Happy 2 year anniversary!

I can’t believe it. It has already been two years since I started this blog. It all started with a trip to Bolivia, to see my best friend from my all-consuming, incredible and once in a lifetime experience in Oklahoma. The journey to Bolivia was my first ever solo trip and it made me learn so much about myself and the world and experience South America’s beauty for the first time. Another continent crossed off my bucket list! We ventured around La Paz, spent some days at the Salar de Uyuni salt flats and I took an overnight bus trip to see Sucre on my own.

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Sucre, Bolivia

The rest of the summer was filled with trips around Germany, a week in Ibiza and a long awaited trip to Santorini, one of the most heart-warming, dazzling and enchanting places on this earth. Exploring this tiny island by hiking from one end to the other and enjoying utter tranquility and the natural beauty of the island just left me breathless.

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Galatia Villas in Santorini, Greece

Then it was time to prepare for another adventure: a year in Wales, finishing my Master’s degree in Cardiff. Little did I know that I would find my soul sisters, two incredible souls that I know will never leave my side, wherever life will take us. We share something real, something that is beyond words, beyond this world and even beyond my imagination. Definitely changed for good! I finished off the year with a trip to Dublin, Ireland to spend some time with my dear friend Susann to ring in the Christmas time.

Besides meeting incredible friends from all over the world, I got to experience that Wales is a truly underrated country. The landscapes, cities and people in Wales are so much more than beautiful, I cannot wait to come back this summer! I also got the opportunity to go back to Greece and see Athens, Cape Sounio and the Kaisariani Monastery. Despite being robbed my adventurous spirit made me make the best of it!

During my time in Wales I was lucky to travel to Canada for my best friend’s wedding. I definitely left my heart there and hopefully I’ll be back rather sooner than later to go and collect it. I can’t wait to be back in Alberta, meander windy roads around the Rocky Mountains and just LIVE.

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On our way to the Glacier Skywalk.

2015 got even better once I handed it my dissertation and left Cardiff for good. I jumped on a plane to Southeast Asia with my best friend and soulmate Nicole to start our first backpacking trip around Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. It is safe to say that I more than fell in love with backpacking and taking the day one hour at a time, truly relishing the bliss of having the day at your disposal and enjoying a time off without responsibilities.

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Bali Bliss.

The incredible and eventful year wrapped up with a huge surprise. I got invited to go on a roadtrip through Japan! Never would I have imagined to get the opportunity to travel even more that year. I will forever be grateful and humble for this opportunity and wouldn’t want to miss the experience for the world. I got to admire Japanese architecture, eat carefully crafted dishes day in and day out and experience the craziness and mind-blowing size of Tokyo.

Nara, Japan

Nara, Japan

The new year started on a more slow note. I am incredibly happy to have found a full-time job and I even got to take a little trip over Easter, recharging from the craziness of everyday life in the Netherlands.

I am more than positive that this year and this life has so much more to offer and I cannot wait for all the experiences to come and to share them with you! Happy Birthday on wanderlust!

 

 

Where to research for your trip?

Whenever it comes to planning the next trip, there’s the big question of where to go. And once you’ve figured that out, what to do while you’re abroad?

I am a firm believer of the concept of travel guides. I always rely on them for expertise and a vast collection of advice from experienced travelers and writers. As for most of us, my favourite guides are the ones from Lonely Planet. If you are doing a trip through a country instead of only visiting one city or place, I definitely recommend the “Lonely Planet Discover” series. They are more compact and a bit more easy to navigate through than the regular guides.

Since my last trip to Southeast Asia, I definitely tend to consult Instagram and Pinterest for my travels. For Instagram, searching for hashtags or locations is the best way to go! Or simply search through your favourite travel bloggers feed to see where they’ve been. They offer you the best up to date information on the top destinations and insights a travel guide can’t offer you. And first and foremost, they are photo based! How to better fuel your excitement?

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Talk to people! Know anyone who’s been there before? AWESOME! No information will be as detailed and honest as when you talk to people about their trip. It can get confusing talking to a bunch of different people because all of them will have different opinions. But if Nicole hadn’t talked to a complete stranger about going to Vietnam, we would have never ended up at the Pepperhouse Homestay!

For hotels or homestays, I can wholeheartedly say that Booking.com is the best address. We booked all our accommodations in Southeast Asia via the platform and we always ended up making a great choice. The best feature about it is that you really only book your room instead of having to pre-pay for it.

I guess this list will not totally revolutionize the way you educate yourself about the place you’re going to but from time to time it’s great to rely on all of these sources together instead of only one. Who doesn’t want to gather the best possible information for their next trip and relish this perfect state of anticipation?!

Exploring Central Vietnam.

I’m sure we’ve all heard of magnificent Halong Bay and hustling Hanoi in Northern Vietnam or the enchanting Mekong Delta and colonial Saigon also known as Ho Chi Minh City in the South. But what about Central Vietnam? As Nicole and I were sure it had a lot to offer, we decided to visit this part of Vietnam and ignore the country’s most famous sights.

We chose to spend some time in Danang, particularly visiting the Hai Van Pass, travel to the Phong Nha Khe Bang National Park and wrap up our time in Vietnam with a stay in Hoi An.

Our first stop in Vietnam was Danang. The city in itself is rather unspectacular. The reason we decided to stay in Danang was we were planning to explore the Hai Van Pass, a meteorological divide between Northern and Southern Vietnam. The best way to do this is on motorcycles or scooters. Please don’t think you can just hop on a scooter and drive the Hai Van Pass if you haven’t ever driven a scooter before – it is a windy road with a bunch of obstacles. The highest peak is only accessible if you really know how to drive a motorbike, it takes you off the beaten path. The views from up there are one of a kind though!

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Also, don’t underestimate the beaches that surround the Hai Van Pass. Coming back from a day on a motorbike, being all dusty and dirty, dipping into the Vietnamese sea at night is the best feeling one can imagine! A little birdie told me that you can even see glowing plankton if you’re lucky…!

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Our next stop was the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Definitely a hidden gem in Vietnam! I would definitely recommend you stay at the Pepperhouse Homestay. I have never met people as kind and generous as Diem and her family.

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Did you know that the largest cave in the world is located in Phong Nha Ke Bang? It is so huge that you can fit two Airbus A380 inside. Unfortunately we were not able to visit this cave as you currently have to pay $3.000 to get inside. Instead we visited the Paradise Cave which to me was just as jaw-dropping.

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Also, definitely do one of those adventure tours with zip-lining, kayaking, mud walking and swimming inside the caves. That’s what we did and it’s definitely a one of a kind experience to swim in a pitch dark cave with bats and eels everywhere around you.

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Following our stay at the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park our original plan was to take an overnight train to Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily we listened to Karl, one of Diem’s family’s friends who told us we simply could not miss out on Hoi An, Vietnam’s food and garment capital. I am so happy we followed his advice! Hoi An is superb in so many ways. The atmosphere is laid back, everyone walks or bikes around the city and as it is named “the city of lanterns”, the city at night is just incredible. After the adventurous few days we had spent before, Hoi An was a welcome change with its numerous shops, restaurants and cafes that sell everything from organic smoothies, the truly delicious Vietnamese coffee to authentic local cuisine. I would definitely recommend to do a cooking class in Hoi An! Due to time constraints we weren’t able to do it but if I’ll ever be back in Hoi An, that’s on my bucket list.

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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.

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!