we were physically exhausted and our brains were altitude-addled. Additionally, way-marking wasn’t always clear. Jami ably helped us navigate dangerous or hard to spot parts of the trail.
If you’re traveling solo and want to do Three Passes…maybe don’t? Find a group or a guide. If trekking during high season (October-November or March-June) or around Annapurna, it’s purportedly easy enough to meet people on the trail, but September in Khumbu was pretty sparse. We had several days where we didn’t see anyone between teahouse stops. If you’re alone and need help, you could be waiting awhile before it finds you.
Hiring a guide cost us about $25 per day, split four ways. Your group should tip your guide an additional 15-20% at the end of the trek.
What about a porter?
I shared a porter with one of my trekking partners, splitting the $15 per day cost. He and I both carried small day packs with water, rain gear, warm layers, snacks and sunscreen. The other two guys in my group carried their own packs. My decision came down to the difficulty of the trek. Had I done something shorter and less strenuous, I absolutely would have schlepped my own stuff. But I was self-aware enough to realize carrying a 17 kilo pack while nervously navigating slippery rocks might make me stabby. I didn’t want to be “that girl.” You know, the one who accidentally shoves her travel companions off a ledge during a rage blackout then, in her immense loneliness, spends the rest of the trek using their corpses as people puppets, before eventually succumbing to delirium and the elements. Like a tragic Weekend at Bernie’s.
I’M NOT DONE.
If you do hire a porter, he will not love your pack the same way you do. Walk him through appropriate ways do adjust the straps and distribute weight before you hand it over or be prepared to have it returned to you looking ten years older and slightly deformed. Also, be nice to your porter. Make sure he has appropriate footwear and clothing for the trek. If you hire a porter, you are required to cover trekking insurance for him. If you book your porter through an agency, they should cover their regular porters. If you’re employing a porter directly, you’ll need to look into arranging insurance yourself. I’d love to tell you how to do this, but I actually have no idea. Sorry!
Right. When should I go?
Trekking in Nepal during high season is the natural equivalent of visiting the Mona Lisa: You’ll be glad you went but wish you hadn’t been stuck behind a guy taking photos with his iPad the entire time. My trek spanned the last week of September and the first week of October, so I experienced a bit of the shoulder and high seasons. On our way up, we frequently had teahouses and trails to ourselves. We went at our own pace and had plenty of time to get down with our dreadlocked inner earth gods. Feelings bubble to the surface when you’re surrounded by all that breathtaking nature and in the throws of high-altitude delirium. You’ll relish the “me time” you get on the trail.
On the way back, our route was swarmed with large, torpid groups being rolled uphill by their high-end guides and porters. Stunning mountainscapes only go so far to assuage trail rage when you suddenly find yourself at the back of a yak traffic jam (yak-ic jam?). Because late September is rainy season-adjacent, the weather was hit-or-miss, but I’d trade intermittent fog and rain for aggressively matching tour groups a thousand times over. I’ve heard the other shoulder seasons–early December and late February–offer slightly better weather and similarly low trekker volumes.
Speaking of groups, how did you find trekking partners?
I met my ragtag bunch–all solo travelers–at Happily Ever After in Thamel, Kathmandu’s backpacker haven. Definitely do a little research on Hostelworld and Hostelbookers to find out which places are the most social and stay in a dorm if possible. You can try posting on CouchSurfing and trekkingpartners.com, but the creep factor is definitely lower in the analog world. Trekking agencies in Thamel–or Pokhara if you’re doing a trek in the Annapurna region–also might be able to hook you up with other travelers. Finally, you can book a spot on a pre-organized group trek. Typically, this is the most expensive choice and involves doing your legwork before arriving in Nepal. If you’re on a budget or prefer independent travel, this is not for you. If you absolutely cannot stand leaving anything to chance or the last minute, love all-inclusive travel, and have a bit of cash to burn, have at it. I stressed endlessly about finding people to trek with in the weeks before arriving in Nepal, but I promise you, it is easy to do once you’re in Kathmandu.
What should I bring?
I LOVE talking about packing so much that I wrote a full post about it.
I notice you didn’t bring a tent. There’s no camping?
Most people stay in teahouses–affordable lodges set up in villages along popular routes specifically to accommodate trekkers. The teahouses can be extremely simple, so if you’re into roughing it, don’t worry. It’s tough to feel ritzy when your heating source is burnt yak poop and your only mirror is your own polarized sunglasses. For 100-300 Rs (1-3 USD) a night, you get your own room–separated from your neighbor’s by a thin piece of plywood–with a bed and warm blanket to supplement your sleeping bag during cold mountain nights. The rooms are unheated and generally do not have electricity after about 8 pm. Toilets are usually shared squatters surrounded by the mysteriously damp floors so common in Asian restrooms. Toilet paper and running water are rarely provided.
