Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top 10 Favorite Experiences of 2011

2010 was the year I got my shit together. I paid off all my debt, built up more than $10,000 in savings and moved out of my mom's house at the very end of the year — the day after Christmas.

2011 was the year I went from dreaming to doing. The things I had only dreamt of before — traveling, getting into photography, becoming a serious runner — actually became possible because of the strong financial foundation I built in 2010, and because I really believed in myself for the first time.

2012 will be the year of adventure and possibilities. I'll be on the road for most of the year, if things go according to plan — not that there's much of a plan. I have no idea where I'll be one year from today. Perhaps I'll be sitting down somewhere on the other side of the world to write my 2012 recap, still traveling, or maybe I'll be hauling my few possessions back to my mom's house because I've run out of money.

That kind of uncertainty may drive some people crazy, but I welcome it and its exciting companions: Adventure. Possibilities.

I am certain that 2011 was a fantastic year. Here are my top 10 favorite experiences — and what I learned — from what was undoubtedly the best year of my life.


I spent the first half of 2010 paying off debt and the second half building up savings to be able to move out on my own. After a year of meticulous budgeting and penny-pinching, I finally gave myself permission to splurge at the beginning of 2011.

I love my DSLR and my MacBook Pro, but I put the purchases of these items on this list because of what they represented.

After years of racking up instant-gratification credit-card debt, I carefully planned and saved for these items, then bought them with cash — no debt and no guilt. That was a new experience for me, and it felt incredible. I learned that some things are worth waiting for.


The main attraction of Seattle's Fremont Fair in June is the Solstice Parade, and thousands of spectators flock to downtown Fremont to see the Painted Cyclists lead the eclectic procession. The cyclists are usually partially or fully nekkid, save for body paint.

I always thought it would be fun to ride in the parade if I could gather the courage, and this year I decided to go for it — with underwear. I saw a few people I knew, and my picture showed up in quite a few Flickr streams, so I'm glad I chose to cover up!

The painting process was a blast and it was a total rush to ride in the parade. Hundreds of bold cyclists commanded the streets of Fremont while thousands of spectators watched. I learned just how fun it is to leave the comfort of the sidelines.


The farthest I'd ever raced before this year was 5K (3.1 miles), and the farthest I'd ever run at one time was just 5 miles. It was a fantastic year for running and racing!

Seattle's Best 15K (9.3 miles, pictured above) on my 24th birthday was one of my favorite races, and an incredible way to start out another year of my life. I learned that I could push myself further than I'd ever imagined.


In March, I joined the DetermiNation program to fundraise for the American Cancer Society while training for my first half-marathon. Too often I said "no" to things just because they were outside of my comfort zone, so I decided to say "yes" for once — and I'm so glad I did.

I was nervous about hitting the $1,250 fundraising minimum since I hated asking people for money, but thanks to a successful online raffle, an event at work and the generous contributions of many (mostly complete strangers from the Interwebs), nearly $2,200 went to the ACS. I learned that great things can happen when you just say "yes."


My then-boyfriend, Aaron, and I spent eight days on Oahu in late February soaking up the sun and doing all sorts of fun activities.

I got to use my then-brand-new DSLR a bunch (looking back on the photos has officially convinced me to bring it on my RTW!) and the slow-paced freedom of the trip reinvigorated my desire to travel. I learned that there's much more room in my life for adventure.


My trip to NYC ranks higher than my trip to Hawaii only because of what it represented. I went all by myself and still managed to have a ton of fun both alone and with many cool people. I learned to navigate the subway system, ate New York pizza, ran in Central Park, partied on a rooftop and saw everything from Times Square to Occupy Wall Street. I even took three whole blog posts to write about it all: Part I, Part II and Part III.

I just loved wandering through this unfamiliar city by myself. I learned that I could travel the world alone and have a great time, too.


It was inevitable that I'd get comfortable with running and look to other sports for new challenges. I am a terrible swimmer and an okay cyclist, so why not attempt to improve my weaknesses with a triathlon?

I had so much fun completing my first tri — a super-sprint event that was perfect for newbies. Even though I slowly doggy-paddled and backstroked my way through most of the swim, I felt stronger and stronger throughout the race as I transitioned to the bike and the run. I finished with so much pride because I did it even though I knew I wouldn't be great at it. I learned that the most important part is the doing.


This conference in June marked the first time I traveled to a new city by myself, the first time I stayed in a hotel room alone and, actually, the first time I ever went to a conference! I didn't know a single person who would be there until the night before I went to Portland.

I left WDS with a bunch of new friends, a massive amount of inspiration and the lasting effects of a life-changing revelation. I wouldn't be in the midst of planning a RTW trip right now if I hadn't gone to WDS. I learned that I want to live an unhurried life.


After months of feeling unhappy with my 8-5 routine and knowing that I wanted to spend a year traveling, I threw my "responsible" plan in the FUCK IT bin and quit my job. I learned that life is too short to waste time doing anything but following your dreams.


Yup, running my first marathon absolutely trumped quitting my job. Crossing that finish line in Las Vegas after five months of intense training and four hours and 15 minutes of nonstop running was a feeling I'll never forget. I felt like complete shit immediately afterward, puked six times, could barely walk and couldn't eat solid food for 12 hours, but I loved every moment of my marathon experience.

