going solo…

If you’ve ever been backcountry backpacking, one of many topics of discussion are “have you done a solo trip?” Sort of seems a rite of passage I’ve considered, calling myself a backpacker. There will always be varying levels of isolation with the length of time being out. Whatever…. it’s a daunting thought!

So here I am! Extended solo traveling for XX days/months/year. I do not consider “backpacker” traveling through cities and sites quite the same as the backcountry, nevertheless, I was still a bit nervous about it. I consider myself a people person and was always more comfortable in the company of others.

I am now in my 4th month of travel and much more comfortable being solo than was at the beginning. Frankly I’m not sure I could change at this point. Looking back at the connections I’ve made with amazing people or places, I don’t feel some of it would’ve been possible if I wasn’t on my own. Solo travelers have to reach out if you want to meet others. Most common start to every conversation…

– Where are you from?
– Where have you been?
– Where are you going?
– How long have you been traveling?
– What’s your favorite place/activity?
– Oh btw… what is your name?

By now, you will figure out if you will be having multiple beverages of choice with this person or end up signing up for an activity together. Or even crazier, by coincidence, run in to them again in another city or another island and hanging out. Most solo travelers that I’ve run in to are just pretty damn cool! Then you end up Facebook friends and continue to see and inspired by the other epic and cool adventures they’re going on. Thinking solo yet?

Other kinds of non-solo travelers:

  • Pairs which consists of couples or just 2/3 friends. I have found pairs to be just as friendly as solo travelers. I wonder if you simply start getting sick of each other and just need someone else to talk to other than each other.
  • Groups of anything 4 or more. The groups are a bit tough to break into. They certainly are inclusive and don’t seem to mix as well with anyone outside of the group. The larger the group the worse.
  • Busloads of groups with a tour guide holding a flag up high for you to follow. I beg you now… PLEASE, PLEASE do not do this. Part of travel is to get lost but then are you really? Think independently! Explore!  Boys, hand the map over… she can probably navigate better than you if she’s a solo traveler!
  • Disclaimer. There are solo/groups travelers that simply party all night and sleep for most of the day. I’m not sure any of my logic applies to these folks. I guess it just all depends on the amount of alcohol consumed.

I can definitely say traveling solo, you will begin to figure out your tendencies. Notice patterns. I do admire the couples traveling… to be able to share that “compatible” sense of adventure or that it appears.  Otherwise, I assume, you will certainly figure out how “incompatible” you really are.

Either way, JUST GO!  Solo…?

“go find yourself first so you can also find me” – rumi

“there are some places in life where you can only go alone. embrace the beauty of your solo travel” – mandy hale

“one travels more usefully when being alone, because he reflects more” – thomas jefferson

Travel-Alone

american war….. huh, what’s that?

One of the primary reasons I enjoy traveling is to get a different perspective from the world that I grew up in.  To learn about the others that we share the planet we live on and certainly play in their backcountry as much as I enjoy my own.  To understand other cultures and believe or not, there’s always another side to a story.

I chose Vietnam as a destination for several reasons.  The main reason was a National Geographic collection of photos that highlights the natural beauty of the caves in Vietnam.  I also wanted to get insight on history.  Some say learning history gives us the knowledge, not only to appreciate the good we’ve done but also learn from mistakes so to avoid repeating them.

What do you mean the “American” War…. I thought it was called the Vietnam War.  It was during a time when I was an adolescent and only grew to learn about it in history class.  Knowing that I was traveling to Vietnam, I watched additional documentaries to gain an “unbiased” opinion.  I assume we can generally agree that it was a very controversial military engagement.

What was I expecting when I came to Vietnam?  I really wanted to ask the hard questions to the minds of the locals.  Unintentionally, I arrived the day before Vietnam’s National Day.  The day celebrated for independence from the U.S.A and France.  The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is governed by a one party system led by the Communist Party of Vietnam.  Uhmm… obviously I don’t know everything below the surface of communism but it surely did not feel like what I believe most of us stereotypically associate with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Again, I’m not a political science major and there’s extremes to everything but what I saw was life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I saw modernization, I saw capitalism, and I saw a celebrated and prideful people that is rich in history and culture.  Seemed quite disciplined actually with the presence of a few more military uniforms and signage with allegiances to Ho Chi Minh (a communist revolutionary leader).  Personally I prefer being surrounded by military uniforms. 🙂  I did hear a few comments that would lead you to believe that they don’t have quite the freedom of speech as we are accustomed to.