Rates are low in part because you are expected to eat slightly overpriced dinners and breakfasts at the teahouses. Sure, it’s mildly extortive, but most villages don’t offer other dining options anyway. Meals range from 300-800 Rs. Showers, washing water, battery charging, wifi (when available) all cost extra.
Organized camping treks exist, but the ones in Khumbu tend to be expensive and more glamorous than the typical teahouse option.
So, how is the food?
Unlike their southern culinary counterparts in India, Nepali flavors keep a low, sometimes nonexistent, profile. The chili sauce kept on every teahouse table is your best bet for adding a bit of kick. Almost every meal features simple carbs like white rice, potatoes, or pasta. Eggs and nak (the proper name for lady yaks) cheese are frequent guest stars. Vegetables and meat sometimes make cameos. Whatever you order, keep in mind that regular power cuts often mean insufficient refrigeration. Coping with gastrointestinal distress presents unique challenges when you’re above the tree line.
Food prices climb as you do, and portions, especially veggie helpings, become stingier. This makes a lot of sense when you realize that everything is delivered to the high altitude guesthouses by yak or, even more frequently, human porter–some of whom carry 90 kilogram loads. The best calorie per dollar deal is often dahl baht, lentil soup and rice. It’s a complete protein and you can ask for seconds. Perfect if you have a hardy appetite, which I did not for most of my trek. Instead, I ate a lot of sherpa stew, which varied considerably among teahouses but usually involved a broth thickened with potato starch, vegetables and some sort of dumpling or noodle. If you’re in the mood for a treat, many teahouses offer Mars bars deep fried in a chapati (pancake-like bread) wrapper. Sooooo rich. Sooooo melty. Sooooo nomnomonom.
Did you have any trouble with altitude? What are some signs of altitude sickness
You can stave off altitude troubles by going slowly slowly. That said, most people will have some sort of minor reaction–slight headache, mild lethargy, lessened appetite. I was definitely less hungry and more inexplicably bitchy in the alpine zone. Get to know the symptoms of altitude sickness before your trip. It could save you from a scary situation. I’m obviously woefully underqualified to impart any medical knowledge, so I’ll let the good folks at the CDC do it for me.
As a precautionary measure, I took Diamox (Acetazolamide) starting around 2000 meters. This goes without saying, but check with your doctor before plying yourself with any new drug. If you do take altitude meds, you’ll have to pee a lot. Drink more water than usual to keep your kidneys happy and prevent dehydration.
How much does it cost?
Below is an approximation of what my trekking budget looked like. Some people pay a lot more, others much less. The final price of your trek has loads of variables based on preferences, negotiating skills and appetite, but what I’ve outlined below should give you a general idea of costs. Don’t expect to be able to pay with credit cards or access ATMs. Have plenty of cash on hand when you leave Kathmandu.
Roundtrip flight from Kathmandu to Lukla – $150
Khumbu National Park entry fee – $30
TIMS (Trekking Information Management System) card – $20 (bring two ID photos for this)
Accomodation – $1.50/night x 15
Food – $18/day x 15
Battery charge – $2/hour x 3
Shower – $3 x 3
Beer – $4 x 2
Guide – $6/day x 15 + 20% tip (Guide costs were split among four people)
Porter – $7/day x 15 + 20% tip (Porter costs were split between two people)
Anything else I should expect?
Trekking in Nepal is exciting and physically challenging, but ultimately, if you are in decent shape and able to walk for five hours, you are capable of hitting the trail. Just make sure you research your route before you go. If you have bad knees, beware of treks with rapid ascents and descents. If you’re afraid of heights, look into how many nauseatingly high bridges you might have to cross. You’ll spend a lot of time working your way up and down hills. Sometimes paths will be steep and icy, but they’ll mostly be wild and easily navigable. Don’t try to be a beast. Listen to your body, and go slowly. The primary physical demand comes from the altitude and the shortness of breath you’ll feel as a result. If you acclimate correctly, the rest will be a walk in the park.
Alright, enough talk. Slip into your boots, and go!
If you have any other questions, drop a comment below. I’ll get back to you ASAP.