For 23 years of my life, I never believed I could run a marathon. In my 24th year, I not only ran one, but I also hit my goal time and finished strong. I learned that I can do anything.


Thanks to all of you who've joined me on this crazy ride through 2011. Have a happy and safe New Year, and I'll see you in 2012!


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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On Vaccines, Health Risks and Overcoming Fear

I had no idea how many travel vaccines I'd be getting Tuesday morning. I guessed four.

I was somewhat correct in that I received four shots in my left arm... plus two in my right.

At least they gave me apple juice.

I wound up with six doses of the following lovely vaccines (Hepatitis A and B were combined in a vaccine called Twinrix):

I also need another dose of Japanese encephalitis and two more doses each of Twinrix and rabies in January. Whee!

But let's begin at the beginning. And please remember: This is simply my experience and is in no way a recommendation for which vaccines you should or should not elect to receive. Talk to a health-care professional and choose what you think is right for you!

I wound up visiting the Hall Health Travel Clinic on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Washington. My insurance company verified that the travel clinic is an in-network provider, meaning that the amount I'll be responsible for paying will be much less than if I visited another clinic that did not have a contract with my insurance company.

I patronized Hall Health for various ailments during my undergrad years, so I was very happy to return to a familiar setting for this somewhat intimidating errand.

Winter break = empty Hall Health. No sick students to deal with!

My visit began with an hour-long travel consultation with Britt, an ARNP (Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner/A Really Nice Person). Britt has traveled extensively and served her two years in the Peace Corps in Nepal. Unfortunately, she's also seen many people suffer from the diseases I ended up being immunized against, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Britt entered my itinerary into an awesome Web site for health-care professionals called TRAVAX, which then spit out a detailed 44-page report that included immunization requirements/recommendations, health risks and various travel tips for each of the countries I'll be visiting (including South American countries that I haven't yet firmly decided upon). Excellent.

She walked me through the report and we discussed the recommendations for each vaccine. I erred on the side of "better safe than sorry" during my decision-making, even though I know my chances of being infected with things like Japanese encephalitis and rabies are very low.

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I envisioned myself on the brink of death due to one of these potentially fatal infections, thinking, "If only I'd gotten that vaccine." Throw in Britt's story about the Japanese encephalitis outbreak she witnessed in Nepal and I was a goner.

Each person should do whatever he or she is comfortable with when choosing vaccines, and I was comfortable with opting for vaccines that others may deem unnecessary. I may not be so comfortable when I get the bill, but let's just cross our fingers, shall we?

The insurance representative I spoke with over the phone told me that the Tdap (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis booster), hepatitis A/B, typhoid, rabies and yellow fever vaccines are considered "standard and covered." I asked her about this twice since it sounded a little too good to be true. Fingers. Crossed.

Various types of insect repellent, plus a malaria risk map of Cambodia.

The travel consultation also covered recommendations for obtaining travel insurance and compiling a medical kit, as well as methods for safe eating and drinking, avoiding insect bites, dealing with diarrhea and protecting myself from sexual assault. It was comprehensive, to say the least! I was so glad to be able to ask questions throughout, plus take home a huge folder full of information.

I also walked away with the following prescriptions:

  • Zithromax (Azithromycin) — for diarrhea
  • Cipro (Ciprofloxacin) — for diarrhea
  • Doxycycline — malaria prophylactic
  • Diflucan (Fluconazole) — for yeast infections (the malaria pills can make women more susceptible)

Sounds like fun, yes? : )


If you think I was overzealous with the vaccines I received, you should realize that it's a freakin' miracle I even got them! In the past, just learning about the health risks of travel would have been enough to make me stay home for good. Now I'm grateful that I have access to all the information I need, and there's no chance that even the scary stuff would quash my plans.

Many people never travel abroad because they fear the unknown. I hear a lot of gasps and receive many concerned looks — even from the woman who administered my vaccines! — when people learn that I'm traveling to so many countries alone. I just shrug and tell them I'll be fine.

It's not that I'm naive or fearless. I simply do as Chris Guillebeau suggests and acknowledge my fears, but proceed anyway. I've realized that the scary things are often the things that are most worth doing.

As I sit here typing, my upper arms aching from the six shots I received yesterday, I think about how I'll go about my travels with a mix of excitement, caution and, yes, fear. Luckily, the excitement reigns supreme, and caution and fear are just along for the ride.

What a hell of a ride it will be.


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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Santa Brought This Traveler

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!

My Christmas was lovely, although I'm a bit sad that it's over. It seemed to sneak up out of nowhere and then flew by just as quickly. I have no idea where in the world I'll be for Christmas 2012, so I'll definitely cherish my memories from this year's familiar celebrations.

Laugh if you want, but I totally won this game. Acquire and build, baby.


I want to wish Gerard (G) and Kieu (Q) of GQ Trippin' a safe journey as they set off on their round-the-world trip today! Q quit her job on Nov. 30 — the same day I cleared out my own cubicle — and we found each other online thanks to that shared experience.

Like me, G and Q are beginning their adventure in New Zealand, and many of their stops can be found on my own itinerary (I promise I'm not stalking them). I hope to meet up with them in Chiang Mai for Songkran in April!


You'll find a new RTW Itinerary page at the top of my blog, which houses the latest version of my ever-changing travel plan. Keep an eye on that page for the latest developments.

