Thursday, March 7, 2013

Travel Q&A

One of the travel blogs I read asked the following questions of his readers, and I thought it'd be fun to answer some of them over here on my own blog. I'm tossing a few more in just because I got on a roll and answering questions is fun!

Why did I start traveling?

Because I hate feeling stuck. I hate the feeling of being without living, which is how I felt until I started to travel more. Like the world was passing me by, and I wasn't out there experiencing it with everything I had. So there I was, 30 years old, and I had never left the US. I had some time I could use for a trip, and I decided I would take advantage of it and do something. That was my trip to Germany and France. And the start of my adventuring.

What is my greatest travel memory?

That is still the day I chose to not go to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and instead walked back to the Pont des Arts and sat down on a bench with my sketchbook and sketched Pont Neuf over the Seine with Paris in the background. That was me taking advantage of the moment, and doing what made me happiest vs what I thought I *should* do with my time in Paris.

What's the one item I can't travel without?

My Kindle touch. I spend a lot of time alone, partly because I like to travel solo and also because I do tend to just NEED time alone to unwind and let anxieties calm down - and reading is very relaxing for me. And since I read so blastedly fast being able to carry around 1500-2000 books on me wherever I go is pretty damn handy. Saves me space in my pack, for sure! Plus, the battery lasts a stupidly long time. Which is why the Kindle beat out my iPad for usefulness. There were a couple of times in India when power would go out and I was unable to recharge my iPad, but I can go a week or longer using my Kindle on a daily basis before I need to recharge.

What's the worst thing that has happened to me?

 Being robbed on the train from Amritsar to Delhi. I lost a lot of money, but more importantly I lost a lot of confidence. Took a while to shake that off. On the plus side, though, it galvanized me into reaching out and asking for help. And that changed the entire trip for the better.

What advice would I give to new travelers?

 Smile, and be willing to ask for help. No matter where you go, people are willing to be kind and helpful if you simply show them a friendly smile and believe in the kindness of others. Yeah, this is definitely my optimism showing. But I have experienced this first hand even in places known for brusqueness. Smile, and think for a moment before reaching out. Like... if you need directions, don't go to the sharply dressed person in a hurry to get somewhere else. Ask the young person or elderly person waiting patiently at a bus stop.

What is my greatest regret? 

 I don't know the answer to this one. I don't tend to regret a whole lot of big stuff. I don't even regret letting fears and insecurities stop me from traveling back when I was still in my 20s. Because I needed the experience life gave me to figure out how to handle my bipolar before I could live life the way I do now.

Do I ever lie when I travel?

I picked this question to answer because it amuses me. Yes, I lie when I travel. In places like India where asking very personal questions is common, I would lie to deflect attention or to end the questioning as quickly as I could. Like - I'd get asked where I was from a lot, and a bunch of times I'd answer ESTONIA, because I knew the people asking wouldn't know where that was and it would shut up their questioning so they'd leave me alone. Sometimes I'd say I was married, and my husband couldn't get the time off from work or he didn't like to travel or he was in the country on business and we were going to meet up in a few days. To anybody I actually want to pursue a possible friendship with? No. I prefer being myself. I like being myself.

What languages do I speak?

Fluently? Only English, unfortunately. I do know enough Spanish to get by in a Spanish speaking country, though. And I would not be uncomfortable going to Italy or spending more time in France, because those languages and Spanish share enough basics that I believe I'd be able to pick things up fairly quickly. A guy I slept with years ago back in college taught me a bunch of Norwegian that I actually still do remember.

I tried really hard to try learning Hindi for my trip to India. But oh fucking A that language just completely eluded me! I was there for three months and came home with just a handful of words beyond the handful I knew when I arrived.

Where do I want to go most, now that I have been to India?

Good question! I still want to make it to all the continents, and Africa is hopefully going to be next on my list for Major Adventures. But that's part of a greater goal. For just pure, "I want to go there!" I'd have to say Ireland (no one place in particular, just the country in general). It has been on my dream list for so long. Don't know when I will finally make it. I have plans for a couple of places nationally, but if somehow I spot a deal I can't resist then I'll definitely hit Ireland without blinking.

Where is my favorite place I have been?

For peace and quiet - the Golden Temple in Amritsar. For antics - Tie between Baños, Ecuador and Arambol, Goa (India). Country in general - Ecuador. For awe that I was there - Paris.

But above all, New York City is my favorite city. It is just not a place I can handle for more than a few days at a time, though, because my bipolar gets too agitated and I need to escape back to where I can be quiet.

What about places I just don't like at all?

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I realize I didn't see it the way people who live there see it, but it was the first city I came across in Pennsylvania after coming from Alaska. And I found it flat and dirty and without even beautiful architecture (that I saw in my one day there) to make it interesting. I have realized I am not a fan of the "industrial" look.