In Turkey I’ve tried robust homestyle casseroles and stews, perfectly grilled fish and kebab, as well as unique delicacies like boiled lamb head and chicken breast pudding–which tasted more like a Cinnabon than chicken.
Of course, to be truly comprehensive in my exploration of Turkish food culture, I had to find out what the good folks at International Edible Substance Conglomerate, Inc. were contributing to the culinary puzzle. Because there’s always something. Here, it’s Doritos ala Turca, corn chips delicately seasoned with tomato and poppy seeds to taste–as my Istanbul hostess Carilyn pointed out–exactly like regular Doritos. Nomnomnom.
In a few hours I will be done with the Turkey leg of my trip and moving on to Nepal. Though I’m devastated that I didn’t think to call this the Turkey leg until just now, I’m itching to head to a new country with bigger mountains, higher views and more questionable toilets! And just so we’re clear, I’m not being sarcastic; I have a weird fascination with waste disposal and plumbing. It’s partly fueled by my interest in the public health implications and partly because I’m kind of gross.
OK, enough bathroom chat. I want to talk about Nepal Standard Time. When I’m in Nepal, I’ll be 9 hours and 45 minutes ahead of my friends on the East Coast of the US. So, if it’s 9 PM in Boston, it’s going to be 6:45 AM my time. This means you should wait 15 minutes to call me on Viber so that you’re reaching me at a decent hour. Also, why haven’t you called? I miss you.
While most time zones differ by an hour or half-an-hour, Nepal’s is one of two with a 45 minute offset. This blew my mind when I found out. On a map, Nepal looks like a jauntily tipped beret on top of India’s noggin. The two countries should share a time zone based on that alone! Yet, Nepal is 15 minutes ahead of its southern neighbor. According to a 2011 BCC interview with Nepali professor Semburan Acharya, that wasn’t always the case.
Nepal was initially 10 minutes ahead of India when India set their time using the longitude that passed through Calcutta. Later they switched to Hyderabad, which is further west. So this meant we were an extra five minutes ahead of them […] We calculate time using the longitude of the mountain Gauri Shankar, which is almost the centre of Nepal.
Of course, there is also the matter of national pride. Professor Acharya continues, “Nepal is an independent country and our time should be independent too.”
So, it turns out the explanation is a little geographical and a little bit more political.
Generally, Nepalis have unique relationship with time. They use a different calendar from the rest of the world and Sanskrit numbers to identify days. For a brief history of time in Nepal, I highly recommend checking out the full video linked to above.
In the mean time, I have a flight to catch. Bye bye, Turkey! See you at 7:15 (UTC + 5:45 AM), Nepal!
Despite copious planning, like thousands of backpackers before me, I realized that my bag was going to be too heavy and awkward the second I hit the road. Beyond agonizing over what to put in it, I had spent weeks figuring out what backpack to bring. I wanted something compact (50-60 liters max), well organized and comfortable. After scouring outdoor stores in Boston and Colorado, I opted to order a Gregory Cairn 58 online. While it met my first two criteria, I could tell it would cause serious neck chafe on longer treks and transition days–basically any time I had to wear it for more than an hour or two. So, that wasn’t going to work. No one wants a chafed neck.
I ended up with the Ariel 65 from Osprey. It’s a behemoth, but it’s also absurdly comfortable–for an artificial Quasimodo hump. Here’s the thing with a 65 liter pack, though: If you fill it, which I did, it’s going to become clumsy. Every time I see someone glide by with smaller, less profusely strappy gear, I feel like a weirdbutt seventh grader who has to wear her sister’s hand-me-down reverse fit slacks even though YM Magazine says 1998 is all about wide-legged jeans. Ya know?
Flowy white sweater with sequined elbow patches
Simple black minidress
4 pairs of underwear
Makeup (I’ve decided to stop caring. Possibly forever.)
Jewelry (See above.)
With the exception of the two dresses and the miniskirt, all the clothing on that list had gotten significant use. Especially you, white sweater. I’ll miss you most of all. As for the eliminated dresses, while I wear them almost constantly at home, I’m erring on the modest side while traveling. Plus, this way I avoid accidentally flashing the world my wicking ExOfficio travel granny pants. Everyone wins!
As I look ahead to Nepal, practicality has to win out. There’s just no way I’ll need a tiny black purse while trekking. (Man am I going to feel like an idiot if that turns out to be wrong.) I can always start replacing once I’m in South East Asia, but for now, fashion is going to have to take a backseat to function. Below is a photo of what’s left, more-or-less. Not pictured: my in-pack pharmacy, various electronics, massive Salomon hiking boots and my utterly filthy sports sandals, which I have deemed NSFW. My childhood idol Lisa Turtle would be so disappointed in me.