Can you find a recent addition? Hint: It's in April, and it rhymes with Lingapore...

I have Enthusiastic Runner's post about her recent visit to Singapore and Anthony Bourdain's Singapore episode of The Layover to thank for that. The food, people. The food.


I didn't ask for much this Christmas. I'm busy getting rid of the stuff I already have, so I have little use for more.

Santa knew I could use a few things, though, and he delivered some very useful items to this soon-to-be traveler.

Lewis N. Clark Duel Converter Kit

This was something I knew in the back of my mind I'd need but failed to really think about. Luckily, my dad came through with this gift to keep me plugged in wherever I travel.

Now that I'm looking at it closely, it looks like I may need an additional adapter situation for my MacBook Pro (the plug has three prongs, whereas this kit only accommodates plugs with two prongs). Tech people: Help?

How to Shit Around the World: The Art of Staying Clean and Healthy While Traveling

Jodi of Legal Nomads recommends this book as a must-read prior to hitting the road. My dad thought it would be funny to wrap it in toilet paper, given the title. Indeed.

I'm only a few chapters in and already having terrible flashbacks to the debilitating food poisoning I enjoyed thanks to sketchy shrimp skewers at a BJ's in Southern California. Thanks for the memories, BJ's.

The book covers everything from ensuring safe drinking water and street food to finding a place to relieve yourself and how to cope without toilet paper. It also includes amusing little bathroom stories from all kinds of travelers, and by amusing, I mean after the fact. I'm sure none of these people were amused while in the throes of illness.

Also on its way to me, thanks to my dad: Point It: Traveller's Language Kit — The Original Picture Dictionary — a passport-sized book of pictures I can point to when other forms of communication fail.

Other than a marriage proposal from Ryan Gosling, this is the best gift a girl could ask for — funding!

I have many things to buy for my trip (first-aid supplies, a waterproof backpack cover and a sleep sack, to name a few), and nothing helps the cause more than some good ol' dolla bills.

My dad and my brother were perhaps too generous in their giving, as there are some very valuable bills hidden in that stack, but I wasn't about to refuse the help. I put Mr. Hamilton on top for this photo because he is, in my opinion, the foxiest President Secretary of the Treasury (thanks for the history lesson, Robb) to grace U.S. currency. Just look at that bone structure.

Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 SL Pack

OK, so Santa didn't deliver this one — I bought it for myself using store credit that Don and my mom generously gifted me well in advance of Christmas Day. I even have credit left over to put toward a daypack!

My mom offered to wrap this for me so I could open it like a traditional gift, but I declined. The pack has been perfectly fine just chilling in the corner of my room, silently reminding me that one day very soon I'll need to pack my life into it and set off into the unknown.

I think the green colors are finally growing on me.


Many thanks to my wonderfully generous family members for those fabulous Christmas gifts. Perhaps my (natural) holiday high will last long enough to soften the blow of the many needle jabs I'll receive today.

Yes, friends, it's time for my travel vaccinations! First I have a consultation with a doctor to determine which shots I'll need, and then it's go time. I may need to return a few more times for follow-up doses of certain vaccines.

I'll be busy reminding myself that the stab wounds feel much better than the diseases that they're protecting me against. Hurray for the miracles of modern science!

Look for the full vaccination report soon. Until then, keep living up the final days of 2011 — and tell me, what are your travel must-haves?


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Friday, December 23, 2011

Why Travel? Because Everyone Has a Story

Everyone I've talked to about my upcoming year of travel has been extremely supportive of it, but I think many people don't quite understand it.

I've gotten the following questions a lot:

  • Are you trying to find yourself?
  • Is it going to be like Eat, Pray, Love?
  • When are you going to come back to the real world?

And my answers are usually:

  • No, I think I know myself pretty well. But I'd love to actually get lost, and, in doing so, find out so much more.
  • God, I hope so, complete with the handsome Brazilian man at the end. (No.)
  • The rest of the world is the real world!

So why am I traveling, then?

It has quite a bit to do with my desire to live an unhurried life — one in which I'm free to wander and wonder and do things at my own pace.

That's why you won't find my travel itinerary packed with specific plans and activities to check off. The mostly blank slate is quite intentional; my goal is to let the journey shape itself over time, and to be open to new adventures and detours at any moment.

But I was reminded today of another reason why I'm traveling.

I'm finally reading Bill Clinton's autobiography, My Life, which I've had on my bookshelf for years.

In it, he writes:

I learned a lot from the stories my uncle, aunts, and grandparents told me: that no one is perfect but most people are good; that people can't be judged only by their worst or weakest moments; that harsh judgments can make hypocrites of us all; that laughter is often the best, and sometimes the only, response to pain. Perhaps most important, I learned that everyone has a story — of dreams and nightmares, hope and heartache, love and loss, courage and fear, sacrifice and selfishness. All my life I've been interested in other people's stories. I've wanted to know them, understand them, feel them.

I feel the same way, and maybe that's why I got a journalism degree but never became a reporter. I love to write, but I didn't want to write dry articles about city-council meetings and stormwater drainage. (That's a link to an actual article I wrote about stormwater drainage — get excited.) That stuff is important, but it's not what lights my fire.

