Travel

Top 5 Craziest Travel Stories

Since I’ve been back in the U.S. from backpacking around Southeast Asia and Australia for over a year, I have been asked countless times about the crazy stories I must have. Although I traveled by myself, as you can imagine, I met hundreds of incredible people along the way and I don’t want to ever forget the memories I made. This brings me to this list: *brace yourself* my top 5 craziest travel stories! Hopefully you can get an idea of the craziness that has been my life traveling these past 3.5 years, or if you were there for any of these experiences, it will bring back memories from wild times :).

 

 

  • #1- Trekking in Laos: In Laos, one of the top activities I wanted to do in SE Asia was the “Vang Vieng Challenge,” which ended up being the most physically and mentally challenging two days of my life. With my new friends, Katherine, Anna and Alex, from my hostel who I convinced to come with me, we got our food for two days at the local market with our guide before heading to the mountains. We got to try ant larvae and all kinds of Laotian food wrapped in banana leaves! Fast forward through hours of trekking through the jungle with a machete, zip lining into waterfalls, abseiling off wooden platforms hundreds of feet over the jungle floor, rock climbing up cliff faces, and crossing suspended bridges….. we had a major mishap. Alex was the first to cross the suspended bridge, which was slippery from the waterfall, and suddenly slipped on the rope (don’t worry, we were cabled in!) and dislocated his shoulder! It all happened so quickly and he was in a lot of pain, so our first reaction was to try to pop it back into place (probably not the best idea for people without any medical training) which didn’t work. Long story short, our two guides had to get him down the mountain to the hospital and left me, Katherine and Anna on the mountain to wait. As you can imagine, we had no idea how long it would be and went a little stir crazy for the afternoon. No one would ever be able to hear us, so we were yelling, singing, and going a little crazy because we couldn’t sit down due to the fire ants and spiders. We thought about trying to find our camp at the top of the mountain (we still had an hour of rock climbing and hiking left) in case the guide didn’t come back for us, but we decided to stay put. It was a good decision because he came back for us about 4 hours later! (Lots of happy tears!) We made it to our little hut we slept in, which had rat poop all over, rats on the rafters and a chewed up mosquito net, but we survived and woke up to incredible views above the clouds with butterflies everywhere. Our shower was jumping into a waterfall pool after rappelling down the 300 foot face of the falls. After we got back to the town after a crazy few days, we were bruised and bloodied from leeches, had fire ant and mosquito bites all over, and were down a person (sorry, Alex), I couldn’t walk for a few days, but it was totally worth it.

 

 

  • #2- Struck by lightning in the Philippines: Yup, you heard that right. I was on a boat in the Philippines that was struck by lightning. On an 8-hour boat journey from Coron to El Nido with my friend Lyndsay, we hit a major storm on what I would later find out is one of the most dangerous boat routes in the Philippines. We got put on a tiny boat (the kind with bamboo on the sides for balance), which was obviously not meant for an 8 hour ride, with about 25 Filipino people and one French backpacker (never got his name after going through such a crazy experience together!), and tried to ignore the pounding rain outside of the tarps that were pinned down to the sides of the otherwise open-air vessel. Out of nowhere, when I was chatting to the French guy about two feet from the mast (highest point of the boat), there was a HUGE explosion louder than anything I had ever heard before. Everything was silent and I saw nothing but white from what I thought was the engine exploding and what the French guy thought was a bomb. Who knows how long I blacked out for, but all I know is the next thing I knew I was standing up across the boat where Lyndsay was sitting with my day pack on my back (not sure why I packed it up or put it on thinking I would be going somewhere..) and trying to yell at Lyndsay but not being able to hear anything. Every single person on the boat already had a life vest on, including the crew. I immediately knew I must have ruptured both eardrums and may be deaf, but my first thought was “crap, now I won’t be able to dive anymore!” which seems kind of ridiculous looking back. Lyndsay is not a fan of the open ocean in the first place, so you can only imagine our reactions to this craziness. She was the only one who knew immediately that it was a lightning strike which struck the metal trash can that was touching the mast. Everyone on board was absolutely stunned and after trying to evaluate if there were any injuries, it looked like only one guy near us got electrocuted and couldn’t move his arm. I was most worried about the two babies on board though. The crew began lowering the life boats and everyone began grabbing their valuables, when suddenly the crew member who was in the boiler room below got the engine to work again. Thank God for that! Long story short, we ended up stopping at the next port and we made it back to El Nido safely eventually. My ears were ringing for a few days after that but my hearing eventually came back. I was paranoid about it for months though, so I actually got it checked while in Australia at a free hearing test truck. I am still within normal range- phew! What an insane story though.

 

 

  • #3- Mountain motorbike trip in the rain: I would like to say that my first time riding a motorbike was an absolute dream, but unfortunately my motorbike ride with my Dutch friend, Michelle, ended up being more of a nightmare. Bokor Mountain is a famous landmark in Kampot, Cambodia (highly recommend visiting here and staying at Arcadia Hostel, it has a waterslide and blob off the hostel bar!) which many backpackers come to enjoy. What looked like a sunny day during rainy season in Cambodia ended up being quite the opposite once Michelle and I broke the cloud base on the way up. I have never experienced pelting rain as much as I did that day, with no poncho or protection of any kind (except a helmet) and not being able to see two feet in front of me at times because of the thick rain clouds. Not only did we go up the mountain in the freezing cold wearing shorts and tank tops, but my bike actually broke down on the side of the mountain in the pissing rain. There was a moment of sheer panic when I realized I had no idea how a motorbike even works, let alone how to fix one. Luckily, a local guy drove by and obviously felt bad for a girl looking like a sad puppy on the side of a mountain, and somehow jumped it for me! The best part about our day was that we spent at least 30 minutes looking for the famous creepy casino at the top of the mountain, and when we finally asked a woman we saw walking towards us through the clouds, she laughed and said we had been circling the parking lot the entire time. Now that is the worst visibility I have ever heard of! We couldn’t even see a giant casino right in front of us! We warmed up inside and had some laughs about our ridiculous day, then rode back down without seeing the waterfall or big Buddha we tried to find. Luckily, on the way down, the clouds opened up and we stopped for some incredible views of central Cambodia. Overall, it was one wild ride that I will never forget but definitely wouldn’t do again during rainy season!

 

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  • #4- Canceled flight to Croatia: On a Europe trip two years ago with my friend Courtney, we took a seemingly simple flight from Venice to Split, Croatia. Wrong. Our flight was delayed, then canceled hours later, we were led around the airport on a wild goose chase to try to collect our luggage, were not told what was going on other than that the next flight would be the following day. This was an obvious problem considering we began our 10-day boat trip the following morning out of Split. There was a lot of confusion with the airline and airport employees, who were yelling out for passengers on the Split flight all over the airport with about 50 of us in tow. They ended up putting us on an unmarked charter bus with a driver who didn’t speak a word of English without letting us get food or go to the bathroom. *imagine absolute chaos* All we were told was that it would take us “only four hours” to get to Split. So we said okay, we will make the best of it as long as we get there at some point today. Well, fast forward to the Slovenia border, where we were quite literally dropped off on the side of the road and told there would be another bus to pick us up soon. Yup, in an industrial area at the Slovenia border with no bathroom. Almost everyone on the bus went to the bathroom on the side of the road or behind a parked car. Luckily, to our relief, another bus actually did come for us to take us the rest of the way through Slovenia and Croatia to get to Split. We made lots of new friends on the bus, people decided to turn the ride into a drinking event, and we all complained together in a close bond of camaraderie. After a crazy 10 hours on the bus, we finally made it to Split! The best part is, Courtney and I ended up getting reimbursed for our flight in full a few months later (yay for travel insurance!).

 

 

  • #5 Attempted kidnapping in Cambodia: Warning to family members- maybe don’t read this one because it’s a little scary. It’s a pretty long story, but I ended up taking a local bus to Battambang, Cambodia from Phnom Penh, the capital later in the afternoon after all the regular buses left. I had come back to PP to pick up my passport which I had left at the Myanmar embassy to get my visa processed and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible to avoid staying another night there. After taking a few random motorbike rides from locals to get to a “travel agency”, I finally ended up on a bus in the late afternoon. Thank God I brought snacks and water because after a police raid on the bus (not sure what happened because no one spoke English, but we got held up for about 45 minutes) and tons of stops to let everyone else off the bus before me, it was 11:30 p.m. before we (me, the ticket collector and the bus driver) arrived to Battambang. When he suddenly pulled over on the side of the highway, I knew I was in trouble. I immediately remembered that in the chaos of the day taking a 4 hour bus to Phnom Penh to get my passport and trying to find a bus out of there, I never told anyone where I was going. I realized I could be entering a bad situation alone at night in the middle of rural Cambodia where no one knew where I was. As soon as they threw my backpack off the bus, I knew I had no choice but to get off to the scam they set me up for. A group of local men on motorbikes, who I presume were the bus driver’s friends who wanted some extra cash for an unnecessary taxi ride, was gathered right outside where the bus left me. After a deep breath, I put my innocent tourist smile on and mentally prepared to get ripped off from this motorbike ride into the city. My lucky driver took my day pack between his legs and I hopped on the back as we took off on the highway (no helmet, no worries, right?). After a few minutes of driving with my non-English speaking friend, I decided to check how far we were from my hostel on my offline map (download Maps.Me app right now if you travel abroad at all), and to my surprise, he had just taken a wrong turn. I alerted my driver by pointing at the map and he ignored me, continuing on a different road heading away from the city center. I double checked on the map, and confirmed there was no way we could be heading toward Battambang, so I considered my options….jump off the bike (not possible because he had my day pack with valuables between his legs), whack him in the head and take over the steering (totally realistic), or try to remain calm and friendly. I chose the latter, and unfortunately was ignored for what seemed like an eternity, but after getting a bit aggressive and yelling at him while grabbing his arm, he seemed to get the idea that I knew we weren’t going to my destination. He ended up eventually taking me to my hostel, where I was pretty shaken up for the night, and I still have no idea where he was planning on taking me. And I’d rather not.

