Category: travel

True Story: I Live With Hill Tribes in Thailand

true story about man who lives with hill tribes in thailandThis is just one of many interviews that make up the True Story series. We talk to interesting people who are doing amazing/challenging/inspiring things. This is the story of my fantastic friends Amanda and Daniel. They’re both working on their PhDs in Developmental Sociology – which means they get to live with hill tribes in Thailand! How jealous am I?!

Living with Hill Tribes in Thailand

Tell us about the Thai hill tribe group that you live with.

Our research is, we hope, relevant to the plight of the majority of highland people in Thailand, but the group we spend most of our time with is the Akha. The Akha are one of the many highland ethnic minority groups who live in the mountains of northern Thailand. There are Akha people in Thailand, Burma, Yunnan (China), Laos and Vietnam. There are about 70,000 Akha people in Thailand and I think around a million in all. If you have ever seen a tourist or trekking brochure for northern Thailand, you have probably seen a picture of an Akha woman. Their outfits, especially their hats, are unbelievable. With the exception of some older people, who wear their traditional outfits all the time, most Akha people today only wear their traditional outfits for special celebrations.We spend time primarily in two villages in the mountains of Chiang Rai Province, in the far north of Thailand. One has electricity (and cell phones and television), the other does not have electricity. The houses in the villages range from small bamboo houses on stilts, to wood and even some cement houses. Most people in the villages are farmers, growing primarily rice and corn on ridiculously steep mountain slopes. Historically, the Akha religion was based on ancestor (spirit) worship, but today most Akha in Thailand are Christian. One village where we do our work is Catholic and one is Protestant. Unlike the Protestant village, the Catholic village still observes many of the traditional practices, celebrations, etc.

hill tribes in thailand
How did you come to live with the hill tribes in Thailand?

To be honest, we only live with them part time. I’m actually sitting in a coffee shop in Chiang Mai as I write this email. We have an apartment in Chiang Mai and spend a week or two each month in the villages, although we plan to start spending more time in the villages in the coming months.

Anyway, we are here doing our dissertation research, which is how/why we encountered our Akha friends. We are both working on our PhDs in Development Sociology. My wife’s work is on citizenship, education and family livelihood decision-making in highland communities. Sadly, many highland people in Thailand have not been given citizenship, which amounts to an enormous barrier in attaining education, employment, health care, etc. – really, basic human rights. My work is on state forest conservation and upland agriculture, especially related to land tenure issues and how they affect land-use decision-making. Upland people in Thailand are forbidden from owning land or practicing their traditional farming methods. This has obviously caused a lot of problems for upland communities and, I’m starting to see, is actually undermining forest conservation, as well.

Have you celebrated any holidays in the Thai village?

We’ve experienced a couple of celebrations in the villages. I think the most fun was a traditional Akha celebration marking the start of the harvest season. There is a lot of music and dancing, and everyone is wearing their traditional outfits, which are beautiful. As always, they made sure we just joined right in.

The highlight of the festival is the swing ceremony. They built a huge swing out of four trees, which they arranged in a sort of tepee formation, with a long rope (made of natural fibers) hanging down in the middle. According to Akha custom, you are age one when you are born, and then each year, when you swing, you become one year older. So, everyone in the village becomes one year older on the same day!

All the women rode the swing first. They sit in the loop at the bottom of the rope and someone uses another small rope attached to the big rope to pull them back and forth. They got really high – maybe 20 feet! Then Amanda rode and lost her shoes in the process, which got a lot of laughs. Then, I rode. The short version of the story is that I rode like a woman and nearly killed the village headman who was trying to pull me back and forth. People still laugh about it to this day!

living with hill tribes in thailandWhat do you eat on an average day with the Thai tribespeople?