I like to write about people and their lives. My favorite stories to write for journalism classes and internships were profiles, like this one I wrote about Devin Hampton. He went from being an unmotivated kid who never went to class to planning President Barack Obama's premier inaugural ball. I haven't talked with him in a while, but I think Devin is now a part of the Obama administration.

How the hell did he get there? Everyone has a story, and I had the pleasure of discovering and writing about Devin's.

This may sound like bullshit coming from someone who writes not one, but two blogs about herself. But my story is simply the one I know best, and since I'm no longer a journalism student or intern, I'm not forced to step outside of my comfort zone and really get to know others' stories very well.

That changed at the World Domination Summit, where I met tons of different people and learned about their amazing stories. Every attendee seemed to go into the conference with an open mind and his or her guard let down. Swapping your biggest dreams with the near-stranger next to you was the norm, and an attitude that I hope to carry with me throughout my travels.

I may or may not write about the people I meet during my travels on this blog, but I'll hold their stories close just the same. I believe that everyone you interact with throughout your life affects you in some way. Each person can be just a small footnote or an entire chapter in your story. And you never know who will come along and change the plot entirely.

I look forward to learning about others' stories and how they are different from and similar to mine. I can't wait to immerse myself in new surroundings and find out what drives daily life in places that are so foreign to what I've known for 24 years. And, perhaps most of all, I want to discover what it feels like to transcend the boundaries of geography and culture and language in order to really connect with someone.

So, yes, one day I will run out of money and need to return to what many call the "real world." I'll likely be homeless, penniless and seriously lacking a handsome Brazilian man in my life.

But my passport will be bursting with stamps, and my life's story will forever bear the marks left by those places I've visited and people I've met. My wallet may be empty, but I'll be all the richer for it.


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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My RTW Itinerary... and a Game-Changing Video

I'm finding that whenever I write about struggling with a particular decision, it frees my mind and helps me realize what I really want to do.

The day after I wrote about my itinerary indecision, I was doing something mundane — putting away dishes, maybe, or blow-drying my hair — when I thought, "I want to start my trip with a month in New Zealand. Yup, I'll do that."


I look forward to visiting Thailand a few months into my trip, but I couldn't get super-excited about starting there.

I've wanted to explore New Zealand for quite a while — I'm a huge, nerdy fan of the Lord of the Rings movies, which were filmed there — and I want to make sure I have plenty of time and money to enjoy it properly. Plus, February is one of the country's warmest months!

Here's my new rough itinerary (very rough from July on), which is completely subject to change at any time:

  • New Zealand

  • Australia

  • Thailand (and particularly Chiang Mai for Songkran)

  • Laos
  • Vietnam
  • Cambodia
  • Possibly back to Thailand


  • I had planned on South America... but Iceland has changed everything

I wrote a bit about my post-World Domination Summit plans and then immediately deleted it all when I saw this video of Iceland — particularly the :59 mark.

From the photographer, who shot this video in June 2011:

"Iceland is a landscape photographer's paradise and playground, and should be number one on every photographer's must-visit list. Iceland during the Midnight Sun is in sort of a permanent state of sunset. The sun never fully sets and travels horizontally across the horizon throughout the night, as can be seen in the opening shot and at the :51 second mark in the video.

"During the Arctic summer, sunset was at midnight and sunrise was at 3 a.m. The Arctic summer sun provided 24 hours a day of light, with as much as 6 hours daily of "golden light." Once the sun had set it wouldn't even get dark enough for the stars to come out, and they don't start to reappear until August.

"My advice to everyone out there, photographer or not, is simple... You MUST visit Iceland sometime during your lifetime. You will never regret it."


Where to go from Iceland? Norway, Sweden and Denmark? Ireland, Scotland and England? Down to South America?

I have no idea. I'll figure it out eventually.

My heart is bursting with joy and excitement after watching that video. It brought tears to my eyes. I can't even begin to imagine all the mind-blowingly beautiful landscapes I'll find myself surrounded by in the next year.

I'm feeling very, very lucky right now, and incredibly happy to be alive.


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Monday, December 19, 2011

Choosing My Backpack... and a Change of Plans

Edit: Read this post to learn about the backpack I ultimately chose for my RTW trip!

Over the past several days, I've realized part of why I've had trouble making big decisions about my round-the-world trip: I've been thinking more about what I "should" do rather than what I really want to do.

Don't get me wrong — there's no one sitting here telling me what to do. The "shoulds" are all in my head:

  • I should start out in Southeast Asia because it's inexpensive and everyone I've talked to loves it.
  • I should go straight to Chiang Mai because I know people who live there and that will help me adjust to being away from home.
  • I should see which backpacks most travel bloggers use and find one that's similar.

There's nothing wrong with any of those ideas... except for the fact that I realized I actually want to do things a bit differently. So I've come up with a new itinerary — one that I'm really, really excited about — and I will not be going to Thailand (or even Southeast Asia) first. I'll write more about my revised plans later this week.

My travel experiences so far have been limited to short vacations that included full suitcases, hotel rooms and all the comforts I'd enjoy at home. I'd be lost without all the advice I've gleaned from many wonderful travel bloggers about how to live out of a backpack for months at a time.

And when it came to choosing the backpack itself, I studied the features of various bloggers' packs and kept them in mind. Then I decided it was OK to choose something a little different.