 

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Congratulations, you’ve (almost) made it through a ridiculously long blog post!

Here are a few bonus crazy stories that almost made the cut:

  • Did I ever tell you about that one time I did a homestay on the Mekong Delta of Vietnam with my new friends from my hostel, Jackie, Silke and Matthijs, when we got dropped off on the side of a river at night in the pouring rain and were directed to a random man who took us on his boat to get to his house an hour down the river. No English spoken, just a handoff of a two-person motorbike poncho Jackie and I shared to keep the rain out. Epic!

 

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  • Or the time I did a homestay with a family on a rural island in the Philippines- no running water, cell service, internet or electricity before 8pm! I went island hopping, ate unlimited fresh scallops and crab prepared by my host family, and met the whole village who acted like I was a celebrity because most had not ever met a foreigner. I will never forget Gigantes Sur!

 

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  • Or the time I went on a road trip with four random guys from the internet in Australia. While working in Melbourne, I had a week off and was determined to see the Great Ocean Road, which is a few hours southeast of Melbourne. All of my friends either had to work or had already been, so I was left with three choices: wait until friends could go at a later time, pay $100 to go on a day tour on a bus, or try to find some random people to hitch a ride with. I’m sure you can imagine which one I chose. After the five of us strangers (Patrick, Patrick, Kyle, Erik and me) met at a train station outside of the city ready for our spontaneous camping trip, we had an amazing time, minus constantly swatting those annoying Aussie cattle flies!

 

 

  • Or that one time I met Ella and Jeremiah at the airport and went on a three day trekking/homestay trip in Sapa the next morning in Vietnam. That first night in Hanoi, my phone was stolen by a guy who swiped it from me on a motorbike, and after one hour of sleep, I got on our six hour bus ride to Sapa. We had to trek four hours through the mountains just to get to the Hmong village we stayed in! We saw wild water buffalo with kids atop, hundreds of acres of hemp, tons of rice paddies, local homes and schools and even a waterfall. Our tour guide was 17 and had two kids already- she was amazing! Most girls in the Hmong village we stayed in get married between 13 and 15 and have kids soon after. The family we stayed with cooked for us, made us drink way too much homemade rice wine, and were so hospitable even with the little that they had. Even though we went three days without a shower and were absolutely exhausted, it was an experience I will never forget.

 

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Do you have any crazy travel stories?! Share them in the comments section!

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Backpacker Guide to the Perhentian Islands: Malaysia’s Hidden Paradise

Ummm…what is the Perhentian Islands?!

That’s a great question, considering most people who visit Malaysia haven’t even heard of it! The Perhentian Islands consist of two islands, Perhentian Besar (big) and Perhentian Kecil (small) and are off the east coast of mainland Malaysia. Not only do the Perhentians have the cheapest diving (seriously, cheaper than Koh Tao aka $18USD for a fun dive including all gear), but it’s also amazing! The visibility is typically excellent (I saw 20+ meters vis at some sites), and I have seen everything from sharks to turtles to octopi to Humphead Parrotfish to Trigger fish. The Perhentians are a hidden diver’s oasis, but are also great for relaxing on the beach with crystal clear water and white sand. I have a feeling this place will become a lot more popular once more people start finding out about it :).

 

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When to go:

The Perhentian Islands are open from March through mid-October and completely close from November to March during monsoon season. Peak season is June-August but you can find great weather and diving conditions throughout the season.

 

What to do:

Diving is definitely the number one thing to do on the Perhentians, but snorkeling is also popular and even cheaper. Relax in a hammock or on the beach, explore the viewpoints and different bays, go to the beach parties at night on Long Beach, or watch a movie at the multiple places who offer free movie nights. I recommend heading to Ombok Hotel/Restaurant at Coral Bay for their nightly big-screen movie 7:30, which is an awesome way to relax with some popcorn or dinner.

 

 

How to get there:

Part of what makes the Perhentians a hidden gem in Malaysia is that not everyone is willing to go through the effort to get there. However, those who do are greatly rewarded and I am one of the many people who came back for a second time.

Fly: You can fly into Kota Bharu airport and take an hour long expensive taxi ride to Kuala Besut, which must be timed right unless you want to stay overnight to catch the ferry.

Bus: The majority of budget backpackers take the night bus from various locations around Malaysia. I have gotten to the Perhentians from both Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, which are on the opposite side of the country, but it was relatively painless. You can book a bus at easybook.com or busonlineticket.com and simply check in with your emailed boarding pass at the bus terminal of your choosing. The bus ticket cost will vary, but mine was 46 ringgit from KL, which is about $11 USD. Not bad for saving a night of accommodation as well!

After you arrive to Kuala Besut, you can catch one of the ferries to the islands which run from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The return ticket is 70 ringgit no matter where you buy it (doesn’t save you any money to buy a return since one way is 35, it’s just more convenient), and just show up to the ferry terminal 15 minutes beforehand. The boat ride is about 30-45 minutes, depending on conditions and how many stops the boat makes. To get back to Kuala Besut, you can take any of the ferries which run at 8:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., usually the first or last depending on whether you want to take the day bus or night bus back to a main city.

 

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Where to stay:

Perhentian Besar- nicer resorts, more expensive, “honeymoon” area

Perhentian Kecil- cheaper, more backpacker vibe, especially Long Beach

Note that many people are put off by the Perhentians because virtually no accommodation options are listed online, so they think they have limited/expensive options. Not true! Just show up and find somewhere that fits your needs :).

Recommended accommodation:

Matahari Divers (Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil)- 25 ringgit for a fan dorm room and the best dive packages. I highly recommend diving with them whether you stay there or not! To give you an idea of cost, I paid 400 ringgit (a little under $100USD) for 4 nights of accommodation and 4 fun dives with all gear included. How crazy is that?!

Panorama Divers (Long Beach)- Inexpensive dorm rooms are available here (Somewhere around 25-30 ringgit if I remember correctly) with dive packages, but Matahari has better package pricing. This is a much bigger dive resort and has an AMAZING buffet breakfast that you should definitely try once!

Monkey Divers (Long Beach)- 50 ringgit for an air-con dorm room (game changer!) and they also offer affordable diving packages.

Oh La La- Dorm rooms run around 30 ringgit per night and the location is great (right next to Panorama, Monkey and Matahari dive centres. I haven’t personally stayed here but I’ve heard good things!

Maya Bungalows (Coral Bay on Perhentian Kecil)- 50 ringgit for a 2-person fan bungalow on the beach with ensuite bathroom. I stayed here for a few nights last year and thought it was a great deal!

Sunrise Hostel (Long Beach)- 20 ringgit for a dorm room, but I really wouldn’t recommend staying here unless you are desperate for super cheap accommodation. There is zero security and the staff was rude last time I stayed there, even after someone got robbed in my room!

There are also plenty of random bungalows you can walk around Long Beach or Coral Bay to find, but pricing will depend on the place. Bubu Villas are on the far side of Long Beach from the pier if you’re looking for a fancier hotel and Ombak is on Coral Bay which is also on the pricier side.

 

 

Extra tips:

Bring CASH with you! There are NO ATMs on the islands- nope, not one. If you plan to do a big diving course, most places will accept credit cards for an extra fee. However, Matahari does cash advances from a card with a 5% fee for customers and 10% for non-customers (handy to know!). Also, bring your own locks because most of the budget accommodation options don’t have much security (no doors, keys or lockers), so it’s better to be safe than sorry :). Bring plenty of books for relaxing at the beach between dives, because all of the book exchanges on the island require you to trade two books to take one, aka BYO!

 

Have any more recommendations for the Perhentians that I missed?! Let me know in the comments section! If you do decide to visit, feel free to reach out to me and I am more than willing to answer any questions! Thanks for reading and happy travels :).

 

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On Happiness

Happiness- could this be any more vague?! What even is happiness? Is it posting cool Instagrams, eating and drinking at trendy places in trendy cities, getting your tan on at the beach, hustling to pursue your dream career, having the perfect relationships? I’ve been thinking about what being “happy” means a lot lately. To me, happiness isn’t black and white. There are many facets to being happy and it can look totally different depending on the person. But how do we know if we are happy and how can we improve our happiness?! Hopefully this post can shed a bit of light. So…here goes a little different type of blog post than usual. Watch out..it may get personal!

 

 

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Throughout my travels, I often ask myself: if I had a flight home/___ country tomorrow, how would I feel? If I would be sad about it, then I don’t book a flight. It may be oversimplifying things, but many decisions in life can be made this way. Forget the pros and cons lists, just ask yourself: which of these two options will give me more joy?

 

This reminds me of a concept found in a book my grandma told me about called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”, which provides a unique tactic to help declutter your life. As someone who lives out of a backpack, this concept is particularly important to me. The point being, through the simple act of deciding whether an object brings you joy or not can easily help you declutter your living space or make moving easier. This same concept applies to most decisions in life. Yes, we must weigh the possibilities and there are certain limitations such as time, money, family, health, etc. but I challenge anyone to try this simple practice out in their daily life. It can be as simple as what you are going to eat for dinner or whether you go out to meet a friend. Which option brings you the most joy?

 

When I think of the times I have been most happy, I am usually surrounded by passionate, interesting people, on a beach, in the sun, or underwater. I think about each of those memories with a critical eye- why was it that I was so happy in that moment?

 

This reminds me of an activity I did for one of my previous jobs: The Wheel of Life happiness assessment. In essence, the “Wheel of Life” is broken up into categories, which you rank from 1-10 based on how satisfied you are with that area. The activity encourages you not only to rank each category, but to reflect on why you feel the way you do and how you can change small aspects of your life to see vast improvements with your happiness. I won’t go on about it, but you can read more about it on this website if you’d like!