The food has been out of this world good. Every day, we eat an amazing spread of food that they grew in their fields and gardens, or collected in the woods. We are vegetarian, which they respect. Their rice is so good – really earthy, with great texture and flavor. You can’t buy it in the stores – we are really going to miss it when we leave. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, we eat rice and vegetables (including many of our ‘usual’ vegetables, as well as ferns and other wild veg, fresh bamboo shoots, pumpkin, beans, etc.), with various homemade chili and/or peanut sauces. They usually cook us an egg for protein. And fruit for dessert.The hardest part is saying no when they try to keep feeding you more. It’s great, but we always get so stuffed! We’ve had only a few unpleasant food experiences, the worst being a dish I call ‘mashed grubs in gelatinous mystery sludge.’ It still haunts me to this day.The hardest part is the rice whiskey! Every day, usually every meal (yes, even breakfast). Amanda doesn’t get it as bad – probably because she is a woman and the women don’t drink as much. The men, though, love to drink. To develop the kind of relationships I need to develop for my work, I have to drink with the men. The stuff is really strong, and the minute you take a drink, they refill your cup! I’ve gotten better at drinking it, though. And I’ve had most of my best conversations over a few glasses of whiskey!

living with hill tribes in thailandHas integration into Thai hill tribe village life been difficult?

The only difficulty seems to be on our part, feeling like we are imposing and getting used to the way they do things. They’ve been wonderful, truly gracious and welcoming and generous in every sense of the word. It really is true that the most generous people in the world are those with the least (materially) to give. Now, it feels great being there. It is a special experience to arrive in the village and be greeted by so many smiling faces and warm embraces. We are so grateful to them for making us feel so welcome and at-home there.

They’ve even given us Akha names. Amanda’s name is Mi Chaw, which means ‘tall and beautiful woman.’ They are always commenting on how beautiful she is, on her white skin, her blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. (which, of course, makes her terribly uncomfortable!). They love to dress her up in their Akha outfits, which is fun and really funny, as she is a good seven or eight inches taller than them, so the outfits don’t exactly fit her perfectly.

My name is Li Ma, which means ‘big boy.’ They are constantly telling me how huge I am. The average Akha man is about 5’6” and 130 pounds. I’m about 6’2” and a hair under 200 pounds. So, yes, I am gigantic. A favorite activity when a group is gathered is to have me stand next to things (doorways, houses, buffalo, etc.) so they can laugh at how big I am (many of their doorways come up to about my neck). They still can’t figure out how a vegetarian became so huge! Sometimes, when I am walking around the village, old people will grab me by the arm to tell me that I am very large. It’s quite funny and all in good fun, and I’m actually relieved that there can be some laughs at my expense, given the circumstances.

life in hill tribe thailandHow difficult is communication with the Thai tribespeople?

Akha is one of the most difficult languages either of us has ever encountered. It’s very guttural with many sounds that are difficult for us to decipher. It is not at all related to Thai. Thankfully, most people in the villages under the age of about 50 speak at least some Thai or northern Thai. Pretty much everyone under 30 speaks fluent Thai. So, for the most part, communication with the young people isn’t too much of a challenge. Also, we have a research assistant who speaks Akha, Lahu, Hmong, Karen, Thai, northern Thai and southern Thai. Needless to say, he’s been invaluable in helping us communicate with older Akha people, as well as people from other groups (in both villages, there are several Lahu families). That said, he can’t be everywhere with both of us all the time, so we’ve definitely bumped into some communication challenges. I guess the key is to just smile and show that you are trying.Actually, most of my funniest miscommunications have been in Thai. I once tried to say that I was going to take some medicine, but I accidentally got the tone wrong and said that I was going to eat my grandmother. There are plenty more, but my worst and most embarrassing one was about 7 months ago at Chiang Mai University. I had to stand up in front of a room of professors, graduate students, and even the dean of the school and give a little speech in Thai. I tried to say “Thank you to all of the professors for their hard work in the classroom.” Well, I sort of forgot one important word. What I actually said was, “Thank you to all of the professors for taking a sh** in the classroom!” Needless to say, there were a few shocked expressions in the audience!

Tell us about an average day in the Thai tribal village?

An ‘average day’ really depends on the time of year, as much of their life revolves around agriculture. Lately, we’ve been preparing their fields for planting. The last couple of times we’ve been up there, we get up early (you can’t sleep in because of the dogs barking, the pigs squealing, the kids playing, people talking, etc.), eat breakfast, drink a little rice whiskey, and head out to the fields.

