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Hi!

I'm a Midwestern girl in constant search of sunshine + sea. I travel solo, work full-time, and sometimes, I write.

Monthly Recap: June 2017

Monthly Recap: June 2017

How am I doing so much in one month?! I've slowed down my travel a lot, and still I'm amazed by how many places I'm seeing and all the people I'm meeting. Vietnam was a beautiful country, but Indonesia has swept me off my feet. I am definitely meant to be on the beach or on a boat or under the water. Indo is my happy place.

Where I've Been

Vietnam

  • Hoi An - 4 nights
  • Hue - 2 nights
  • Phong Nha - 1 night
  • Ninh Binh - 2 nights
  • Hanoi - 9 nights

(plus one overnight bus, THE LAST OVERNIGHT BUS OF MY TRIP! HALLELUJAH!)

Indonesia

  • Denpasar, Bali - 1 night
  • Canggu, Bali - 4 nights
  • Ubud, Bali - 3 nights
  • Nusa Lembongan, Bali - 3 nights

Best Bed

Scuba Center Asia, Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia - I don't usually book accommodation with dive companies because it's not in my budget, but this private room was only 150,000R / $9USD! In eight months of travel, I haven't booked a private room for myself. Having the space to myself was a welcomed change: I didn't have to worry about my diving stuff splayed on the floor, getting undressed in a hostel bathroom, or typing away on my laptop late at night. The room itself was very cute and reminded me of a cottage room on a lake. I wasn't ready to give up my private room (or leave Nusa Lembongan), so I stayed an extra night.

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Worst Bed

Ehhh I didn't really stay in an awful hostel this month, but if I had to choose, I'd say Village House Hostel in Phong Nha, Vietnam. The set-up was just odd. The dorm rooms were on the second floor and the staircase was a set of wooden slabs nailed together. The dorm rooms were quite small and the top bunk was super high. The bathrooms were massive - bigger than the dorm rooms! Cain and I rented a motorbike from the place and it was in pretty questionable shape. On the plus side, breakfast was outside overlooking the lake and the family made dinner every night for the guests. The place just had a weird design and the atmosphere was pretty blah.

Highlights

Driving from Hoi An to Hue - I met Cain at a hostel in Hoi An. The next stop on the backpacker trail was Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam. It can be done in 4 hours by motorbike from Hoi An. Cain and I split the cost of a motorbike and with a map in hand, we set off. I messed up the navigation in the beginning and we ended up a busy highway instead of a being on a road that hugged the coastline. Once I got us back on the right road, we climbed up a mountain path that overlooked the ocean. The views were beautiful and distracted us from a strange, sharp "pop" noise that our motorbike made every kilometer or so. Most of the ride was on a highway, which surprised us because we thought the drive had more scenery. We took a rural road for the last stretch. We passed by farmers herding cattle and women planting rice. Finally, after six hours, we arrived at our homestay in Hue.

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The caves of Phong Nha - Wow, the scope of the caves in Phong Nha is incredible! This is actually the region where the world's largest cave is located, Son Doong. That cave costs $3000USD to trek (haha) and it's super remote, so that was out of the question. Cain and I drove to Paradise Cave and it is SUCH. A. MASSIVE. CAVE. It's hard to explain the scope of the cave because it was just so damn big and the pictures don't do it justice. I usually get claustrophobic in caves, but not this one. There is also Phong Nha Cave (which you enter by boat) and Dark Cave, but we opted out of both because of costs and time. Besides, Paradise Cave was mind-blowing enough. 

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Seeing my aunt and uncle in Vietnam of all places - This entire trip has had a funny way of reuniting me with family and friends all over the world. My aunt and uncle, who are from Ohio, were visiting their daughter (my cousin) for the first time since she's been in living in Vietnam. They were actually going to be in Hanoi at the same time I was! I was telling my friends, Nick and Kevin, that I was going to meet up with them as we were walking to Hanoi Social Club. Suddenly I hear, "Well, look who it is!" I couldn't believe it, but in the crazy streets of Hanoi with 6.5 million people, I ran into my aunt and uncle! It was so good to see them and get big hugs from each of them. We went to dinner that night and I saw them a few days later. I have loved seeing my family in all corners of the world.

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Diving with manta rays in Nusa Lembongan, Indo - A blog post is sure to come about the three beautiful days I spent on this island off the coast of Bali, but it definitely deserves to be in the highlight reel. I had never dived with manta rays before, so imagine my surprise when I was suddenly surrounded by ten of them at Manta Point! They are truly magnificent animals. It was a beautiful day on the boat, the water wasn't too cold, and Scuba Center Asia's dive crew were fantastic. It was my first time diving since I swam with the whale sharks in Koh Tao - two months ago! - so it was refreshing to be back under the water.

Catching the sunset in Nusa Ceningan - Everyone knows I can't drive a motorbike for the life of me, so I was happy to catch a ride to a sunset spot with two of the Dive Master trainees at Scuba Center Asia, Xander and Andrew. The Palms Restaurant was a stunning spot overlooking the ocean, with the sunset front and center. It was surprising how quiet it was; there were very few people there. It felt like we had the sunset to ourselves. Of course, that meant it was Bintang time! This place is still one of my favorite spots in Indo and I wish I could have gone back more than once.

