Author Archives: Rebecca Anne Nguyen

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About Rebecca Anne Nguyen

Founder of TheHappyPassport.com, solo female travel cheerleader, author of 175 Ways to Travel Today.

A Stormy Night in Ladakh India

“Dang it, I’m going to get soaked,” think to myself as the heavy thunder clouds up ahead finally break. The small unpaved mountainous road I’m on is headed straight into the storm. Thankfully, if my map is correct, I’ll be hitting a “town,” which will most likely consist of a makeshift stone dhaba (small tea shop) or two, in ten kilometers. I hope to spend the night in one of the small shacks as a sleepless stormy night in my tent doesn’t sound too appealing. Of course, ten kilometers up here where I’m cycling at the speed of a toddler could take me all afternoon: cycling above 4,000m on unpaved roads is no easy feat. Hours pass and I’m finally two kilometers away. So close, yet still so far. And I am indeed completely soaked, and also completely freezing. I stop for a moment to change into dry clothes just before I realize that I have a small river to cross in front of me. Dang it, I just got dry! Instead of pushing my bike through as I usually do, I decide to ride through in order to avoid soaking my new socks and pants. Of course, halfway through I trip, and my bike and I take a plunge into the icy cold glacier melt.

As I slowly pick myself up and begin to proceed on my way, I realize that I’m shaking. I’m absolutely freezing. Night is quickly approaching, and with it, my need for food and shelter is growing stronger. But the sign says only two more kilometers so I push on, there is no way I’m setting up my tent in this wet and cold mess.

I finally see a building ahead and all I can think about is a nice warm meal and my cozy sleeping bag. I’ll finally be able to feel my toes again! But as I approach I realize that something is off, these aren’t small stone dhabas like I’m use to seeing, but rather a large abandoned government building. This is definitely not what I had in mind.

I desperately yell out anyways, and to my surprise, a head pokes out from one of the doors. I ask if he has a room, and he points me into his small section of the building where blankets are laid on the floor. As I realize he is the only one around, in fact, probably the only human within thirty kilometers, I start to panic. I can’t stay here, in an Indian guy’s room, in the middle of nowhere. That goes against everything I have learned about traveling alone as a female. So I leave, I go back outside and stand by my bike in the pouring rain and contemplate what to do next.

The man comes out and tells me in broken English that it’s safe, and that in any case, I have nowhere else to go. The storm will continue all night, he says, you need shelter. So I decide to trust my instincts which are telling me he is just trying to help and follow him back in. He leaves to let me change in privacy, then cooks me a noodle soup with egg while I hunker down in a large pile of thick blankets. As I accept my second steaming hot cup of tea I realize that coming inside was indeed the right decision, though I’m definitely still on alert.

I fall asleep somewhat uneasily, pepper spray in hand under the covers, and am practically scared to death at two a.m. when someone begins viciously knocking on the door. As I cower under the blanket my host jumps up to answer. After speaking with the stranger for a few moments, he announces to me that he is leaving, and tosses me his keys.

Leaving? At two a.m. in the middle of a storm… on a motorcycle? While leaving a stranger with your keys? I quickly remind myself that I’m in India, and in India, anything and everything is possible.

After he leaves I quickly fall asleep again, and awake in the morning to a beautifully sunny day. I cook breakfast, dry my wet clothes on the fence outside, and laugh at the absurdity of a night in the Himalayas.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old girl cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Murder, Mayhem, and an Asshole from New York (Part 2)

When these things happen, these sudden blips on the heart monitor of life, these moments you write home about and get interviewed about by local reporters (and if the event is really shocking, national reporters), everyone always says the same thing: “It all happened so fast.”

And so it was for the American woman, the Canadian cyclist, the Ecuadorian couple, the British guy from India, the brunette writer, and the New York Asshole that night in the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right.

The smattering of locals that had slipped inside the restaurant earlier in the evening had slumped into the back left corner, and were having a ball of a time getting drunk on raksi, the equivalent of Nepalese bathtub gin.

At one point during the evening, one of the Nepali men has joined their table, slurring his words and asking them all where they were from. Upon seeing Chris’ disapproving look and making sure none of the women at the table were likely to sleep with him that night, he gave up and returned to his den of debauchery in the corner.

Later, just as the brunette was set to murder the New York Asshole, there was a flash of white light to her left.

A man had entered the restaurant from the back door. He swept in swiftly and was immediately restrained by the young hostess and two male waiters who noticed him first.

The brunette looked to her left and saw, not two feet from her face, the cold steel of a fat butcher’s knife catching a glint of the tasseled lamplight.

The man broke free from the staff, raised his arm above his head, and with a wild war cry rushed toward the back table, toward the drunken locals and their empty bottle of raksi.

It could never be said that a roar went up from the crowd so much as a gasp, an immediate silence, a rush of out, out, out, out!

Chris had never had his animal instincts completely take over before. In that moment he had no thought for the brunette or the cyclist or the American or even the Ecuadorians. His only thought was to get as far away from that butcher knife as he possibly could as fast as he possibly could.

In the ensuing chaos,  with the crowd of diners bottlenecking the front door, the women grabbing their purses and shrieking, there was pivotal moment when Chris decided that no, he wasn’t overreacting and yes, this was indeed an emergency.

In that moment Chris made to turn from the scene of the crime toward to the door. And it was in that split second turn that he saw her hips, those same hips backing away from danger, leading the brunette away from death.

And as they sprinted full speed into the night, away from the restaurant and the butcher-wielding murderer, he couldn’t help thinking “this is the dance she does when she is afraid. She is afraid of me.”

It was also not lost on Chris that in a moment of mortal danger everyone, himself included, panicked as politely as possible, not wanting to make too big a scene in case this whole butcher knife-thing was just some sort of terrible practical joke.

——————–

When the smoke cleared there were four of them left, and what a quadruplet they were: Orion, constant and belted against the black winter sky, the New York Asshole, terrified and giddy, her tough exterior melted away in the face of real fear, Chris and the brunette, panting and out of breath as they’d been on their hike up to the stupa.

The rest of the crowd had dispersed, they’d lost their friends, everyone had run all the way home in terror and the excitement of something real and tangible actually happening, and happening to them.

They stood in the street, which was silent and dark, having stopped some 100 yards away from the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right.

Chris and the two women stared in each other’s faces for a few moments, looking for signs of just how frightened they should or shouldn’t be, looking to see if what just happened had, in fact, just happened.

“Should we go back?”

“We didn’t pay for our meals.”

“That poor restaurant owner, he just lost his entire night’s earnings.”

The New York Asshole had already paid her bill, as everyone in the restaurant was well aware, so she bid them farewell and they departed warmly, bonded in the way only tragedy can bond, connected on a level that’s only realized when the ego is silenced and for one sweet moment all that’s left is sheer, unadulterated humanity – that nameless innocence and sweetness common to all who walk the earth, even the jerk from New York.

Chris and the brunette decided to return and pay their bill. Perhaps they wanted another rush of excitement, another shot of danger. They weren’t alone.

A small crowd remained outside the restaurant. The police had come, they’d be questioned, they’d pay their bill, and they’d assure the devastated restaurant owner that no, this incident was not going to ruin his business forever. After all, people could always go eat at the other Turkish restaurant, the one on the left.

The butcher had been sent home with a warning, escorted by the police. Apparently one of the drunken locals had said something rude to him, something disrespectful, something that warranted a stabbing. But in the end no one was hurt except the restaurateur.

The man who was the intended victim, the one who’d almost been butchered to death, was wild-eyed and talking a mile a minute. He grabbed the brunette, shook her by the shoulders and said “You saw. You were closest. What did I do? I just needed to use the bathroom, he was in there, I told him to hurry up. It’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong. Did I do something wrong? It’s not my fault.”

Chris gently lifted his fingers from the brunette’s shoulders, speaking in soothing tones, agreeing with him.

“Of course it’s not your fault.”

They extracted themselves from the shaken victim and walked home together, both quiet, both ruminating on the fact that they themselves could have been butchered tonight.

And yet not even that, not even being faced with their own deaths, was enough to convince either of them to speak up about their feelings for the other.

And so Orion’s belt was gazed upon, the hips tilted backward to prevent the kiss that didn’t happen, and they made plans to see each other again the following day.

For Part 1 of this post, click here.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Blood, Fur, and Guts: Life in the Peruvian Altiplano

Blood squirts out and onto the squealing guinea pig, who is about to reach the same fate as his brother.

The knife tugs at the skin and fur, eventually severing the neck. Two decapitated guinea pigs staring at me with vacant eyes.

An unknowing sheep that my trekking partner purchased a few days back is about to receive the same treatment. I have definitely never seen my meals so up close and personal before, and I’m not so sure I want to make a habit out of this.

I just finished an amazing ten day trek through the Andes, and somehow I have ended up at the mule owner’s small mud hut in the high altitude Peruvian country side.

My trekking partner and I have set up our tent in their field, and in doing so, we have gained the attention of many curious eyes which have never been laid upon foreigners before.  

The children are more scared than the women, who have gathered around in a circle, but I know eventually they too will approach.

The house itself is amazing, a small mud hut structure with an open fire kitchen inside.

There is a shack beside it full of squealing guinea pigs and squabbling chickens, and then another open air hut which I have lovingly dubbed “the killing room.”

The man we arrived with is now tying up a very stubborn sheep, and with the help of his eldest son, is about to lift the protesting animal to be hung, then killed.

Though it’s gruesome, I have to remind myself that no matter how meat back home is packaged, it too was once a real live animal like this one.

The men chop the meat, hacking away the thick fur coat which will be used for clothing or a blanket later on. The women then take the pieces and wrap them in leaves before burying them underground.

For the past few hours the village has been preparing for this special type of cuisine by gathering the coals from a very hot fire into a pile. The women then place the leaf-cloven meat underground, surrounded by the burning coals, to cook overnight.

Throughout the evening I alternate between playing soccer with a few of the young boys in the village, and trying to speak with some of the women who live at the house.

Though I speak Spanish, this village is so remote that the few inhabitants only speak Quechua. As the sun sets everyone retires for the night, there is no electricity in the area so late nights are fruitless.

I wake at sunrise to the voices and laughter surrounding my tent, and quickly realize that the whole village has been invited to the feast.

The meat, which has been slowly cooking all night, is now in a large basket along with an assortment of different types of potatoes. The basket is passed around and everyone digs in, eagerly eating the meat straight from the leaves. The meat is tender and juicy, and by far the best breakfast I have ever had.

As I look around I realize what a unique situation I have found myself in, a special moment I will remember forever. 

I am surrounded by curious women and hardworking men in the middle of the Andes, in a small village that couldn’t be further removed from the world I come from.

I have been invited to share a feast with them, a feast prepared in a way I have never seen before. But more importantly, I have been invited to take part – if only for a few days – in a way of life completely different from my own. 

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old girl cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

10 Best Travel Books You’ve Never Read

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that most of my favorite books just so happen to be some of the best travel books in the world.

