When I invited you guys to ask me anything, you took me up on it — big time! Some of your questions were so thought-provoking and I’ve added a few new posts to my drafts folder in response to them — look out for an updated edition of How I Afford This, a post about saying goodbye in travel relationships, and an opinionfest about voluntourism coming up soon. There were so many questions specifically related to blogging that I’ve decided to save those for a separate post (ya’ll finally broke me down, I’m going back on my vow to never blog about blogging!)
Unfortunately, I could not answer every single question or this post would have been a novel. If I skipped yours feel free to shoot me an email or leave it in the comments section so I don’t leave you hanging!
How do you decide what destinations you want to travel to? — Barbara
My domestic travels are based almost exclusively around visiting friends and family (and occasionally attending conferences or work trips). For example, my six week trip to Hawaii last year? My friends from Cayman had just moved out there. My current trip to New Orleans? Visiting my sister. My upcoming jaunt to California? Friend’s wedding time!
My international travels are a little different. My recent five month Latin America adventure was sparked by a desire to hike the Inca Trail, while my in-the-works summer trip to Europe is built entirely around attending the Tomorrowland music festival. Usually there’s one small catalyst, and then a larger trip builds up around it. My big international trips are always scheduled around important can’t-miss moments at home, like weddings and graduations, as well as a general desire to spend the holidays and a good chunk of the summer stateside.
In your opinion, what is the single most important benefit of travel? — Shaun
One word: Perspective.
How easily can you get Doxycycline malaria tablets over the counter in South America? — Kiara
I get asked about malaria pills a lot. Unfortunately I can’t help — I’ve never taken them. Though I have traveled fairly extensively through areas where it was a risk, I have always made the decision to go without due to the side effects. Many in the expat community do the same over concerns about taking the drugs long term.
I did, however go ahead with the Yellow Fever vaccine when I realized I’d be spending almost three weeks in the jungles of Peru — that one’s incurable!
I know you’re a huge fan of travel guides I was wondering which brand was your favourite. — Fran
I’m a Lonely Planet girl through and through! However, I do have a few Fodor’s guidebooks that I really enjoy. In general, I use guidebooks to get excited about a destination, understand the basic history, get the gist of what my options are, and reference the maps. When it comes to choosing accommodation and restaurants, I usually turn to the interwebs.
I’d like info on how you edit your photos, underwater ones too! Mine still never look as good, even after processing. — Kat
I have a pretty strong editing routine. After uploading, I do a cull to delete photos that are repetitive, boring, or beyond editing. This is actually the most important step — the more realistic I am, the less work I have later. Also, I try to remember that it is better to have ten great photos than one hundred mediocre ones.
Then I go through and do a basic batch edit using Adobe Bridge — cropping, color correcting, brightening, etc. If there is a really special photo or one I feel warrants more work, I’ll then open it in Adobe Photoshop and do more elaborate editing. One Photoshop plugin I couldn’t live without is NoiseNinja — it saves a lot of photos I otherwise would end up deleting!
Are you a beer drinker? — Chris
I’m not — in fact, I can’t stand it! It’s actually quite the hassle. Beer is generally the drink of choice for backpackers, and I sometimes cringe at how high-maintenance I look ordering a cocktail when everyone else has a can in hand, not to mention the awkward moment when someone generously offers to buy you a beer. The British affection for hard cider is one of the things I love most about the United Kingdom — I wish it was so popular everywhere in the world.
I am curious where you see yourself in ten years. If you think you will settle down eventually, do you think it’ll be in the US or abroad? –– Amanda
I actually have a very clear picture of where I’d like to be in ten years — though I’m still working on how to get there. Ideally, I’ll spend about a third of the year in the US with family and friends, a third of the year in a home away from home elsewhere in the world, most likely Southeast Asia (maybe running another small business of some sort!), and the remaining third of the year traveling and exploring new places.
Your recent Instagram pic (which is so cute!) and comment about ticking something off your Bucket List got me wondering what else might be on your list!? — Caity
For all my bucket list talk, I’ve actually never sat down to write one down. I have things floating around in my brain that I want to do before I die (attend a big European music festival, learn to surf, etc.) but I really need to put pen to paper!
How do you cope with the long distance part of your relationship? How does it affect you and how far ahead to you guys plan in terms of meeting up around the world? — Caty
For the past five years, every relationship I’ve had has been long-distance at some point or another! They all have varied in level of commitment, and that has had a huge effect on how successful they are. As my business has grown, I find committing to anything other than my laptop to be a growing challenge. I handle stress very poorly, and when I am juggling my work commitments and my travel schedule, the pressure to squeeze in even an innocuous fifteen minute Skype session every night can leave me feeling overwhelmed.
In my most recent relationship, we had a tough choices to make when we left Indonesia. We were crazy about each other but our lives were taking us down different paths (and to opposite sides of the planet). We knew we wanted to keep seeing each other again but we had no idea how often or for how long it would happen. We made the mutual decision to give each other the gift of independence: we are together when we’re together and we are apart when we’re apart. By taking the pressure of a long-distance commitment off the table, we can truly enjoy our time together and be happy for each other when our paths take us in different directions. Luckily I already know when I’ll be seeing Anders again — I’ve already booked my tickets to visit him at his new dive gig in Malta in July!