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Getting a cheap flight home - HOLD. THE. PHONE. I got a flight on an amazing airline from Hong Kong to Vancouver for only $613! Most flights were between $800-900+, regardless of if they were nonstop or had layovers. This flight stops briefly in Taiwan. I bought the ticket through Student Universe, which offers travel discounts to current students. You have to submit your student ID and transcript. I was really excited to snag a flight for this price. I still have to buy my flight home to Chicago from Portland, which will be around $200, but I will pay that using points from my Chase Sapphire.

Watching RTWAW grow - Writing is very personal to me and this blog continues to be a place for me to share my insights throughout this journey. So I am still pleasantly surprised when friends and family share my blog posts or message me to tell me that they have been inspired by something I've written. I've also received quite a few FB and IG messages from people I don't know; maybe they stumbled across RTWAW on their own or heard about it from a friend. I've enjoyed offering travel advice when I can and I hope my journey shows that traveling on a budget (and alone) can be done! I also can't be bothered to do any actual social media for RTWAW, so I'm hoping my friends and family aren't tired of my constant travel spamming on my personal FB and IG accounts. Heh...

Having time to reflect - I travel alone but I'm sure many people have noticed that I meet a lot of people while traveling. If it works out, I end up traveling with them for awhile. In Indo, I have been alone every day since I've been here. I haven't traveled from place to place with people. Every Uber and taxi I've taken has been alone. Most of my meals have been eaten alone. I have had a lot of downtime to myself. It was needed. I'm savoring every single moment of my trip, and I'm okay doing that by myself and having the time to reflect on what this journey has meant to me. 

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Challenges

I'm not burnt out anymore - You know that high, low, high trajectory I've mentioned? I'm definitely on a high right now. Time is going by too fast and one month seems too short for how massive Indonesia is. I've continued to meet so many amazing people and I've still got so many places I want to see that I just can't believe I'm going home so soon! It's crazy that nearly three months ago, I was exhausted and totally over traveling. But now I just want to keep going! So many places to see! So many things to do!

Getting an Uber in Indonesia is a pain in the ass - I think I am going to write a whole blog post just on transportation in Indo, cause it's a hot mess. Uber and Grab are banned in Indo because they pose a threat to the taxi companies here. In Canggu, a taxi to Ubud costs Rp 350,000 / $22USD. A Grab car cost Rp 170,000 / $13USD. Of course I'm going to choose the Grab car! But when I tried to get in the Grab car in Canggu, a motorbike immediately pulled up to the car and told me that I had to use a local taxi. The Grab driver got scared (Uber cars have been burned in Bali and drivers beaten), so I immediately got out. The hostel manager ended up driving me to the main road outside of Canggu so I could call another Grab car. I finally made it to Ubud - in a Grab car - but it was annoying how hard it was to find affordable transportation. 

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Indo is HUGEEEE - I totally underestimated how big Indo is and all the amazing things you can do throughout its 17,000+ islands. And Bali is a much bigger island than I thought! There is so much to do in Bali alone - Ubud, Canggu, Uluwatu, Semniyak, Kuta, Amed, Nusa Lembongan... the list goes on. And then of course there are the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok. And then there's Komodo Island, which is famous for its world-class diving and the monstrous Komodo Dragons. And Sumatra has orangutans and jungles. I've been trying to go with the flow in Indo, but the country is so large that it really does require some advanced planning in terms of how to get to places and how much time to spend in each place. 

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Feeling that money crunch - I knew my money had to start running out at some point. Thankfully, it's lasted me through much of my trip. I have $1500 left for 30 more days of travel, so $50/day. I have more funds in the bank, but I want to come home with some money. I am nervous about Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, and Portland - of course I'm leaving the most expensive countries for the very end of my trip! But I'm thankful I've got friends I can stay with in Victoria and Portland, and I'd love to finally give Couchsurfing a try. Here's to the tail end of my trip!

Small Moments

Cain and I drive through a rural road bordering the river of Hue. Tired from the heat, we pull over at a small shop. Cain asks for a coffee, but the woman has no idea what he is saying. He points to a can of Sprite instead. We sit on plastic chairs as we take a break from what has been six hours on a motorbike so far. We watch as the woman splits coconuts with a machete, draining the coconut juice from them before scraping out the juicy flesh of the coconut. Her children peek at us from behind concrete pillars, more likely mesmerized with Cain's pale skin and freckles than my tanned skin and dark hair.

The streets of Hanoi are flooded after a torrential downpour. I approach an intersection with water as deep as my knees. Motorbikes continue to inch their way across. A Vietnamese policeman tries his best to control the traffic, with little success. As I kick off my flip flops and hike up my pants to cross the street, a Vietnamese man stands holding a child. He's watching the chaos with a knowing smile on his face. "Vietnam!" he exclaims with a laugh. He is absolutely right - this is a scene right out of Vietnam. And I love it.

