Chiang Rai, The White Temple, and Navigating Southeast Asia as an Embarrassed American

Chiang Rai, The White Temple, And Navigating Southeast Asia as an Embarrassed American

Hey everyone! Megan here. My laptop is up and running, so I’ve been working on some posts for you all!

This post, however, is going to be a bit different. My original plan was to write posts about backpacker destinations in Southeast Asia based on the order in which I visited them. This post is more important. This post is long. This post gets into American politics. This post makes me anxious. It addresses tragedy and war and embarrassment. Just a warning. Here we go.

Continue reading “Chiang Rai, The White Temple, and Navigating Southeast Asia as an Embarrassed American”

Tiptoeing Back into Traveling: Post New Orleans Ramblings

In the past few months, while being jostled around by family reunions and summer vacations, I’ve been greedily collecting ideas, plans, maps, and dreams. Rather than a fire burning or a star bursting, I’ve been feeling like a box inside of me was shrinking, and I was stuffing more into it:

things I wanted to discuss in a coffee shop

projects I wanted to start now

phrases and ramblings and pictures.

These ideas, not being unleashed, were beginning to feel stale.

I’ve learned the only solution this is to stuff a bag full of clothes and notebooks, and head to somewhere fresh.

I spent a blink of an eye in New Orleans. I was able to wander through the cemeteries and fall in love (again) with a city that demands your attention to experience both an otherworldly presence and very real history. From the moment I walked into the Museum District, the soft pain and spooky intrigue of New Orleans that I had fell in love with while reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles last summer jumped in front of me like one of the many blaring saxophone solos I jumped for on Frenchman Street.

The words in Chronicles that defined New Orleans for me faded away and I replaced them with discussions, stories, and permanent words scribbled into a notebook over a French market crepe or quiet moment at Greenwood cemetery.

(Backpacking stories, hostel whisperings, local and tourist recommendations alike.)

These stories are not familiar, and the words become rearranged in every city you visit.

Hostel residents tend to tell the same story, but with a new twist every time. Where-you-headed-next and where-have-you-beens were exchanged, and as usual, I felt the simultaneous groan and a smile that comes from adding a new destination to my mental bucket list (this time, Costa Rica won out as the top dream.)

Quick run-ins and small chats brought your world in close with a tight squeeze and shrunk your story to a quick flip of a few pages.

The bartender at the shack whose name you hear whispered through the grapevine will tell you your future, finally humoring you until you’ve exhausted the thoughts that have been tumbling in your head about where to move and the pain you’ve felt looking at the artists giving it a go in the corners of galleries around the city.

The tarot reader in Jackson Square will tell you what she sees in your face and what you’re aching for in your bones. You’re hit with a smack in the face once you pop out of the bubble of introversion to discuss her cards, realizing your future is yours to write anyway, you don’t even remember her name.

 . . .

I write these words as I sit on a Megabus seat bumping through Texas. I’m reflecting on my trip, my gratitude, and I feel my energy being restored. Anyone who asks me if I’m an introvert while in a crowd of people will see the bashful answer on my face before I say, “Oh yeah.” I have to be alone to fill up. I opted out of my reserved seat on the Megabus today (a loss of a whole $1) to find a spot where I wouldn’t be surrounded by people. As I flew through the jobs on my to-do list (giving me the illusion I was flying through Louisiana,) I felt restored back to full.

My assignments for the day are done. My time in New Orleans has drawn to a gentle close, like finishing a good book with a long exhale, putting it back on your bookshelf with great care and knowing that in the future, you’ll revisit it once more with fresh eyes and a great yearning for a different interpretation of the story. It’s time to head back to “real life” now, with a clear mind and a refreshed determination to finally build my “what’s next.”