 

According to the “Wheel of Life”, the eight categories of happiness are: family/friends, romance, health, fun/recreation, finances, career/business, personal growth, and physical environment.

 

I absolutely love this activity because it puts a vague feeling like “happiness” into tangible, objective terms that you can set clear and realistic goals to improve particular aspects of your life. The best part is that it helps you realize that no one on earth will have a 10/10 score for every category, and that is totally okay! Identifying the areas of your life that you are highly satisfied with is actually just as helpful as knowing the ones you aren’t. The key is to focus on balance, not perfection, and to remember that your happiness is up to you and shouldn’t be compared with anyone else’s. I would love to hear what you think about the “Wheel of Life” activity or the art of decluttering your life, or even if you just want someone to talk to! Feel free to send me a private message or email :).

 

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Alright, here’s where it gets personal…

For those of you who know me (most who are reading this probably do), you may be wondering how I’m doing personally. Or not. If not, feel free to close this tab :). Most of you know I have been traveling for more than three years continuously (both for fun and for work), that I often post awesome pictures of the exciting things I have been doing and seem to be “living the dream.” I’m sure some of you know there is a certain level of facade social media plays and that day-to-day life is not always reflected. I personally choose to share positive, exciting or funny things in my life, and not always the challenging or difficult things, which is a personal choice. (What purpose does it serve anyone else to share my negativity to the world?) You don’t see me posting about going through hell with customs trying to get a package with my medication that’s being held (on two separate occasions in two countries, mind you), or when I feel exhausted and irritated after a long travel day, or when I’m frustrated at technological issues with my tablet (yes, I wrote this post from my phone). No, not everything in my life is perfect and that’s okay, but I also choose to look at most situations with a positive attitude. Sure, when my phone got stolen in Vietnam it sucked, but I am now able to look at it as a lesson and have grown from it (yay for unintentional phone detoxes!). I’m currently waiting out an annoying tropical storm in Thailand and wish I could be at the beach, but I’m writing this and watching House of Cards instead (Frank Underwood, you dog).

 

I know many bloggers, Instagrammers and travelers in general who may post picturesque views and share the excitement of their lives, all while being unhappy underneath or they may be traveling for the wrong reasons. Some may be homesick, broke, tired, or the lifestyle may not be for them. Luckily, my friends and family know I am not one of those people (phew!), but I also know my limitations and will follow what makes me happiest. Happiness cannot be forced, whether it is with a job, a new city, traveling, or relationships.

 

So, how am I feeling? I’m turning 26 in three days and I have been doing a lot of reflecting lately. To be totally honest, if I were to rank certain parts of my life on a scale of 1-10, I think all of the categories would score very close to either a 1 or a 10, which sounds a bit odd. Many of the categories that people my age are typically not satisfied with (travel, excitement, personal growth, independence/freedom, physical location, no stressors) are all 10s for me, which is awesome. However, when it comes down to it, the categories I have been neglecting are really being neglected (as in, for years). My relationships with friends and family, my dating life (#foreveralone), being intellectually challenged, pursuing my career goals, my health and my finances are all scoring pretty dang low. So, what am I gonna do about it?! Who knows… Maybe some big changes are a comin’! Stay tuned :).

 

*ominous House of Cards theme song plays…*

10 Reasons to Travel Solo in Southeast Asia

“I wish I could do what you’re doing. I’m living vicariously through you!”
“I could never do that with my job.”
“Aren’t you scared of traveling alone?”
“Isn’t it dangerous in those countries?”

“Have you run out of money yet?”

I have heard all of these countless times since I’ve been traveling through Southeast Asia for the past six months. For some reason, solo travel is not the norm (in the U.S. at least) and people think I am crazy for doing it!  Yes, I am adventurous (maybe a little crazy), and yes, I love what I’m doing. And you can do it too!

Traveling is not impossible. Traveling solo is not terrifying. And I’m here to tell you why you should make the leap and just do it. I introduce you 10 reasons to travel solo in Southeast Asia:

1. Once you get there, you will realize that everyone is in the same boat. All it takes is one small conversation and before you know it, you’ll make plenty of new friends.

 

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2. It’s cheap! I’ve paid only $3 USD for hostels an $1 for meals in parts of Southeast Asia. Sounds a lot cheaper than life at home to me.

 

3. So many people do it. It may not be the norm in the U.S., but a couple days in SE Asia will show you how common it is for people as young as 18 to travel alone.

 

4. You (probably) won’t get murdered or kidnapped. The media portrays many places to be much scarier than they actually are, and let’s be honest, if you’re on the main backpacker track, you will be constantly surrounded by other travelers. Just don’t be dumb (okay, you are allowed to make a few dumb decisions because everyone does, myself included) and be aware of your surroundings, and you will feel perfectly safe. In all of my travels, I have rarely felt unsafe and if you’re from the U.S., be honest with yourself and know that it’s actually more dangerous at home than in many places around the world. Don’t let fear hold you back!

 

5. Hostels make everything easier. If you stay in budget hostels, you are guaranteed to meet other solo travelers who want some company. Most hostels have shared space and even arrange activities for travelers to do together. It may sound intimidating especially for introverts out there, but imagine how easy is it to just say hello to the person in the bunk next to you in your dorm room and ask where they’re from. Done and done!

 

6. It’s easy to get around. Traveling in SE Asia is a breeze (for the most part), making it even easier to travel on the fly without a set itinerary! From night buses to slow boats to shared vans, there are plenty of ways to travel over land without booking flights. Even the flights are cheap though! You can read more about booking cheap flights in SE Asia on my blog post here.

 

7. You will meet people from all over the world and learn more about yourself and those around you than you could ever imagine. I have stayed in touch with so many people I’ve met traveling and have even met up with plenty of people later on during my travels. In fact, I’m in Indonesia as we speak with a friend I met in Thailand six months ago and I’m planning on living in Melbourne with a girl I met in Bali. I’ve met up with travelers I met on this trip months later in different places and already have plenty of friends in Australia where I’ll be settling for a while. You’ll even have plenty of friends to visit all over the world on future trips!

 

 

8. Think of all the crazy stories you’ll have. Riding motorbikes up a mountain in Cambodia in the pouring rain with no poncho and close to zero visibility was not fun at the time, but it was an adventure with another solo traveler that I’ll never forget. Or even going white water rafting in Indonesia and climbing a volcano at sunrise with people who were strangers just days before. Did I mention that my boat in the Philippines got struck by lightning? The list goes on!

 

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9. Prove to your friends/family/boyfriend/girlfriend that it can be done. Prove to them that you won’t get “murdered” or “kidnapped” and just go. I’ve heard so many people who say they have disapproving people in their lives, but ultimately, it’s your life and you have the freedom to go on an adventure of a lifetime. (Unless they are paying for it :))

 

10. If you wait around for other people to join you, you’ll never end up doing the things that make you truly happy! So now is the time. No one is stopping you except yourself, so whether it’s tomorrow, next month, or next year, find a way to make it work and book the flight!

 

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Need more inspiration for how to feel the fear and do it anyway? Check out my post on what happens when you let go of your fears here. If you do decide to make the leap and travel solo, I am happy to talk to you about it or give you tips for Southeast Asia, so feel free to send me a message or email!

 

As always, thanks for reading :).

Diving in Flores: Why You Should Choose Blue Marlin Komodo

If you haven’t heard, Komodo National Park in southeast Indonesia is one of the top dive spots in the WORLD. With unparalleled sea life, including white and black tip reef sharks, gray reef sharks, manta rays, plenty of sea turtles, and hundreds of unique species of fish, as well as ideal diving conditions, there are few places that beat Komodo. Thousands of people visit Labuan Bajo every year specifically for the world-class diving Komodo offers, and it is no surprise.

Planning a visit? You have a few options to go diving at Komodo, but I highly recommend going with a live-aboard trip rather than day dives. Is it expensive? Sure, but day dives also add up. Is it worth every penny? Absolutely. If you’re considering a live-aboard trip out of Labuan Bajo, do not miss Blue Marlin Komodo, a PADI 5 Star Dive Resort, which offers unbeatable, once-in-a-lifetime trips.

 

Blue Marlin offers a variety of options for live-aboards at competitive prices, but I went with the 4 day/3 night trip on the Ikan Biru, and had one of the best experiences in all of my time in Southeast Asia. Imagine spending four days doing nothing but three things: eat, sleep, and dive in paradise with a small group of awesome people!

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Why choose Blue Marlin Komodo?

The shop: Blue Marlin is one of the only dive shops in Labuan Bajo with an on-site restaurant, making it even more convenient to hang out when you’re not diving. They offer both local and western food, and it also happens to be a perfect spot to watch the beautiful sunset over the harbor. As I walked through the town, I saw that many dive shops were overcrowded and understaffed, so I was glad to be welcomed by the friendly staff and people hanging out at the restaurant each time I walked into Blue Marlin.

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The instructors: The three instructors on the Ikan Biru, Sean, Cat and Fai, were all experienced, professional and extremely personable. One of the most unique parts about the live-aboard experience with Blue Marlin is the comprehensive and informative briefings before each dive. I learned more than I could’ve imagined from Sean’s briefings, and even the dive masters who were guests on the boat said they were very impressed. He gave us detailed explanations about sea mounts, currents, splits, the geography and topography of Komodo, and even drew diagrams of each dive site on a white board. I have never seen any other instructor provide that kind of education before! Something else I appreciated was how accommodating they were to all seven of us on board. The instructors catered not only toward varying skill levels, but they also made sure we saw what we wanted to see (mantas, Komodo dragons, sunsets, etc.) and gave us plenty of options for our dives.