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After walking through the flooded streets of Hanoi, it is 9pm and I am starving. Since I'm not willing to venture out again from the hostel, I go to a restaurant across the street. I order vegetable fried rice. I'm sitting next to a table of tourists who are making demands left and right, keeping the poor server rushing to and from the kitchen. The server apologizes to me for the wait (it's only been five minutes) and brings me a plate of sliced fruit as an apology. I keep assuring him that I'm not in a rush; it's okay. "You very friendly. Thank you," he says.

I'm writing a blog post and feel stuck. I pick up my Rubik's cube and solve it, giving myself a few minutes to think. The Indonesian man at the hostel's front desk watches me. Hesitantly, he comes over, smiles, and points to the Rubik's cube. As I work through my blog post, I can hear him scrambling the cube and attempting to line the pieces back up.

"Ohh, American! You travel by yourself?" The Uber driver asks. "No, I'm meeting friends in Ubud. Other Americans," I lie.

(Literally five minutes ago as I'm writing this blog post at a café facing the beach.) A woman at the table next to me comes over. "Our daughter wasn't feeling well, so she went home. We have an extra meal - have you had lunch yet?" I was so absorbed in writing that I hadn't even realized how hungry I was. I graciously accept the meal, one of my favorite Indonesian dishes. "Merry Christmas!" she says.

I'm talking to Augus, the manager at one of the hostels I stayed at. I ask him about the Hindu offerings left outside restaurants, shops, and even the sidewalk to the beach every morning. I ask him about the Hindu altars on each piece of land besides those restaurants and shops. "I give offering every morning to the gods, asking them for permission to use this land and to bless everyone who enters," he tells me. Then we start talking about religion. "I do not think there is one best religion. Do no harm to anyone. Any religion that preaches that is a good religion." Preach, Augus.

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Spending

Money, money, money! All costs are in USD. Flights to and from countries are not included in country averages; they are rolled into my overall total.

Vietnam - 30 days
Accommodation: $128
Food: $194
Entertainment: $3
Activities: $36
Transportation: $72
Misc: $155

Vietnam June Total: $588
Vietnam Overall Total: $827 ($27/day)

My goal was to do 30 days in Vietnam for $25/day, or $750 total. I went over this early on because I spent $100 on tailored clothing in Hoi An (worth it!). The hostel I stayed in Hanoi was not the cheapest by Vietnam standards, coming in at $8/night. I also ate at a lot of Western restaurants (ahem, Hanoi Social Club). I think my total is high for Vietnam considering I didn't do trekking in Sapa or Ha Long Bay, two major activities that most backpackers do. But I think I indulged myself in my last week of Vietnam and I was not paying attention to costs.

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Indonesia
Accommodation: $109
Food: $122
Entertainment: $1.50
Activities: $114
Transportation: $70
Misc: $12
SIM / Internet: $12
Visa: Free 30 day visa

Indonesia June Total: $440

Indo is cheap, but I'm finding it expensive because my money is pretty limited at this point. I think transportation - the taxis, the fast boats, the plane rides to other islands - add up really fast. This is the first time I've really had to choose between what I want to do because of money, so I'm funneling a lot of my money to scuba diving. Because scuba diving.

June Total: $1,028

Overall Total: $12,788 (includes all pre-trip gear, international flights + my $613 flight to Vancouver, travel insurance, scuba diving) or $50/day

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Blog Posts

Check out my previous Monthly Recaps here! This month, I veered away from blog posts on each country and went more personal.

11 Realities of Solo Female Travel - I share what I consider to be a few truths when it comes to traveling alone as a woman, but why the journey is still worth it. I received a lot of great feedback about this post and I hope it gave a few women the courage to go for it!

A Day in the Life: Then vs Now - I had fun comparing my life as a fundraiser for a nonprofit to being an unemployed backpacker.

My Anxieties About Coming Home - A blog post about all of the feelings. This one hit home (pun intended) for many of my friends and family members who travel.

Living the City Life in Hanoi - I recap my 10 days in Vietnam's capital, with my favorite moments wandering around the lake and the many locals I met.

My Favorite Place in Vietnam: Ninh Binh - I love this post simply for the photos. And because I love Ninh Binh.

Why Backpackers Have a Love / Hate Relationship with Vietnam - You either love it or you hate it. I loved Vietnam, but it can be a difficult country to travel through. Here's why (and why it's still worth it!).

Oh! And I got paid $150 for my first freelance article. I have never had my work edited by someone else before, nor worked on a deadline, so this was a different experience for me. You can check out the piece here: Rescuing a Whale Shark in Koh Tao for Voices of Biodiversity

Favorite Photo

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What's Next

I fly from Bali to Hong Kong on July 19. I was meant to stay with a diving friend in HK, but unfortunately the dates didn't work out. I'm excited to still have a friend to hang out with in the city, though! After three nights in HK, I'll fly to Vancouver on July 24. Then three nights in Vancouver, four nights in Victoria, three nights in Seattle, and four nights in Portland. Ah! I haven't bought my flight from Portland to Chicago, but it will be in the first week of August.

And then I'm home. That's it. That's all. Nearly ten months of travel will come to a close, and I'm not sure I'm ready for it. I don't think I am. Tbh I'm freaking out.

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