2015 Bucket List Review!

This is it, the year 2015 is more or less wrapped up. For me, this time of the year is always dedicated to re-living everything that has happened over the course of the last months. If you are one of those awesome fellas that regularly read my blog (YAY, big shout out to you guys!), you might remember my bucket list for 2015. It’s an excerpt from my infinite bucket list that I am hoping to check off in decades from now.

A bucket list really is like a to do list for me. As I have uttered several times, I simply like checking things off lists just to be excited for the next step on that list. But what I’ve learned this year is that bucket lists are a tad different. They really mostly fuel my excitement and are less straightforward than a regular to do list. I’ve learned how much I like veering off the beaten path and finding myself in situations I hadn’t planned out for myself.

So here is what I had planned and what actually happened:

Athens, Greece

Yep, that definitely happened! I still look back to this trip regularly. Not only because I relish thinking back to the incredible Greek architecture or the vast amounts of mouth-watering dishes we consumed but also because it made me learn a life-lesson right at the start of the new year: getting robbed and still managing to enjoy your trip.

Filopappou Hill Athens

Filopappou Hill Athens

Exploring Wales

I can also cross this off my list! And as a matter of fact, I could cross it off several times because I was lucky to explore Wales more than once. Every day whenever I wander through the streets that I currently call home or used to call home, I am determined to explore and look behind each hidden corner. But not only did I meander my immediate surroundings, I took three road trips around Wales!

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Driving around North Wales

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Skrinkle Haven Wales

Scotland

Well, I was not able to visit Scotland this year. I was all too consumed with running around Wales or sitting at my desk in Cardiff, head fuming with thoughts about assignments or my dissertation. But Scotland, I’ll be back someday!

Alberta, Canada

Hell, yeah! Words cannot even begin to describe how much this trip impacted me. Being a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding, road tripping through the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen, summitting my first mountain and just loving everyday life in rural Alberta. A trip to remember and a heart lost to Canada!

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Southeast Asia

A trip of a lifetime. My first backpacking trip and also my first time in Southeast Asia. This trip made me learn a lot about myself and about travelling. And even though we’ve been back for almost three months now, I am still basking in Bali bliss with my head in the clouds and radiant sun streams still leaving warm marks on my skin.

Sunrise hike on Mount Batur

Sunrise hike on Mount Batur

Jimbaran Beach Bali

Jimbaran Beach Bali

Breakfast at Crate Cafe

Breakfast at Crate Cafe

Black Forest, Prague and Barcelona

These three destinations still remain uncovered. With a year as eventful as this one and with as many accomplishments and changes happening, I am at peace with not having discovered these destinations. Instead, I focused on going back to my hometown more, admiring it with the eyes of a first-time visitor and building up an immense amount of gratefulness about having grown up here.

Well, were did I veer off the beaten path then? Being caught up in one-of-a-lifetime-experiences often doesn’t come planned. Just as my most recent trip to Japan did. Sitting at home, caught up with job applications with no immediate bucket list destinations ahead, I had never expected for such an opportunity to happen that quickly. A very dear friend and her family suddenly swooped me out of my rut and invited me to a road trip through Japan. Who would I be to say no that?! Against my I-am-an-adult-now better judgement I left my job applications instantaneously and went to rove around Japan.

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Himeji Castle in Japan

It made me realize that this truly is what I love about traveling. Expect the unexpected and just go with the flow. Those are the times when you discover who you’ve always been, what drives and motivates you and how you find your utter bliss.

 

Top 5 Must-Do’s in Bangkok.

If you’re ever planning to go to Bangkok, prepare for a city that’s huge in size, crazily multicultural, defined by smell and absolutely overwhelming in a positive way. While I’m still basking in the joy of visiting Bangkok and after having spent a total of five days in the city, here are my top 5 must do’s:

1. Street Food
For once, don’t listen to your mom or the overprotective friend when they tell you not to eat food that’s offered at stalls along the streets. Please do not miss out on this experience as it will challenge your tastebuds and exhilarate your palate.

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My top tips for street food are both the Rambuttri Road (close to the oh-so-famous Khao San Road) and all of Chinatown, particularly Yaowarat Road. If you’re into sea food, definitely make a stop at T & K Sea Food. Don’t be appalled by the plastic chairs, this is known as one of the best places to go and get seafood in Bangkok. Don’t make the mistake of going there before 6pm though – all you’ll find then will be a corner shop that sells gold jewelry. It only transforms into the famous restaurant during the night.

Having street food is neither fancy nor comfortable but the explosion of those rare and unique tastes is so worth it! The best food I had in the whole four weeks of roaming Southeast Asia was at street food stalls!