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The crew: I was surprised that there were actually more instructors/crew than guests on the Ikan Biru, which was awesome. The crew provided great service, always had our gear perfectly arranged, cooked and served all of our food, did all the dishes, and even served us drinks on the deck whenever we wanted! You don’t always notice when everything runs smoothly on a boat and typically only pay attention to what goes wrong, but I definitely noticed that nothing went wrong. They all did a fantastic job and went above and beyond to make our live-aboard experience unforgettable.

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The equipment: This is something that could easily be overlooked because you always assume your gear will be fine, but I just wanted to give Blue Marlin a shout out for having top notch rental equipment that no one ever complained about. If you’re diving four times a day, you are bound to have some type of issue with your wetsuit, booties, fins, etc. but none of us did. The staff at the shop fits you with all your gear beforehand, so I was glad to leave with not even a single blister!

The food: I couldn’t possibly leave out one of the best parts of the Ikan Biru live-aboard- the food! Our chef made us huge meals with both local and western options: pasta with meat sauce, beef curry, bruschetta, spring rolls, fish curry, coconut soup, chicken with peanut sauce, fresh fruit, fruit juice, tofu, tempeh, huge breakfast with eggs, French toast, pancakes, oatmeal with fruit, just to name a few. We also had unlimited sodas, water, and the infamous Pocari Sweat while on the boat. Even in between dives, our chef served us snacks like fried bananas with Nutella. Yum!

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What I like to call the “ninja” approach: The staff, instructors, and boat crew took care of all the behind-the-scenes stuff without a hitch to make sure we could focus on what we were there to do, which was dive and relax. I can only imagine how much effort and logistical planning must go into preparing for live-aboard trips, and I appreciate how smoothly everything ran from the time we left the dive shop to when we arrived at varying times back at the harbor (some people stayed a few extra nights). On the Ikan Biru, I swear there were ninjas somewhere on board who cleaned and restocked everything, made up our beds, arranged our gear, and cleared away all of the trash when we weren’t looking. But I know it was just the amazing crew!

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Overall, Blue Marlin Komodo is not to be missed, and I couldn’t imagine a single person regretting doing a live-aboard. Even if you choose to do day dives through Blue Marlin, they have an awesome speed boat, Toby, which allows you to do three dives in one day to be back at the shop by 4:00 p.m.

 

Pricing:

Before you go into cardiac arrest, keep in mind that you definitely get what you pay for with the price of a live-aboard, and there is a LOT included. The price of 3,450,000 rupiah per night ($265 USD) includes four days of non-stop diving (I was able to do 12 dives!), incredible food and drinks all day long, a full professional crew, multiple instructors, hotel standard accommodation under the stars, top notch equipment and gear, trekking on Komodo island to see the Komodo dragons, and a truly unforgettable experience.

 

Accommodation in Labuan Bajo:

If you have a few extra nights before or after your live-aboard, Blue Marlin Komodo also offers affordable accommodation right downstairs from their shop and restaurant. Dorm rooms run at 150K rupiah per night, but private rooms are also available.

 

If you have any questions about Labuan Bajo, how to get there, Blue Marlin Komodo, or Komodo in general, I would be happy to help. Or feel free to contact Blue Marlin Komodo directly:

 

Email: info@bluemarlinkomodo.com

Website: http://www.bluemarlinkomodo.com

Facebook and Pinterest: Blue Marlin Komodo

Instagram and Twitter: @bmkomodo

 

As always, thanks for reading! 🙂

Backpacker Guide to 2 Weeks in Malaysia

Somehow, Malaysia was not originally on my list to visit on my trip in Southeast Asia, but after hearing so many positive things about it, I decided to see for myself. I am SO glad I did! You can check out my GoPro video of my adventure in Malaysia here :).

For some background, Malaysia is known for its agriculture, beaches, nature, snorkeling/diving spots, and mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Javanese, and Sumatran cultures. I had some of the best food in Southeast Asia here and had a fantastic time. This guide is based on my experience with two and a half weeks and I hope you find it informative and learn a bit more about this incredible country!

 

Recommended Itineraries:

Two weeks: Georgetown (3 nights) –> Langkawi (2-3 nights) –> Cameron Highlands (2-3 nights) –> Perhentian Islands (4 nights, depending on whether you dive) –> Kuala Lumpur (2-3 nights)

If you have more time, you could add a visit to Taman Negara National Park and Melaka, which I have heard good things about.

Keep in mind that the Perhentian Islands are closed from November to March because of monsoon season, so plan accordingly if you’d like to visit. If you don’t go to the Perhentians, I would spend any extra time you have in Georgetown!

 

Penang/Georgetown

Georgetown is one of my favorite cities I have visited in Southeast Asia and it has a unique blend of Malay, Indian, and Chinese cultures with a major British influence. I will clear up any confusion now and say that Georgetown is a city on the island of Penang, which is off the west coast of mainland Malaysia. Many people say they are visiting Penang, but will spend the majority or all of their time in Georgetown. There are other places to visit on Penang, but Georgetown is the most popular for tourists and I would recommend staying there!

Things to do:

  • Peranakan Museum and Blue Mansion tours (I enjoyed both of them, but they are both similar, so if you are tight on time, I would go to the Peranakan Museum because there are more exhibits in the other buildings on the property)
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  • Check out all of the street art! Many are even listed on maps.me and Google Maps, but it is very easy to stumble upon the famous paintings, sculptures, and metalwork of Georgetown while walking around.
  • Walk around and get lost in the little streets. I took this photo when I was just wandering around:
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  • Armenian Street at night for unique desserts, cute shops, and temples lit up at night
  • Go to at least one of the 3D museums. I went to the 3D Time Tunnel museum, which was informative and also had some hilarious photo ops:

 

  • Visit the Kek Lok Si temple, cable car for views of Penang, and botanical gardens, which can all be done within a couple of hours
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  • Try all of the incredible food! Recommended restaurants: Mugshot Café, Sushi Kitchen (vegan sushi), The Black Kettle (splurge meal), The Saferoom (liquid nitrogen desserts and Dragon’s Breath kettle corn!), street food in Little India, or just head to one of the many trendy bistros/cafes in Georgetown that you are bound to stumble upon.

 

  • United Buddy Bears at the Esplanade was one of my favorite places in the city, with 143 bears representing most countries in the UN, each uniquely decorated to represent their country.

 

  • Batu Ferringhi Beach is good to visit but nothing too special. There are lots of resorts and it’s a bit out of the way, but if the weather is good and you have time, it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. Tip: take an Uber there for only a few dollars!

 

Where to stay:

I stayed with a Couchsurfing host in Georgetown, but I was able to check out a few of the popular hostels while I was there. The Frame, 80s Guesthouse, and Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel are all good options for budget travelers, but there are plenty of others in the main hostel area, so you shouldn’t have to worry much about location.

Pro tip: Make sure to get a cheap SIM card so you can use Uber. It is way cheaper than using taxis if you need to go somewhere and it’s super convenient! Most places you can walk or take the bus, but I saved tons of money using Uber instead of the double decker tour bus or taxis for activities that weren’t within walking distance.

Best parts: Walkable, lots to do, amazing food, unique blend of cultures, architecture

 

 

Langkawi

Langkawi, which means brown eagle in Malay, is home to the steepest cable car in the world, beautiful waterfalls and beaches, and is a popular vacation spot for both Malay and foreign tourists. Langkawi is known for being a duty-free island, so alcohol and cigarettes in particular are cheaper than the rest of Malaysia. I don’t smoke, but I was shocked to see that cigarettes were only 2rm ($0.50 US)!

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How to get there: The two hour ferry ride from Penang (~$18 USD) is very easy to book. If you are coming from the mainland, you can also take a ferry from Kuala Perlis.

Things to do:

  • Cable Car: I actually would not recommend going here because it is expensive (45rm or $11 USD) and the views are frequently covered by the clouds at the top. It seemed like a touristy thing to do to check off your list, and I wouldn’t do it again. The Seven Wells waterfall nearby, however, was amazing, and I would definitely check it out if you’re in the area. Plus, it’s free! Cable car “views”:
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  • There is an awesome night market on Thursday nights in Pantai Cenang, which had incredible food!
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  • Enjoy the beautiful beaches with plenty of restaurants/bars, watersports, and places to chill out, either near where you stay or on one of the popular island hopping trips. I went island hopping, which was fun and very cheap (only 30rm or $7 USD), but I’ve heard the Mangrove tour is supposed to be even better!

 

Where to stay:

I stayed at Gecko Guesthouse, which I would highly recommend. It is inexpensive, has a fun and social vibe, and the perfect location right next to the strip of restaurants, shops and bars. Zackry Guest House is another popular hostel, but the location is not as good.

Best parts: Beaches, resort/beach town feel, great place to relax, easy to access via Penang

 

 

Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands, located in the center of the mainland of Malaysia, is known best for its trekking/nature walks and for being the home to the biggest flower in the world. The cooler climate and lush soil makes for an excellent place to grow strawberries, tea, and many other crops. The highest point in the Cameron Highlands is Gunung Brinchang at 6,666 feet, and if you go to the top, you can see breathtaking views of the area while standing in two states at once!

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Tours:

Pretty much everyone does at least one tour in the Cameron Highlands, which range from a couple hours to all day, depending on what you want to see. If you don’t rent a car or motorbike, this is the best way to see a lot in one day and meet other visitors. With that being said, they are the definition of a tourist trap (gift shops, short stops with lots of driving, etc.), so just be warned in advance. I did the half day tour to Gunung Brinchang, mossy forest, a butterfly garden, BOH tea plantation, and a strawberry farm, which was plenty for me and was a fair price of 50rm or $12 USD. There are tons of walks/treks you can do on your own, so don’t be afraid to venture from a tour.