I was in love with travel before I traveled. I was a nomad in the womb, inspired to roam before I could walk.

In creating this list and thinking of the best travel books I’ve ever read, I found that these stories are less about the destinations visited by the characters and writers, and more about the inner journeys undertaken by those doing the globe trotting.

With that in mind, here are the 10 best travel books to get you inspired, keep you moving (and moved!), and show you how travel really can change your life.

10. THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist is the story of Santiago, a poor shepherd boy on a quest to find his Personal Legend. In the book he journeys throughout Spain, to Morocco, and to Egypt, but it is in reaching his final destination that he finally finds himself (plus there’s a super romantic love story woven into this little parable – I’ve probably read this book a dozen times and never tire of it!)

9. THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS by Elizabeth Gilbert

I am a huge, huge, HUGE fan of Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) – to the point where I pre-ordered this novel months before it came out because I was so excited to devour it.

Needless to say, my favorite writer did not disappoint! The novel tells the life story of Alma, a brilliant 19th-century scientist who lives on a Pennsylvania estate and spends her life studying mosses.

Sounds kind of boring, right? That’s where Gilbert’s brilliance comes in – she sends Alma on a round-the-world journey to Tahiti, where she meets a man who may very well be the sexiest person in literature (his name is Tomorrow Morning. And he’s a 6-foot tall Tahitian Adonis. And sometimes I re-read the book just so I can be close to him.)

8. WHAT I WAS DOING WHILE YOU WERE BREEDING by Kristin Newman

I was first drawn to this travel memoir by the hilarious title, but what made me decide to buy it was the fact that Kristin Newman is a TV writer.

Having spent 5+ years working in entertainment in Los Angeles, I’ve seen firsthand how cutthroat and challenging TV writing can be, especially sitcom writing. You have to think on the fly and be brilliant while surrounded by 12+ executives and fellow writers, who are all throwing out ideas a mile a minute.

Given the time and solitude to craft her own travel tales, Newman crushes it. Her own book summary is better than any I could write, so here it is:

“Kristin introduces readers to the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests who helped her transform into “Kristin-Adjacent” on the road–a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier version of herself at home. Equal parts laugh-out-loud storytelling, candid reflection, and wanderlust-inspiring travel tales, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a compelling debut that will have readers rushing to renew their passports.”

7.  ALEPH by Paulo Coehlo

We’re sticking with the Hollywood theme but heading to Cannes, France, for the annual international film festival.

Coehlo stays in one place in Aleph, but leads you deep into the belly of the beast in Cannes, where murder, greed and deception can’t be escaped, no matter where you turn.

This book is dark, juicy, and disturbing, with Coehlo’s usual spiritual reverence nowhere to be found.

6. THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES by Ernesto Che Guevara

Confession: I definitely watched the movie (starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal….siiiiiigh) before I read the book.

But the film inspired me to go to the source, and I’m so glad I did!

While reading Che’s memoirs of his journeys throughout South America, you can actually see the evolution of spirit on each page. His excitement and youth deepen the more he travels, the more people he meets, the more injustices he sees.

This book is the perfect example of how travel forces you outside yourself, how it strips you of selfishness and helps you see the interconnectivity of all things.

5. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac

On the Road is a beatnik classic that’s raw and real, surprisingly funny, and totally freeing. Kerouac’s prose makes me want to be a complete vagrant and train-hop my way around the world.

He had no money, absolutely nothing, and still managed to not only travel all over the U.S., to Denver and California and New York, but managed to write a book while he was doing it.

On the Road shows the creative power of travel to inspire, even when you’re on a budget so low it’s inside out.

4. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY by James Redfield

Reading this book was my very first spiritual awakening (of course it’s about a journey into the rain forests of Peru!)

Traveling to Peru through this book opened my mind to incredible spiritual ideas I had never before considered – ideas about energy, about things unseen, and about my growth as a human being and a spirit on a quest for enlightenment.

This book is pure magic for the soul-seeking traveler.

3. 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY by Rebekah Voss

I’m including my own book here as a gentle reminder to READ it after you download it from this site! (And make sure you’ve opted in to our email list so you can get your free copy!)

It’s packed with ways to see the world for cheap, to make money traveling, and to stay abroad for free.

Here’s what Daisy from Amazon had to say about it (and Daisy should know – she’s one of the Top 10 reviewers on Amazon!):

“This book is the BEST and MOST PLANNED OUT book that I have ever read regarding HOW TO TRAVEL WITH NO EXCUSES!

Rebekah has a passion for traveling and she found ways to make that happen for herself. In this book, she shares with the reader how she did this herself and in laid out list of preparations BEFORE attempting to travel.

Things like: Sell the house, sub leasing the apartment, selling car, selling furniture and SO MUCH MORE! She even explains that you can sell a tablet, phone or a laptop and the money you will receive will pay for food in India for ONE MONTH! Then she even goes on to suggest more tips on how to save money to prepare for this trip.”

Enter your email address below to get your free PDF copy, or go to Amazon if you prefer to read on your Kindle or get a hard copy version.

2. LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE by Laura Esquivel

Travel to 17th century Mexico and bring your appetite – this book is a dramatic, erotic love story told through actual recipes passed down from the author’s great grandmother.

War, love triangles, forbidden sex and familial chaos is set against the backdrop of rural Mexico in the late 1700s. This is another book I’ve read about 20 times because the love triangle between Tita, Rosaura and Pedro is so delicious!!!

1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I avoided reading this book for years because the marketing made me think it was super fluffy chick lit.

Imagine my surprise when one of my smartest, sophisticated, well-read friends insisted I pick it up.

I have yet to put it down, and it’s currently serving as a source of inspiration for my forthcoming travel memoir and for my life in general.

After a miserable, soul-crushing divorce, Gilbert plans a year-long RTW journey to Italy, India and Indonesia. Her hilarious writing makes her poignant spiritual realizations all the more profound when they pop up unexpectedly throughout the book.

If you only read one book from this list, make it Eat, Pray, Love.

What are the best travel books on your bookshelf (or in your Kindle?)

What travel book has completely changed your life? 

Ye Olde Disclaimer: If you buy one of these books on Amazon after clicking a link from this site, I’ll get a small commission. (Please and thank you, I need to pay for my pho!)

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Travel Yoga in a Rice Paddy in Vietnam

Travel yoga can be a challenge, especially in remote locations or areas that simply don’t offer yoga classes.

Luckily I’m spending the summer in Hoi An, a town that has managed to create a perfect balance between touristy offerings (waxing! Western-style lattes! Fast WiFi!) and authentic Vietnamese culture (coffee! plastic chairs! swimming in your pajamas!).

That means that yoga studios don’t dot every corner like in over-touristed Luang Prabang, but the yoga classes that are offered here in Hoi An are dynamite.

Stephanie of Hoi An Yoga in Hoi An, Vietnam invited me to do “rice paddy yoga” just outside the city.

The surroundings were gorgeous – you really are in the middle of rice fields, and on the way there I biked past many people working in the paddies. They were wearing traditional hats, raking the land with rusty tools, the whole nine yards.

I had never done yoga outside before, and being able to breathe fresh air while watching the sun set over the river was a truly spiritual experience.

When you’re in Hoi An you can book with Stephanie by visiting http://HoiAnYoga.com.

Click play now to check out my yoga adventure:

Have you ever done yoga in a strange location before?

How do you keep up with your yoga practice while traveling? 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to our email list to follow my solo female travel adventures and get your FREE travel guide, 175 Ways to Travel Today.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Travel yoga is a great way to stay fit on the road - you can do it inside during bad weather and outside during great weather!

2. Travel yoga in Asia is a lot cheaper than yoga back home - $5-$7 per class instead of $10-$15 per class or more.

3. In Hoi An, you can do yoga on the beach and yoga in a rice paddy with Stephanie from Hoi An Yoga.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

What’s the #1 thing solo female travelers are struggling with?

87% of readers answered “Fear!” when asked what they were struggling with in terms of travel.

(psssst…scroll down for a bigger version of this infographic)

So what about the other 13% of readers?

Fear was always at the core of what stopped a solo female traveler from taking the plunge and seeing the world.

Some miscellaneous answers included:

  • “I’m afraid the bathrooms will be gross.”
  • “I’d love to work while traveling, but what would my partner do while I was working?”
  • “I’m overwhelmed because I have no clue where to go next.”
  • “I’ve been traveling for a while, but now I’m in a city I love and I feel guilty about not traveling anymore.”

Whatever fears or beliefs might be stopping you from traveling, you’re not alone.

THPTravelStats

If your core concern has to do with safety, check out this post.

If you’re worried about making money to travel, try this one.

If the thought of eating dinner alone makes you squeamish, click here.

If you didn’t get a chance to weigh in, shoot me an email so I can help you bust through your fears and make your dream trip a reality – rebekah@thehappypassport.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

No Privacy Nepal

The man’s hand is cool on my forehead. The room is dark and his traditional flat-topped hat is silhouetted against the light leaking in from the flimsy, hung tapestry that serves as a door.

Like everyone else in the village, he has waltzed right into my sick room without knocking – not that there is even a door to knock upon.

After the incident at the river, The Mother, and possibly even Deepak, is finally convinced that I am ill and must rest.

And eat. Lots and lots of food.

In addition to plastic bottles filled with warm, stagnant water, women and children parade into the bedroom with dish after dish of what I assume they think will cure me.

I try to explain to Deepak that I cannot eat, that eating is what got me into this mess in the first place.

He’s not getting it.

“You just try” he says.

And I do, knowing full well the little bit of rice and soup I manage to ingest is coming right back up.

I’ve been placed in the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. DeKash, and if I wasn’t about to hurl, might feel a bit strange lying on the same rock-hard slab that serves as their marriage bed. This is where he makes love. With no doors, with people coming in and out whenever they please, with no secrets, no privacy anywhere.

Do they try to be quiet? Are they as loud as they please and everyone hears them and it’s fine because they’re married?

The tall man with the flattop hat removes his hand from my forehead and abruptly leaves the room, shouting something important-sounding to someone outside.

I wonder for a moment if he’s the village medicine man, or the mayor. His towering height must’ve been rewarded with some position of power.

Two humble shelves have been attached to the stone wall above my sick bed. One holds a stick of deodorant, a bottle of lotion, a pink plastic comb, and a tiny hand mirror.

The second shelf holds a carefully-coiled cell phone charger and a photograph of The Mother and Deepak’s father on their wedding day. They are sitting two feet apart from each other, unsmiling, having been positioned in front of an enormous Mount Everest backdrop. I’m certain when looking at the picture that it’s the only one she’s ever had taken of herself, the only one she’s ever kept.

Other photographs and posters dot the walls – Army Brother in his uniform, which makes him look exactly like Bullwinkle; a decorative plate that must’ve been someone’s wedding gift; a poster of a famous Bollywood actress baring her midriff.

The young boy who has remained at my bedside since the Mayor left stares at me expectantly, watching to see if I’m going to die, which he seems to think would be a pretty cool thing to see.

