Growing Out of Backpacking but Still Going Around the World

I am an introvert. I don’t party and being in the middle of a large boisterous group of people is basically my version of hell.  If I could travel while invisible, I would (stupid lack of superpowers). I guess my point is that there is no one way to travel. 

I remember the moment that my now husband and I gave up on shared room hostels.  Luxembourg. 200 Dutch middle schoolers.  I am still recovering. I remember the moment we gave up on hotels altogether. Budapest. 100 degrees, no AC and 24 hour partying. We moved into a hotel the next day. The fact that I did not lose my mind and start screaming at people should impress you.

Sometimes, I feel pressured to go back to the days of staying in hostels.  As if that is the only way to authentically travel.  But I am not 17 years old.  Thank God.  I have a travel companion (yay, for husbands) and I have a job that pays me money.  Which I am willing to throw in a dozen different directions while traveling.  Because comfort is not a dirty word. 

While in Indonesia we switched Airbnb homes.  Not on purpose, but neither place was available for the whole time that we planned on being in Palau Weh. The first place was isolated on a cliff behind a tiny little village.  Aside from a political rally one night (seriously, we confirmed that was what was going on) the frogs were the loudest thing we had to deal with. 

The second place was still a very small one room “house” but had access to a beach and was six feet from a restaurant.  Score, as we were getting tired of boiled eggs and cup noodles. Having spent four days in complete seclusion our exposure was a bit of a shock.

Everything was fine until about halfway through dinner. More and more backpackers arrived.  I swear I don’t hate other backpackers on principle. Usually, you can have a decent conversation or simply exist in the same space with them.  But, oh, my God, the loud and screaming drunken obnoxiousness that followed.  I have a travel truism that is people who are more than two meters away from you know your nationality then you are being obnoxious.  Also, shut up.

We were both obnoxious but unfortunately, the new bungalow was hotter than the surface of the sun.  There was a ceiling fan but it was turning the wrong way so all the air was being blown at the ceiling.  I am sure that there was a way to switch the fan but we couldn’t figure it out. Consequently, the room was at least 15 degrees warmer than outside. The first bungalow hasn’t had ac either but a couple of night we were actually on the verge of being cold if we woke up in the middle of the night (score). Overheated already because every time we almost drifted off someone would shriek with laughter or just shriek.  Since they were less than two meters away from us it was pretty hard to ignore. At 3:45 am we finally yelled at them which miraculously make the leave and the lights outside finally turn out.

We tried to get over our middle of the night fire (We are moving!  Dramatic.) but a huge cockroach crawling up Carsten’s leg while he showered did nothing to improve our mood but breakfast calmed us down. The actual people who own the place are super nice. Our room is comfortable and we were promised a fan.  The view is stunning. We have a hammock in our porch less than two feet away from the surf and at the moment things are peaceful.


Thanksgiving Overseas


My husband asked me last night, as we were out eating out Thanksgiving dinner, when the last time I had Thanksgiving at “home” was.  Like with my mother and siblings and all that.  And I realized that I haven’t been home for this holiday since 1998 when I was still, you know, living at home. It isn’t as if I have been skipping Thanksgiving.  I was away at university from 1999-2004 and of course had no money to fly from South Dakota to New York. And over the years the physical distance has grown.

It is one of those days where you can start to question your life choices.  “Is living in China 12,000 miles from my family and being unable to go home for Thanksgiving a good idea?” you may ask yourself.  I know that it is easy for me to get sucked into self-pity at this time of year and COMPLETELY forget that 1.) I chose this life 2.) I had to jump through about 5000 hoops to have this lifestyle 3.) I like my life and 4.) People who has as much privilege as I do  who whine are not cute and no one feel bad if they randomly trip over their own feet.  And 5.) Suck it up.  Which I do. usually followed by calling my mother.

Thanksgiving for me is about friendship and community.  One of the best things about being an expat teacher at an international school is that there is an instant community.  You pretty much better like the people that you work with because these are the people that you are going to have to choose your friends from.  Good luck. And I have had good luck.  My group of friends in Morocco is still so close that we chat pretty much every day and have managed to coordinate meet ups.  This is impressive when you consider that each of us is living on a separate continent. 

Before China I have always either hosted or been invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving.  Both of these options have involved large amounts of people.  And me cooking.  Unfortunately, in Beijing, I am limited by my “oven” (i.e. slightly large toaster oven). I am not a martyr and will not be making a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 in my current setup. 