2. Shanghai Mansion Hotel
If you’re looking for a place to stay and you don’t have a super low backpackers budget, go and check out the Shanghai Mansion Hotel in Chinatown, located just off the corner from T & K Sea Food. The staff is super welcoming and helpful, the rooms are just gorgeous and the price is definitely okay for what the hotel offers. We paid around 35€ per night for a double room. Breakfast is included and offers you a variety of delicious Thai dishes accompanied by the occasional toast and jam for the Westerners.

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3. Rooftop Bar
Yes, it’s a typical tourist thing to do but for once forget your I’m-an-intrepid-explorer mindset and go with the flow. There are gazillions of rooftop bars in Bangkok and it’s pretty hard to choose one. We settled for the Moon Bar on top of the Banyan Tree Hotel in Sukhumvit. It is one of the quieter ones and we had heard you can access the bar in Birkenstocks or Flip Flops which was all we had. And we succeeded! The cocktails are a bit pricey but since you know you somehow pay for the view with your cocktail, I didn’t mind the prices at all.

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4. Chatuchak Market
You’re in for a treat, right? Then go check out the Chatuchak Market. But beware, it’s a full day’s program. Let me introduce you to the world’s biggest market. It is literally that big you need a map to find your way around. I am not kidding. Although we felt lost most of the time, I absolutely loved it. You can buy EVERYTHING there. From furniture to sarongs; animals to backpacks; food, matcha tea or coconut ice cream to jewelry. Some stores sell bad quality stuff you can find everywhere in Bangkok but there are tons of stalls that offer unique and hip items that are so worth peeking in.

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5. River Vibe Restaurant & Bar
This is one of my all time favourite spots in Bangkok. Our lovely hostess at the Cozy Hostel (we stayed there during our second visit) recommended it to us and it was such a great experience. The River Vibe Restaurant & Bar is located on the 8th floor of the River View Guesthouse. Most people go there for sunset but we went for breakfast and had the whole restaurant to ourselves! The breakfast is good but not overwhelming but the atmosphere makes up for it. You can sit on a lounge-like sofa and enjoy your coffee while having an incredible view of the city and the Chao Phraya river.

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This is not necessarily an insider tip, but don’t miss out on going somewhere via tuk tuk. The drivers often try to scam you when it comes to prices, they mostly never know the route and you don’t always feel safe but it is definitely part of the whole Bangkok experience. I’ll be back Bangkok – you crazy lady!

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Is Backpacking for me?

Let’s be completely upfront. If you’re looking for an utterly relaxing vacation, please don’t go backpacking. It is a hell lot of work (sometimes). I am repeating myself, but that’s what I enjoy about traveling. The constant challenges you encounter, discovering new things about yourself and realizing what you are capable of and how you find insatiable bliss in living out of a suitcase or in this case, a backpack. But backpacking is not for everyone. If you are thinking about embarking on your first backpacking trip, here are some things I feel you must know:

Living with less than you usually do

Carrying more than 15kg on your back is pushing it. Stick to as few things as possible if you want to be able to walk around comfortably. But how do you survive for weeks and weeks with only two pairs of shorts and a few t-shirts? Trust me, you can. It is a refreshingly liberating feeling to just own a few things at a time. And trust me, when you come home, you are going to rip your closet apart because you can’t fathom how much stuff you actually own. The bottom line is, changing your outfits daily and always having fresh clothes during your trip is impossible for backpackers.

Sweaty or dirty, the constant feeling

I read this on Wayfarer Kate’s list of ugly things around backpacking and she is absolutely right. You step out of your hostel or hotel and you start sweating (at least when you are in Southeast Asia) or are immediately covered in dust because a motorbike just passed by and caused a stir. You also feel dirty because you don’t own many clothes and wear them multiple times even though they’re dirty. Yep, I am aware of the concept of laundry rooms. But that doesn’t help you. At least not in Southeast Asia. When your clothes are covered in dirt from a hike in Bali or a motorbike trip through Vietnam, the Southeast Asian laundry service is almost useless. Your clothes end up smelling worse than they did before and you’ll find even more stains on them. Rather rely on washing your clothes in the sink or shower (in case you have hot water!).

Planning, planning and oh, planning!

Isn’t it just exciting to embark on a trip, only having booked your flight across the big pond? Nothing else, no hotel, no nothing. What an intrepid and brave explorer you must be! While that is definitely true, I sometimes wished we had planned a bit more. It is super refreshing not knowing where you’ll find yourself in a few weeks but this also comes with the downside of spending hours and hours of your actual vacation planning. Raiding travel guides, websites, other people’s Instagram feeds or talking to people. Everyone and every website recommends something different. Everyone’s bucket list is different and their top ten lists of highlights also. Take your time to figure out what you really want to see and not what others tell you to see or do.