But let's start at the beginning of my backpack search, shall we?

My mom's boyfriend, Don, recently sold a bunch of his climbing and camping gear to Second Ascent, a new-and-used outdoor retailer in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. Guess who ended up with $250 worth of store credit at her disposal? Merry Christmas to me!

Thank you, Don and Mom, for that ridiculously generous and helpful gift.

I headed to Second Ascent last week to begin perusing backpacks, and quickly found myself stumped in front of a wall filled with options.

Hmm. Yes. Well.

An employee named Lucky noticed my helplessness and swooped in to assist. I first told him what I was generally looking for in a pack:

  • Size: 55L or smaller so I won't overpack and then die from the weight and bulk.
  • Durability: Must be able to withstand a year of being carried, dragged, shoved and flung across the world.
  • Comfort: Must feel like a tender embrace from an old friend. Or something like that.

Lucky jumped into action, grabbing packs that were designed specifically for women and adjusting them for me to try on. I tried on a few duds that were instantly uncomfortable with nothing but paper stuffed in them, so I knew they'd only be worse when filled with, oh, my entire life.

Then I tried on the Gregory Jade 50 and was pleasantly surprised by its comfort level.

Lucky played photographer as well. What a patient man.

Lucky loaded this 50L bag with more than 20 lbs. of weight and I trekked around the store to find that it was still very comfortable. With all the straps adjusted, it fit my body like a glove. The waist belt had two large zippered pockets, which I loved, and the main pack featured top and side access. The material seemed a bit light to me in terms of durability, but Lucky assured me it was one of Second Ascent's most popular packs.

I was pretty sure this was my winner.

Then Lucky busted out the Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 SL.

Also comfortable. Also green.

Wow — this one was even more comfortable than the Jade 50 with the same amount of weight!

The waist belt only had one zippered pocket, as you can see above, but it was quite large and easily fit my new Canon S95 camera. The main pack was accessible by the top (drawstring) and bottom (zipper), and the bottom portion featured an internal zipper to separate it from the rest of the pack — good for storing dirty laundry, shoes and God knows what else. The material seemed more durable to me than the Jade 50, but I'm no expert there. And the collar at the top of the pack can expand up to 10 liters, providing 55L of storage overall.

I tried on a few more packs that didn't hold a candle to either the Jade 50 or the ACT Lite 45+10 SL, and then put both on hold so I could do some online research at home.

I went back and forth between the two for days. Both packs earned rave reviews from multiple online sources, so I figured the decision was down to my personal preference. Each pack had pros and cons:

Gregory Jade 50
  • Had a side-access zipper that the other pack didn't have — many travel bloggers I follow prefer side-zip/full-zip packs over top-access packs.
  • Could hold 50L without having to use an expandable portion — I started worrying that anything smaller than 50L would be too small.
  • Looked a little prettier — I wouldn't choose either of these green packs based on color alone, but this color was the more attractive of the two.

Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 SL
  • Felt more comfortable and compact than the Jade 50.
  • Could expand up to 55L if necessary, and I really wanted to pack light anyway and be able to take the pack on planes as a carry-on as often as possible.
  • Seemed more durable, and many online reviewers specifically raved about the quality of Deuter packs.
  • Did not have a side-access zip, but that would be one fewer access point for me to worry about in terms of unwanted visitors.

In the end, I went with my gut.

I bought the Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 SL. I know I won't regret going with the more comfortable pack, and I don't think I'll regret going with the smaller pack. The last thing I want is to go on this great adventure and then feel dragged down by stuff. I knew that if I got a larger pack, I'd be tempted to fill it to capacity.

One of the things that held me back from choosing this pack immediately was the lack of side access. It seemed to be a big deal to other travel bloggers when they chose their packs, so wouldn't I want that, too? Ah, well. The bottom of this pack has quite a large opening in addition to the top opening, so I hope I'll be able to access most everything in it with no problem. Other factors, like comfort, size and durability, were just more important to me.

So that was my complete backpack-buying adventure. I'm so glad I had the Second Ascent store credit not only because it paid for the pack with some money left over, but because I might have driven myself nuts looking at packs from a multitude of online and brick-and-mortar outdoor retailers. I'm satisfied once I find one or two things that meet my criteria — it freaks me out to have too many options.

What will I do with the leftover store credit, you ask?

Well, I'll be needing a daypack...


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Itinerary Indecision & Shiny Travel Things

She's making a list... she's checking it twice...

It's not my Christmas list, unfortunately.

Thank you, commenters on Monday's post, for encouraging me to look into travel vaccinations sooner rather than later!

I started gathering information and learned a lot from the CDC traveler's health site and from speaking with a woman at the Seattle Public Health Center. I just got new insurance — since I'm under 26, I was able to seamlessly hop onto my mom's health plan — and discovered yesterday that most, if not all, of the vaccinations I'll need will be covered. Hurrah!

But before I can determine exactly which vaccinations to get, I need to define my itinerary a bit further from its current state, which is: "Thailand, then anywhere!"

Oh, hum. Will someone please hand me some darts?

I have a few must-attend events in 2012 that'll require me to return to the States for a week each in mid-May and early July, which makes choosing my itinerary a bit tricky. I have to take into consideration weather, festivals I'd like to hit, tourist seasons and costliness of each country I want to visit, then try to arrange those countries into an itinerary that makes sense in terms of time and money.