I can’t entertain him, and allow my eyes to close, knowing full well that he’s still standing six inches from me, staring at me intently.

Feeling like shit is a really quick, easy way to let all of your cultural conditioning about privacy and boundaries go out the window.

In and out, in and out they come. There’s a foreigner in the village! An American! A woman! She threw up in Parvarti’s river! And the Mayor says she’s going to die!

I’m the most exciting thing that’s happened since Shiva’s buffalo from two farms over was born with an extra leg. 

When the latest horde of visitors gets bored and decides to go torment the goats (who, by the way, have been in and out of my sick room as well), there is a lone figure leaning against the doorless doorway.

I squint in the din, looking for Deepak’s easy smile, but the lips are upturned in a smirk.

“You are sick” says DeKash, Deepak’s younger, unruly, inconveniently attractive brother.

We are alone in the room and through the stench of vomit and sweat and misery, my body still responds to him, inviting him closer.

“This is my room” says Dekash.

I know. More like this is your bed. The bed where you get naked with your wife after The Mother is finally asleep, being careful not to wake the snoozing buffalo.

His English is light years better than Deepak’s, perhaps that’s why Deepak is nowhere to be found. I’ve been pawned off on the women for health, on DeKash for conversation.

His presence makes something spin inside me, and the last thing my stomach needs is more spinning.  Another wave of nausea overtakes me, and I am sitting up frantically, pushing past DeKash, running for the “toilet.”

Everyone can hear me retching, it is everywhere, I am naked in front of these strangers, these judging eyes. The cement slab beneath the water pump is filled with my mess, and I can’t help but wonder how on earth people shit here.

Cold sweat breaks out on my forehead, I’m squatting in the filth, my nose and face a mess, shaking, tears leaking from my eyes.

Suddenly I feel two dry, warm hands pressed against my forehead, not letting go. They hold me fast, steadying me, calming the shakes. Hands well practiced at soothing, at making everything OK.

I place my hand over the mystery hands in gratitude, saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I cannot look at her but I know they are the hands of The Mother.

Without standing up, I reach my hand up, trying to touch the handle of the water pump with my fingers.

“Please” I beg, gesturing to the vomit, the mess I’ve made of their super weird toilet. “Please.”

She understands that I want it gone, I need it cleaned, I am ashamed.

I sit squatting on wet cement, the buffalo yawning at my plight, while The Mother pumps and pumps the water until all the evidence has been washed through the narrow openings in the grid covering the drain.

At rock bottom, squatting in one’s own filth, the perks of communal living begin to become apparent.

I am one of the flock, I need to be looked after. I must accept the help that’s offered me, for my own good and for the good of everyone here.

Each individual in the community is one limb of a connected body that survives or perishes based on how everyone works together.

They haven’t been barging into my sickroom because they’re curious. They’re naturally interested in my fate because it impacts them directly – in communal Nepal, all illnesses, recoveries, victories and defeats are suffered by all and celebrated by all.

It’s taken the steadying strength of The Mother’s warm hands to make me begin to see the enormous benefit, the enormous power, of living life this way.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

 

 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

When one takes it upon oneself to get food poisoning in a remote village in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Nepal, one must be prepared to live like the Nepalese do in such a village.

That means whatever is coming up (and/or out) of your body is everybody's business, and that the town mayor may very well enter your sick room, place his hand on your forehead, and utter the curse of the dead to the delight of a dozen gawking children.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Free Tibet: Let the Voices of Oppression Be Heard

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Living in a place with so many Tibetan refugees, reading the Dalai Lama’s autobiography Freedom in Exile, and then hearing him speak during the famous and important kalachakra practice here in Ladakh has prompted me to do some research into the fascinating country of Tibet and it’s devastating and unfortunately ongoing downfall.

The Dalai Lama was exiled to India in 1959, where he has since lived as a refugee with over 100,000 other Tibetans.  This exile came about after having tried to negotiate with the Chinese government for a decade once they began their disastrous take-over of Tibet in 1949.

At just fifteen, the fourteenth Dalai Lama was faced not only with the prospect of becoming the spiritual and governmental leader of six million people, but also with the impending doom brought on by the invading Chinese army and the thought of war.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army invaded during the 1950s in order to “peacefully liberate Tibet,” a ruse ridiculous on every front because a) Tibet needed liberation from no one, it was its own free and happy country, and b) because the following fifty-five years of torture, execution, and war have proven that China’s intentions have been anything but peaceful.

At the beginning the fighting was kept to a minimum in Lhasa as to keep the Dalai Lama in the dark as to what was really going on. Gradually, horrific stories emerged from the countryside where the Chinese had completely taken over.

During years of war and oppression the PLA destroyed thousands of monasteries and tortured, imprisoned, and slaughtered thousands of innocent lives in the most brutal ways imaginable.

Along with increased amounts of violence, the cultural revolution then imposed laws against religion, free speech, and virtually every other aspect of the Tibetan’s traditional lifestyle.

Though they tried to fight back, they were untrained, lacked ammunition and weapons, and were overwhelmingly outnumbered by their obviously much larger oppressor.

Tibet, which had been independent for decades, suddenly found itself engulfed and overtaken by its powerful and ruthless neighbor who would stop at nothing to conquer its people and culture by force.

“Your attitude is good you know” said chairman Mao in 1954 during the Dalai Lama’s visit to China. “Religion is poison. Firstly, it reduces the population, because monks and nuns must stay celibate, and secondly it neglects material progress.”

Mao had greatly underestimated the Dalai Lama who, though he thought parts of Marxism were great (equality for all), knew that material progress was not what counted and that the abolishment of religion would destroy humanity.

In 1957 the situation worsened when China forced monks and nuns to have sex in public, formally ending their vows of celibacy, while the army beat, starved, and raped thousands of others.

This lead to the 1959 Tibetan rebellion during which the Dalai Lama fled to India. China had requested the Dalai Lama’s appearance in secret and without body guards to a celebration, and when the people of Lhasa found out, thousands upon thousands arrived at his palace to protect him.

This was the official beginning of the uprising, which was spurred into action two days later when the Tibetans took to the streets declaring their independence. Then, a week later when the Dalai Lama fled into exile, the Chinese opened fire upon his palace and his people, killing tens of thousands over the coming days.

Nearly thirty years after China had invaded it attempted to get both the Dalai Lama and many of his fellow refugees to return to Tibet.

China wanted to show everyone that it was doing well after the atrocities of the cultural revolution began to leak out to a horrified world. The government wanted to prove that Tibet had indeed progressed under its regime and that it’s people were “as happy as ever.”

The Dalai Lama, being slow to trust China after everything it had done, sent out many delegations of people in order to see what was truly happening in his country.

The delegates, including the Dalai Lama’s brother, were mobbed by thousands of sobbing Tibetans in every village they passed through which caused great distress to the Chinese authorities. Though the spirits of his people were not yet broken and the oppression had united them like never before, his delegates came back with films, photos, and stories that depicted how ruthlessly and systematically the Chinese had worked to destroy their culture.

There were years of famine, countless human rights violations, and the deaths of thousands of nuns and monks in concentration camps.

Sure, there were more hospitals and schools, just as China had promised, but not for the native Tibetans to use, only for the invading Chinese. Progress in his country had flown backwards since the Chinese had come and the Dalai Lama knew it was critical to appeal to the Western world for help, an attempt that sadly didn’t amount to much.

By the 1980’s China had begun its last phase in its conquest of Tibet, one that is still going on today.

In order to wipe out the Tibetan culture by sheer force of numbers, the government has been offering compensation (higher wages, housing…) for Chinese willing to move into Tibet.

Because of this there are more than twice as many Chinese than Tibetans residing in the region. They have deprived the natives of their resources, have ruined the environment (in some cases beyond repair), and have overtaken Tibetan culture by restricting the people’s lives in every domain.

It is now said that there is more of the Tibetan culture left in India where the refugees have settled than in their own homeland. Even to this day  in Tibet, religion, the Dalai Lama, and anything to do with the old Tibet are strictly forbidden.

2008 marked the largest protest for a Free Tibet in over fifty years. Six thousand Tibetans were arrested or beaten for possessing a picture of the Dalai Lama, waving a Tibetan flag, or showing that they are still Tibetan in any way. 

Since 2011, there have been over one hundred monks and nuns participating in self-immolations as well as other protests in a desperate cry for their oppression to be acknowledged. 

In response, China has tightened its security and brutality against the people in their conquest to completely eradicate their culture.

Since 1951 over one million Tibetans have been killed, with over 6,000 monasteries destroyed.

Tibet and it’s people are literally being whipped off the map through routine and widespread torture and oppression, and along with North Korea and Syria, Tibet is ranked as one of the most repressed countries in the world.

The Dalai Lama has traveled around the world in a way none of his predecessors were able to do and has used this opportunity to spread his global message of peace and compassion (winning him the noble peace prize in 1989).

For the last 45 years, he has tried to make the world aware of the devastating situation still happening today in his homeland.

Tibet is nowhere close to being free unless something drastic is done, and even if that happens soon, one can only hope that all of these years of violent oppression haven’t completely destroyed the Tibetan culture to the point of no return.

As the Dalai Lama himself says, “My countrymen and women are today in grave danger of becoming nothing more than a tourist attraction in their own country.”

Shirine Taylor is a solo female backpacker cycling around the world. This post originally appeared on her blog, awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

photo courtesy of National Geographic

Have you traveled to Tibet?

Would you travel there given the situation?  Is “ethical travel” in Tibet possible?

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Traveling Alone Vs. Traveling With a Partner

Traveling alone is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world, an experience I believe every traveler should take advantage of at some point during his or her life.

Traveling alone enables you the freedom to do what you want, when you want, while showing you more about yourself than you ever thought possible.

As a solo traveler you are normally more social as well, going out of your way to meet locals and travelers alike because you don’t constantly have someone by your side. You end up creating long lasting friendships that defy distance and time.

But what happens when you meet your partner and you begin to travel as two instead of one?

Travel as a couple is supposed to be perfect, right? Visiting romantic, exotic places together, sharing new dishes at sunset, and visiting the world’s tallest peaks or most serene lakes hand in hand.

It’s impossible not to romanticize. After traveling alone for nearly two years, I have recently begun traveling with my partner, and though I wouldn’t exchange the experience for the world, I have realized that each type of travel – traveling as a couple and traveling alone – has its perks and disadvantages.

Our trip together started out rough.

Within a week of my partner joining me in Nepal he fell ill with everything from giardia to typhoid fever. His illness prevented us from cycling (a bummer when you have set out to cycle around the world) and completing a trek I had been waiting six months to do.

I was distraught. How was it that life was no longer going my way, that I was suddenly unable to do the things I wanted to do because of someone else?

But that’s the thing with traveling as two –  you learn to compromise. You learn to put the other person first even when it’s the last thing you truly want to do, and you learn to work around problems together rather than separately, just like you would need to in a successful relationship back home.

Just because we are on the road doesn’t mean that all of our troubles have disappeared, it just means we are faced with different ones than we would be back home.