International Thanksgivings are pretty amazing. If you ever have the chance to host one take my advice and go pot luck. Americans tend to be homesick and usually this results in them throwing themselves into cooking.  I also love when there is a significant portion of non-Americans in the mix.  It is pretty cool to be with someone for their first Thanksgiving.  “So the point is to eat until you feel sick and then spend the rest of the day watching a parade/football?”  Yes, yes it is. It turns out that we all have a different idea of Thanksgiving.  And when you blend your ideas and someone else’s ideas you start to notice the things that you take for granted.  For example: is there a difference between stuffing vs. dressing?  Should cornbread, oysters, and/or sausage be involved?  (Spoiler: the answer is yes, no, yes.)

We attended a Canadian Thanksgiving hosted by a friend in October but for the last few years on the day of Thanksgiving Carsten and I have eaten out. If you do enough research you can choose from a number of restaurants serving variations on the typical American meal Which is how I ended up spending last night eating dinner after work (no day off because international school) at “Slow Boat Sanlitun Brewpub’s Thanksgiving Dinner” with my German husband who is highly entertained by all things American kitsch and a Chinese friend who has never done the Thanksgiving meal thing.

I enjoyed the meal.  The adult plate came with 4 separate beers but I opted for the free flow softdrinks because I am a lightweight.  We started off with a huge salad.  There was mango involved so it didn’t entirely feel seasonally appropriate.  But it was pleasant enough.  I was a little disappointed with the main meal when it came.  Mostly because it came on the same gigantic plate and was slightly dwarfed by it.  Some of it had to do with the large amount of Brussel sprouts.  Despite this initial impression everything on the plate was okay.  The white meat of the Turkey was actually excellent.  I find that Thanksgiving is a difficult meal for me to eat out for.  I am so conditioned for it to be home cooking that I am inevitably inclined to be overly judgy.  The desert was pretty good.  Pumpkin pie is a pretty safe bet and the addition of caramel sauce was pretty inspired.

But I miss making the meal myself.  I have many a pumpkin themed recipe that has been going to waste these last couple of years.  I read that there are a couple of places that you can order a whole roasted turkey to be delivered from.  Maybe I should bring back hosting for myself…

95 Amazing Tips for Packing and Flying on a Long Haul Flight: I Learned This the Hard Way So You Don't Have to

My mother lives in Buffalo, NY, my father lives in Washington, my husband’s family is in Germany. We live in China and love to travel. I pack a suitcase pretty often… My flight are also very long. You know, the kind of flight where you start to question wheather you have ever actually lived somewhere other than this airplane seat and if you are going to die of old age before arrival. But never fear. I have put together 95 useful tips for both packing your suitcase and your carry on as well as getting through that long haul flight