"A year of traveling" sounds like a wonderfully luxurious expanse, yet I'm already worried about being short on time and missing out on things.

I definitely want to spend plenty of time in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I'd like to spend a month each in New Zealand and Australia, although I know they're more expensive. I've dreamt of visiting Greece and Croatia, but I don't know if I want to do Europe (again, money). Maybe Central and South America? And Africa would be amazing, but I feel overwhelmed by the thought of it.

I hear Iceland is nice, too, but it's all out there in the middle of the ocean by itself. Poor Iceland.

There. That's the jumble of thoughts in my head right now. I've never traveled outside of North America, so choosing where to go is proving to be difficult — I want to go everywhere! Feel free to add your two cents in the comments.


While I'm getting rid of many belongings in preparation for my round-the-world trip, I'm also acquiring a few new ones to take along for the ride. Luckily I'm much more decisive when it comes to choosing these things than I am when trying to choose places to visit.

Here's what I've picked up so far. (Links point to where I bought each item, and none are affiliates.)

Canon PowerShot S95 digital camera

Hello, my precious. This arrived in the mail on Tuesday and I'm already smitten. I've used this camera before since my photographer friend has it, and it's been recommended by travel bloggers galore for its compact size and low-light shooting power. It also captures HD video!

I have yet to decide whether I'll take my incredible-but-large-and-heavy Canon Rebel T2i with me. (Keep in mind that I already have a 15" MacBook Pro to worry about.) Either way, the S95 has a guaranteed spot in my pack.

MOO business cards

I first learned about MOO business cards when I met Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads and Shannon O'Donnell of A Little Adrift on a train from Seattle to Portland last June. How lucky was I, as a girl wanting to learn more about traveling, to randomly meet such awesome solo female travelers?!

Jodi and Shannon both had lovely MOO cards that featured stunning photos from their travels. They let me peruse all the cards and choose my favorites to keep. What could have been a basic exchange of contact information morphed into a fascinating conversation about the stories behind the photos. On top of that, the cards were thick and beautifully printed — much more memorable than the average business card.

A sampling of Jodi Ettenberg's MOO cards.

While this blog is not a "business" at all, I know I'll want to keep in touch with the folks I meet throughout my travels.

I chose 16 of my favorite photos, which were taken everywhere from Hawaii to New York City, to make up the front of my cards, and designed my own back. I like that the description — "Writer - Runner - Photographer" — is who I am, not what I'm paid to sit in a cubicle to do. I'll be thrilled when these cards arrive in a week or so.

***Attention, men: You may want to skip this next one. Don't say I didn't warn you.***


I had read about the DivaCup on a few healthy living blogs starting about six months ago, but I never considered getting one until I chose to pursue long-term travel. It's a menstrual cup made of medical-grade silicone that is used in place of tampons or pads, and Shannon has written that she loves it with every fiber of her being — read her great review for more information.

I haven't received this in the mail yet and can't say much about it other than what I've read, but it'll be a huge relief to not worry about lugging tampons around with me! Aaaand, end period talk.


I still have many items to pick up for my round-the-world travels — like, uhh, a backpack — but fear not. I've been poring over several resources and have a great idea of where to go from here. For example, both Jodi and Shannon have put together pages full of ridiculously helpful tips to aid round-the-world travel planning:

See what I mean about how I couldn't have met two more awesome people on that train?

And just one more thing for today: You all can rest easy knowing that this little guy has been permanently spared from my recent decluttering rampage.

Several reader comments and a frantic email from my mom convinced me to keep my childhood bear, Corduroy. I don't think I could have gotten rid of him anyway. Look at that sweet face!

The lesson here? Many possessions will come and go, but a few special things are simply irreplaceable.


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Monday, December 12, 2011

Decluttering & Forging a New Normal

Just like I don't have a comprehensive plan for my year of traveling the world, I don't have much of a plan for the preparation.

I'm pretty freaked out about all the things I need to do before I leave in February, including:

  • Figure out which vaccinations I need and how to get them
  • Figure out which visas I need and how to get them
  • Figure out all the gear I need and where to get it

Do you see a theme here?

I think it's the "figuring out" portion of all these to-do items that scares me. I've pored over dozens of travel blogs and bookmarked valuable links and bits of advice about everything I need to do, so it's not that the information is tough to find. There are just so many choices involved, so many decisions to make.

And wherever there's a decision to make, there's also the feeling that I could easily make the wrong one.

I know that feeling is irrational, but it's there, and I'm giving myself some time to organize my life and breathe a bit before I jump into the really important stuff.

After all, everything I knew to be normal a few weeks ago is now gone. I used to be a girl who spent her days proofreading at an ad agency and her nights and weekends training for a marathon. Then I quit the job, ran the marathon and found myself faced with a blank slate of a life. It's time to forge a new normal.

That starts, apparently, with making my bed.

I've never been a bed-maker (sorry, Mom), so forgive the wrinkles and that weird dent in the comforter. I quickly figured out that I needed an up-and-at-em routine to get myself out of bed now that I no longer have a cubicle to slink into at 8 a.m.

It includes jumping out of bed when my alarm rings, immediately making the bed (so I won't crawl back in), then flinging open my black-out curtains to let in a glorious flood of morning light.