Now that we have settled into more of a routine, a give and take that I have realized is extremely important while traveling with someone else, I love traveling with my guy.

For the first time, I have someone to share my adventures and stories with, someone who understands how hard the last pass was to cycle over or how great our last camping spot in the mountains was.

Traveling with someone is also a great way to strengthen and improve your relationship as it enables you both to work together through stressful or unusual situations.

Traveling with somebody shows you who that person truly is because you’re with them constantly, and enables them to see you clearly as well. It’s a learning experience, once that requires time and patience to perfect, but one that also provides both of you with an enormous reward, the beauty of traveling as two.

So which is right for you? If you are alone, take advantage of this time to explore the world for yourself in your own way, unhindered by anything but your own imagination.

And if you have already found that special person you want to travel with, then go for it instead, because travel as two is an adventure all its own.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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12-City Southeast Asia Travel Itinerary

Planning Southeast Asia travel can be really daunting.

There are a million places to see and things to do, and if your time and budget are limited it can be tough to pick and choose where to go and when.

That’s why I’ve laid out this year’s Southeast Asia circle tour in detail.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed while planning your trip, you can simply follow in my footsteps!

Below I’ve listed

  • Which city/country I visited
  • What hotel/hostel/guest house I stayed at
  • The best thing I did/saw in that city
  • How much time I spent there
  • What to watch out for
  • How I traveled between each city (bus/train/plane)

Let’s go!

1. Vientiane, Laos

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Where I stayed: The Funky Monkey Hostel – private room for $12/night. This place definitely had a hostel vibe, but the private rooms are on a different floor from the dorms so they’re pretty quiet.

The best thing I did: Visited Buddha Park

How long I stayed: 6 days – if you’re not working as you travel, you can easily see all there is to see in Vientiane in 1 or 2 days.

Watch out for: The Lonely Planet Guide to Laos, which says you can take a bus to Buddha Park. In fact, you can only take a bus to the Friendship Bridge. From there you have to take a 50,000 kip tuk tuk to Buddha Park.

Also, don’t buy electronics (ear buds, cell phone chargers) at the “Apple Store” in the Talat Sao mall. They’re shit quality and will break as soon as you buy them.

How I got out: 12+ hour bus ride to Luang Prabang.

2. Luang Prabang, Laos

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Where I stayed: Central Backpackers Hostel – very hostely, private rooms from $12+/night, thin walls, noisy, friendly staff, slow WiFi, free breakfast but it’s pretty gross (and I’ve had a LOT of free hotel breakfasts on my journey).

The best thing I did: It’s a toss up between a trek with Tiger Trail and teaching English to the monks at Big Brother Mouse.

How long I stayed: 2 weeks.

Watch out for: Flies at food stalls in the day market, scammy tuk tuk drivers, women on the street who ask you to “come talk to my daughter, she just happens to be leaving for college in the town you happen to be from, won’t you come have dinner at our house?” (SCAM! RUN!)

How I got out: Mini-bus to Nong Khiaw (3-4+ hours)

3. Nong Khiaw, Laos (and Muang Ngoi Neua)

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Where I stayed: The Sunrise Bungalows ($10/night for a private riverside bungalow. Beautiful, bare bones but your own bathroom and balcony. Pray your neighbors are quiet because you’re basically sleeping outside and can hear everything).

The best thing I did: Hiked to “the Lookout Point” – it’s a tough hike up the main mountain in town and may take you a good 90 minutes to reach the summit, but the stunning views are more than worth it.

How long I stayed: 6 days. There’s not much to do here but relax. I could’ve stayed longer.

Watch out for: Noise. The set up couldn’t be more peaceful (picture yourself lounging in a hammock on a balcony that overlooks a sweeping river gorge below), but there is constant thumping music coming from the boat dock and noisy boats passing by all day.

How I got out: Mini-bus back to Luang Prabang followed by a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.

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A note about Muang Ngoi Neua:  This is a tiny river village about an hour’s boat ride north of Nong Khiaw. I stayed here for one night at a bungalow owned by a Swiss guy named Gabriel. (He’ll be the only white guy waiting at the boat landing and he’ll walk you to the bungalow himself). It’s definitely worth a visit but keep in mind that it’s off the grid completely – Lonely Planet says there is WiFi but THERE IS NOT. There is barely cell reception. 

4. Hanoi, Vietnam

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Where I stayed: Lakeside Hostel and Hanoi Hostel on several different occasions. Both were around $12/night for a private room. Lakeside has smelly rooms without windows and unfriendly staff. Hanoi Hostel has friendlier staff, good free breakfast, and large (if a bit dusty) private rooms.

The best thing I did: Walked around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake area. There is so much to see in Hanoi simply walking around – the colors, the people, the sites and smells are simply brilliant. Seeing Tet fireworks over the lake on Vietnamese New Year’s Eve was stunning too.

How long I stayed: 5 days, then two weeks, then on and off again for a day or two here and there. Hanoi is a travel hub so if you’re journeying to Cat Ba, Sa Pa or southern cities you’ll probably have to stay here and depart from here.

Watch out for: Scammy taxi drivers, scammy street vendors. Do your research on what things should cost before you go, and don’t be afraid to bargain and/or walk away if the price is too high.

How I got out: Bus/boat/bus combo to Cat Ba Island.

5. Cat Ba, Vietnam

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Where I stayed: Ali Baba’s Hotel and Restaurant

The best thing I did: Boat tour of Ha Long Bay and the floating villages surrounding Cat Ba

How long I stayed: 6 days initially, then I went back later for 6 weeks

Watch out for: Slow WiFi, no computer shops, nowhere to get a bikini wax.

How I got out: Bus/boat/bus back to Hanoi, followed by a 16-hour bus ride to Da Nang.

6. Da Nang, Vietnam

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Where I stayed: Sea Wonder Hotel near the beach – $14/night, semi-private balcony, walking distance to the beach. Friendly staff, the food in the downstairs restaurant is decent but overpriced.

The best thing I did: Hiked to the big Buddha statue at the base of Monkey Mountain – the views of Da Nang from here are simply stunning. The Cham Museum in town is also worth a visit. There are also beautiful bridges lining the river that leads to the ocean – at night they are lit up in stunning electric.

How long I stayed: 8 days. You may not stay as long if you want something more touristy. Da Nang has beautiful beaches, great coffee culture, and amazing seafood, but it is very much a ‘local’s town’ – not many tourists, simply a shining, modern city where regular Vietnamese people live and work. I loved it here.

Watch out for: No menus in English depending on where you go, less English spoken here than in Hanoi or HCMC. Also, if you stay by the beach you should rent a motorbike b/c it gets pricey taking a taxi to and from the ‘downtown’ part of the city (where you’ll want to go for dinner, museums, etc).

How I got out: Motorbiked down to Hoi An, returned by motorbike then flew to HCMC.

7. Hoi An, Vietnam

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Where I stayed: Jolie Homestay – $16/night for a huge private room in a house with a very kind Vietnamese family.

The best thing I did: Hard to choose – I loved taking the Hoi An Photography Tour almost as much as I loved swimming with the locals at An Bang Beach.

How long I stayed: 4 days initially. I’m actually back in Hoi An for the summer because I loved it so much (at the time of writing I’ve now been here for 5 weeks).

Watch out for: Scammy food vendors (a baguette should NOT cost 15,000 dong, it should be 10,000 or less!) My friend got pick pocketed here by way of a very common ‘coin scam’. If someone wants to show you their coins or see your coins, run.

How I got out: Motorbike back up to Da Nang then flew to HCMC.

8. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-hcmc

Where I stayed: The Spring House Hotel in District 1. $17+/night. Very much a hotel. Nice enough room, no free breakfast, good location across from the park and a block away from some seriously astounding nightlife.

The best thing I did: Visited the War Remnants Museum. I can’t begin to express how moved and shaken I was by this experience.

How long I stayed: 5 days. You could easily go higher or lower, the city is positively massive and I didn’t begin to explore all it has to offer.

Watch out for: Motorbike pick pockets. Hang on to your stuff and make sure to utilize zippers.

How I got out: Bus to Sa Dec booked through the hotel.

9. Sa Dec, Vietnam

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Where I stayed: Thao Ngan Hotel. $11/night. Pure hotel, windows that looked out onto a brick wall. Close to the market and the bus station.

The best thing I did: Enjoyed the best pho I had in Vietnam. The restaurant is called Pho Hien. From the hotel, walk across the bridge back toward the bus station and it will be on your left, set back away from the street.

How long I stayed: 4 days. The only thing “to do” here is to see the The Lover house – a local one-story abode made famous because it used to be owned by the nameless lover featured in Marguerite Duras’ novel.

Watch out for: Scammy cab drivers and scammy transpo in general. The taxi driver that took me from the bus station to the hotel tried to charge me about 10x what it should have cost. The hotel also massively overcharged for a bus ticket out of town.

How I got out: Local bus to Chau Doc.

10. Chau Doc, Vietnam

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Where I stayed: Trung Nguyen Hotel across from the main market in town. $15/night. Balcony. Free breakfast and transpo to the boat to Cambodia (which is why you stay in Chau Doc – to catch the fast boat to Phnom Penh).  

The best thing I did: Walked along the riverfront. It’s amazing to watch people living their lives on the water – eating dinner on their tiny wooden boats, paddling across the wide waters standing upright, living their lives on floating structures.

How long I stayed: 1 night

Watch out for: Not much English spoken here – if you need help ask at your hotel before leaving the building. Tuk tuk drivers will ask for tips for taking you 100 yards.

How I got out: The fast boat to Cambodia arranged through my hotel.

11. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

southeast-asia-travel-pp

Where I stayed: The Mad Monkey Hostel. Friendly staff. Privates from $13/night. Overpriced Western food in the downstairs restaurant. The first floor is a bar and the music pumps all day and night and can be heard in the upstairs rooms.

I was so irritated with this I changed to the Salita Hotel in the central part of the city. Three times the price but much, much nicer (and quieter!).

The best thing I did: Feasted in the night market near the river. There are a lot of different markets to see in Phnom Penh and lots to do. By the time I got here I was beat and could only manage to gorge myself on street food.

How long I stayed: 6 days.

Watch out for: Oppressive heat, pollution/car exhaust, pick pockets, traffic, diarrhea, and – say it with me now – scammy tuk tuk drivers.

How I got out: Mini-bus to Siem Reap.

12. Siem Reap, Cambodia

southeast-asia-travel-siemreap

Where I stayed: Sam So Guest House. Best free breakfast of them all, incredibly friendly staff, $12/night for a private ($17/night if you want air-con).

The best thing I did: Angkor Wat was incredible, but I really loved taking a private motorbike tour with my friend Ratha who showed me the surrounding villages and countryside outside the city. (If you’re in Siem Reap and want to see “the real Cambodia,” email me and I’ll put you in touch with Ratha).

How long I stayed: 3 weeks. You can do Angkor Wat in a day, or in 3 days, or in a week. The area is enormous and the ruins seem to never end. But Siem Reap is a lovely river town, a great place to live and work. I found it to be a fantastic resting place to relax at the end of 3 months of hectic Southeast Asia travel.