 

Where to stay:

I stayed at TJ Lodge for 16rm ($4 USD), and it was fantastic! The owner, Won, is extremely friendly and helpful, and the hostel is clean with good WiFi and a perfect location. I would highly recommend it for budget travelers, but there are tons of great hotels and hostels in the area, and even some luxury hotels.

Best parts: Nature, cooler climate, easy to book tours or explore on your own

 

 

Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Kecil (small) and Perhentian Besar (big) are the two islands off the east coast of mainland Malaysia known best for snorkeling/diving, incredible beaches, and being a (somewhat) untouched paradise. I would absolutely go on my honeymoon here! But until I find a husband, I’m fine with going solo to dive with sharks :).

The marine life is unreal at the Perhentians. I swam with turtles, reef sharks, blue-spotted rays, a humphead parrot fish (HUGE!), and even an octopus, on top of millions of other fish. Check out some of the photos:

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How to get there:

Depending on where you are coming from, it can be a bit of a pain to get to the Perhentians, but once you arrive, you will be SO glad you did it! The night bus from Penang to Kuala Besut (closest port to Perhentians) is about 11 hours, and you will need to take another hour boat ride from there. Luckily, you can arrange a package with all transportation included from pretty much anywhere in Malaysia, so though it can be time-consuming, it is not difficult to figure out. I booked my transportation directly from my hostel in Langkawi for 170rm ($40 USD), which included a van from the hostel to the port, the ferry to Kuala Perlis (on mainland), the night bus from Kuala Perlis to Kuala Besut, the boat ride to Perhentian Kecil, and a return open boat ticket back to Kuala Besut. It was a bit pricey, but again, SO worth it.

The nearest airport is Kota Bharu, which is about an hour away from Kuala Besut, so if you have the chance to take a bus to either place, definitely go directly to Kuala Besut.

Recommended dive shops:

Matahari Divers was absolutely amazing (staff, price, location, boats, gear, etc.), so I would definitely recommend them. There are plenty of dive shops on Long Beach, which is the best access point for diving and snorkeling, so I would check out the different shops to see who you like the best and what prices they offer (all similar). But you should just go to Matahari to make it easy :).

Things to do:

  • This should be self-explanatory, but enjoy being in absolute paradise! Chill out on a hammock with a book, relax on the beach, go swimming, and enjoy the restaurants on the sand.
hammockperhentian

 

  • Go on at least one snorkeling or diving trip. I have NEVER seen Scuba diving this cheap. $20 USD seemed too good to be true! This would also be an excellent place to get your Open Water Certification (PADI), because it was only 990rm (~$230 USD), which is the cheapest I have ever seen it.
  • Ombok Hotel/Restaurant at Coral Bay has a movie night every night at 7:30 on their outdoor projector, which is an awesome way to relax with some popcorn or dinner.
  • Watch the sunset at Coral Bay. Exhibit A:
coralbaysunset

 

  • Walk around the island! There are several beaches and viewpoints you can walk to, so if you want to take a break from snorkeling or diving, spend a morning doing some exploring before the heat gets to you.

Where to stay:

  • Perhentian Kecil is the smaller island, which is recommended for budget travelers, whereas the big island is mostly high-end resorts and not as suited for backpackers.
  • I would recommend staying on Long Beach, which is where most of the action is. Coral Bay is a nice, quieter alternative on other side of the island (10 minute walk), but there are plenty of places to explore and you can walk to other beaches as well, so you aren’t limited to where you sleep.
  • Maya Bungalows at Coral Bay: 50rm ($12 USD) for a bungalow with a queen bed and private bathroom right on the beach! There are hammocks, a common area, and lots of palm trees if you want some shade. I wouldn’t stay here the entire time you are in the Perhentians (smaller and less action than Long Beach), but I loved it for two nights!
  • Sunrise Hostel on Long Beach: Do not recommend. This was the worst hostel I have ever stayed in, and that’s saying a LOT. I won’t go into detail, but it is not worth saving the couple dollars to stay here. All I will say is that the staff is useless and don’t care if people steal from other guests, there is no security whatsoever (no lockers, one key left at reception for dorm room with 10 people), it’s dirty, there is no WiFi, and there is only power at night (though this is common on the island), and there is no warm water, etc. Point blank: sleep on the beach before you stay here. J
  • Oh La La is 30rm ($7 USD) for a dorm room, and I have heard good things about it. It’s right next to Sunrise and I wish I stayed here instead!
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Safety:

One thing I did not know about the Perhentians before visiting is that robberies are extremely common, especially toward the end of the season. I know from first-hand experience (I’m fine, just lost quite a bit of money) how easy it is to be robbed on the island and even in hostels/hotels, so be very careful with your belongings and make sure to keep your valuables locked up or with you at all times. Generally, I felt safe on the island, but my hostel was not secure and I should’ve been more careful. This should not deter you from visiting the Perhentians whatsoever, but just a heads up!

Best parts: diving/snorkeling, island lifestyle, place to relax

 

 

Kuala Lumpur

KL is what Bangkok should be, in me and my friend Sessalli’s opinion. It’s a bustling city, but less intimidating and cleaner than Bangkok. One interesting thing to note about KL is that there is a heavy Muslim influence, and I actually felt like a minority here because I wasn’t wearing a headscarf or burka. It was so refreshing to see a place where Muslim people are accepted and would never be judged for their religion or culture, unlike many parts of the world. I thought it was really cool! Overall, Malaysia is very tolerant of different religions because of the cultural diversity, so you will often see mosques, temples, and churches all close to each other.

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Where to stay:

I highly recommend Sunshine Bedz. It has everything you could want in a hostel: helpful and friendly staff, perfect location, air con, strong WiFi, free breakfast, and easy to meet people. It’s a little pricy for my standards at $8 USD/night for a dorm, but I have no regrets whatsoever about staying here. Patrick, the owner, is an absolute LEGEND. This guy literally saved my life in an almost crisis by driving me an hour to pick up an important package that was held up at customs. He is a super fun and genuine, and I’d stay there just on that premise alone!

 Things to do:

  • Don’t miss visiting the Petronas Towers/KLCC fountain show at night, Chinatown, Central Market, and at least one rooftop bar.
  • Helibar, a converted helicopter pad turned into a rooftop bar, which happened to be walking distance from my hostel, was a great place to watch the sunset and see the KL skyline from above. Entrance is free, but you do need to purchase a very pricy (30-40rm or $8-10 USD) drink to get to the roof. This is a nice alternative to Skybar, but both have a great view of the KL skyline.
DCIM103GOPRO

 

  • Batu Caves: I didn’t have time to go here, but I’ve heard good things and you can get there by public transit. I’d look online or ask your hostel/hotel for more information.
  • Malls on malls on malls. Everywhere. I am from one of the shopping capitals of the world and I have never seen anything like it! Singapore is the only place I’ve seen that compares to the level of shopping there is in KL. If I wasn’t a poor backpacker, I would definitely buy all kinds of stuff in KL because designer items are much less in Malaysia than in the U.S. and many other places in the world. Is it necessary to have three H&Ms within a few blocks of each other? No, but it’s pretty dang cool.

Best parts: Easy to navigate public transport, shopping, food, nightlife

 

Helpful hints:

  • One U.S. dollar is worth approximately 4 Malaysian ringgit
  • Kuala Lumpur airport is a huge hub for several major airlines, including Air Asia, so flights will most likely be cheapest in and out of here. Many people choose to do a loop in Malaysia, starting and ending in KL.
  • Singapore is only a four hour bus ride from KL and is very cheap and easy to take, so I highly recommend taking a trip there if you have time! I chose to book my flight out of Singapore to make a short 24 hour visit and I am so glad I did :).
  • Indian food is extremely popular throughout Malaysia, so make sure to try all of the traditional dishes!

 

I hope you found this guide helpful and that you choose to visit Malaysia in the future! Though it may not be on everyone’s bucket list for Southeast Asia, it definitely should be. Did I miss something? Have any questions or feedback? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

As always, thanks for reading :).

 

4 Things That Happen When You Let Go of Your Fears

Fear can be crippling, makes you feel helpless, and seems to encompass your world at the most inconvenient of times. To put it simply, life is just a series of decisions. Ones that you make. So ultimately, you can become your biggest advocate or you can be your biggest inhibitor. The feeling of fear is a huge part of that. I cannot even begin to put into words how much I’ve learned backpacking by myself for the past 6 months in Southeast Asia. Traveling alone can be the most liberating and exciting experience, when you learn to entertain yourself, are forced to stick to your decisions, and hopefully gain a newfound sense of confidence. It can be difficult for some people to accept that things will go wrong and you will make mistakes while traveling, or just in life in general. My mom always says “You can’t control what happens to you, only your reactions to them“. So I have taken on the attitude that every experience is either a cherished memory or a really great story. This doesn’t just apply to traveling, and it can change the way we live our lives.
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Writing this post was inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow traveler, Anna, who I never would’ve met if I didn’t come to Myanmar, a country I wasn’t planning on visiting and knew close to nothing about. Anna moved to Vietnam to teach English for a year after graduating from college, and she is a total badass. I have loved traveling with her and her friend Cynthia and I know I will stay in touch with both of them in the future.
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When you let go of your fears, you can almost feel the internal shift in your mindset. When you do, some peculiar things happen:
  • Life becomes a lot easier. Suddenly, you stop worrying and begin to enjoy each moment for what it is, whether you are on an around-the-world trip, or just planning a fun weekend getaway. Having faith that everything will work out can truly shift the way you approach any situation in life. You don’t feel the need to stress out about things that will turn out just fine in the end. How many times have you felt extreme stress about something and realized afterwards that you never needed to worry about it in the first place? Think about how much easier your life would become if you just didn’t.
  • You open your world to opportunities, people, and experiences that you couldn’t have ever imagined. I truly believe that the best experiences come from the things you say yes to even when your immediate reaction is to say no. Take a boxing class in Yangon with someone you just met from a Facebook group? Sure. Do a homestay on a remote island in the Philippines with a family you’ve never met? Why not. Don’t think of what could possibly go wrong and things will (usually) go right. And even if they don’t, you’re going to have a really entertaining story.