Then I'd like to eat a quick breakfast, exercise (go for a run or hit the gym), shower, get dressed like a real human being and work on travel preparations. Oh, and eat some more.

I'm also making a conscious effort to appreciate all the luxuries that I won't have for much longer, like my super-comfortable bed, my private room and all the familiar furniture. I probably won't miss any of it while I'm out adventuring (well, except for the bed), but I think it's good to be grateful regardless.

I rent a townhouse in Seattle with two roommates, and it's by far the nicest place I've ever lived as an adult. My parents were extremely relieved to tour the place and find that, unlike the residences of my college years, it could not be described as a "condemned structure" or "complete shithole." I'll be a little sad to leave it.

Our lease runs through January, which explains my February departure, and I have some stuff to get rid of before then. And by "some stuff," I mean all the clutter that has built up over the course of this year thanks to my "throw it anywhere" method of organization.

My desk and its top shelf are a magnet for random mail and papers that I deem semi-important, but don't want to deal with right away. This weekend I turned on some festive Christmas music, spread everything out on the floor and went through it piece by piece. I recycled most of it, filed away a few essential items and left a small selection of relevant materials on the shelf (Meet, Plan, Go checklists, travel guidelines, etc.).

I also relegated old trophies, a few stuffed animals and most of my books to a bag bound for Goodwill.

I still can't keep all this stuff — some of it I intend to sell or give to friends, and some of it just needs to hang around a little longer before I can part with it (my childhood bear...) [edit: I'm keeping the bear!]. I plan to declutter in a few stages, and the final stage will be utterly ruthless.

The toughest things to get rid of so far have been notes and gifts from past boyfriends (sigh), and stubs from the five-figure bonuses I used to receive at my job. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I found those, and I may or may not have feverishly repeated, "I made the right decision, I made the right decision, I made the right decision!"

Moving on.

My dresser was another crap catchall, particularly for running gear and swimming stuff (from when I trained for my first triathlon). Many things seen here went to Goodwill or the recycling bin, and all my running accessories fit nicely into a little bag for easy access.

Much better! (The race bibs and medals ain't going anywhere for a while.)

My closet is a fun adventure. The middle section holds most of my clothes — a sea of plain tanks, tees and sweaters with a few stripes and prints thrown in for when I'm feeling adventurous — and my laundry hamper. Note the running shoe boxes, softball gear and Canon/Apple paraphernalia up above.

Judging by my friends' closets, I have very few clothes, and yet I still have still way more than I actually need or wear. I pretty much live in my favorite $8.50 Old Navy t-shirts.

I'm a simple girl. Feel free to make fun of me (for the t-shirts or the photos, or both), but I love those damn tees. And my commitment to inexpensive shirts has helped me save enough money to travel for a year, so there.

The left side of the closet: Coats, shoes, more running shoe boxes (I'm psychotic) and beach towels (for all the beaches in Seattle...).

The right side: Dresses and skirts I rarely wear, my college graduation gown, more boxes and God only knows what on the floor.

I only did a quick sweep of my clothes this weekend and ended up with an overflowing bag of items. I'll try selling them to local thrift stores, then donate the rest to Goodwill.

There's so much more to get rid of, and I haven't even peeked inside my dresser yet. I'm going to need many, many more bags.

So far, the decluttering process has felt cleansing. Very few things hold meaning for me, and luckily they're compact things, like photographs and race bibs. My goal is to end up with a few medium-sized boxes of stuff and a garbage bag of clothes to store at my dad's place for when I get back from my trip... whenever that may be.

I'll be selling all the furniture in January, so holler at me if you're a Seattelite with your eye on something.

With my bedroom clear of most visible clutter, it'll be a much more pleasant space to focus on things like vaccinations, visas and gear to cram into the backpack that will become my life (which I still need to buy).

I know one thing for sure: At least a few of my favorite tees will be along for the ride.


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Friday, December 9, 2011

Reflections on Marathon Training: What I Did Right

I began training for the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon on July 25 with a training plan based on Hal Higdon's Novice I program that looked like this (click to make it larger):

I finished the marathon on December 4 after having completed the training plan like this:

I knew all along that my training wouldn't exactly follow my initial plan, and I prepared to be flexible and not freak out about making changes.

I skipped a few runs. I moved things around. I added a triathlon and a 5K race. I got sick. I bailed out on all cross-training after the tri. Speed intervals, tempo runs and hill repeats were practically non-existent.

But even though my training wasn't perfect, I never walked during the marathon, I finished strong and I hit my 4:15 goal time. I'd say I did a few things right.

It wasn't always easy...

For 19 weeks, I lived and breathed marathon training. I worked full-time right up until the Wednesday before the marathon and got home around 6 p.m. every weekday. I was usually out running or at the gym by 6:30, and oftentimes I'd run and then go to the gym to lift weights. I'd get home around 8 or 9, depending on how far I had to run, then shower (sometimes...), have dinner and blog about my workout on Dev on Running. Then I went to sleep.

Those were my nights, every night.

I had the advantage of being single and generally fine with only seeing my friends a few times a week — on my rest days and on weekends. If I didn't want to miss out on an event, I would just switch around my workouts and take a rest day on that day. I also spent time with friends new and old by doing many of my long runs with buddies, which was really great.