Constantly packing and moving 

You’re a backpacker, right? Backpackers constantly move, switch location, live on a budget and see as much as possible. Let me tell you, this is so tiring. Every few days you stuff everything in your backpack (the space in there gets smaller and smaller after time because somehow you’ve managed to buy a looot of stuff) and you have to leave the place you just started to love.

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The oh-so-famous cultural differences

So you’ve packed your backpack, you know where you’re going and you think you have it all figured out. Well, that’s not going to happen. Don’t rely on public transport, train times are never accurate and you need much more time than you estimated to get somewhere. That’s okay, I can handle that. The only thing is, that when you encounter a problem, it’s sometimes a bit adventurous to get help. The obstacle here is the language barrier. Over time I have memorized quite a few non-verbal conversation methods. And like a cheesy quote says, a smile is the shortest distance between two people. As long as you are polite, smile and ask for help, you will somehow get there. You also have to be trusting. If someone tells you they know where they are taking you or that this is the exact spot in the middle of nowhere where you have to get off the bus to be picked up by a taxi someone organized for you, it is up to you to evaluate whether they are trustworthy or not. Southeast Asian people are the sweetest and most giving people and always offer their help. But sometimes they see a human ATM in you. You are mostly not treated like a local, which can be super frustrating. You sometimes find yourself longing for your own country, where you can just pick up something from the grocery store that’s clearly marked with a non-negotiable prize.

Always picking up the unique vibes of a new place

You did it. You arrived where you wanted to be. Now it’s time to explore – yet again. As incredible as it is to see as many places as possible in just a few weeks, it is challenging to always find your way around a new place, figure out where you can find the best breakie and coffee and what you simply cannot miss while being there.

The same conversations and the goodbyes

Fellow backpackers love to meet each other. Unfortunately, you always have to go through the same notions with everyone: Where are you from? Where are you heading? Where have you been so far? Also, forget the questions about life back home when you meet a surfer. All they like to think about is reading the ocean and how to find the next sick wave. Once you’ve overcome the tiring first round of questions, you mostly figure out quite soon if you’re going to see this person again. Most of the times, it stays a one-time acquaintance or you spend a few days together because it’s convenient. But there are also these rare occasions where you meet people who you can see yourself staying in contact with. And with those, the hard part is the goodbyes. You’ve shared unique experiences with one another although you’ve only met a few days ago and you somehow feel a special bond between you. But then you and them go your own ways. Goodbyes suck, really.

The constant urge

And finally, the constant urge. Imagine this: you’re in Bali, you’ve found a place you truly like, the coffee is great, you’ve had the best food so far, the people around you are incredible and you don’t want to leave. At the same time, you know you only have this limited amount of time. And didn’t you want to see so much more? This is the perpetual feeling a backpacker has. Sometimes you stay a bit longer, sometimes you leave. Sometimes you regret leaving, sometimes you can’t grasp how much better the place you moved to is. I haven’t figured out the perfect backpacking strategy just yet – go with your gut feeling and it will be just fine.

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Yes, there are just as many ups and as there are downs during a backpacking trip. You get lost, you hurt yourself, you hate a place or you just feel restless. If this doesn’t bother you, then backpacking is for you! It truly is a liberating way of traveling and I will do it over and over again. Immerse yourself in the local culture, get to know the people that live there and absorb as many experiences as possible – good or bad.

Review: Packing for Southeast Asia.

Back home after the big trip! Farewell at the airport in Bangkok.

Back home after the big trip! Farewell at the airport in Bangkok.

This is it. The big trip is over. Just as I said on Instagram, it is a goodbye to island life, endless summer nights, heat and sandy toes. Just as I am always intensely melancholic when a trip is over, I am also filled with new experiences, good vibes and an infinite energy taking me through everyday life.

After this trip, I am also smarter. You think I’m bragging? Well, this was my first backpacking trip so I feel I learnt a lot. There are numerous things that your travel guide will never tell you but you’ll experience anyway. I will definitely cover these experiences in one of the upcoming blogposts! And you are most likely to have overpacked even though you solemnly pledged to only take the bare necessities with you. As promised, this is a review of how I packed and what I really needed from it.

First and foremost – I packed too much. Too many clothes. Even though I thought I’d selected every item carefully, it was still too much. Take fewer shirts and rely on cotton as it really is more comfortable in the heat. Make sure the clothes wash easily and stains get off quickly (Asian countries often wash their clothes in cold water!). One thing that I did not wear once was the long sleeved shirt, which I took additionally to my black cardigan. I thought it’d be handy as mosquito bite protector but that’s unnecessary. If you have one long sleeved item and a good mosquito repellent, you’re good to go.