Some of the jobs we’ve done recently include: clearing fields (cutting bamboo and brush with machetes), burning fields, building a small dam, collecting firewood, cutting and hauling grass to build a roof, building a roof, looking after the water buffalo, bringing in a late rice harvest, harvesting ginger and bananas, chopping banana trees to feed to pigs, etc. It’s pretty great.

I actually really enjoy working with them in their fields. At the end of the day, after a very cold ‘shower’ (dumping cold water over your head), we sit down to great food and plenty of rice whiskey! The women work in the fields, too, but usually head home a little earlier to prepare dinner. The women in the villages work incredibly hard. Most men work hard, too, but the women are unbelievable. The older people usually look after the kids during the day. Amanda sometimes works in the fields, and sometimes stays in the village to interview people, help out with household duties, play with kids and even teach English.

What are the biggest challenges of living in the tribal Thai village?

The rice whiskey! Kidding (sort of). I think the biggest challenge is still feeling like we are imposing on people by being there. Not so much with our ‘families,’ but with other people in the village. We are at the point where we have made some good friends and gotten to know several people in the villages, but each village has over 300 people, so we are still strangers to many people. But it’s getting better as we spend more time there and get to know more people.

What have you learned from this experience of living with Thai hill tribes?

We’ve learned so much from this experience. Every day we feel like the more we learn, the more we don’t know! But mostly we’ve seen that, beyond superficial differences, we are all much more alike than we are different – we all love our families and friends and hope for peace and happiness. We’ve really been inspired by the warmth and generosity of the people, and can’t help but feel, with each encounter, a renewed faith in the human spirit. It really is a special experience for us. Just like everyone, our lives get crazy and we get bogged down with work and stress and worrying about the future, but we try to remember to be present in the moment, to not let a day pass without recognizing how fortunate we are to be having this experience and to be sharing it with each other.

Would you want to do something like this? Any questions for Daniel and Amanda?
Got the travelbug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

How To Plan A World Tour

Plan world travel and plan your trip around the world
Planning to travel the world is a huge undertaking! I’ve traveled through a huge number of countries, lived abroad for extended periods of time, and know what it takes to make it on the road. Here’s my advice for world travel!

Dear Sarah Von,

So I’m just sorta starting to plan a MEGA TRIP, my first mega trip,actually, and thus far its looking like I’m going to be travelling on my own. Which, I’m fine with, but the thought of planning such a megatrip seems like such a gargantuan task, that I just don’t know where to start! I was hoping that you might have a couple of handy hints?

Tips to Plan World Travel

Save A Lot of Money And Then Establish A Budget

I know I’m blowing your mind here, right? Wow, saving money for a big world trip? Sarah Von, you financial wizard, you! There’s no hard and fast formula that will help you calculate how much money you need to save for a big trip. Obviously, your spending habits, the countries you’re traveling through, where you’re staying and how long you’re staying there all effect the bottom line, right? I traveled for five months in 2007 and it cost me around $7,000 – flights included. However! I traveled through really cheap countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia) volunteered in exchange for lodging (Greece) worked (Italy) and stayed with friends (Germany, Scotland, Wales, NYC).However much money you think you’ll need? It’s probably a good idea to save at least 20% more than that. One of the cardinal rules of travel is that everything takes longer and costs more than you planned. Best to be prepared, eh? Here’s a post I wrote about saving up for big ticket items.Though I don’t do this, I know many travelers establish a daily budget and don’t stray from it. I traveled with a couple in Bolivia who did this and got by on $30 US a day between the two of them. They survived mostly on hostel dorm rooms and street vendor food, but it worked for them!

Figure Out Where You Want To Go

This sounds rather elementary, no? But there are different ways to approach a ‘mega trip.’ If you’re just looking to get the eff out of dodge and see a bit of world, your best bet might be a ready-made world ticket, with the itinerary already in tact.

Here’s one for San Francisco – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Bombay / Mumbai – Bangalore – Singapore – San Francisco starting at $1,600. And here’s one for New York – Frankfurt – Cape Town – Kuala Lumpur – Bali (Denpasar) – Singapore – Bangkok – Hong Kong – New York starting at $2,000. There are heaps of world ticket booking companies that sell these pre-designed trips and they’re usually the cheapest option.