I spent lots of good money on the marathon registration fee, flights and hotel — I wasn't about to half-ass my training! The commitment really paid off in the end.


Right after my 20-miler — 3:15 of running.

I ran 12 miles in the pouring rain, 14 miles while extremely hungover (the run went great; the aftermath... not so much) and 18 miles immediately following four days of being completely flattened by an illness.

A few of my long runs went awry, but most were fantastic. The most important part was that I did them all!

It's not fun to wake up early on the weekend knowing you have two or three hours of running ahead of you, especially if you're training in Seattle's cold, gray autumn months. But long runs are so important because they help your body get used to the stress of racking up double-digit mileage, and they're essential rehearsals for figuring out how you'll drink, fuel and pace yourself in the actual race.


Hammocks save lives.

I tried to stick to my training plan, but I didn't beat myself up if I felt really exhausted and needed to take an unplanned rest day.

I listened to my body and learned to recognize the difference between when I actually felt worn out and when I just had a crappy day at work and needed to suck it up. Sometimes I genuinely needed an evening in my hammock; other times, a speedy 10-mile run made me feel good as new.

This is why I abandoned pretty much all cross-training after my triathlon. Long runs took a lot out of me — I needed the whole rest of the day to recover — and the other weekend day, I wanted to relax and have some non-training fun! Super-serious marathoners may look down on this, but the extra rest days really kept me from burning out.


The Las Vegas marathon course was almost entirely flat, and I cut out all my planned hill repeats because of this (and because wet leaves + running up and down hills = death).

As for tempo runs and speed work... I just got lazy. I did some speed intervals during treadmill runs to keep from getting too bored, but I didn't make a concerted effort to become a faster runner during this training cycle. I was more concerned with hitting my planned mileage each week and remaining injury-free.

If (when...) I run another marathon, I'll shoot for a sub-4:00 finish and definitely focus more on hill endurance and becoming speedier.



I did most of my training in Seattle, but I also ran while on vacation in Vancouver, B.C., and in New York City. I even racked up 14 miles while I was in California for my granddad's memorial service.

This goes back to the most important thing I did right: I made marathon training my #1 priority.*

I packed my running shoes first. I brought everything I needed, including my fuel belt, Clif Shots and Nuun. I always ran first thing in the morning to get it out of the way. Trust me, it can be done!

*When I went to California, spending time with my family was my #1 priority. Running never interfered with family time, and it really helped me work out the stress and sadness I felt over my granddad's passing.


My first drink in Vegas after the marathon. Has a margarita ever tasted so good? I think not.

I ate A LOT during training, but I stuck with proteins, fruits and vegetables rather than carbs. Sure, I ate tons of bagels in New York City, but things like bread and pasta generally make me feel bloated and lethargic — exactly how I don't want to feel while running.

My go-to foods were apples, bananas (at least two a day), Larabars, almond and peanut butter, yams, asparagus, zucchini, salads, soups, chicken, fish and candy (I blame Halloween for that one). And then after long runs, I ate whatever the heck I wanted, like an entire box of Stovetop Stuffing after my 20-miler. Yum.

The point, again, is to listen to your body and do what works for you. Carb-loading isn't necessarily vital to marathon training, although some people swear by it. I found that generally avoiding bread, pasta, etc. and dairy (even though cheese is my lover) made for happy, cramp-free runs.

As for alcohol, I quit drinking for a month prior to the marathon. I'm not a huge bar/club/party person anyway, so it wasn't difficult. However, that very month was also when I was in the midst of quitting my job, and I often got super-stressed and frustrated at work. I would've loved to have several glasses of wine on many occasions... but I just ran instead. I also got lots of quality sleep and didn't have to plan my long runs around hangovers, so it was a total win.


I didn't come up with this, but I wish I did.

Every marathon training guru will tell you that the focus of your first marathon should just be about finishing, not hitting a certain time.

I chose to believe in myself more than that.

Call me crazy, but based on my typical long run pace (9:40-ish) I identified a reasonable goal (a 4:15 finish), then trained for it and hit it. I think self-confidence had just as much to do with it as training.

Regardless of my finish time, I wanted to run a race that I would feel proud of, and I knew I would be proud of pushing myself. If I went into it with the mindset of, "Well, I'll just try to finish," I probably would've let myself slow down and walk multiple times. There's nothing wrong with that — a marathon is tough, people — but I know I'm capable of more.

I had an incredible network of family, friends and blog readers who encouraged me throughout training and assured me the race would be great. I can't say I would've had the confidence that I did without their support!

Completing the physical training is only a piece of the puzzle; having the mental strength going into the race is what really carries you through to the finish line.


Since I hit my goal time and truly had a great race — aside from the factors I couldn't control, like the overcrowded course and the depleted water stations — I wouldn't change anything about the way I trained for my first marathon.

Will I run another one? Of course! ...eventually. I need to forget the pain of the first one before I can even think about signing up for another.

Aside from my post-race stomach issues, I could barely walk the next day, and later my feet and ankles swelled up like crazy. It took a lot of rest, ice, compression and elevation to get them back to human proportions. Now, five days post-race, I'm finally feeling back to normal, and I'll probably go for a slow and short run this weekend.

Even though I won't train for another race for a while, I just can't imagine my life without the rhythmic sound of running shoes hitting the pavement.


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