Watch out for: Theft. I never had anything stolen but have heard countless stories of people getting their phones jacked. Also, watch out for “the milk scam” – if a kid comes up to you begging for you to buy her milk (for “her baby” or “her sister”), don’t do it.

She has a deal with whatever store she takes you to where she can sell the milk back to the store for cash. Cash that she then gives to her “keeper” (like a pimp for begging kids) so the child you think you’re helping does not benefit in any way.

How I got out: Flew to Hanoi because one month was not enough time in Vietnam!

Where will you go on your Southeast Asia travel itinerary? 

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Makalu: Trekking the Himalayas

The last four hours trekking the Himalayas haven’t been that bad. In fact, even though I have gained nearly 1,000 meters of altitude, it’s been pretty fun! That is, until 10 minutes ago….

Unfortunately, the last ten minutes have proven that the rest of the day is about to get a whole lot slower.

For the first time in over a decade there is still snow on the route, snow that has normally melted by the end of February but will clearly be here at least a few more weeks.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love snow. I absolutely love the mountains, and usually when I see snow, I feel right at home being from a cold snowy place myself.

But I guess it’s a little different when that snow is greatly hindering your progress up a never ending vertical slope.

After a few more hours of panting and slipping I arrive, completely soaked, to a small house in the middle of nowhere.

This guest house, called a tea house in the trekking regions of Nepal, is run by a Tibetan Nepali woman, and is open throughout the season in order to provide climbers a dry place to sleep and eat on their approach to Makalu, the fifth tallest mountain in the world.

 

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Though there are other trekkers who simply wish to visit the base camp, this area is mostly composed of true mountaineers, many of whom have already climbed some of the world’s most renowned peaks such as K2 and Everest.

I order a “dalbaht,” the typical rice and lentils found everywhere in Nepal, and though it’s much more expensive than usual, I understand why.

As we are now a four day’s walk from civilization, the food has to be carried up here everyday in order for us trekkers and climbers to eat.

In fact, on my way through the snow I met three teenage boys racing down the hill (in flip flops no less!). They were making their way down the mountain to a lower supply village in order to fill up the empty baskets on their heads, and then begin the long trudge back up the steep snowy slopes.

It is wet and cold as I set up the tent, and throughout the next two nights trekking the Himalayas I realize that the weather in this particular area is absolutely miserable.

The clouds are constant and the cold is bone-chilling because everything is so wet. I do get a fifteen minute break at sunrise though, and realize that the giant Himalayas are indeed surrounding us, tantalizing us by staying so hidden most of the time. 

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After talking with the lady who runs this tea house I realize that her family owns the guest houses farther along this trek as well.

While she is in charge of this one, her husband caters to the one on the other side of the gigantic pass in front of us. And beyond that, her husband’s brother is stationed at the next one.

Their children are all in private boarding schools lower down, and one is even going to school in Kathmandu. There is good money in running a tea house such as this, but it is also a lot of work.

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The woman is up at dawn preparing tea and food for the climbers and trekkers who want to get an early start to the day, and then spends the rest of the morning cleaning up in order to prepare for the next group who may or may not be trekking the Himalayas that day. 

It is cold, and in this case, very snowy, and to run this guest house she is forced to live away from her family for months at a time.

I’m thankful she is here though. Even though I am carrying a fair amount of food and am mostly self-sufficient due to the tent, there is no way I could carry enough to last me along this twenty-day trek without being able to buy meals at the mountain tea houses such as this one.

The Makalu base camp trek is a great alternative for trekkers who want something less crowded and popular than the overrun treks of Annapurna and Everest.

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Situated in the East, it’s inaccessibility is what keeps most people away as it requires a twenty-five hour bus ride (or half an hour flight) from Kathmandu to reach the last town in the area where the trek begins.

The long travel overland is more than worth it for the beauty this twenty-day trek grants you, and the peacefulness of being nearly alone among the 8,000-meter giants.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Trekking the Himalayas doesn't have to mean over-touristed circuits like Annapurna and Everest.

Head east of Kathmandu to Makalu for isolation and amazing views!

It takes 25 hours by bus to reach the trail head from Kathmandu, so be prepared to be surrounded by hardcore adventure travelers and true mountaineers.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Why Vietnamese Women Don’t Get Fat

Before I came to Vietnam, I was under the impression that Vietnamese women, and Asian women in general, were simply genetically gifted.

That is to say, I thought they just came out of the womb tiny and beautiful, and naturally stayed that way their entire lives without having to exude any sort of extra effort to do so.

After all, the  typical Vietnamese woman or Thai woman is all of the things Western women strive to be – thin, petite, with gorgeous straight hair and creamy, chestnut-colored skin (skin they spend their lives trying to whiten, but that’s another post).

They don’t get fat. They don’t age. They seem to be walking miracles of beauty, earthly Goddesses who can get away with wearing pajamas in public and somehow still manage to look fantastic.

Imagine my surprise when, after nearly four months in Vietnam, I began to realize that Vietnamese women put in a monstrous effort in order to remain tiny and thin and beautiful.

Sure, a small part of their good looks can be traced to genetic good fortune, but a larger part has to do with cultural habits that are woven into the fabric of their day.

Here are 7 things Vietnamese women do (and don’t do) in order to keep looking and feeling their best.

Warning: This post is filled with gross generalizations. 

1. They don’t eat wheat

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Notice I didn’t say carbs, I said wheat. There is a whole lot of rice being consumed here on the daily, but hardly any wheat or other grains. Noodles, dumplings, it’s all made out of rice.

A typical meal at my guesthouse consists of rice with a small serving of fish or meat (typically pork) plus vegetables and soup. No bread, no pasta, nothing fried, nothing microwaved.

It’s interesting to note that it’s most definitely white rice too, not supposedly-healthier brown rice we’ve always heard is better for you.

2. Their desserts aren’t sweet

You’d be hard-pressed to see a Vietnamese woman mowing down on some cake – heck, you’d be hard-pressed to find cake. One day at the beach I decided to treat myself to an ice cream cone, and I was given some sort of cross between sorbet and gelato – definitely not the creamy, fatty goodness I was looking for.

Traditional desserts are naturally sweet and include things like coconut, coconut milk, peanuts, fruit, and even beans. The other night I tried some kind of green tea gelatin thing, which was light years away from the Western idea of a dessert.

It’s brilliant thinking – make desserts kind of gross and no one will want them.

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Vietnamese women (and men, and kids!) also eat a lot of fruit. Fruit is incorporated into one’s daily diet – sometimes as dessert, sometimes as a snack.

But even the fruits aren’t as sweet as ours are – many are sour, bitter. People’s palettes are different, trained to enjoy foods that are healthy and dislike foods that are heavy, sugary, fatty.

My friend Tina took me for “dessert” one day and we had large glasses filled with all different types of fruit.

“Do you want sugar in yours?” she asked.

“Does the rain in Spain stay mainly in the plain?” I replied.

After we’d finished, I asked her if she had also gotten her dessert “with sugar.”

“Of course not” was her reply.

3. They don’t drink beer

After 3 months in Vietnam I have seen exactly two Vietnamese women drink beer. The first was this terribly obnoxious person who I think was on drugs, the second was my guest owner who indulged in half a glass of beer while out to dinner for a special occasion.

Beer, alcohol, and cigarettes are considered “men’s business” in Vietnam. It’s not ladylike to walk around sloshed, but it’s also not practical – women need to be stone cold sober so the house stays clean and the kids stay fed.

Thanks to these cultural roles and beliefs, the women also don’t develop beer bellies.

4. They LOVE to exercise

vietnamese-women-exercise

The Vietnamese love to go to the beach and play in the water (though many don’t/can’t swim). They also love to exercise every day!

Whether it’s outdoor aerobics in the park or Tai Chi in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, they are out there, working it, in the early mornings or late afternoons.

vietnamese-women-beach

It also helps that in many cities across Asia there are outdoor exercise parks – imagine your health club, except outside, and free. Fitness is not only a cultural priority, it’s government-sanctioned.

5. They play with their kids

My current guest house owner is the general manager of a hotel and works up to 60 hours a week. But the second she comes home, she’s down on the floor, rolling around with her 9-year old daughter and 18-month old son.

They play, they dance, they sing, they laugh. Family time is a top priority, and I swear the calories she burns from chasing the baby around are a big part of what keeps her so slim.

6. Their food is labor-intensive

The Vietnamese make it really difficult to eat, which means they eat less, which in turn keeps them thin.

You can’t simply shovel food into your mouth, because that food first has to be unshelled, de-boned, pitted, separated, or defrocked in some way.

Nothing is packaged, most foods come straight from the source. So if you’re having shrimp, you first need to remove the shell and the head and the legs. And that takes time.

vietnamese-women-featured

At the end of your meal, you’ve spent about 50% of your time preparing to eat, and 50% actually eating. The end result is less food ends up in your stomach (and on your hips).

I think this technique in particular would be great for Americans. Make it harder for us to get at the pie – like, put it behind a locked glass door or at the end of a complicated maze – and we’re much less likely to eat it. Too much effort.

7. They’re constantly on the move

Vietnamese women are always on the move. My guest house owner is back and forth from work to home a half dozen times per day. She’s taking the kids to school, picking them up, going back to work, running to the market, and on and on and on, all day every day.

You might be saying “But Rebekah, I’m a stressed out mess and I’m constantly on the move too, how come I don’t weight 90 pounds?”

vietnamese-women-manual-labor

The difference between our running around and the running around of Vietnamese women is that they do it joyfully.

If I have 87 places to go in a single day, I’m stressed out and grumbling. If Phuong has 87 places to go, she thinks nothing of it.

Why?

Because she has no sense of entitlement. We have this secret belief that we shouldn’t have to do all these errands – that someone else should be doing them for us.

We resent hard work, which is the main factor that leads to our increased stress levels (and we all watch Dr. Oz – stress is the #1 cause of weight gain!)

Vietnamese women, on the other hand, have no inkling that they shouldn’t have to work hard – they expect it. They accept it.

And because of that, life flows through them in a way that keeps them healthy and content with just enough.

Which of these habits could you see yourself adopting into your own life?

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. They don't eat wheat

2. Their desserts aren't sweet

3. They don't drink beer

4. They LOVE to exercise

5. They play with their kids

6. Their food is labor-intensive

7. They're constantly on the move

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Women of Nepal: At home in the kitchen

The family knew that Christmas was the Achilles’ heel of Westerners.

There were a few scattered festivals and parades throughout the town, but they were all presented in a way that lacked the cheer of the season.

A lone, Charlie Brown Christmas tree guarded the entrance to an alleyway on Lakeside Drive, and a handful of restaurants hung a few extra lights in honor of the season.

Many wrote “Happy Christmas” or simply “Christmas!” on the chalkboard signs that served to entice customers to enter, but besides the copious amount of mulled wine Chris and the brunette had enjoyed together, there wasn’t much that felt like Christmas.