Of course, you can also design a world ticket on your own. It’s usually more expensive, but that way you’ll surely be able to see the World Cup, Angkor Wat aaaannnnd the inside of your Aunt Josie’s suburban McMansion. I used TripPlanner to book my last world ticket and was quite impressed with them.

Other things that you should consider when choosing countries to visit: What’s the exchange rate? How safe is it? Will you like the food? How will the locals react to someone of your race/gender/sexual preference/faith? How’s the weather? Do you know anybody there? Do you speak their language? What percentage of them speak your language? Is it easy to get around?

Sort Out Visas

In the event that you don’t know, a visa is not just a type of credit card. It’s also a document that some governments require travelers to have in order to enter a country. (Though, really! How confusing is it that a credit card company has the same name?!)Visa requirements vary from country to country and depend largely on your home country’s relationship with the country you’re visiting. When I was traveling through Bolivia, I had to pay $120 for a visa – but none of the Canadians or Japanese travelers had to. Sometimes you can get a visa at the border. Sometimes you have to organize it in advance. Sometimes the expiration on your visa starts ticking as soon as it’s issued, sometimes it’s not activated till your passport is stamped at the border. Make sure you understand the rules and regulations affiliated with all of your visas when you’re applying for them! Obviously, this can be especially hard when you’re traveling through many countries. But maybe not as hard as trying to make hiking boots work with every outfit.Getting visas is a bit of a pain, can be expensive and involve a lot of paper work. Just google “tourist visa (country your going to)” and you should find that country’s immigration website which will detail the visa application process.

Get The Immunizations

Yes, really. It’s super important and despite what everyone says, Yellow Fever isn’t sexy. This website can tell you which countries require which immunizations. It’s also a good idea to carry copies of your immunization records with you, or scan them and store them online. You might need them at border crossings.

Familiarize Yourself With The Language

If you’re traveling through Europe or Southeast Asia, you can get by on English. But South America? Well, most people speak Spanish. Do a bit of research on the countries that you’re visiting and if one of them has a noted lack of English speakers, do your best to brush up on “Where is the_____?” “How much is this?” “Thank you” etc in the native language. You can even learn languages for free on this BBC website!

Of course, if all else fails, most people speak the international language of “smiling and nodding.”

Figure Out What You Want To Do When You Get There

As tempting as it is compulsively schedule every minute of your trip, resist the urge, friends. It’s only going to send in blisters and tears. Read up on the countries that you’re going to and choose a few absolutely-can’t-miss things that you simply must do and see. When I went to Peru and Bolivia for three months I had a list of twelve things I wanted to do and see.

This miiiiiggght strike you as an overly laid-back approach to travel, but whoever said that famous thing about the journey vs. the destination wasn’t pulling your leg. Once you’re back in your first world condo, some of your fondest memories of your trip will probably be relatively mundane things – sitting by The Perfume River and drinking Vietnamese coffee, or eating Cheetos topless on a beach in Greece, or riding on the back of a motorbike through Bangkok. And you might remember The Louvre, too.

Over scheduling will stress you out, wind you up and exhaust your resources. Buying tickets, navigating public transport, reading maps, waiting in line – all these things take a lot of time and a lot of patience. I would recommend limiting yourself to two sites/outings/adventures per day. And make sure you allow yourself the occasional day of hanging out in the air conditioned hostel, watching DVDs and skyping!

Create A Packing List

Of course, what you pack will vary hugely, depending on where you’re going. The weather, culture, your planned activities will all effect what’s inside that backpack. Here’s my comprehensive packing list (for long-term, slightly adventurous travel). Here’s a packing list for a beach vacation and here’s one for a cold weather trip. Here’s an excellent article on packing for India which would be helpful for anyone going to a conservative, hot, developing country.

Be Realistic

You are going to have so much fun. So much fun! I promise.


You will also eat things that disgust you. You’ll spend too much money. You will be over charged. You will sleep poorly in dorm rooms because people are constantly going through their bags/drunkenly turning on the light at 3 am/crawling into each others bunk beds and making out.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we’re traveling to have The Best Time Ever. And you will! But it’s not going to be like that every minute of every day. Many days it’ll just be “So. I’m in Vietnam. Yup.” That’s okay! But you’ll be better emotionally prepared if you realize this. You need to practice some Travel Zen!