I visited Hỏa Lò Prison which was used during the war to hold American prisoners of war.  Watching and reading their documented footage of the war was very interesting to say the least.  I guess your perspective is quite different if another country came to yours and rolled in with a bombing campaign.  Why did we engage in the Vietnam War again?  Ah, yes… to stop the spread of Communism.  I kinda used an analogy if another country would have assisted the North or the South during the Civil War.  I hate hindsight but I don’t think it should have taken 17 years and cost 58,000+ U.S. casualties to figure .  I did a 3 day adventure in the jungles and caves of Phong Nga National Park.  We often whispered to each other and said… “could you imagine being a kid and dropped in to this god forsaken jungle, be shot at by someone you can’t see, in a place you couldn’t pick out on a map, try to clear an objective that didn’t quite have a goal, and then coming home without your countries support”.  For that, I say… this war sucked for all!!  Some quarreling between brothers and sisters need to just be handled on their own.  However, we’re in a much more complicated world than that with strategic alliances, big business, and the control of oil.  It was also enlightening talking to other travelers from all over the world about each others’ perceptions.  There were several occasions where multiple countries were represented and having a beer while talking international relations. It was cool!

I’ve been in Vietnam for almost a month now and have enjoyed my stay.  I thoroughly played in their backcountry,  visited several museums, saw many pagodas and temples, ate their awesome food, and befriended some locals as well as making many more connections from folks from all over the world.  Vietnam is a very beautiful country and very affordable and I highly recommend a visit if you are coming out to SE Asia.

does happy have to be profitable?

Get paid while doing something that makes you happy!  Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?  It can be, I suppose, depending on your perspective.

This last week I volunteered at an organic fruits and vegetables farm up in the far reaches in the mountain province of the Philippines.  I really just wanted to immerse in to a local culture and figured breaking bread and hanging out with farmers for a week was a good way to do so.  I found it through helpx.net and in exchange for some work on the farm, I was able to stay at no cost.  I’m not sure you could classify my efforts as work; than more of a hands-on educational experience.  I chopped sunflower stalks that were used for bedding for coffee planting, made natural fertilizers through vermi-something/something (technical term for worms), picked beans for market, planted coffee, and re-planted banana trees.  I was even fortunate enough to feast on a meal totally picked and cooked that day on the farm.

Welcome to Layog Country Farm owned by Flordelina (phonetically pronounced Untee Lina).  Here’s a woman, locally born and raised as part of the Igorot peoples.  The Igorot’s are indigenous to the mountain region of Luzon and have long standing history in the Philippines.  Some of that history being folk-lore and seems to have been passed on till this day.  Auntie Lina is an idealist!  Here’s this woman who wants to, not only, give back to her own and promote healthy, organic, and sustainable farming practices to a region that has been farming for centuries but to also invite outsiders to experience her farm-stay and share the knowledge and hospitality of the Igorot peoples.  She also believes that all, specifically the poor, should have access to her produce and is really ruffling some feathers taking her goods to market and selling at the same cost of the non-organic farmers, which most likely has been sprayed with chemicals to yield production.

Let’s be real… the label “organic” is costly and Whole Foods (large organic grocery chain) would laugh if asked to enter this market.  However, all Auntie Lina wants is get a little assistance from local authorities to help offset costs so they can advocate and promote healthy farming, while keeping the proven techniques the Igorot’s have used and passed on for generations.  You can feel her passion when she talks about the farm.  You can also quickly figure out this is not the get-rich-if-any-profit-at-all business plan.

The day I had arrived to the farm, Auntie Lina had just returned from a meeting with some local agricultural authority and a bit discouraged feeling dismissed in her efforts.  The following day she invited me to join her as she put on a lunch for the Dept. of Trade & Industry and also with another person from the office of the same local agricultural authority that dismissed her previously.  I didn’t understand anything spoken non-English but it was obvious that both groups were especially encouraged by her efforts and were even offering up the endless possibilities.  By the end of the meetings she was jumping for joy (literally) and even threw me a hug in the process.

So does happy have to be profitable?  I say NO it doesn’t Auntie Lina!  Your passion is real and is genuinely intended to help improve the lives of others.  The world needs more people like you!  Keep doing what makes you happy…… so BE HAPPY!

“Research shows that once you have all of your material needs taken care of — which most of us, all of us, here in this room do — research shows that there are very few things in life that can actually elevate your level of happiness. One of those things is contributing to a cause larger than yourself.  Sheryl WuDunn”

LCF cabin
R
oughing it in my cabin for the week. 😉

detour adventure!

I’m a planner.  I’ll have spreadsheets with notes, contact info, and costs with my transportation, lodging, and excursion logistics.  There’s typically no doubt where I should be, how I’ll get there, and where i’ll be staying…… well, then your presented with an opportunity and so detour adventure begins.