And so Christmas was the family’s chance to unwrap her, unwrap the mystery of the writing room, find out more about the man who came to visit in the mornings, about the days at a time when she’d disappear completely and sometimes call them to say she wouldn’t be returning, but that of course she’d still be paying for the room.

The wife had prepared a special dinner – dried buffalo meat as an appetizer, followed by an extra special dahlbat with curried vegetables and potatoes and a beautiful, rich yogurt that may as well have been a dessert.

The brunette brought a handle of Red Stag at the husband’s request – it was his favorite, expensive.

Chris had managed to find a bottle of red wine which had definitely turned, but that him and the brunette drank anyway, painful sip after painful sip.

The husband talked about American music, then American movies, then American books.

The wife hid in the kitchen, periodically appearing to disperse more and more food. The sons were lost in a football match on the tiny television set, and the husband eventual lost himself in the bourbon.

And so it was that the Christmas dinner belonged to the two of them alone, surrounded as they were by an entire family, a silent family who spoke to each other and not to them, a wife who, as was custom, never joined the table to impart in the meal she’d just so painstakingly created.

And all they could see on this, this Christmas Eve, was each other, laughing across the table. Laughing, eating and drinking as the only two people on earth, until the yawns of the family forced them to retire to the brunette’s guest room.

“You make it feel like Christmas” said the brunette, and Chris’s heart swelled in his chest, ripe to burst.

They sat in the little alcove created by a table and two chairs, their stockinged feet upon the table, him smoking, her drinking, both marveling at how the wife never joined them.

“I feel bad she never ate! When does she eat?”

“It must be perfectly normal. It must be a woman’s duty, a wife’s duty.”

“It’s slavery. Indentured servitude. I’ll have none of it” he said.

“You’re such a feminist,” she said.

“Can you imagine slaving away for hours then standing by and watching while everyone else gets to eat, and no one even thanks you?”

“But to her, it’s honorable. To her, she is acting as a good wife. It’s only when you tell her something is wrong with it that she becomes dissatisfied.

And that’s what we do, isn’t it? Go around the planet telling people they she be dissatisfied with their lives, that they should want plasma screen televisions, that they should be discontent unless and until they have all the things we have, all the things we think we need to be happy.

And we do it not for them, but to convince ourselves that the pursuit of stuff is worth it – that the endless chase has some sort of purpose.

The most offensive person to the American ideal, the enemy of the ideal, is the person who is perfectly happy living a simple, quiet life without a car, without a nice house, without ego, without identity.

Shova is no one special. And Shova is happy as a clam. Her happiness defies everything we’ve been taught about what happiness should look like.

Happiness is waking early, lighting a stick of incense, and giving thanks for all the days that have brought you to this one.

I see the beauty in her eyes when she looks at her husband with pure adoration, and the tenderness with which he looks at her. And the honor and esteem she feels having cooked a wonderful meal her family enjoys, whether they say thank you or not. I see a woman who is thriving, at the top of her game, a woman who is living the dream.

We have decided there is no honor in her position, but she doesn’t know that, and because she doesn’t know that she is happy.

It is the greatest cruelty in the world to force your reality onto someone else, to say ‘See? What you have isn’t nearly good enough, you should be devastated.’

And I think that a lot of the time, that’s what we do when we come into developing countries trying to ‘help.’

But you know what? For all of our Western medicine and flat screen TVs and technology and individualism, all of our efforts to “fix” the “Third world,” it is our countries that are filled with miserable people.

People whose egos run their lives, people who are never content with what they have, people who have to schedule kid-time into their smartphone app, people so spoiled and stuffed with poison that they pay other people money so that they can eat less food, people who abuse themselves for decades then expect doctors to be able to fix them, people obsessed, obsessed, obsessed with fame and success, people who resent the famous and the successful, hypocrites who strive to be beautiful then hate those who achieve beauty, people for whom the best is never, never, never enough.

And me, and you, and all of those people could learn a thing or two from a woman breathing in and out, breathing life into her nostrils each morning as she lights her incense, with a song in her heart and on her lips, more than content with her lot, perfectly grateful to be of service, aware of the perfection of her position in the world, certain that she is blessed by her God and certain she is fulfilling his calling.”

He had listened to it all as he always did, letting her spew her ideas into the air of the room, watching her as whatever entity was speaking spoke through her. And he loved her fully and completely then.

“I still say she should open her own restaurant” he said softly, smiling.

She threw a pillow at him, laughing.

They regarded each other for a moment until she removed herself from the visual embrace, stepping out of it on tiptoe.

“You have to leave” she said suddenly with no explanation.

“Ok…” he tilted his head, confused. What had he done to offend her?

“It’s late” she said in way of explanation. A bullshit explanation.

He didn’t budge from his perch, and she sighed and stood up and began pacing the floor, backing her hips away as she’d done every night when they’d parted under the constellations.

“You have to leave because if you don’t leave, we’re going to make love, and I can’t. I just can’t.”

By Rebekah Voss. This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Nepal’s Holi Festival of Colors

As my face is gently smeared with color for the fourth time I suddenly think “Oh! So that’s how it’s done.”

While foreigners viciously throw the powdered color used to celebrate Holi Festival, the Nepalis smear it on your face. gently, with reverence. And I’m trusting them to know how it’s supposed to be done – it’s their holiday after all.

As I parade down the street with my group of friends, we are continually smeared with paint and shot with water guns. This mix of water and color creates a sloppy yet beautiful mess all over our faces and clothes. And little do we know, this is just the start to the crazy festival of colors known as Holi Festival. 

The screaming and singing confirms that we are close before I can see the thousands of colorful Nepalis dancing in the square.

We have followed the crowd, which has led us into the heart of the city to the scene of a bustling party of extreme proportions, and of course, color.

As we try and make our way through we are “attacked” from every side. Being a Westerner, every Nepali wants to smear their own handful of power on your cheeks no matter how covered you may already be.

It’s hard to make any progress when all you see are green, red, and yellow hands in front of your face, but I don’t mind. Today is all about the experience.

Holi-festival-2

A group of young Nepalis pull us into a dancing circle, and we suddenly find ourselves learning to dance as they do, the music pounding in our ears.

It’s fun, but as I prefer to watch, I quietly sneak out to the sidelines to observe.

Around me there are thousands of young Nepalis laughing and celebrating, and I realize that a city has rarely looked as alive as it does today.

Though smearing color may be the purpose of this gathering, it also looks like a perfectly good excuse for a day off to party, get together with friends, and celebrate life. It’s the buzzing atmosphere that makes this day feel so special.

We sit down to eat at a small outdoor restaurant and watch as children run up and down the street chasing each other with water and color, mercilessly pouring both down on their friend’s heads. What a festival indeed.

I have always seen documentaries of Holi Festival depicting this infamous color-throwing Hindu holiday, but I never thought I would get to experience it for real.

Holi-festival-3

 

Though I knew the holiday took place in India, it didn’t occur to me until I saw it with my own eyes that it would also be celebrated in Nepal. 

Being smeared with the powder myself fulfilled my lifelong dream of partaking in the chaotic festival of colors. Creating and receiving a mess has never been so much fun.

Have you experienced Holi Festival? Where? Would you do it again?

by Shirine Taylor a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Holi Festival takes place in Nepal as well as India, Bangladesh, South Africa, and many other countries around the world

2. One part of the Holi festival involves getting smeared head to toe with brightly colored paints, throwing paint at friends and strangers, and using water and water guns to liquefy paint powders

3. You probably don't want to bring your camera or smartphone to Holi Festival!!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Solo Travel Challenge: How to eat alone without feeling awkward

What is the biggest thing stopping you from indulging your fantasies of solo travel?

For many women, it’s not money, time, safety issues, or feeling overwhelmed with the details of planning your trip.

If you’re like a lot of people out there, you’re afraid of solo travel because you’re afraid of feeling lonely, and because you’re afraid of feeling awkward.

If you travel solo, you’ll have to do things like go out to dinner alone, go to museums alone, and engage in all sorts of activities that you’d normally do with a partner.

Solo travel is awesome for so many reasons, but namely because when you travel solo, you end up getting know a really incredible travel partner that you’ve probably been ignoring for years – you.

But you won’t realize that until you’re on the road, and my job is to help you get on the road already.

If you’re like Karen, one of my VIP coaching clients, the fear of eating alone is enough to make you scrap the whole trip altogether.

It’s sort of like not writing a novel because you’re a bad speller.

With that in mind, here is your handy dandy “spell checker”  for eating alone in restaurants when you travel solo.

1. Use your phone or bring a book

Your smartphone can serve as your dinner companion if you’re terrified of simply sitting at a table with no one to talk to. A book serves the same purpose.

In those awkward moments before your meal arrives, you can connect with friends and family on Facebook or dive into your favorite novel. This will keep you feeling connected and less lonely while eating alone.

2. Chat with the waitstaff

Almost every single one of my friendships with locals has begun in a restaurant.

Chat with your waiter or waitress – they’re friendly and they’ll have fantastic stories for you about where they come from and what life is like for them.

Then, go back to that same restaurant or café every day. Before long they’ll remember your name, and each time you return you’ll feel like you’re going to visit friends (which you are.)

Awkwardness = crushed.

3. People-watch

I hate to break it to you, but no one is looking at you and thinking “Oh how sad and pathetic, that woman is all alone, it must be because no one loves her and she tried really hard but just couldn’t get someone to join her for dinner.”

I promise no one is thinking that. (And if they are thinking that, they’re dicks and you wouldn’t want them in your life anyway.)

Why?

Because people aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.

If they are thinking about you, they’re most likely wondering what that confident, independent woman eating alone thinks about them as they sit with their significant other, envying you your freedom.

4. Have a cocktail

There’s nothing more romantic than a mysterious woman sitting by herself in an exotic location sipping a cocktail and watching the world go by. It’s pure sex on a stick. You must try it.

(Wine works too, but so does some kind of delectable coffee or tea concoction. Anything that comes in a fun glass. Milkshakes count.)

5. Don’t

As in, don’t eat alone.

During solo travel you never really have to eat alone unless you choose too.

I enjoy eating alone because I like to actually taste my food and enjoy the sensory experience of eating, but also because I’ve come to enjoy my own company.

I don’t have to be involved in a conversation every second of the day because I’m not trying to cover up some uncomfortable pain that I haven’t yet dealt with.

When you travel solo, you’ll get to that point to, but until you do, try eating with strangers.

I’ve already written about this phenomenon, but when you dine alone in a foreign country, people tend to invite you to eat with them. It’s happened to me countless times, and it will happen to you too.

In addition to invitations to join someone’s table, I’ve had countless people approach and ask to sit with me.  And I’ve always said yes.

Which means that you can feel free to approach people and ask to join them.

You might say “Hi, I’m so-and-so, I’m from XYZ country, do you mind if I join you?”

People will say yes because people are terrified of appearing rude. Then you’ll charm them with your sparkling personality and everyone will be glad you were brave enough to break the ice.