Have you ever traveled for long periods of time? Any more advice for our friend?


What To Pack (In A Carry-On!) For A Multi-Week, Multi-Climate, Multi-Activity Trip

Trying to pack in a carry-on for a multi-week trip? Looking for packing tips for a long trip? You're in the right place! I've packed in a carry-on for five-country, six-week trips, click through for my packing list!

Are you trying to pack in a carry-on but you’re traveling for multiple weeks, across multiple climates? And because you like to make things difficult you’re also trying to pack for hiking AND for some nights on the town?

It’s not impossible! I’ve done it! Tons of times!

Disclaimer: This is the packing list that works for me, when I’m in hardcore, multiple month, living-out-of-my-backpack mode. My packing list for a weekend in Vegas would read more along the lines of “small, sparkly things. lipgloss.”

You should also know that I’m ridiculously minimal and one of those people who’s willing to wear the same outfit for four days in a row and then wash it with bar soap in a bucket. Soooo, consider yourself warned.

When I’m backpacking, my goals (fashion-wise) are:
a) that you don’t notice that stain
b) that my outfit doesn’t ruin that photo
c) that I’m mistaken for European (there! I said it!)

And I try to accomplish all of this with a wardrobe that’s small enough to carry around on my back. Now, this may not be the most exciting wardrobe ever, but, based on my experience, it works. I’ve used this combination across multiple countries, cultures and climates and it hasn’t steered me wrong!

What to Pack for Multi-Week Trips

Logistical, Activity Clothes

These are the not particularly-cool-or-fashionable items that you need to carry, especially if you plan on traveling through cold climates or doing outdoors-y stuff. These things can be quite expensive, but (as per the usual) I found most of mine at thrift stores for just a few bucks.

Silk long underwear
Sure, they’re expensive. But they’re also thin (and thus layer-able), light and incredibly effective. Much of the world doesn’t have central heating, so you may even need these if you’re frequenting Ireland in March.

Those ubiquitous hiker pants
You know the ones. They’re made of high-tech material, you can make them 47 different lengths and you could use them to walk through a lava flow and emerge unscathed? They are also a big ol badge that screams “I’m a tourist!”

But if you’re going to do any jungle exploration, glacier climbing or bush bashing, you probably need a pair. But I only wear mine when I’m engaging in the above activities because I’m totally vain.

Zip-up technical gear coat
Again, you know these. The ones that cost a million dollars, have 35 zippers and were designed for astronauts. I like ones that zip all the way open (as opposed to half-zips) because it’s easier to warm-up/cool-off without actually removing clothing.

Merino wool socks
They’re light, they dry quickly and they keep your feet really warm. Done and done.

Nylon windbreaker
I have a tiny black one that’s actually a boy’s size XL and I love it. It’ll keep you warm and dry, pack up into a tiny ball and if you pair it with the right scarf and jeans, you won’t even look totally ridiculous.

I realize it might seem like overkill to bring two coats, but it’s nice to be able to layer them or wear them separately. Of course, if you’re feeling fancy, you could get one of these 2-in-1 coats that zip two layers together.

Stylish Clothes
For all those travel situations that don’t call for nylon, mesh or pick axes. Personally, I like to stick to cotton/lycra blends because they can go awhile between washes, dry fairly quickly when you do wash them, and don’t look too painfully touristy.

Also, I pretty much exclusively wear black when I travel – that way everything matches and it looks clean longer!

Related: How to live out of a suitcase – glamorously

Day to Day Clothing for a Multi-Week Trip

Black cotton/lycra blend dress (knee length or longer – preferably covering your shoulders)
You can dress it up, dress it down, find one at any given Target/TJ Maxx/Goodwill.

I’d recommend something knee-ish length because many temples/churches/cultures don’t go in for the miles of exposed leg that we Westerners favor. Also, when in doubt it’s always better to dress a bit more demurely, isn’t it?

Black long sleeved t-shirt

Black tank top
I know, I know. I’m overwhelming you with all this color, right? But you’ll look classier in black and it won’t show dirt as easily, I promise!