  1. Pack in the right size suitcase- you want to be able to got you things in but you also don’t want a ton of extra space. That is how things break. I have an expandable suitcase.I never have it expanded on the way to my destination.That is my space for things that I inevitable by.
  2. Invest in light luggage- The lighter it is the less likely that you will flirt with going overweight. 
  3. Pack small breakable items inside your shoes
  4. Wear shoes that you can take off easily- but also that you are wearing socks with.   Nothing is more gross then having to walk through security barefoot. 
  5. Neck pillows are your friends- you might get more than a few minutes’ sleep.  Try the neck pillow out first.  They are super individual.  You have to like how it feels.
  6. Eyemasks-  help you shut out your flight or just the funky light in your hotel room.
  7. Put your heaviest things at the bottom of your suitcase.
  8. Put all liquids in plastic bags- This will separate them from your other things.  The air pressure can make spillage much more of a reality than you might otherwise anticipate.
  9. Travel cubes- they make it super easy to rearrange everything without refolding.
  10. Bring about three tops for each bottom- clean shirts are a must but you can rewear your jeans.
  11. Find a hat that you love that packs well.  I am still on the search for the perfect hat. It has to actually shade your face, not embarrass you, and smush into your suitcase. I am looking into this one.
  12. Pack some sort of cross body day bag or back pack (if you are into that)- There is a large chance that you are going to be walking for hours and you need a bag that you can walk comfortable with.
  13. Samples- if you are an addict of Sephora (like me) you probably have a TON of samples laying around that you haven’t gotten around to using.  This is an incredible space saver.
  14. Sunsceen- bring it and wear it. 
  15. Several pairs of shoes- if you are on a holiday chances are that you are walking a ton.  Bring more than one pair of shoes so that you can rotate them and give your feet a break. I usually wear one and pack two.
  16. Scarves- Holy now these random separates are an outfit, batman.
  17. Friction stick- blisters are no good, my friend.
  18. Sunglasses- even if you aren’t going somewhere sunny.  You never know when you will need them.
  19. Lip balm- bring it on the plane with you.  It is best if you do not have to stick your finger in it.  Because planes are gross.
  20. Hand lotion- bring it on the plane with you.  I am pretty sure that it is possible to die of dry hands.  Unscented is best because you never know how sensitive the people around you are to smells.  They cannot get away.
  21. A black pen- if you are traveling overseas there is usually a form to fill out and some countries (I am looking at you, China) are very insistent upon black ink.
  22. More than one hair band- I have made this mistake.  Hair bands are fickle and will desert you to travel on their own.  And then where are you without a backup? 
  23. Pain pills, travel sickness pills, allergy pills- I am pretty sure that I a intensely allergic to something that they are cleaning the air with on an airplane.  Instant allergy attack which leads to instant headache. If you are sensitive to the planes jostling around travel sickness pills are a lifesaver.
  24. Keep your carry on liquids easy to access- nothing is more irritating than having to dig before going through security. 
  25. Tissues – travel packs=yay!
  26. Anti-bacterial wet wipes- much better than hand sanitizer and you can wipe off your tray.  Because…ew.
  27. Empty water bottle- in most airports you can find cold drinking water and you can get them filled on the plane as well. Don’t pack plastic.
  28. Line the bottom of the suitcase with small flat items- You can tuck them in between the bars of the suitcases handle.  Use every inch!
  29. Make sure your batteries are in the right bag- in some places your battery needs to be in your carry on and in some they need to be in your carry on. 
  30. Use small bags to keep charging cords from tangling into a crazy mess- and bring your cords.  The usually take up very little room and you can often charge them on the place and almost always at the airport.
  31. Bring something for the sound- the roaring on log haul flight can get to you.  Use sound reducing headphones if you have them, ear plugs if you don’t.  You will sleep better and generally have a more pleasant flight.
  32. Bring your own headphones
  33. Eyedrops- dehydration is a real problem, people
  34. Dress in light layers-  Sometimes planes are the temperature of a cold dead heart and sometimes they are the dry heat of a Saharran summer day.  You never know.
  35. Make sure that you are prepared for the outlets at your destination
  36. Pack dark clothes- they show wrinkles and stains way less.
  37. Use all the space- tuck small items wherever they fit.
  38. Weigh your luggage- save yourself the embarrassment of opening up your suitcase in the airport and sending six pairs of shoes home with your mother (not that I am speaking from personal experience.  Luggage scales are awesome and not too expensive but you can just use your bathroom scale by stepping onto it holing your suitcase in both hands. 
  39. Call ahead to know what your baggage limits are- I sweat these change daily and it is super expensive to figure that out at the airport
  40. Make sure that you can recognize your bag from afar- My bags are black like every one else on the planet but I have luggage tags on them that I can recognize from afar.  This is especially important if you need time to push up to the conveyor belt.
  41. Make sure your hand luggage fits under the seat- it isn’t useful to you if you have to go to the overhead bin every time you need something.
  42. Lay everything out on a bed or on the floor before you start packing-  this helps you see everything
  43. Cushion anything breakable with clothing- I once brought home two HUGE tagines from Morocco to the US as Christmas presents.  Only one of them survived the trip.  Learn from my pain.
  44. Deodorant-You know what no one ever tells you?  That it is extremely difficult to find a solid deodorant abroad. I am not an aerosol or roll on fan.
  45. Chose a color palate- ideally you should be able to wear anything that you bring with everything else in your bag.
  46. Make a list- I swear it will help you remember everything.
  47. Get it wet- if you are going to a hot climate you are going to sweat.  Check whatever clothing that you are bringing to make sure that it isn’t going to be obvious.  Grey is not a good color for this.
  48. Consolidate as many cords as you can- If it charges more than one device then only bring one.  Same goes for USB Chargers.  I have one that takes 4 cords at once that my husband and I travel with.