Bon Appetit!

The fear of solo travel is all the more reason to choose solo travel.

If you’re uncomfortable eating alone, going to the movies alone, or traveling alone, know that you’re not alone.

Most people are scared of the same things, which is why it’s rare to see people eating in restaurants alone, which is why you think you should feel awkward about it.

But here’s what’s actually going on – if you’re scared to eat alone, it’s means you’re either

a) terrified of what others think of you, or

b) terrified to be alone with yourself and your thoughts

In  either case, the remedy is to launch yourself into solo travel headfirst, watch the discomfort as it arises, and begin to ask yourself questions like “Why on earth do I care if a couple from Germany who I’ll never see again thinks it’s sad I’m eating alone?”

When you choose solo travel and eat alone, you make a statement to the world and to yourself that says “I am enough.”

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Use your phone or bring a book.

2. Chat with the waitstaff.

3. People-watch

4. Have a cocktail and be mysterious.

5. Don't eat alone - ask to join someone's else's table or say "yes" when someone asks to join your table.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

5 Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock

"What do MEAN this won't be my backyard anymore?"

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Though almost every long-term traveler experiences reverse culture shock to some degree after returning home, this rarely-discussed condition often takes travelers by surprise, which makes the transition from the road to home all the more difficult.

At seventeen I returned from a year-long exchange in Belgium, an amazing year filled with friends, school, and festivals in a place I learned to call home.

Within a week of returning to Oregon I was no longer the happy carefree girl I had been. I was depressed, angry, and disconnected from the world around me.

I gradually lost all of my friends, spent much of my time wandering aimlessly alone, and, in retrospect, wasted a perfectly good eight or nine months of my life as I struggled to deal with reverse culture shock.

I had no idea that returning could be so hard, and part of what makes the transition so difficult is that it is impossible for non-travelers to understand what you’re experiencing. Your friends back home won’t be able to do much to help you transition.

At nineteen I returned from another year abroad, a year backpacking through South America, and luckily this time I was prepared to deal with the shock. I made new friends, explored my own country, and was able to transition smoothly into “normal life.”

Here are a few tips about what reverse culture shock can feel like and how to deal with it when it strikes:

1. No one understands you.

This may very well be the most difficult aspect to deal with, especially if you aren’t prepared for the shock of returning home.

You have amazing stories to tell, yet no one wants to hear them.

In fact, people will probably get annoyed when you start every sentence with “When I was in…”. It is hard to realize that most people haven’t undergone the same changes you have, and you will probably feel lost and possible even angry for a while.

Find a way to share your experiences with those who are willing to listen. Start a blog or do a presentation at a local school or community event, or even an informal dinner presentation for a few of your friends or parent’s friends.

Though it is hard, try not to impose your stories on friends who aren’t interested. Instead, find something you and your friends share in common and focus on that.

2. Nothing has changed.

Your friends are still exactly the same, but that’s the problem. You have changed, you have new ideas about the world, your life path, and about who you are, and you may find it hard to fit in with your old group of friends.

Understand that you have changed, accept it, and love your new self while working with your friends to strengthen their friendships with the new you.

Since they haven’t experienced what you have, realize it may be hard for them to understand why you are suddenly different.

Feel free to share your ideas acquired on the road, but don’t impose or force your friends to change as well.

To supplement your old friendships, try meeting new people, maybe like-minded travelers who, like you, have recently returned home.

3. Home is…well….kind of boring.

After traveling, especially across multiple countries or continents, you have probably encountered amazing history, culture, and traditions.

Every day on the road seems like an adventure, with new sights and sounds around every corner.

Once you get home, shopping in a store is nowhere near as exciting as the chaotic markets filled with foods you have never seen. Everything seems so mundane and boring.

Travel, if done right, is more about how you see and experience life than how you see and experience a physical place.

Apply what you have leaned on the road to your life back home. Try cooking new dishes  that you tasted during your travels, pick up a new sport or hobby, and explore your own country.

Chances are there are some amazing things to see close to home, so go out and explore as if it was a foreign land.

After returning from South America I made sure to plan weekend getaways almost every week. I went backcountry skiing, snow camping, and hunting and fishing for my first time.

When I got itchy feet a few months in, I took a week off to hitchhike up to Vancouver where I was able to get my fill of traveling and travelers.

4. Your friends suddenly seem shallow. 

As you travel, you become accustomed to meeting amazing and inspiring people around ever corner, people who have climbed the tallest mountains, started their own orphanages, or dedicated their lives to discovering our world.

With these international-minded friends, you have grown used to debating world issues, and in your own way, discussing how we can make our world a better place.

Once you arrive home, you may feel like your friends only talk about superficial things. Who’s dating who, shopping, consumerism, etc.

You will probably start to crave the intellectual debates that had become part of your normal life on the road.

Try discussing a few of these issues with your friends back home, find friends who read the news or who are up-to-date on current events.

Also, go out of your way to meet new people. Though it may seem impossible at first, there are sure to be at least a few like-minded people living in your town.

Watching documentaries, reading the news, and attending cultural presentations or events are also great ways to keep expanding your international mind.

5. “Everything was so much better in _____________.”

Upon returning home, travelers have the tendency to think that everything was “better in [insert favorite country here],” which makes it hard for them to be content at home.

It is typical for travelers to hold the countries they traveled through in higher esteem than may be deserved. If you really think about it, you weren’t so crazy about Vietnam that day the motorbike broke down, and you were definitely ready to leave Nepal the day you got food poisoning.

This feeling will fade over time, and eventually you will be able to look back at those places and experiences with an unbiased view.

When I returned from Belgium I thought that “everything was better there,” yet now, in retrospect, I realize that I would much rather spend my life in Oregon.

Just because you are at home doesn’t mean life has to stop being fun.

Create new friendships, go on small trips, and embrace every opportunity.

The change in you is permanent. Learn how to deal with the new you back in your old home, and you will begin to see life, even at home, as an adventure.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Symptoms of reverse culture shock may include:

1. Feeling like no one understands you.

2. Feeling like nothing has changed.

3. Thinking that home is really boring.

4. Thinking all of your friends and family are really shallow.

5. Believing that "everything was SO much better in _________"

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Top 10 Things Said During 6 Months of Travel

Last December, when I’d been out of the country for less than a month, I met Shirine, my friend and co-conspirator who frequently guest posts here on the blog.

At the time, Shirine had just finished 6 months of travel and was looking forward to another 5-6 years on the road.

I remember thinking “Wow! 6 months?! That is such a long time!”

The other day I passed the 6-month mark, and I really can’t believe I’ve made it this far, especially after getting off to such a rocky start.

I’m not a seasoned traveler like many bloggers – I’m a total newbie, especially compared to folks who’ve been on the road for 3, 5, 10 years.

But 6 months has been enough time to a) completely shift my perspective on, well, just about everything, and b) collect some awesome travel quotes.

I like when bloggers do milestone check-ins, recounting what they’ve learned after 12 months, 2 years, or a decade of nomadism.

Instead of going into what I’ve learned, which can be easily summed up as “Everything I thought I knew about everything was wrong,” I thought it’d be more fun to honor some of the verbal gems that have been thrown my way during my time in Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

#10 – “Why are you so fat?”

This woman is only 87 years old, but looks much older from a life of hard living

“Why are you so fat?”

Where it happened: A remote village somewhere outside Chitwan, Nepal

Who said it: A paper-thin, impossibly frail, startling ancient grandmother. She was 87 but looked about 127, and she wasn’t trying to be rude. She really wanted to know what the hell I was eating to make me 4x her size.

My response: “Because I’m American. Can I take your picture?”

#9 – “Your number is old, but your face is young”

"You number is old, but your face is young"

“You number is old, but your face is young”

Where it happened: Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Who said it: My friend Thida, after asking how old I was. She was interested in hooking me up with her friend Ritti, but once she found out I was 32 (ancient in Asia, but especially in Cambodia), she changed her mind.

My response: “Thank you. In my country, it’s hip to date older women. Ritti should reconsider. I can be his cougar.”

#8 – “You give me your money!”

Where it happened: On a rickety local bus somewhere between Sa Dec and Chau Doc, Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

Who said it: An old woman sitting next to me on the bus. I was the only foreigner on the bus, and when she saw me, I could see the wheels start turning.

I could tell she used to speak English, used to use it regularly, but that it had been years since she’d spoken the language, and languages have a funny way of abandoning you without constant attention.

She sat next to me, smiling and struggling, and I waited patiently for her to remember “Hello” and “How are you?” and “Nice to meet you, my name is Phuong.”

Instead, what popped out what the most important phrase in the English language,

My response: I smiled, repeated the phrase back to her, and held out my palm so she could give me her money. We had a good laugh and she didn’t pester me again.

#7 – “I would never eat my own dog”

Where it happened: Cat Ba Island  Vietnam

Who said it: My friend Mr. Tuyen as he was explaining the subtle nuances of dog-consumption to me.

“But to me, a dog is like a member of the family. I could never eat a dog.”

Mr. Tuyen then clarified that one never eats the family dog – that would be barbaric – one only eats other people’s family dogs. Or stray dogs, because they’re tasty too.

My response: “You’re sure this is chicken, right?”

#6 – “Why must you wash your body every day?”

"Why must you wash your body every day?"

“Why must you wash your body every day?”

Where it happened: The middle of nowhere in Nepal

Who said it: Deepak, in response to my request to take a shower after a gnarly round of food poisoning.

My request was denied because there was a) no shower, and b) no reason that Deepak could see to shower, since I’d just showered yesterday.

My response: Silence. Because when pressed, I honestly couldn’t think of one good reason that I absolutely had to wash my body every day.

#5 – “Turn! It! Off!”

"Turn! It! Off!"

“Turn! It! Off!”

Where it happened: That same village in Nepal

Who said it: A group of 12 screaming children who were first frightened, then awed, then utterly bored with my iPhone.

They sort of hated my iPhone, in fact, and had much more fun chanting “Turn! It! Off!” then they did playing with the phone itself.

My response: I turned it off, and we played with the goats instead.

#4 – “My father is possessed by the Monkey King”

Where it happened: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Who said it: My friend Ritti, as an explanation for his father’s symptoms of mental illness.

My response: “Why the Monkey King?” Why? Because my father screeches, scratches himself, throws things, and crawls around on the roof, that’s why.

The diagnosis actually sounded pretty reasonable to me when explained like that.

#3 – “What is this remedy?”

"What is this remedy?"

“What is this remedy?”

Where it happened: Chitwan, Nepal

Who said it: Deepak’s brother, after I asked him for some soap and hot water.

My response: “This remedy is called soap. It is a foamy liquid that, when used regularly, can prevent rounds of vomiting like the one I’ve just endured due to your total lack of soap-use in preparing my meal.”

Just kidding, I didn’t say that. But he really was curious, as if hot water + soap was some sort of magical elixir with powers to wake the dead and move mountains. As if he’d never seen someone combine the two before (and truth be told, he probably hadn’t).

#2 – “She is 13 and just married. I think it is too young.”