How do you pick out where to stay? Do you book in advance or do you just show up and look around? Also do you have any particular criteria for selecting a place to stay? — Sarah
It depends. If I am traveling in high season or to a special event or with family I book ahead. When it comes to backpacking, I always try to book the first few nights in a new country — I don’t want to be stumbling around jetlagged and confused looking for a hostel after a fifteen hour plane ride! But when I’m traveling long-term most of the time I just show up.
Typically, my only requirement if wifi but if I’m being picky I prefer to stay in a room with windows, as I can get a bit depressed by lack of light.
I was wondering if any of your relatives questioned your decision to travel and if so, how did you handle that? — Rebecca
I am blessed with an incredibly supportive family. I know there are some people in my life who think travel is frivolous and self-employment is a joke, and they don’t totally respect what I’m doing — they don’t see the long nights on the laptop and only look at the blissful beach pics — but I’m lucky that those naysayers are few and far between. My close circle of friends and family are my biggest cheerleaders… and sometimes I even convince them to be my temporary travel buddies!
What is your opinion on volunteering abroad? It can’t all be bad right? Do you know people who have had good experiences with it? –- Christine
Christine, I’ve had a “Voluntourism” post in my drafts folder for over a year. I have so many opinions on the topic (seriously, ask anyone who has ever gotten into a dinner table discussion with me about it) but struggle with putting them into a cohesive post. While I know there are positive opportunities out there, it is a minefield.
Before signing up for an international volunteer project, sit down and reflect honestly on your intentions, what you truly have to offer, and if your long-term impact on the community you’ll be entering will be positive or harmful. Because make no mistake — good intentions are not enough. For example, short-term volunteer projects in orphanages are incredibly popular in Southeast Asia. In my opinion, allowing a revolving door of travelers with no background in relevant fields unfettered access to vulnerable children with abandonment issues (in a country notorious for child sex tourism, no less) is beneficial only to the traveler who can now go home buoyed by their own generosity, and with a hundred likes on their new Facebook profile picture.
I have a feeling half of the sham “volunteer” programs around the world would shutter immediately if people would answer the following question honestly: Would I do this if no cameras were allowed?
What are some life lessons or core values that you have adopted since leaving on the great escape? How has sharing your perspective with others changed them? — Carolyn
My travels have given me so many gifts — compassion, confidence, and the knowledge that experiences are more important than things, and that people deserve my love more than stuff does. While I certainly don’t think I’m curing brain cancer over here, I hope that this blog gives others the information or inspiration they might need to get out and see the world, if that’s what they dream of doing.
How do you stay healthy and in shape while traveling? — Krista
Like most people, I struggle to make healthy eating and fitness a consistent part of my life. I get lazy, I get back on track, I get lost again. In general I enjoy being active but struggle with my diet. Right now, I’m on the downswing but am planning to use the summer to get back into a routine of running (free anywhere you go, and good for filling in the gaps when travel isn’t keeping me active enough) and doing the 80/20 plan (eating clean 80% of the time and guilt-free indulging the other 20%).
What do you usually do to break the funk of a location you find yourself not enjoying? — Shaun
Leave! But seriously, if I’m not loving a town or city I’ll check out what’s nearby that I think I might enjoy more. Otherwise, I try to ask the locals. The first time I went to London I was so unimpressed. When I returned and stayed with different friends for ten days, I saw so many different sides to the city!
Where would you recommend for a first trip out of the country from the East Coast? We are looking to spend about a month abroad on a pretty tight backpackers’ budget. — Sarah
Head to Central America! With just a month I’d recommend sticking to two countries, and with a truly tight budget I’d avoid Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama. I think Guatemala and Honduras are calling your name! Personally I’d start out in Guatemala, checking out Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and other highlights before heading to Honduras to admire the ruins of Copan, white-water raft in the jungles of La Ceiba and then finish off with some beach bliss on the Bay Islands!
How heavy is all your luggage when you travel? — Chris
That is a question I’d probably be terrified to know the answer to. Honestly I’m not sure but even when I was traveling with all my dive gear, I didn’t pay a single overweight baggage fee! I plan to do packing posts like this one for all my major trips moving forward and I’ll be sure to include that info.
How can you look polished and well put-together without having to pack an arsenal of toiletries and hair tools? — Melanie
First of all, where can I send you a balloon bouquet as thanks for considering me to look well put together? Well, as this post shows, I actually do indeed travel with an arsenal of toiletries! For a traveler it is a lot but when I come home and see my friend’s bathrooms I am reminded that it’s actually not so bad. As for hair tools specifically, even when I’m home I don’t use a blowdryer, just a comb and some hair bands. My hair is pretty cooperative. So I guess you could say I’m lucky/lazy.