Dress/skirt combo-thing
You know those elastic-y topped, strapless sundresses? And then you can pull them down and wear the elastic-y bit around your waist? That’s what I’m talking about! They’re super versatile and good for dealing with all those awkward pop-a-squat-no-toilet situations that Southeast Asia is always presenting. Yes, really.

Black thin, zip-up hoodie
Not your giant Hanes hoodie, but something a bit thinner and more sophisticated. You can wear it as a coat when you don’t want to rock the nylon windbreaker or layer it with the windbreaker when it gets cold.

2 or 3 patterned sarongs
Sarongs are every traveler’s best friend (it’s a dress! it’s a towel! it’s a water filter!) so you can use them all the time. I like to wear mine as a scarf to dress up my black outfits, so I’d recommend getting a few in patterns that your really love. And no, not that tie-dyed lizard pattern.

Black ballet flats
They’re always classy and should be quite comfortable. I love the ClarksBorn, or Me, too brands. Yes, they are spendy and no, you shouldn’t just get a pair from Goodwill or Target.

I know you wouldn’t want to spend $2,000 on a ticket to Japan and then spend most of your time there with blisters and an aching back because you’re wearing $12 shoes, right? Riiiight?

Good flip flops
There is such a thing, I swear! I always opt for flip flip style sandals over the strappy sport sandal version because, as we’ve established, I’m vain.

A high quality pair of flip flops can run you $50, but you can wear them every day of your trip, they’ll support your back and I’ve even hiked in mine! I love my Chacos. They’re so innocuous you can even wear them in your daily, non-travel life.

Black Adidas (or any non-white athletic shoe)
I will certainly be evicted from the Society of Serious Backpackers for saying this buuuut, you don’t need to bring hiking boots with you. Really. I’ve hiked Vietnam, Peru, Greece and Bolivia in a pair of black Adidas shelltoes.

They weigh one-third of what hiking boots weigh and you can actually wear them around the city without looking totally ridiculous.

Dark wash jeans
They’re dressier than a light-wash pair and they won’t show dirt. I’d opt for a pair that is not skin tight, so you can layer your long johns underneath if need be.

1 or 2 other solid color tops that match your sarongs
Mixing and matching, you clever thing you!

7 pairs of underwear
This is where I gross you out by recommending that you get used to hand-washing your underwear in a sink. Yes. Sure, it’s a little yucko but 90% of the time when you travel, your laundry is going to be hand washed – either by you or by the tiny grandmother who runs your hostel.

So you might as save the money and keep your panties to yourself. I’d also recommend non-cotton underwear as they air-dry much, much faster.

5 pairs of socks

Black leggings
Layer then under skirts and dresses or even under your jeans if the long johns are dirty or too warm

Non-clothing stuff to pack

Since you’re only bring a few carefully edited pieces of clothing, you’ll have heaps of space for other important things, right?

Money belt
Sure, it’s a little embarrassing when you appear to be rummaging around in your groin to find your passport. But these really do keep your money and documents safe. I like this method heaps better than those awful around-the-neck numbers.

Just be sure to actually tuck it into your pants, for the love of Pete. I’ve seen a shocking number of tourists attempt to use these as fanny packs. No. Fail.

Packing cubes
Ohhhh, these are fantastic. They will save you approximately three years of time in repacking your backpack every time you have to pull your jeans out of the bottom. If you want to get all Virgo about it, you can get different colored ones for different items – red for bottoms, blue for socks/underwear/bras and yellow for tops.

Shampoo bar
Doesn’t weigh much, lasts forever, won’t spill and gives you sexy beach hair. Win!

Lotion bar
See above.

Tinted moisturizer with spf
I don’t know about you, but two days into any trip I usually abandon any attempts at makeup and just start wearing sunscreen and chapstick. But with tinted sunscreen, at least I’m kind of faking it.

Tinted chapstick
Because I’m 11 on the inside, I have a deep and abiding love for Lipsmacker’s Dr. Pepper chapstick. But mileage may vary, so find something that works for you.