  49. Plan what you are going to wear but bring less than you think you need.  Actually put together outfits.  You will be much happier later when you aren’t putting random seperates together because that it what is clean.
  50. Make a Photocopy of your passport info page and visa page (if needed)- you shoud carry these with you all the time.
  51. Insect repellant
  52. Umbrella-  Some of them fold up tiny but remember you will probably be walking around outside with it for most of the day.  If you think that it will rain bing one.
  53. Kindle- If you are a traveler you need one of these.  There are some really inexpensive versions. I am a true convert.
  54. Decant your toiletries into smaller bottles.
  55. Bring in extra pair of underwear on the plane just in case of delayed luggage.
  56. Wear comfy bottoms-  You would not believe how uncomfortable that your jears are going to be during a fourteen hour flight. 
  57. Make sure that you have a bra for every occation. You can usually rotate two.
  58. Don’t fold your bra inside out- I usually fill the cups with socks and tuck it in the curves top of my bag.
  59. Wear a sports bra on the plane.  More support and your underwire won’t set off the metal detector.  #avoidbeingsearched
  60. Remember that there are usually last minute toiletries from the morning that you should bring.  I have forgotten my hairbrush a few times.  Not a cute look. Make a list of what you use as you get ready in the morning- that way you will be less likely to forget something essential.
  61. Make sure that you don’t bring all cotton fabrics- They take forever to dry and when you wear and/or wash them they are never going to return to shape again without a dryer. 
  62. Layer outfits- this reduces the amount of “heavy” clothing you need and also means you can adjudt to the days weather. Make sure that you feel like yourself and are comfortable in what you pack. Think loose.  Welcome to the puffiness that comes with a long haul flight.
  63. Check the weather forcast
  64. A travel clothesline is invaluable if you are planning on handwashing anything.
  65. Travel wallet- Keeps all your documents together. I keep my passports, tickets, and any other travel documents together.
  66. Hat and gloves- If you are going somewhere that might even have the slightest chance of being cold.  They don’t take up much space and if you need them you need them.
  67. Pick your seat- if you can you should.  No one wants to be in the middle!
  68. Footrest- I am 4’6.  I cannot reach the floor when I sit in an airplane seat.  I travel with a folding footstool.  Mine is pretty big because I am pretty little.  If you are more than 5 feet tall you can find folding fool rests that are the size of a paperback book and are not much heavier.
  69. Accessorize- Individualize your look with small touches that don’t take up much space.
  70. Think weight- pack your heaviest things near the wheels and your lightest near the top of your suitcase.
  71. Use the pillow that is on your seat as a lubar pillow.  It will make a different in how you feel.
  72. Fly Foreign-If you are American book the non-US carrier.  The planes, service, and food are almost always better. You can still get your domestic miles with code sharing!
  73. Drink water- alcohol and caffine just dehydrate you more.
  74. Wear as little makeup as you are comfortable with.  I layer on night cream as soon as the flight takes off.  Ermahgerd I am dry.
  75. The “special meals”- they all tend to be better than the main meal. Plus you get to eat first.
  76. Bring a carry on that sits under the seat if you are checking luggage- this eliminate the worry of finding space and getting it again.
  77. Downy Wrimkle Release and Febreezer- comes in a tiny travel size and makes everything slightly more wearable.
  78. Pretty much everyplace that you are going to stay is going to have access to a hair dryer.  Leave yours at home.  Let’s expand that to heat styling products in general.  Let your hair be free.  Or if it misbehaves pull it back.
  79. Laundry basket upset- the week before I fly I start throwing things that I know I am going to bring together  in a laundry basket. 
  80. Put everything on a large flat surface- The floor or the bed.  Spread everything out and start to sort through what you need and what you don’t.  This way you can see everything and can organize it together.
  81. Makeup wipes- You can put your face back on at the hotel.
  82. Toothbrush- bring it on the plane with you.  If you fall asleep you are going to need it and even if you don’t it is an instant pick-me-up.  You will feel much less gross.
  83. Portable charger- so useful. Get one that uses USB because it will charge more items rather than a dedicated phone case for example.
  84. Bring a device that you can watch movies on- my last flight to Beijing there was no inflight entertainment and I didn’t have my ipad.  Much pouting ensued during the following 14 hours.
  85. Landry bag- separate your dirty clothes from your clean and make sure your clean clothes stay that way.
  86. Pack larger items first and fit smaller items around them.
  87. You pretty much never have to dress up- all black and a fancy scarf and you can get in anywhere.
  88. Button and zip everything- easier to fold and less likely to roll into a ball and wrinkle.
  89. Lable your luggage- insode and out and make sure that you can see it from a distance.  The entire planet has a black suitcase.  Make sure yours stands out.
  90. Enough underwear- enough for the trip plus a couple bonus pairs. Unless you are travelling long term just bring enough. 
  91. Flip flops- for the shower, hanging around the beach, or even around and about the city. 
  92. Put shoes in shoe bags (or just plastic bags/showecaps)- after you fill them with smaller items of course.
  93. Leave the laptop- if you can stand it.  I find that I hardly ever use it anyway and it just takes up space and sits there being heavy.
  94. Put your guides on a kindle, tablet, or phone. Those suckers are heavy.  BTW: I am very partial to a rough Guide/National Geographic Traveller combo.  The perfect amount of of background info.
  95. Make sure you have the converter you need- chances are you won’t be able to buy it there without a whole lot of trouble.
Actual photo of what happens when I start to pack. It is a process

Actual photo of what happens when I start to pack. It is a process


Bonus book tip! I always download 5 or 6 books about my destination.  Sometimes fiction sometimes not.  I love reading about a place while I am travelling there!

Whew!  That was a lot to get through!  High Five if you make it all the way through.  We are now officially super friends.  Don’t make it awkward.  Just relax and go with it. Anyway,  I hope you found something useful or new!

What are some of your best travel tips?