It’s an amazing feeling when a place you’ve been dying to visit for years surpasses your expectations, but that was exactly the case with Cappadocia. The central Turkish region is known for its cave dwellings and churches, originally carved into mountainsides by mystery settlers, then expanded by followers of St. Paul. Think if Tuscany and Mars has a baby. It’s not surprising that George Lucas used this other worldly destination as inspiration for sets in Star Wars: Episode 1.
Turns out, I love caves. If a bear cult tried to recruit me into hibernating with them, I’d seriously consider it. I spent hours exploring every nook and cranny, hoping to find a secret passage or an unexplored room. And yes, I hummed the Indiana Jones theme the entire time. Thank goodness I was mostly alone. While Fall is still busy season in Cappadocia, I would say I had about 50% of the caves I explored to myself, especially in the areas outside the official sites and museums. Hiking in the area was excellent. It’s fairly flat and sandy with tons of opportunities to scramble up boulders for a better view of the absurd geological formations.
Of course if you really want a view, Cappadocia’s known for its hot air balloons. I was on the fence about taking a ride. At 130-200 Euros, it definitely pushed my activity budget, but I’m thrilled I went for it. I will never see a sunrise like that again. They don’t really capture it, but below are some if my favorite photos from that morning. Enjoy!
I’ve kicked my trip off with six days of aggressive touristing in Istanbul. And when I say touristing, I mean hardcore, old school sightseeing with a Rick Steves book (Kindle edition) in hand. While I was glad to slam full-force into Istanbul’s rich history, I now remember why I typically travel light itinerary-wise. Less than a week in, and I’m already exhausted!
I leave Istanbul tomorrow and plan to start operating at a more leisurely pace. I may even ditch my travel to do list. Yes, I actually have one. It’s a note on my iPhone.
The unwritten mission statement of this trip, as my sister just reminded me, is to actually enjoy traveling! I don’t have anywhere to be and I don’t have a deadline. If I’m doing this to give myself the space to explore, it’s time to expand into that space. To fill the deep crevices of planet earth with adventure ooze!
So, here’s the deal. I’ll post as often as possible over the next 6 (to 8 to 10 months), but I’m going to not post even more frequently so that I can really enjoy this experience. I may not ever have an opportunity like this again and man would I feel like a dolt if I squandered it.
That’s it! I’ll be putting up some Istanbul pics and recaps soon. Probably. Until then, here’s a tumblr my friend Jill and I started. It’s just pictures of cats. We didn’t think the Internet had enough.
Miss most of you. Some of you, not so much.
People have a lot of questions when I tell them I’ve decided to quit my job to travel, so here are my answers to a few of the most common ones.
Why are you doing this?
Oh, loads of reasons. Basically, I really wanted to. Like many of you, I was trained to believe my adult life should happen in the following order: college, job in media, meet cute with ruggedly handsome southern gentleman (“I can’t believe we both accidentally grabbed the wrong coffees. Better exchange numbers in case it happens again!”), marriage, more career, home ownership, dog, minor career change, fertility treatment, parenthood, big family vacation to Europe, send kids to college, work until most of debt is paid off, retirement, lose savings to pyramid scheme, etc. But when I looked at that life to-do list, I noticed very little room for the thing I love most: travel. Most Americans only get 2-3 weeks of vacation a year, and that’s simply not enough time to really explore. So, after concocting this scheme for over a year, I finally decided to quit my job and go for it. Yes, I hemmed and hawed before it actually happened. I even spent the spring applying for jobs, thinking I would take a few weeks between positions and scratch the travel itch that way. But I quickly realized that wouldn’t be enough because I needed the luxury of time to take the trip I had in mind. I felt like traveling irresponsibly: with little structure and crummy health insurance. The only way for that to happen was by quitting my job and striking out on my own for a few months.
So you’re traveling completely alone?
Well, not completely. My friend Becky came with me to Costa Rica, and I’ll meet up with my dad and stepmom in South East Asia, but mostly I’m doing this solo. That said, I’d definitely love it if more of my people came to meet me on the road.
Why isn’t your boyfriend coming with you?
You’re being very heteronormative. Also, kind of nosy.
You’re the one who mentioned a “handsome southern gentleman” in that weird description of how you thought your life would go.
Fine. I don’t have one. I’m saving myself for Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Where are you going?
Check out Destinations to find out where I’ll be and when.