Really good smelling deodorant/solid perfume
There’s not point in wasting your spendy perfume on gaseous llamas or lascivious teenage Peruvian boys, but one doesn’t really enjoy stinking. I like to get a solid version of my favorite perfume or some really, really yummy deodorant.

Bar of laundry soap
You know, for all that hand-washing of underwear you’re going to do

Messenger bag
You’ll need a day bag to take around the city, but backpacks are easy targets for theives and fanny packs are douche-y. A messenger bag can be tucked under your arm or worn in the front without creating too much of a “I’m nervous that you’re going to rob me” vibe.

Sanity pack
Inflatable pillow! Ear-plugs! Sleeping pills (though I’d only use these on overnight flights or overnight bus rides in safe areas) Motion sickness pills! Ibuprofen! Copies of all your documents and cards! An extra camera battery! An extra memory card! Playing cards!

Whew! My goodness – what a list. What are do you always pack when you travel?
Photo by STIL on Unsplash

How To Find The Perfect Time To Travel (If That’s Even Possible)

Trying to figure out the perfect time to travel? Not sure when to plan a trip - when you're single and mortgage-free? When your kids can join you? Click through for helping finding the best time of life to travel!

Is there a perfect time in your life to travel? Is it before going to school? After graduation? Before you get that “adult” job? Once you’ve got a nest egg?
Figuring out when you should travel comes down to knowing what you want out.
Dear Sarah,
I am really excited to be finished with undergrad & begin the next chapter of my life. I have the standard siz month period to wait before starting to pay off my loans.
I know the rational thing to do is find a job immediately post-graduation…but I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. I worked for an NGO in Bolivia this past summer & loved every minute of it.
Part of me wants an experience in that vein again– I want to take off post-graduation for a little while (& I have saved funding to do so for a few months). Should I do it? When is the best time to travel?

You guys? I hear you. I totally, totally do. And a bit of real talk: There's rarely a 'perfect' time to do anything. Click To Tweet

Why There Isn’t a Perfect Time to Travel in Life

Just like having kids, changing careers or dying your hair purple, there is rarely a ‘perfect’ time to travel. There will always be other things that you could be doing. There will be other things people think are a better idea – interning, buying a house, marrying your partner, taking a temp job. But we have to make our dreams priorities if we want to make them happen, right?

And though there isn’t really a ‘perfect’ time to sell everything and backpack through India, doing it while you’re mortgage and child-free is a pretty good time.

That being said, I know people who have traveled for long periods of time while they paid on house payments or school loans. I know people who have left impressive jobs and who have traveled with children. If you want to do it badly enough, you can find a way!

How to Make Travel Work – At Any Time in Life

Prepare As Best You Can

Heading out for a big adventure takes a good bit of planning, not just for the traveling bit but also for the inevitable return to ‘reality.’ I felt a lot more comfortable doing my world ticket because I knew that I’d be starting graduate school the following November. Being a deeply nerdy Virgo I even need my free-falling adventures to be a bit structured.

Make sure you have enough money for your trip. However much you think you’ll need, you probably need at least 30% more. Consider volunteering in exchange for your room and board to save a bit of money. Stay in places for a while – you’ll save a lot of money on transportation and get to know the culture much, much better.

Have a return plan in place. Even if it’s just the knowledge that you can crash with your BFF and nanny for your aunt for the Summer, it’ll make you feel a lot better to know that you have some sort of plan.

Related: How to take a sabbatical without ruining your career

If You Think You’re Not Ready For Something, You’re Probably Right

If you suspect that you’re not ready to commit to a major or to start climbing the corporate ladder, you’re probably right. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m much more likely to think that I’m ready for something, bite off more than I can chew, choke quietly and spit it back out into my napkin than vice versa.

If something gives you The Fear, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it, right? It can be hard to differentiate between a wee case of cold feet and genuine trepidation, so sit down and have a serious think about it. When you imagine working in an office, how do you feel? When you think about listening to lectures, does that bottom of your stomach drop out?

Understand The Reality of Long-Term Travel

Traveling for months at a time is awesome. Totally life-changing, enlightening and amazing. It will also create holes in your resume, use up a lot of money, change the way you view the world and challenge a lot of relationships.