Jodhpur, Rajashthan - India. Mostly because I had a really bad introduction to the place thanks to an asshole group of men at the train station and it turned me off completely.

What useful toys do I take when I travel?

Yay electronics! I know I actually carry more electronic items than some people are comfortable taking to some of the places I've been. But I really REALLY used all of these items during my India trip and I'd recommend any and/or all of them for future adventures.

Ok - I don't need any SERIOUS photography stuff, so I use the nice yet simple Cannon PowerShot point and shoot I got back in 2009. This is a newer version than what I have, but I highly recommend this camera. Mine has really stood up over the years, and can take awesome photos even when I lost my glasses and had to trust the camera's autofocus. I've taken my camera on every trip I have been on over the last 3 years and it has never let me down.

I also highly recommend e-readers. I myself love love love love love my Kindle touch. But I don't seem to be able to find it on Amazon anymore. They do have now what is called the Kindle Paperwhite, which seems to be an upgrade to the original Kindle touch.

Before my trip to India I contemplated getting either a netbook or a tablet to take on the long adventure. I ended up with the Apple iPad 2 and cannot be more excited about how perfect it has been for me when I travel. Since getting the iPad I rarely use my actual laptop even at home anymore. That is how much I use the tablet. I have a 16 gig version, which means I can hold a shit ton of photos, not a lot of music (that's what the next device is for), and games that keep me entertained when I am alone or have a few people who are interested in playing SET (my favorite travel game because it's easy to explain, easy to play, and the iPad version means I don't have to carry the extra deck of cards around with me anymore.)

Lastly, I also have a 32 gig iPod that was a gift from a friend ages ago that has stood the test of time.

*** It could be argued that because I have a tablet I could eliminate both the e-reader and the iPod. But I don't always want to flash around my iPad. And the Kindle really is convenient and light and easier to read books on than the iPad. And I prefer saving the space on my iPad for backing up photos than hauling around a lot of music. But your mileage may vary. This is simply my own preferences. ***

What about other preferences, like for gear?

I love love love my Keen sandals. I got them before my trip to Ecuador and my feet have thanked me ever since. I have one issue with these, in that they are in no way actually nice looking (the comfort level outweighed my desire to have my feet look pretty, though). So if you end up in a situation where you want to dress up a little - these shoes will stand out badly. I'm actually looking for a good pair of foldable ballet flats. If you have a brand you'd recommend, I am all ears!

For places where I would want something sturdier than a pair of sandals (like you're traveling some place where you're going to run into cold/wet weather and want the extra support), I have my Merrell's.  These boots are AMAZINGLY comfy. My only word of warning is, they're heavy. So if you're traveling lightly, you may need to take that into consideration. I brought them to Ecuador and ended up never wearing them (thinking I'd want hiking boots when I ended up wearing my Keens all the time instead.). However, I have been wearing them around Boston just about every day since I got back from India and they have become indispensable to me for cold/wet footwear. If I ever do any winter travel I will definitely pack these shoes.

I didn't buy my pack, it was a gift from my parents. And since I'm at work I don't know off the top of my head what brand it is. But while I really liked it, I think there are definitely things that I would prefer were different if I had gotten my own bag. One that is not purely top loading would be the first thing. Access from the side would have been immensely helpful and will probably be something I will require when I get around to purchasing a pack of my own when this one eventually falls apart on me. I really liked the size, though. It was only around 30 Liters. Pretty small, considering I was on a long adventure. But it really worked to help me stay more mobile. It was easy to move, took up less space in crowded trains or rickshaws (auto or cycle), and it encouraged me to NOT go on shopping sprees because I simply had nowhere to put all the goodies I may have purchased otherwise.

Something like this  - This being a narrow canvas thing you tighten around the body of your Nalgene water bottle to hook a carabiner onto so you don't pull on the plastic loop that is there and cause damage to the bottle. I borrowed one of these doohickeys from a friend and it was seriously invaluable! It allowed my water bottle to actually survive an entire three months, when usually I lose them within a week! It also enabled me to always carry my water bottle with me (I'd refill from filtered water where I could or just empty bought bottled water into my water bottle to make it easier to carry.) and so I remembered to drink the amount of water I needed to be drinking.

I mentioned games... what are my favorite travel games?

SET is awesome. It's a pattern game, and it's fun to play alone as a solitaire game or with others as a competitive game. But you need the deck for it. I have the iPad version, but it is a card game you can buy if you don't have an iPad or prefer cards to electronic games.

For normal card games I love playing gin and rummy when there are a few people. I love playing a game I learned down in Ecuador called Shithead. It's very popular among backpackers, as I also found plenty of people to play it with while in Puerto Rico and also in India.

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Ok, that's it for today for random travel questions. Feel free to ask any questions you might have. I'll gather them up for the next time I decide to post a Q&A!