How big is your backpack and what you look for when buying a backpack? — Michaela
Currently I have an 85L backpack — it’s huge! For most people I would recommend something much smaller but I like to have the option to stuff my dive gear in there without having to tow a separate dive bag. My biggest recommendation when looking for a backpack is to get one that has front-panel access. I cannot fathom why, but top loading backpacks are by far the most common option — and in my opinion, the worst.
Show me how you fit a BCD in that backpack!!! — Rika
While neither of my BCDs have been travel-specific, they are both size XS and very simple models. I usually stick them in a garbage bag and pack them against the back of my backpack, and then pile the rest in from there! (Also, magic.)
Do you always take your diving gear when you travel where there is the possibility of diving, or only if you have pre-planned to dive? — Chris
Traveling with my dive gear is basically a nightmare. I hauled it on my most recent five month Southeast Asia trip and cursed it basically the entire time. However on that trip it was a must — I was doing my divemaster. Typically if I’m going somewhere tropical I always bring my mask and snorkel and occasionally my wetsuit, but I won’t be traveling with my full set of dive gear again unless I’m going on a dive-specific or very brief trip.
Any tips for a first time diver? I’m planning on doing the PADI Open Water this summer and I’m both excited and a little bit nervous. — J in Beijing
First of all, congrats! My biggest advice is to find a school and instructor that you are comfortable with. It’s likely that some of the skills and concepts will feel a little uncomfortable or confusing at first, and you never want to feel rushed or flustered through those bits. In my opinion, compassion is the most important trait in a dive instructor — make sure you find one who has it in spades!
Work and Money
Where does a majority of your income come from and what tips would you give to those who have similar dreams as yours? – Jena
Generally 25-50% of my income comes from freelance writing and graphic design. I write for companies like Viator, Men’s Fitness, Eagle Creek, The Gift, Southeast Asia Backpacker magazine and a few other minor clients. Though I no longer actively seek out new graphic design clients, I still do work with a few bloggers and websites doing things like logo design, e-book updates, and other minor graphics (I used to do banners for Gadling — such a fun gig!). My favorite client, however, is a wedding designer from New York who sends me the most fun projects imaginable. The other 50-75% of my income comes from blogging — sponsored content, sidebar advertising and affiliate sales.
And then there are the occasional projects that come totally out of left field — consulting with a tourism board, producing videos for Tripfilms, etc. — I love those too! Before I earned the majority of my income online I worked all kinds of crazy jobs on the road, from underwater videography to bartending to babysitting. There are so many inspiring people out there making the dream of living and working abroad happen, I started a whole series to highlight them!
I know this will differ from place to place that you spend your time in, but what would you say would be your average yearly costs? Taking into account visas, flights, accommodation and extras. — Michaela
I guessed it would average from $18,000 to $24,000 per year, and just for fun I went back to 2013 and crunched the numbers — I spent just over $19,000. That figure includes every cent that comes out of my bank account — from flights to web hosting to mojitos on the streets of Bangkok to birthday dinner for my bestie back home. You can find more details in the budget section of my monthly roundups!
Do you draw up a budget for each location/day and stick to it, or just kind of wing it based on looking at your finances from time to time? — Amanda
In Southeast Asia and in South America, I’ve generally tried to stick to a budget of $50 a day. In some countries that meant living in abject luxury, in others it was almost impossible (I’m looking at you, Costa Rica!).
I use Trail Wallet to track my daily spending, and I check in with it every day not only to input my purchases but also to check in and see how I’m doing — do I need to spend a night in with a cup of Ramen or do I have some room to splurge on a nice dinner? On the first of the month I have an accounting day and go through all my bank accounts on Mint and update a spreadsheet that monitors my overall monthly income and spending. More info here!
How do you balance a full-time job writing about travel with the actual travel part? Do your travel companions ever get annoyed of your work schedule or do they just understand it comes as part of the package? — Amanda
Oh Amanda, this is my greatest struggle! Some weeks I’m just glued my laptop from sun up to sun down, and on those nights I fall asleep filled with guilt and FOMO and nostalgia for the carefree days when I just traveled! Some weeks I’m running around at a festival or off of a diving trip and on those nights I fall asleep filled with guilt and stress and obsessing about being behind on deadlines and drowning in my inbox. And don’t even get me started on the stress of feeling like you have to have a “blog-worthy” trip. Guilt is my constant companion.
The thing about being self-employed or running your own business is you never, ever clock out. One of my biggest goals is to find a way to say, okay, it’s 8:00pm and I’m going to close up shop for the day and enjoy dinner and Law and Order with my mom without checking emails on my iPhone all through the meal and editing photos on my laptop all through the show.
As for my travel companions, they are generally patient and understanding and know what they’ve signed up for. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty and stressed over it, and inevitably there will be that moment where they can’t hide their disappointment at going to a museum solo or their frustration at spending an afternoon watching YouTube videos while I write blog posts. I’ve been on trips with others where I wake up every morning at 4:00am so that I can cram a few hours of work in before they wake up! Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I’ve come to so cherish solo travel.
Thanks for taking the time to grill me — I loved hearing what you’ve been curious about! Now it’s my turn to ask a question… did any of my answers surprise you? I’m tempted to make this a regular series where I take one question and give it a more thorough response. What do you think?