 

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  • You feel centered, confident, and capable of so much more than you believed. I have never felt more at peace than I do right now, traveling in Southeast Asia completely on my own. I’ve felt these changes within myself because of the experiences I’ve had only because I made the leap and booked a one-way flight. Did I have that glimmer of doubt when I was planning this crazy trip? Absolutely. But I didn’t worry about it and guess what, it all worked out just fine :).

 

  • You become a “do-er”. You no longer sit wishing you were somewhere else or waiting for the next exciting thing to happen. You make it happen. I recently realized that the people I admire most are all “do-ers”. Like my friend Jackie, who moved to Taiwan when a job opportunity fell through, knowing it would work out regardless. She found the perfect teaching job and a place to live in a matter of days.  My new Australian grandma I met on a dive boat, Sylvia, who backpacks around the world staying in hostels at the ripe age of *somewhere in her 70s*, doesn’t let fear get in her way. Like my friend Lizzie, who had a few weeks between jobs and didn’t have anyone to travel with to Cambodia. She went alone and had a fantastic time. Or my friend, Greg, who sold his house in London and booked a flight to Thailand to start a new life, knowing he’d figure it out. All of these people don’t wish or talk about doing something, they just let go of their fears and do it.

 

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So say yes. When your heart flutters with nerves or you feel yourself overthinking something, just do it. When you think to yourself “I wish I could do that” or “what if ___ happens”, stop making excuses and make it happen. Book the one-way flight. Apply for the job. Move across the world. Write the book. Go back to school. People say that good things happen to those who wait, but I say good things happen to those who make them happen. Follow your dreams because you are truly the only one who has the power to make them a reality. Fear will always exist: it’s human nature. So as my favorite trash can quote says, feel the fear and do it anyway.
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Do you have any stories of when you let go of your fears and something incredible happened? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section! As always, thanks for reading :).

Ultimate Guide to 1 Month in the Philippines

 They say Thailand is the land of smiles, but the Philippines is home to the happiest and friendliest people EVER. I say that as a fact, because it surely is. I mean, their famous fast food chain is called Jollibee…and let me tell you, they are more than jolly! But seriously, I have never experienced a place with more trustworthy, helpful, friendly, and welcoming people. Spending the past month in the Philippines has been absolutely incredible, and I’ve met more local people than I could’ve ever dreamed of. From the beautiful beaches to unbelievable waterfalls and marine life, the Philippines has so much to offer, and I am so excited to share more about it with you!

 

Before I dive in, I will just say that no matter how long your visit to the Philippines is, I would HIGHLY recommend starting in Cebu. There is a ton to see in a relative close proximity and the area is very accessible to other places in the Philippines. I was planning on staying in Cebu City for a night, but I got there and realized it was a busy city with not many tourist attractions, so I ended up taking a 3 hour bus to Moalboal for my first destination (SO lucky because this worked out perfectly).

 

My itinerary:

Manila (redeye flight) -> Cebu City -> Moalboal (4 nights) -> Oslob (1 night) -> Dumaguete (3 nights) -> Siquijor (3 nights) -> Bohol (4 nights) -> Puerto Princesa (1 night) -> El Nido (3 nights) -> Coron (3 nights) -> Puerto Princesa (1 night) -> Guimaras (2 nights) -> Gigantes Islands (2 nights) -> Iloilo City (1 night) -> Manila (redeye flight)

*** Disclaimer: This is not necessarily the perfect itinerary, and I definitely could’ve been more efficient if I had planned in advance, but I had the BEST time ever! I would make variations to this itinerary based on what your interests are, especially if you plan to go Scuba diving. Though I am no expert on the Philippines (yet!), I would be happy to talk to you about planning out a potential itinerary if you plan to visit. I also have a friend, Andrew, from the Philippines who has traveled a ton (has been to all 81 provinces!) who you can talk to as well :).

 

Moalboal– a diver’s paradise

  • Accommodation: Moalboal Backpackers or Marina Lodge (next to each other)
  • Dive at Cebu Dive Center on the north side of Panagsama
  • Dive or snorkel to see the famous sardine run! Literally, millions of sardines swimming around you- absolutely incredible.
  • Go to White Beach
  • Eat the BBQ in the small plaza of Panagsama- the pork belly is to die for!
  • Kawasan Waterfalls are ~20 minutes away (see my post about Kawasan Falls here!)

 

 

Oslob– swimming with whale sharks

You can swim with giant whale sharks for ~$20 USD any morning from 6-11 a.m., when they are fed by locals. Whale sharks are truly incredible creatures and are the gentle giants of the sea, so no need to worry about being in close proximity to them :). I will warn you that swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob is pretty controversial because feeding them every day interrupts their migration and breeding patterns. I would highly recommend going to Donsol to swim with them in the wild if you are there during whale shark season (December-May) instead of Oslob, but if you do choose to go in Oslob, prepare for lots of people but a truly incredible experience. I was very torn about going and wasn’t initially planning on doing it, but I decided to just say “screw it” and go because I was already there and probably wouldn’t get another opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and had an unforgettable experience, but I didn’t leave feeling great about the impact this business is making on the whale sharks. If you have any questions about the whale sharks, you can do more research online, or I’d be happy to talk to you more about it!

 

 

  • Accommodation: Sharky’s is a basic hostel right next to the whale shark beach entrance and the owners are SO nice!
  • Tumalog Waterfalls are nearby, so I’d check it out if you have time!

Don’t miss Sumilon Island, which is only a 30 minute boat ride from Oslob and home to the most pristine sand bar I have ever seen! You can hire a boat to split with a group for 1500 pesos (~$32 USD) and head there right after you swim with the whale sharks. Check out these amazing photos!

 

 

Dumaguete– bigger city for a more local experience, one hour boat ride from Oslob (Liloan port)

  • Accommodation: Harold’s Mansion is an awesome hostel with an even better rooftop and attached dive shop, walking distance from Dumaguete port
  • Apo Island: great for snorkeling or diving with sea turtles!
  • Casaroro Falls and Forest Camp: take a motorbike to visit this 100 foot waterfall and hidden oasis in the hills!
  • Check out Rizal Boulevard and eat at Jo’s Chicken

 

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Siquijor– MUST visit! One of my favorite places 🙂

Siquijor is locally known for witchcraft and lots of superstition, but it is also a hidden gem off the coast of Negros Oriental. It is not quite popular yet, but more and more people are finding out about it, so I think it will blow up with backpackers in the next few years! You can easily take a ferry from Dumaguete to get there, which makes it even better. It is definitely necessary to rent a motorbike on Siquijor to get around, but don’t worry, it’s cheap and the island is actually a great place to learn how to ride one (you still need to be VERY careful). If you don’t rent one, be prepared to pay a pretty penny for tricycles everywhere!

  • Accommodation: Tori’s Paradise (two locations, I stayed at the one with the sandy beach closer to the port); other budget hostel options: JJ’s, Kiwi Dive Resort, Tori’s Backpacker Paradise (better location, but beach isn’t as nice)
  • Highlights: Cambugahay Waterfall, Salagdoong Beach for cliff jumping, Balete tree with fish spa, riding a motorbike around the entire island (my favorite Barangays were Lazi and San Juan!), Friday night parties at Czar’s Place
  • Another highlight for me was San Juan’s fiesta party, a once a year celebration which included tons of food (the locals I met had two full pigs on the table that we feasted on!) and a giant paint party/rave. I happened to be there the same weekend as fiesta and happened to meet amazing local people, but it was more of a lucky coincidence than something to plan a trip around. See photos below!
  • Eat at Joel’s Chicken in Siquijor town- they will serve you a whole or half chicken on a plate and it is SO good!

 

 

Bohol– a WHOLE lot to do!

Bohol is most famous for the Chocolate Hills, Tarsiers (smallest primates in the world), and beautiful beaches. The main island of Bohol is quite large, but most visitors stay in Panglao, a small island connected to Bohol by two bridges. Alona Beach is the most famous spot and has lots of beach resorts, but I actually found it to be quite charming!

  • Accommodation: Nuts Huts (I didn’t stay here but everyone says it’s awesome) is in Loboc on the main island of Bohol. It is pretty difficult to get there (motorbike is recommended, or an expensive tricycle ride) but I’ve heard it’s definitely worth it, even though there’s no Wi-Fi up there! I stayed at Coco Farm for one night, which is an awesome bungalow style hostel in Panglao, but it’s quite far from the beach, which I didn’t like as much. They offer a lot of tours and the hostel has a social atmosphere, but I was on a mission to stay as close to the beach as possible. I ended up staying at Dormitel.ph (private room for 400 pesos a.k.a. $8.50) for 3 nights, which was nothing special but it was only a 5 minute walk to Alona Beach and had a perfect location. Other travelers I met stayed at Moon Fools nearby (580 pesos for a dorm room), which has more of a backpackers vibe, and loved it as well!
  • Highlights: Riding a motorbike all around Panglao and Bohol to visit the Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Sanctuary, Bee Farm, waterfalls, and smaller towns scattered throughout the island was awesome. I didn’t do it, but you can also go zip lining over the river in Bohol!
  • Balicasag Island: Attention all Scuba divers! Do NOT miss this island! There are plenty of dive shops on Alona Beach that will take you to Balicasag and they all have the same prices (1500/dive). I went with Alona Piratas because I liked the dive master and they provided free lunch, but there are lots of other shops to choose from.