A Traveler’s Thanksgiving

Not all of the people I have met along my journeys know or celebrate Thanksgiving. Without getting into the twisted history as to why Americans celebrate this holiday, or an explanation of the Black Friday sales that loom over our extended family’s heads while dessert is being served, I’ll say that Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude. Anyone who has traveled in the past year has more than enough to be thankful for. Here’s a few of the things on my list:

Support – From my family. This time last year my father and grandmother were gifting me with a trip to visit my aunt and uncle in San Francisco, a city that has always fueled my love for travel. At the time I was really confused about my next steps. I had many talks with my aunt and uncle about the endless possibilities out in the world. My first big decision when it came to post-grad plans was to buy a one-way ticket to London. When I told my parents, I was surprised they didn’t freak out (ok, maybe internally, but they always supported my trip.) I’m happy to have a family that encourages travel, moving, and growing. Currently, my brother lives in Colorado and my sister lives in Chicago. I have family all over the country, including in Austin, Texas. My aunt and uncle here have been more than helpful in my transition to a new city. I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with them today! I feel like I lucked out this holiday season.

Safety – I made it from Philadelphia to London, to 22 cities, to Madrid, and back to New York, all in one piece. (Even after having my belongings stolen.) When the attacks in Paris were happening, all I could do was rack my brain and try and think if any of my friends had posted that they’d be traveling to Paris on their backpacking trips. Anyone I wasn’t sure of, I checked in with. I’m happy to say all of my friends are safe. The world can be terrifying if you start thinking too much. Today, however, for a short moment, I’ll focus on my safety and the safety of my friends.

Facebook – Cheesy. Lame. Technology will be the death of us all, BUT, I got to wake up this morning with messages from friends in two different countries. I’m planning trips all over the world with a friend that I met on Facebook a few months ago. When my phone was stolen, I was able to contact my parents and let them know I was still ok. I’m thankful for the benefits of technology. I’m thankful I can keep in touch with friends from all over the world, (and I can live through those who are still on their travels). The people I met on my trip were a key part in making my travels so special; I’m glad I can still continue those relationships from thousands of miles away.

Actual books – Jack Kerouac ignited the flames in my traveling soul when I was 16. Five hour bus rides throughout Europe were a lot easier when I had Bob Dylan, Irvine Welsh, and Chuck Palahniuk by my side. Bookstores gave me an excuse to strike up a conversation with whoever stood next to me, rifling through the gently-used-fiction sections. Books give me an adventure while I’m sitting on my couch, saving money for my next trip. Call me a nerd, but I’m thankful for books, stories, and words.

Bunk Beds and Couches – My Couchsurfing hosts and hostels were also a key part in feeling comfortable in new countries. Opening up your home to strangers, for free, is sometimes thought as mad. But it allows people to travel easily. Just having a place to sleep at night, even if it was on an overnight bus or in a smelly hostel with snoring Australians, is a blessing that not a lot of people have. 

Patience – The ability to travel at all is a blessing. In 2015, I was able to visit San Francisco, New York, Boston, and 22 cities in Europe, and move to Austin, Texas. I graduated college and opened a new chapter in my life. I still stutter and give different answers when I’m asked what I want to do with my life, and at this moment I couldn’t tell you my plans after my Americorps position. But one of the most important lessons I learned this year is that every day the world opens up more and more possibilities. I have tons of trips to take and stories to write. I’m not going to travel today but when I’m meant to board a plane to the other side of the world, I’ll be ready.
And I’m thankful for all of you who think my adventures are interesting and who read my blog! I hope you all have a lovely holiday season, no matter what you celebrate!

 

What’s Couchsurfing? (And 4 Reasons Why You Should)

Hey! I’m back from Europe but I haven’t posted in a long time since my phone was stolen in Berlin! (More on that later.) I still want to write about traveling because, let’s be honest, I’ve got the travel bug. I came back to Philadelphia on September 12, and two weeks later I moved to Austin! The weekend before moving, I took a road trip to Boston Calling Music Festival with four friends I met on Couchsurfing. I’ve always been asked a lot of questions about Couchsurfing, so I figured this would be a great topic to start up the blog again!

What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing is a website, an app, and most importantly, a community found throughout the world. It’s a way for people to help each other, learn from each other, and have an enhanced traveling experience.

How does Couchsurfing work?

When I first joined Couchsurfing, I created a profile on the website with information about myself, my travels, whether or not I can host, etc. Before I ever surfed with anyone, a friend and I hosted a fellow student from Manchester last-minute and had an awesome time exchanging stories over pitchers at McGillin’s. I also met up with a lovely girl from Taiwan and brought her to VegFest in Philly. Soon enough, it was time for my backpacking trip.