Week 2 destination Sagada.  I will be boarding a 8 hour bus ride from Manila to Banaue to catch another 2 hour jeepney bound for Sagada.   Upon arrival at Banaue, we had a layover to wait for other passengers that may be headed the same direction.  There’s a few of us that head directly towards the closest restaurant for a hot cup of coffee and breakfast.  The normal order of conversation for travelers starts like this….. hi, my name is, where are you from, where are you headed, and where have you been?

I’d like to introduce you to Ben, Tabby, and Aaron from Singapore.  I will certainly talk more about them later but for now let’s just say they were the catalyst that made me take a crazy detour in my schedule for the next 3 days.  They began to talk about their plans to hike up in the mountains to a hidden village in the town of Kalinga to get a tattoo from a 92 year old tattoo artist named Whang Od.  I knew of her from my son that told me of some tribal tattoo artist in the mountains of the Philippines that uses a thorn attached to the end of a bamboo stick and another stick to repeatedly tap the thorn in to your skin with the ink.  As Ben, Tabby, and Aaron talked about making specific plans from Singapore to get tattoos, I had wished I made plans as well.  Then suddenly I asked if I can tag along.  They already had the lodging coordinated along with the person from the village that you need to hire to guide you in.  They said YES!  I thought… how in the hell am I gonna make this work?!

The logistics of the trip were a bit complicated because it involved a somewhat difficult hike around rice patties and up in to the mountains.  This was a problem for me because I was carrying a 50L pack in addition to another 25L daypack.  In order for me to be able to do this, I would have to find a place to store my main pack and carry only essentials for a couple of days.  I also had to find an ATM to pull a bit more cash (this can be a problem in the rural parts of the Philippines).  Both storage and cash had to pull through for this to happen.

First things first, found an ATM and was able to get cash!  Pre-trip tasks 1 of 2 completed!  Now it’s time to eat lunch.  We had a bit of difficulty finding a place but was finally guided to the metal screen door to a hallway sized restaurant that appeared to be under construction to expand.  Welcome to Amelia’s Cafe.  The food turned out to be awesome and was also inexpensive.  Full tummy and now I have to figure out where I can possibly store my bag.  I asked Amelia if she had any idea if she knew of a place I could lock up my bag.  I was basically prepared to rent a room for 2 days and just leave my pack.  She then told me I could leave it with her.  Yeah, right?!  I proceeded to tell her that I’m on week 2 of my 9 mos journey and losing this bag would be disastrous.  I don’t know why but she seemed sincere and honest.  She refused my offer to pay and escorted me in to her home to show me where she would store it.  She said…. “trust me” and I did.  This was totally out of my character but I really wanted to meet this tattoo artist.  Pre-trip tasks 2 of 2 completed!  I’m in!!

The next three days were epic!  I met, hung out, ate, rode on top of a jeepney, slept in a hut, and got tattoos with 3 Singaporeans which I now consider life-long friends.  They adopted me and were some of the coolest people I’ve met.  It also turned out we were headed to the same city of Sagada afterwards AND staying at the same hotel.  We then hung out this week doing the same excursions and shared life stories over a couple bottles of brandy.  Oh btw, upon return from the village in Buscalan, my bag was awaiting safe and sound.  Amelia still tried to refuse my compensation but I dropped the money and ran.  I was so grateful that a little restaurant owner helped out a total stranger.

At the beginning of my trip, I was repeatedly warned about cannibals in the mountains, the dangers of landslides, and not to trust anyone.  The only cannibalism I saw were the village children on the bag of chocolate we handed out.  Landslides and lightning… ah whatever!  And trusting is tricky but I’d like to believe I’m pretty good at calling bullshit.  Part of my journey is to disconnect from my routine and reconnect with humanity.   I have reconnected this last week and feel very fortunate.  I will say goodbye to my Singaporean friends this week but believe we will cross paths again.  I will also find a way to repay my thanks to Amelia for her hospitality and  she will hear from me again.

There are times when you take that detour, you will create some of the most memorable experiences in your life.  This is one of those times.

IMG_2716

My friends Ben, Tabby, Charlie (guide), and Aaron.

some people just get it!

Throughout the planning for my journey, I’ve engaged in countless conversations with all sorts of friends, family, and strangers.  I have also read many blogs and listened to bunches of podcasts.

there are those who get it and those who do not.

On one hand, I am quickly fueled by the passion that others share in the benefits of extended travel and adventure…. and then on the other hand, I am just as quickly bummed out by the fear for some.

We live our lives based on our surroundings and is fundamentally the same no matter where you are.  You go to school so you can get a good job and support yourself or your family.  You work hard so you can advance and in the process, hopefully able to do the things you enjoy the most.  However, life deals you a hand of cards and you get in to a routine that society conditions you to be.