In terms of the toiletries I packed, there’s nothing to complain. I did not use nail polish or other luxury beauty items as much but I still would take them with me again next time.

Medication – the bacteria to prevent traveler’s diarrhoea came in super handy, we didn’t have any problems during the whole trip. Make sure to take something like a first aid kit with you that has bandages. I had a tiny accident with a scooter by the end of the trip and it’s easier when you have these things with you. It can be a bit adventurous trying to explain to the pharmacy sales personnel what you need. Also, do not take too much mosquito repellent with you – one bottle suffices. Buy the rest over there, they have much cheaper and better formulas then us over here.

Travel/Miscellaneous – everything came in super handy. I would recommend every single item on that list. I was especially happy to have brought a microfibre towel (so good at the beach, the sand doesn’t get stuck in the fabric!), the inflatable neck pillow, the sleeping bag inlay, the flight cover for my backpack and the flashlight (the Gili Islands don’t have street lights so if you have to find your way home in the middle of the night a good torch is essential!).

Also, I was super happy with my Gregory J53 backpack. It had the perfect size, wasn’t too heavy and packed easily. It is the perfect companion for a backpacking trip where you stay in hotels and hostels. I am not sure whether I would recommend it for trekking. It is not sturdy enough to carry a tent and other equipment you might need for such a trip.

Even though we just came back from our trip a week ago, I can’t wait to plan the next one! Since I just finished my master’s degree, I am now on the search for a job. Maybe my next trip will take me to a new home and a new life?! Who knows!

Source: http://abdullaabdulnisthar.tumblr.com/post/114247865515/i-havent-been-everywhere-but-its-on-my-list

Source: http://abdullaabdulnisthar.tumblr.com/post/114247865515/i-havent-been-everywhere-but-its-on-my-list

Packing for Southeast Asia.

It’s now been two weeks since I left for my backpacking trip to Southeast Asia. By now I will most likely have realised how well I packed – did I take too much? Are there some essential items missing that I wouldn’t have ever thought of?

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It is my first backpacking trip so I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I decided to go for the J53 backpack from Gregory, it holds around 50-55l. It is super lightweight and easy to handle and fits my body well. What I really love about it is that it has a “CrossFlo Suspension” along the back, a mesh area that keeps your body cool. I feel like this will come in handy when I walk through the hot and humid weather in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Here’s what’s inside my backpack for my 4.5 week trip:

Clothes:
Nike Free runners
Black Roxy flip flops
Black Birkenstocks
2 jeans shorts
2 lightweight and loose cotton pants
1 pair of leggings
1 black cardigan
1 blouse (long sleeves to protect against mosquitos at night)
1 dress (can be worn during the day or at dinner)
1 long skirt
7-8 tops and shirts (mixture between cotton and synthetic fabrics, mainly in white, navy, black or beige colours to be combined easily)
2 regular bras
1 sports bra
7 undies
2 bikinis
1 pyjama (basically a hotpants and a shirt that can also be worn elsewhere)
1 lightweight scarf

Toiletries:
Sunscreen (SPF 30)
After Sun
Shampoo and conditioner
Comb
Bodywash
Razor
Deodorant
Tissues
Tampons
1 Nail polish + remover
Cotton balls
Make Up
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Nail file
Small scissors
Tweezers
Lip chap
1 Lipstick
Hair ties and bobby pins
Contact lenses + solution
Disinfectant (spray, gel and wipes)
Microfibre towel

Medication:
Advil/Ibuprofen
Different products to support the digestion (i.e. a type of bacteria you take daily to prevent traveler’s diaorrhea or electrolytes)
Band aids (also for blisters)
Steroid cream for itchy rashes
Healing ointment
DEET-based mosquito spray
Malaria antibiotics

Travel/Miscellaneous:
Passport + several copies of it
Vaccination record + several copies of it
iPhone + charger
Portable iPhone charger
Camera + charger
3 memory cards (between 2-16 GB)
Additional battery for camera
Lonely Planet “Southeast Asia on a shoestring”
US dollar for the visa at the Indonesian border
Book “A House in the Sky”
Sunglasses
Big black purse (hand luggage and for the day)
Mosquito net
Sleeping bag inlay
Notebook and pen
Flight cover for backpack
Inflatable neck pillow
Several compression bags (1l, 9l and 20l)
Pocket knife
Flashlight

I’m super curious how this packing list will prove its worth. I will definitely write a review once I’m back. It’s always interesting to see what people decided to pack but it’s even better to know what they really used or what they were missing during their trip!