 

 

Puerto Princesa- a quick stopover

When flying to Palawan, most travelers stop through Puerto Princesa on their way to El Nido, which is on the north tip of the island. I stayed for one night at the beginning of my time in Palawan, then another night again before flying out. It really just depends on what time your flights are!

  • Accommodation: I stayed at Sheebang Hostel for a night, which was cheap, close to the airport, and had a great backpacker vibe. It’s a little out of the way if you actually want to explore the city, so I’d stay somewhere else if you want to check out PP before heading north.
  • Underground River: I decided to skip out on this because I’ve heard it’s expensive for what it is (1000 pesos/~$22 USD) and is quite touristy. I’ve also seen incredible caves similar to this in Vietnam, so I opted out, but it’s definitely the top thing to do in PP!
  • If you do stay in Puerto Princesa and feel like Vietnamese food, don’t miss Bona’s Chao Long House!

 

El Nido– famous island hopping

Tour A or Tour C- enough said! I won’t spoil it for you, but you can check out a few photos below. El Nido is a must-see in the Philippines!

  • Accommodation: Our Melting Pot (OMP) Hostel has a great location and social atmosphere, but it’s a little pricey for what it was (600 pesos/~$12.50 USD). After staying for one night, we found another hostel called Pawikan down the road for cheaper and it was so much better! They welcomed us like family and it felt more like a homestay than a hostel. Highly recommend!
  • Food: Art Café is AMAZING and you should definitely splurge to eat there at least once (highly recommend the pizza, tuna melt, and pasta). There are plenty of restaurants on the beach with fresh seafood to try, and if you’re brave enough… you can try the Filipino delicacy, balut. You can look up more details about it, but I did in fact eat a fertilized/half-developed baby duck egg, wings, bones, beak and all. I gagged the whole time, but got it down and felt like I was on Fear Factor! The photo below is not for queasy stomachs…
  • The Reggae Bar on the beach is definitely the place to go at night- also has great live music!

 

 

Coron– shipwreck diving, island hopping and sunsets!

Coron is a 7-8 hour boat ride north of El Nido, and to be honest, a bit out of the way, but it’s totally worth it, especially for divers. The wreck diving there is SO cool and the snorkeling is some of the best in the Philippines. The island hopping tour (Tour A) is just as good as El Nido, if not better. Don’t miss Kayangan Lake either!

  • Accommodation: Coron Backpackers was recommended to me, but it was pretty far out of the way and we saw a mouse run across the counter as soon as we walked in, so I was almost relieved to find out they were fully booked. We stayed at Seahorse Guest House (a bit of a splurge for 600 pesos/$12.50 USD per night), which had a perfect location, HOT SHOWERS (so rare), and an amazing rooftop breakfast included in the price. The sunset on the rooftop is unbelievable- see photo below.
  • Other things to do: Rent a motorbike or take a tricycle to the natural hot springs, hike up to the Coron sign/viewpoint for sunrise or sunset, and don’t forget about diving!

 

 

Iloilo– gateway to Guimaras

I spontaneously booked a flight to Iloilo about halfway through my time in the Philippines, and I’m so glad I did! When I did some more research and talked to a few locals, I found out about Guimaras, the island next to Iloilo City (15 minutes by boat) known for having the sweetest mangoes in the world! Yes, I tried mango pizza and an amazing mango shake :).

  • Accommodation: If you stay a night in Iloilo City and are looking for a cheap place to stay, I highly recommend Ong Bun Pension House. It’s right near the mall, about half the price of all the other hotels in the city (350 pesos for a small fan room with shared bathroom), and I felt plenty safe there. In Guimaras, I stayed in my very own bungalow on the beach in Nueva Valencia for 700 pesos at Raymen Beach Resort, which I highly recommend. You can also stay in Jordan at JM Backpackers, but it’s not near the beach.
  • Don’t miss: The Pitstop restaurant in Jordan, Guimaras for their famous mango pizza!

 

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Gigantes Islands– untouched paradise!

I found out about the Gigantes Islands on a random blog post, which inspired me to book a flight to Iloilo. The Gigantes Islands are a remote set of islands to the northeast of Iloilo, and I’ll be honest, it’s a pain to get to, but totally worth it! To get there, you can fly into Iloilo or Roxas City, take a bus (4.5 hours from Iloilo) or van (3 hours from Iloilo) to Carles or Estancia ports, and take a boat to Gigantes Norte or Gigantes Sur. Make sure to check boat times before going, because they don’t run often!

  • Highlights: UNLIMITED fresh scallops, island hopping, super friendly locals and Filipino tourists! I was the only foreigner there and was treated like an actual celebrity :).
  • Island Hopping: I highly recommend booking an island hopping tour with Gigantes Island Tours (Facebook page is here!). Paul and his huge family will take care of you and make sure you have the best time EVER! I got to stay with their family and it was one of the best things I did in the Philippines. No Wi-Fi/cell service, no running water, electricity for a few hours each night (brownouts are common though), but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. They live off of fresh scallops, crab, squid, and different kinds of fish, but mostly scallops. My favorite were the fried scallops, which I like to call scallop “nuggets”! Feel free to ask me if you want more info about the Gigantes Islands!

 

 

Book in advance or plan as you go?

You have two options when traveling in the Philippines, and both have pros and cons. You can either do lots of research to plan your flights/transportation in advance, or you can plan as you go to give yourself more flexibility. Though I chose the latter option, which worked great for me, it definitely had its drawbacks. Because I essentially came to the Philippines without a plan (had a general idea of where I wanted to go, but I heavily depended on word of mouth when I got there to plan my time), I ended up paying more for internal flights than I needed to. I paid $40-$50 USD per flight because I waited until the last minute to book, and if I had planned in advance, I could’ve paid about half, or even less! However, it was well worth it to me to have flexibility and be able to go to places like the Gigantes Islands, which I never would’ve known about if I had planned in advance. Your ability to plan as you go is also specific to season- I visited during low season (June-September), so I didn’t need to book in advance if I didn’t want to. If you go during high season (November-April, summer being March and April), I would highly recommend booking flights and accommodation in advance, because tourist destinations will get very crowded. I hope that helps!

 

Helpful tips for the Philippines:

  • ~45 Philippines pesos to $1 USD
  • There are 7,107 islands in the Philippines!
  • Each region in the Philippines has their own unique dialect, though Tagalog and English are the country’s official languages. You could have a group of 20 Filipinos together and they wouldn’t be able to understand each other if they were from different places, which I think makes the Philippines even more unique!
  • Islands are divided into provinces, then municipalities, then barangays (community/village)
  • Each barangay has a basketball court/community center, which is where most events are held. Basketball is HUGE here!
  • Stay at LEAST a month if you can! Traveling between islands can be time-consuming and you will wish you stayed longer if you only have a week or two. If you are limited on time, I would recommend picking one area to explore, rather than trying to fly and island hop all over the place. If you have a month, I’d pick three areas, otherwise you will be flying around too much.
  • Transportation: buses, tricycles (tuk-tuks in other Southeast Asian countries), ferries/boats, jeepneys (you ride in a covered truck bed with about 15-20 of your closest Filipino friends squished next to you, but worth it for only 7 pesos), planes, but most commonly, motorbike!
  • Visas: You can get a free VOA (Visa on Arrival) for 30 days, but be prepared to pay a terminal fee of 700 pesos ($15 USD) at the airport when leaving the country and 200 pesos ($4.50 USD) when flying domestically.

 

Food:

Filipino people eat a LOT of bread, meat, and rice. It would be very difficult to be a vegetarian here (but not impossible). There are bakeries on every corner and BBQ is pretty much an everyday thing.

  • Pork/chicken/squid adobo- a classic Filipino dish: delicious marinade of vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper, soy sauce, and other spices that originated as a practical way to preserve meat without refrigeration
  • Pancit- popular noodle dish
  • Lechon- spit-roasted pig served with liver sauce
  • Bulalo- beef soup rich with flavor
  • Pork barbeque- my favorite, cheap meal!
  • Milkfish/bangus- a classic Filipino fish that you must try!
  • Rice, rice, rice- did I mention, rice?
  • Bread- bakeries on every corner, cheap and looks like there is a great selection, but it is quite misleading because every product they sell is essentially the same thing- sweet bread in all sorts of shapes and even colors, but tastes basically the same! If you go to the Philippines, you WILL eat pan de sal, small, sweet buns, for breakfast (yum, carbs!).
  • Halo-Halo- shaved ice with ice cream and all kinds of fruit toppings!
  • Ube ice cream- this purple yam flavored ice cream is hugely popular!
  • Balut- a trip to the Philippines would not be complete without trying balut, which is a 17-day old duck embryo, served with vinegar. Did I try it? Yes. Did I like it? Absolutely not. But some Filipinos swear by it!
  • There are tons of other Filipino dishes to try- these are just a few!

 

Other places to visit:

  • Banaue rice terraces
  • Mayon Volcano in Luzon- the world’s most perfect volcano with a symmetrical cone shape
  • Malapascua- a small island to the north of Cebu, perfect for diving and known for Thresher sharks sightings!
  • Boracay- I chose to skip it because it has gotten overrun with tons of people, it’s quite expensive, and there are places just as beautiful that aren’t as much in the party scene as Boracay. Most backpackers I’ve talked to said they loved Boracay, but every local person I’ve met says there are better places to visit elsewhere. Up to you!
  • La Union- recommended by lots of locals and several travelers I met, but I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about it (yet!).
  • Siargao- surfing capital of the Philippines
  • Camiguin- another untouched island in the Bohol Sea, the second smallest island in the Philippines!
  • Tinuy-An Falls- the Niagara Falls of the Philippines
  • I haven’t heard many positive things about Manila from travelers and it can be dangerous at night so I chose not to go this trip (solo female traveler problems). Now that I have lots of friends from Manila, I will definitely come back to the Philippines and visit!