I spent most 2004 – 2008 living abroad and traveling, and I’m saving money at the moment for another world ticket. I would not trade my experiences for anything – really, anything. But you should also know that I’m 30, unmarried, childless, renting and making significantly less money than other people with my qualifications. All of which I’m totally fine with!

But you should realize that all of that travel? It comes with a price. Had I stayed in America and kept my nose to the societal grindstone I’m sure I’d be in a very different place in terms of finances, relationships and career.

But then I’m not really one for grindstones.

It should also be pointed out (and I’m really not being glib here) that the nomadic life is genuinely addictive, just like any other pleasurable habit. Itchy feet are real! Don’t let this dissuade you from traveling, just be aware that you might be chasing the dragon.

What do you guys think? Should our friend bite the bullet and book her tickets?

P.S. 7 travel tools I will not shut up about!

Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash

How To Survive Holiday Travel

Wondering how to survive holiday travel this year? Or just looking for travel tips? Click through for travel advice that will make all your trips easier!
In addition to fruitcakes and crowded shopping malls, holiday travel is one of the low points of the holiday season, no? Unless you’re actually into standing in check-in lines behind a crying baby with a full diaper. If that’s your pleasure, you’re a stronger person than I.
How do you survive hours in the car, delayed flights and nights spent on pull-out couches without losing your mind? Be Prepared.

How to Survive Holiday Travel (and not go crazy)

Pack For Holiday Travel Inconveniences

I have a friend whose life motto is ‘always pack a snack.’ Like, she applies this to her personal and professional life! And chances are, your holiday travel will be exponentially more awesome if you’re sustained by some smoked almonds and dark chocolate.
And you know what else you should bring? A neck pillow (I swear by this one), ear plugs, slippers, moisturizer, hand sanitizer, gum, and the phone numbers of your host/hotel/airline.
Even if your flight gets delayed, you hit a traffic jam or you find yourself sleeping on a cot in the hall, you can (probably) emerge from the ordeal looking and smelling good.

Be Prepared to Entertain Yourself

Obviously, most of your traveling will consist of sitting – at the gate, on the plane, in the car. And sitting, not surprisingly, in not terribly fun. But good lord! Surely you’re clever enough to entertain yourself right?! You can always read something light and fun, do some Sudoku, listen to podcasts (I love This American Life) or play one of a million games on your iPhone.

But how about some old school people watching? Or a game of Would You Rather? If you’re in the car, play license plate bingo or annoy everybody by singing 100 bottles of beer on the wall.Or you could do always do kegels.

Channel Some Holiday Travel Zen

We all know that getting wound up by the snow-delayed flight or the heavy traffic is pointless. It’s also worth remembering:
In travel, and often in life, things will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you'd planned. Click To Tweet

So give your budget and your schedule a bit of wiggle room and you’ll be a lot happier.

It’s also worth remembering that the annoying guy in front of you who’s causing a scene at the baggage claim? He’s not trying to be salacious, he’s just stressed out and tired, like everybody else. And the baby that’s howling behind you?

She’s not on a personal mission to give you a migraine. Take a few deep breaths, imagine yourself tucking into some mashed potatoes alongside your favorite aunt and try to remember that getting there at 5:45 instead of 4:30 is not going to be the end of the world as we know it.

Use Your Holiday Travel Time Wisely

If you can’t stomach the idea of sitting idly on a plane for three hours, you can certainly use your time to read A Very Important Book you’ve been meaning to get to, plot your plans for the New Year, write your Christmas cards or work on your novel.

One of my favorite things to do on any return flight is compile a list of my 100 favorite memories from the trip while they’re all fresh in my mind. It’s sliiightly more rewarding than watching that screening of Old Dogs that the airline is showing.

Are you traveling far this holiday season?  How do you survive holiday travel?

P.S. How to live out of a suitcase – glamorously

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

A Love Letter to New Zealand

If you’re from New Zealand, have ever been there or like The Lord of the Rings/Flight of The Conchords/rugby you should probably pop over to Lovelorn Unicorn and check out my nearly exhaustive list of all the things one could love about those two islands. I only lived there for a year and a half, but I think that’s long enough to begin a love affair that will last a lifetime, don’t you?