Are you scared?
I am, but I was terrified of wind as a child and overcame that. I don’t put a ton of stock in my fears because they’re usually pretty dumb.
What if you get lonely or homesick?
I almost definitely will at some point but I’m going to be staying in hostels and possibly couch surfing. I’m confident I’ll meet lots of people. Also, if all else fails, I think this blogpost more than proves I am able to have protracted conversations with myself.
How are you paying for all of this?
I’m going to tell you the truth. You know that reclusive old billionaire who lives in a mansion at the top of the hill? One day his companion animal — a spotted owl named Suzy — flew through my bedroom window and dropped a satchel full of golden coins into my lap. I tried to ask her what they were for, but she’s an owl and doesn’t speak English. So basically I had to keep the money and use it to finance this trip.
How did you pick your destinations?
I’ll write a full post on this, but the main criteria were desire, cost per day, safety, simplicity of visa and weather.
What are you most excited about?
Probably trekking in Nepal. Overall, I’m hoping to do a lot of hiking, climbing and yoga during this trip. Activity makes me happy. Activity in new places with crazy views makes me even happier. I’m also pretty excited to eat weird foods, even if it means a less-than-happy tummy.
When will you be back?
It depends, but it looks like I’ll be back in the States sometime in February.
Can we grab a drink when you get back?
Sure. That sounds great.
Some people are born brave. And some simply have misplaced faith in their digestive tracts.
Hello, and welcome to my first post–of many, I assume–on gastrointestinal failure. I know what you’re thinking. So soon? I agree completely. I was sure I’d at least make it through September before alienating the three people that read this blog with an over-share. Alas, like lukewarm sashimi on a sunny day, some things simply cannot be kept in.
It all started with lukewarm sashimi on a sunny day in Tamarindo. This seems off, I thought as I stared down at eight uneven, gray slivers of tuna resting on a bed of brown lettuce. I popped a piece into my mouth. It was unlike anything I’d ever tasted: bland and a little fuzzy. Maybe it’s weird because it’s so fresh, I told myself. I finished the remaining seven slivers, plus the edible romaine garnish and a neon green blob that was kind of like wasabi. Somewhere deep in my gut, a lone bacterium returned from his scouting mission and announced to his prokaryotes in arms, “This is the colon we’ve been looking for! At dawn, we trot…err…ride!” I went to the beach.
That night, to celebrate our last full day in Costa Rica, my travel buddy Becky and I decided to go to an Argentinian steakhouse. I ordered a New York strip. “Make it as rare as you can!” I told the waitress as I swigged from a glass of malbec as large my face. “You mean medium rare or medium?” she gently suggested. My inner foodie scoffed! “Rare please! Raw-ish.” The chef would be honored, I knew. Here, finally, a patron who understood meat.
And then it was 4am. I woke up to the feeling of my intestines unraveling themselves–uncoiling from a protective labyrinth to a waterside that would allow my foolish gastronomic decisions to attack with maximum velocity. I rushed into the bathroom that separated our room from our neighbors’.
In an effort to save a few colones, Becky and I had opted for a private room with a shared bathroom. The setup was Jack and Jill-style: one bathroom with two doors that locked from both sides, each leading to a different bedroom. This is not a situation that breeds camaraderie. At least twice a day, one room accidentally locked out the other. Most guests reported the issue to the hostel staff and it was quickly resolved. But these incidents were so frequent that I figured out how to pick the bathroom lock with a bobby pin instead. You’re right! That is pretty badass.
Anyway, back to the story of me being violently trounced by a tiny piece of fish.
The war between my stomach and the sashimi (or lettuce or steak) grew louder. The British girls next-door began to stir. Mortified, and hoping to avoid further exposing them to the rumbles and plops of battle, I turned on the shower.
Too late I realized the major failing of my plan. Not only had I woken them up; they now probably assumed things. Horrible things. About what I was doing in the shower. I wanted to spring up and turn off the faucet! But I was occupied.
Finally, the carnage ended. I fell back into bed, anxious to catch a couple of more hours sleep before a 7am surf lesson. As I drifted off, I heard our two loo co-tenetants lingering in the bathroom, analyzing what had just happened with disgust. They cackled and sniped without a trace of sympathy. Clearly they had never been sick while traveling. They didn’t understand the sheer terror I felt at the prospect of a five hour bus ride with only one bathroom break. I wanted so badly to defend myself against the slander seeping under the door. But I was tired and sick, so instead I made a wish as I fell back asleep: I hope you both get diarrhea.