If you are happy with your routine, then good for you.  If you need a bit more, then welcome to my world.  I’m not exactly sure where I got bit by the adventure bug but it was surely fueled by adventure racing.  You will realize that I often refer to this adventure racing thing, not only of the dynamics of the sport but more importantly the people you form friendships with. I recently had a going away party with some friends that are all have been, at one time part of this world.  These folks get it and ALL have gone on extended travels, want to, or continuously go on epic adventures.

In travel, I see the eyes of wonderment when you reach out in good will.  I see the beauty in other cultures.  I see this planet that we’re on and cannot seem to get enough of nature and all of its glory.  Literally… it stimulates all senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach  out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m only 4 days in to this journey and there’s so much to gain in experiences both good and bad. Yes, there probably is bad but it’s all relative and couldn’t be possibly as bad as routine or not living a life of experiences and connections.

do YOU get it?

how do you pack for a year?

I have no idea!  However, I find enjoyment in the logistics of it all.

This part of planning for life on the road is probably one of the more difficult things to do.  I openly admit I have somewhat of an obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to being geared up and prepared.  I blame/credit this disorder on a favorite sport of adventure racing.  The whole dynamic of being able to have what you need when you need it.  btw… I don’t care who you are or what you do, you should always have a few feet of duct tape handy!

btw… I don’t care who you are or what you do, you should always have a few feet of duct tape handy!

packforayear

When you don’t know… google it!  There is so much information with blogs, pack lists, and youtube videos.  The range is extreme with a carry-on 30L pack with just a little more than a few tshirts and boardshorts to those who have regretfully carried a 70L pack.  I’ve packed for 3 weeks but never for 6, 7, 12 months.

As I comb through all the information, I think I may run in to a problem.  3-5 tshirts!!  This is going to be an issue.  How in the hell am I going to narrow down to my favorite 5 tshirts from the $%^& (it’s confidential) to select from.  Or shoes for that matter!  I mean YES, I have specific shoes respectively for hiking, backpacking, kayaking, road biking, mountain biking, trail running, road running, climbing, sandals for casual, sandals for performance, and all-in-one footwear that you can run a little, bike a little, and get wet a little.  Are you feeling my pain?

I’m pretty confident I’ve got the adventuring down BUT I’m now dealing with a new dynamic…. part of this journey is to disconnect but stay connected as well.   Technology is necessary…. laptop, cellphone, camera, go-pro, gps, usb, microSD, battery pack, adapters, and cables!!   The ability to do extended travel probably requires some level of ongoing personal management that needs to be done online.  Also, how else can you plan ongoing epic adventures and book travel without it.  Besides, gotta keep in touch with family and friends.

So after months of research and multiple exchanges, I’m going with the REI Crestral 48L and Osprey Manta 28L packs for this adventure.  I’m sure I don’t have everything I need and also have things that I don’t need.  I do know I’m pretty much ready for game time and look forward to more experiencing rather than planning.

the time is right!

It’s all about timing.  How does one come to a point in their life to give it all up and travel?  You always read about it and think about it but always find a reason why you can’t.

How did I get to a point to pull the trigger?  It wasn’t but just over a year ago I was in a discussion with a good friend and she mentioned about quitting her job to travel for a year.  The logistics of it all and the variety of activities.  I remember being a bit overwhelmed and thought there’s no way in hell I would be able to check out like that; thinking a month maximum.  I still had a kid in college, in the midst of wanting to buy a home, and in normal routines of life.

In Oct. 2014, I caught a bug to make a big change in my life and applied for the Peace Corps.  I’ve participated in humanitarian efforts for the past two years and knew I wanted to be of service.  From Marine Corps to Peace Corps… how cool would that be?!

Unfortunately I was not selected for Peace Corps service.  I knew the selection process was competitive and the chances were slim but was still bummed about it.  Took about a day to get over it but I said to myself, “there’s nobody that can tell me that I can’t help others!”  This time no kid in college, no mortgage, no bills, and still in good enough shape to hike up a mountain.  I did not want to look back and say shoulda, woulda, coulda!

So here I go… researching and planning the physical, mental, and financial logistics of quitting work and traveling for a year.  So much to think about…. leaving the security of a job, where to go, how much money will I need, how much time in each location, where do I sleep, what are the visa requirements, and what do I pack?

Oh wait… my employer!  That entity that has provided for my quality of life for the past 7 years.  How do I tell them and when do I leave?  I was honest about it all and informed my manager 6 weeks prior to resigning and deciding two months of transition with an effective resignation date of the 4th of July.  🙂

The time is right!  My journey of adventure and self discovery as you will.