Where else have you been or would you go? I’d love to hear about your favorite places in the Philippines in the comments!

 

Again, I’d love to help if you are planning a trip to the Philippines! It has become my favorite country I’ve visited and I will DEFINITELY be back. Salamat (thank you in Tagalog) for reading and happy travels!

How I Visited Kawasan Waterfalls for $1

What is Kawasan Falls?

Kawasan consists of 3 tiers of incredible waterfalls with pristine, turquoise water in the heart of the Philippines. I found out about it because of a video I saw online one time, so I made sure to go while I was in the Philippines!

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Where is it?

On the island of Cebu, about a 20-30 minute bus ride south from Moalboal or a 3 hour bus ride from Cebu City, toward the center of the island. If you visit the Philippines, I highly recommend flying into Cebu City airport and exploring the surrounding areas. Don’t worry, I’ll be posting my itinerary and recommendations for the Philippines soon!

Why visit?

I’ll just leave this here…

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How to get there:

  • Take the Ceres line bus from Moalboal for 19 pesos (~$0.40 USD)
  • Pay 40 pesos entry to the waterfalls (~$0.75) and enjoy!

When to go:

I highly recommend going to Kawasan Falls in the morning to avoid the crowds. I went around 10:00 a.m. and was pleasantly surprised with how few people were there. I’ve seen pictures and it seemed like it was quite crowded, which may have to do with the season (this is low season) and time of day. Extra tip: if it’s crowded at the first set of falls, head straight up to the second or third level, where there will definitely be less people :).

Things I did not pay for:

  • Organized canyoneering tour (my friend did one for ~$50 USD)
  • Tricycle/tuk-tuk ride from Moalboal (300-400 pesos)
  • Life jacket rental (50 pesos) *** Must be a strong swimmer to swim under the falls without one…I struggled a bit 🙂
  • Bamboo raft ride (300 pesos)
  • Table to sit at/store belongings (300 pesos)
  • Fees to use the rock waterslide and rope swing (10 pesos each)
  • Food (200-300 pesos)

If I paid for all of these things, I would’ve spent almost $30 USD! Kawasan is quite touristy (obviously people don’t want to miss out on this beautiful site), but if you do it right, it can be very cheap and you can avoid the crowds.

What did I do?

Well…. I swam under a few waterfalls…

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Went cliff jumping with the canyoneering groups….

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Hiked through the jungle….

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Slid down a rock waterslide….

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Swung on a rope swing….

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Spent a few hours floating in water that could not be any more pristine….

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Overall, I had an amazing day and met awesome people! I loved going by myself because I could go wherever I wanted and stay as long as I liked, which is the best part of solo travel, in my opinion :). If you ever get a chance to go to Kawasan Falls or the Philippines, DO IT! I am happy to answer any questions if you do!

 

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Did I miss anything? Do you know of any more waterfalls in the Philippines that I can’t miss? I’ve made it my goal to see how many waterfalls I can visit in my month here. Tough life, right? Thanks for reading!

 

Lessons Learned From Travel Nightmares

Traveling full time for the past two years has given me a ridiculous number of crazy travel stories, but I’ll start this post off with a little tale from my recent flight to the Philippines from Cambodia….

What I thought would be a semi-sleepless night, but not the worst travel day, became quite a nightmare. But to be expected in Southeast Asia, right?

The saga begins… I had a flight from Siem Reap at 10:50 p.m. to arrive in Manila at 2:45 a.m., then another flight to Cebu at 6:00 a.m. What could go wrong? Well, my flight was delayed for two hours out of Siem Reap, and I ended up landing in Manila just after 4:30. That meant I had 45 minutes to deplane, get through customs, get my bag from baggage claim, find out which terminal my next flight is at, get there, and check my bag before the cut-off time.

As soon as we landed, I rushed through the airport as quickly as I could, cut a few lines, and made it out of baggage claim by 5:00, where I was greeted by a seemingly nice “airport official” **scam alert**, who helped me figure out that my flight was actually in Terminal 4. Manila happens to have quite a massive airport with four terminals very spread out from each other, and where I needed to go required a taxi to get me 4 km there. Apparently, airport shuttles don’t run before 7:00 a.m., so I was forced to follow this man to a sketchy looking taxi. At that point, I didn’t care what it cost, I just needed to get to that terminal in the next 15 minutes (traffic is also crazy there). The driver showed me a sign that said I needed to pay 1700 pesos, which is equivalent to $40 U.S.!!! I was in absolute shock and the two men acted like I was the crazy one and said that is the normal price. To give you some perspective, that’s more than I paid for my flight to Cebu! Panic started to set in because I was running out of time, but I haggled them down to paying $10 U.S., since I didn’t even have any pesos yet. It was unfortunate, but could’ve been worse.

After practically jumping in the backseat the whole ride, I arrived at the terminal and cut in line to get through the initial security checkpoint, putting me at the check-in desk at 5:17 a.m., two minutes after the cut-off. I looked up to read “CHECK-IN CLOSED” in big, red letters on the board, and my heart sank. After begging a few employees to let me check my bag, I got through security just as they were calling for the last passengers on the Cebu flight. Miracles do happen!

After an easy hour flight, I excitedly took a taxi to the hostel I was going to stay at for a night in Cebu City, only to realize there is quite literally nothing to do there (it’s mostly just a stopover point to get to the cool places) and my hostel was empty. As I was checking in at 9:00 a.m., all I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew I would be sitting around by myself all day and wasting a day I could be at the beach. Here’s how I know traveling these past two years has changed me: I was spontaneous and decisive right at that moment. I decided not to stay there and took a taxi to the bus station to find my way to Moalboal, a random location I picked on the map (but knew I wanted to go to at some point), which was three hours south.

 

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Although the bus ride was lacking air conditioning and I was the only westerner on board, the wind was plentiful from the open windows and I enjoyed incredible views the entire ride (See photo above). I picked a great hostel when I got there and ended up spending the afternoon at the famous “White Beach” after signing up for my open water Scuba course for the following three days. Finally, I was doing exactly what I came to the Philippines for! I was rewarded with this incredible sunset for my first night:

 

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After experiencing a whirlwind of 18 hours on a nightmare travel day/night (surprisingly not the worst I’ve had though…), I have gotten a chance to reflect on what I’ve learned from travel experiences like this one:

  • Stay calm and use humor to get you through it: This always helps me. I’m usually cracking sarcastic jokes to people around me whenever we encounter a delay or when something ridiculous happens. It puts me at ease and seems to help others as well. Staying calm and keeping your mind at ease is so important in any difficult situation, however you choose to do it.

 

  • Don’t stress about things you can’t change: At the airport, I was sitting next to a British couple who had a flight to catch from Manila as well, and they were getting into panic mode as soon as the flight got delayed. They were both frantically researching how much it would cost to change their next flight if they missed it, what the status of the incoming plane was, and discussing all of the scenarios the delayed flight could lead to. They even talked to the airport employees to tell them how important it is that they get to Manila as soon as possible. Even though my flight was 30 minutes before theirs and their conversations could’ve gotten me more stressed out, I kept reminding myself that I shouldn’t stress about something I cannot change. Could I make the plane get there faster? No. Could I complain enough to get them to realize how important my flight was? No. So I sat and read my book in peace :).

 

  • Feel the fear and do it anyway: I read this quote in Cambodia on a decorated sign above a trash can, and it really stuck with me. This is a mantra that I realized I try to live by- do things that challenge and push you, even when it scares the hell out of you. Book a one way flight to Thailand with no plans? Sure. Show up to a new city with no accommodation? Why not. Go cliff jumping? Duh. I think back to the moments in my life that I’ve grown the most, and they usually are situations that were difficult, scary, or uncomfortable at the time. Travel is the same way. We wouldn’t have crazy stories or develop a sense of confidence and problem solving skills without these tribulations that come with the territory. Travel is not always easy- EMBRACE IT!

 

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  • Be willing to stand up for yourself: In the story above, I mentioned that I ran through security and customs, cut a few lines, and talked to several employees, all who helped me just a little bit along the way. Before asking for help or special treatment, it is important to think through what you’d like the outcome to be. When talking to the security guard at customs in Manila, I made sure that I was clear about my ideal outcome (that I got to cut the line), not just to tell someone how stressed out I was or that I was going to miss my flight. In situations like that one, every minute counts, so it is up to you to speak up when you need help, especially as a solo traveler. If I made one decision differently that day, I would’ve most likely missed my flight. It’s okay to speak up when you need it, just be sure to give those people running through the airport cutting lines grace when it happens to someone else :).

 

  • Have faith that things will always work out: Have you ever gone through a difficult situation and not gotten through it? Since you are here reading this, the answer is no. If you keep that in mind, no matter what the situation is, life becomes SO much easier. Even when it seems like there is no way out of it, I always remind myself that it WILL be okay and I will look back with a funny story to tell. (E.g. When my motorbike broke down on the side of the mountain in the rain, I remember thinking “Hmm, I wonder how this will all work out” instead of “I’m totally screwed right now!”) It’s difficult to change your mindset with this, but when you do, you virtually eliminate the majority of unnecessary stress in your life. Try it!

 

Whether it’s a terrible travel day or just a plain old awful experience, sometimes it takes a difficult situation or what seems like the worst scenario possible to realize how lucky you really are when it works out in the end. It puts things into perspective and also better prepares you to handle anything that comes your way in the future. Instead of looking at a challenge as a negative thing, I have been consciously trying to look at is as a way to build character, as well as my confidence for future experiences. If you didn’t know this already, traveling is not always easy! Life is not always easy. But it can always be fun and a constant learning experience.

Thanks for reading :). I’d love to hear your feedback or any crazy travel stories you have too!

And to the couple running from baggage claim who I yelled “Youuuuu can do ittttt” at: I hope you made your flight to England!