When I knew I would be needing a place to stay in a new city I would either directly message hosts from that city or put up a public trip telling hosts that I would be around and I would need a place to stay. After getting in touch with hosts and arranging the length of my stay, I would show up at their place! I usually Couchsurfed for 2-3 days at a time, but the length of your stay is up to you and your host. While you’re there, some hosts want to show you around their city. Some prefer not to. Some want to get drinks with you and their friends, some want to have deep political conversations. Every experience is different, but every experience gives you a more authentic view of the city (in my opinion) than say, a hostel or a hotel.

A little snippet of my Couchsurfing profile! via couchsurfing.com
A little snippet of my Couchsurfing profile!
via couchsurfing.com

IS IT SAFE??

Would I do it if it wasn’t?

Being a young woman alone, I knew I would have to exercise more caution than most people on their travels. Although the Couchsurfing community (like the rest of the world) is for the most part full of lovely people with good intentions, I still used a few different methods to “screen” potential hosts.

  1. I checked out their “references”. Couchsurfing allows you to leave notes about each host/guest/traveler you come across. You can say your experience was positive, negative, or neutral, with details about your accommodations and time with your host. I made sure to read a few of the references and only stayed with people who only had positive references.

    Sam and I left references for each other after hanging out at a music festival, crashing at his place, and meeting up in Vienna. via couchsurfing.com
    Sam and I left references for each other after we hung out at a music festival, I crashed at his place, and we met up in Vienna.
    via couchsurfing.com
  2. I added them on Facebook (and did a little creeping). This isn’t necessary or required, but it was just another way to make sure I was in good hands during my trip.
  3. I checked to see if they were verified. Basically, if you pay 20 dollars to Couchsurfing you get a green check mark and you can have your phone number/address/existence verified. I think references are more telling/important than verification, but again, always nice to see that little check mark.

Four Reasons Why You Should Couchsurf on Your Next Adventure:

  1. You learn from locals. As I mentioned earlier, Couchsurfing gives you more than a touristy experience. As much as I enjoy staying in a hostel with Americans, Brits, and Australians and using hostel maps to guide my wanderings, I also enjoyed talking to people who know what’s going on in Vienna, or who are pros at navigating Danish public transportation. I learned more about European politics from my Couchsurfing hosts than anyone or anything else – and that includes my formal education.
  2. Ok, let’s just say it….it’s cheap. Besides the $20 verification fee (which in my opinion isn’t 100% necessary), Couchsurfing is free! You get free accommodations while you travel. You get tips on where cheap beer/food is and any free events going on in the city. I try and buy my hosts a drink, gift, or make them food while I’m staying with them, but besides that, Couchsurfing is a great way to save money while traveling.
  3. Meetups! Even if you have accommodation throughout your travels, Couchsurfing meetups are another way to talk to people from all over the world. If I remember correctly, I went to a Couchsurfing meetup every day that I was in Berlin. Language exchanges at bars, free yoga classes at parks, picnics, happy hours….you name it, you can find an event for it on Couchsurfing. They’re not so common in America, but in Europe there are tons!  Sometimes you can even find hosts at meetups.

    Friends in Edinburgh…we met at a Couchsurfing event in Dublin!
  4. You can also use it as a resource for pretty much anything. Couchsurfing has discussion boards for each city where you can find local advice, rides to and from the city, events and more. It also has larger groups where you can post just about anything. As I mentioned before, when I made my way up to Boston for Boston Calling, I didn’t want to drive alone (or pay for gas alone). I posted on the Philadelphia & New York discussion boards that I would be driving up to Boston and could offer a ride, and by the time I left for Boston my car was full! I also have an Australian pen pal thanks to the “Alternative Ways of Living & Consuming” group.

Couchsurfing is a blast…I really enjoyed using it throughout my backpacking trip. This is just a brief overview of how you can use it, so if you have questions, leave them in the comments! Also, if you have suggestions for what I should write about next, let me know!! Thanks for reading!