Where it happened: Nepal. The village. Are you starting to notice a pattern of one-liner awesomeness here?

Who said it: Deepak, when a 13-year old newlywed stopped by my sick room to ogle me along with the rest of the villagers.

My response: “Ya think?!

#1 – “You know, I won’t be a monk forever.”

"You know, I won't be a monk forever."

“You know, I won’t be a monk forever.”

Where it happened: Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos

Who said it: A 16-year old Buddhist monk who had just given me a tour of his temple.

My response: “I’m old enough to be your mother.” Ok, if I had gotten knocked up at 16. But still.

We then took some photos together, him giggling the entire time and saying things like “You know we can’t touch you, right?”

What’s the best one-liner you’ve heard while traveling?

What questions do you get asked all the time?

When people ask you questions that would be considered rude in your culture, does it piss you off or do you take it with a grain of salt?

Author: Rebekah Voss – the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com and a cheerleader for solo female travelers everywhere.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

10. "Why are you so fat?"

9. "Your number is old, but your face is young."

8. "You give me your money!"

7. "I would never eat my own dog."

6. "Why must you wash your body every day?"

5. "Turn! It! Off!"

4. "My father is possessed by the Monkey King."

3. "What is this remedy?"

2. "She is 13 and just married. I think it is too young."

1. "You know, I won't be a monk forever."

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

5 Must-have’s for your Digital Nomad Toolkit

The benefits of working as a digital nomad are obvious – the freedom to travel, the ability to make money anywhere, and the gloriousness of being your own boss.

I’m quick to say that all you need to be a digital nomad is a laptop and a strong WiFi signal, but that’s not exactly the whole story.

To perpetuate the digital nomad lifestyle, you need to have a variety of tools in your toolkit.

Some of these tools are tangible things like apps and helpful websites, while others are a bit more esoteric.

Here are 5 ways to pimp out your digital nomad toolkit and make sure your long-term travel lifestyle keeps on keepin’ on.

5. Infusionsoft

Monday's office

Monday’s office

Infusionsoft has saved my life (and my as$!) time and time again.

It’s the application I use to send you all those snazzy emails, manage my contacts, and run my entire marketing department (which consists of, well, me.).

Recently I got really sick while traveling in Vietnam.  I mean really sick, like maybe-my-mom-should-fly-here-to-say-goodbye-sick.

And during the entire month when I was in and out of hospitals, my marketing kept churning as if I was still in my digital office.

Infusionsoft lets you automate everything, and I mean everything.

So when I was lying in the hospital with tubes sticking out of my arms, you were reading an email from me as if I’d just sent it.

It’s truly bomb. If you’re a digital nomad, you have clients and other human-types who send you money when you do work for them.

Infusionsoft lets you keep track of said clients, keep in touch with them, and make sure their money keeps landing in your pocket.

Watch a free demo of Infusionsoft when you click here.

4. WordLens

digital-nomad-tuesday-office

Tuesday’s office

i just discovered this app when the developer shot me an email and was like “Rebs, why aren’t you using my app?”

And I was like “Menno, why should I?”

And Menno was like, “Because it’s awesome!”

I downloaded WordLens for iOS and have been hooked ever since.

Here’s how it works: open the app, hold your phone up to a sign or other text in a foreign language, and click “start.”

The app reads and translates the sign right on your phone.

After having some serious miscommunications thanks to Google Translate (which might as well be called Google Transcrap), this app came as a life saver.

It’s great for a digital nomad who is traveling between “offices,” is on the hunt for a new guest house, or simply needs to know whether they’re walking into the men’s or the ladies room.

Right now the app works with signs that are in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian. I’ve begged Menno to add Chinese and Vietnamese, so hopefully that’s in the works too.

3. Hustle-aciousness

digital-nomad-wed-office

Wednesday’s office

You can’t be a successful digital nomad without hustle-aciousness (n. the ability to consistently hustle). 

Digital nomads can’t sit around waiting for work to come to them, and they can’t travel the world like they’re on perpetual vacation.

Make sure you’re spending some time every day working, following up with clients, and taking care of your bidness – especially on days when you’re out seeing the sights in whatever city you happen to be in.

It can be really, really easy to get sucked into the non-working mentality other travelers have, and to let your laptop start collecting dust.

But if you do that for too long, you’ll have to go home. And that’s the last thing you want to do, right?

2. Shoeboxed

digital-nomad-thurs-office

Thursday’s office

You’ve got to, got to, got to get and keep yourself organized as a digital nomad.

Shoeboxed is a great way to do it. Shoeboxed is what I use to scan all of my receipts and do my taxes while I’m traveling abroad.

If you’re a digital nomad, just about everything you buy is a tax write-off. It’s tough to keep track of zillions of hotel receipts and flights, especially when you’re constantly changing hotel rooms and cities.

With Shoeboxed, I snap a photo of a receipt the second I get it, then recycle it. All of the info I need for my taxes is magically beamed to a cloud-based account, and my backpack stays nice and light without the added burden of paper piles.

Shoeboxed lets you do a free 30-day trial too, which is rad because you can scan a lot of receipts in 30 days – check it out here.

1. Extreme flexibility and mind-boggling patience

Friday's office

Friday’s office

A digital nomad is defined by his or her ability to be flexible and patient in less-than-ideal work circumstances. [CLICK TO TWEET]

  • The WiFi goes out, or is painfully slow, or won’t let you log on to Facebook.
  • Monday you’re in a quiet guest house, but by Wednesday you’re forced to work from a coffee shop.
  • The power goes out so you have to write/design/brainstorm/research using – gasp!  – pen and paper.

Never knowing where you’ll be working (or if you’ll be working) is half the fun of being a digital nomad.

If you’re an aspiring digital nomad, cultivate patience and flexibility within yourself before you get on the road – believe you me, you’re gonna need it.

YE OLDE DISCLAIMER: I’m a proud-as-punch affiliate of some of the services I’ve listed above, like Infusionsoft, Shoeboxed, and some other secret linkedy-links you’ll have to click to find out about! What this means is if you end up taking my advice and signing up for a service through this site, the fine folks at Infusionsoft and Shoeboxed might find it in their hearts to throw a little scratch my way. Scratch that I’ll use to continue being a digital nomad!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Mighty Digital Nomad,

Make sure your toolkit contains the following 5 essentials:

1. Infusionsoft for email marketing and CRM

2. WordLens to you can magically read signs in foreign languages

3. Hustle-aciousness so the dough keeps flowing and you can keep traveling

4. Shoeboxed so you can track your travel expenses and scan your receipts

5. Flexibility and patience so you don't lose your s$%! every time the power goes out, the WiFi is slow, or your guest house owner decides to throw a party with 67 of his closest friends during your regular work hours.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

The (Very) Long Road to Chitwan – Part 2

The armed guard watches from his high tower with a mix of curiosity and disgust as I vomit for the third time. I wonder if he’ll descend from his high perch to give me a fine or a ticket of some sort. As my body purges itself yet again, he seems to lose interest and lets his gaze gently return to the vast fields and forests of the Chitwan National Forest. “Just a little farther” says Deepak, wanting to get me home already, wanting to make me well. Yes, I understand, but if I get back on that bike and that bike gets back on the rocky road, we’re going to have an episode from The Exorcist. It’s full-blown food poisoning – from the flies, from the dahlbat, from no soap anywhere, ever. I am knee-deep in the dried grass of an open field that connects one part of the forest to another. A river cuts the field in two, rolling gently beneath the bridge Deepak is begging me to cross. “Just a second” I call, trying to puke as quietly as possible. This is so embarrassing.

How am I supposed to be an irresistible sex goddess with vomit on my chin?

My head throbs, and I bend from the waist in agonized anticipation of the next round. This waiting period is the purgatory of food poisoning. Through the fog of this hot, shamed, disgusting mess, my eyes suddenly focus on a small, speckled insect crawling on a leaf in front of me. The wind is threatening to blow the insect away, but it marches on, determined to get to the top of the leaf if it’s the last thing it does. “How beautiful” I think, as I fertilize the grass with the contents of my stomach yet again. In this moment – this hot, uncomfortable, worst-case-scenario moment, with its abysmal timing and strong indications of a miserable 24 hours to come – I have found beauty. I think of all the times in my life where everything appeared to be OK. When there was food in my belly and I had a warm place to sleep, friends that loved me, and all of my bills paid. And somehow I still managed to find cause for complaint everywhere I looked. My mind could not accept the acceptable, and I made war upon myself over and over again for 29 years of my life. And here I am, for some reason wide awake in this moment, a moment that would be very easy to resist and hate and complain about. I mean, out of all the days to get sick, I get sick on the day I’m meeting his mom? I get sick on the day I have to ride on a motorbike for 6 hours? I get sick during my possibly only chance to experience life in a Nepalese village? But my curious heart is filled with nothing but this bug. I see it, I see its beauty, and I think absolutely nothing  – I sink deeper and deeper into nothingness, the freest state I’ve found. And I’m nothing but grateful. Not for the illness, but maybe for the illness because it’s showing me that my own happiness is not dependent on external events. My happiness comes from within, and no amount of food poisoning in the world can shake what’s rightfully mine. This is the feeling of presence, of freedom from past and future. This is what Eckhart Tolle is talking about, what the monks of the world seek by trying not to, what Jesus was saying when he said he was the “light of the world.” The light of this world exists now, not just in the insect on the leaf, but in the attention I’m able to pay it in this God-given gift of now, in presence that cuts through the din as light shattering the darkness. 60 seconds ago I was retching, 60 seconds from now I may be again. But for now, for this eternal moment of now, all I can see is a perfect creation making its way across a leaf blowing in the wind. For part 1 of this series, click here.  This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

True beauty, true peace, can always be found in the eternal moment of now (even in the midst of a gnarly case of food poisoning).

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Shackles, Incense, and Dancing

She has finally arrived.

Beautifully adorned with a sparkling gold and red sari and an elaborate head piece, the bride is being pulled in by a cord which makes her look like a prisoner.

Her head is down, and her heavily made-up eyes are puffy from crying – weddings are a scary affair for an Indian bride.

She has an enormous gold ring in her nose, a large red mark (a tica) on her forehead, and a few dozen bangles (bracelets) on each arm.

Her hands and wrists are covered in a lovely henna design, and around her neck is a curious necklace of ten rupee bills. Her complex and colorful outfit is unlike anything I have ever seen, a stark contrast to the white I am used to seeing on brides back home.

The hundreds of guests who have been dancing to Hindi music for hours while awaiting her arrival stand to watch her enter.

Without making eye contact with anyone, she somberly proceeds over to the corner of the field where an assortment of things are laid out: rice, water, incense, and flowers, all of which will be used later on for part of the ceremony.

She looks downright miserable, and rightfully so. Like many Indian women, this bride has only met her soon-to-be husband, found and arranged by relatives, very briefly, maybe only a time or two before tonight.

She just left her own village, and this may very well be the farthest she has ever traveled alone as her own parents are not allowed to attend the ceremony.

It will certainly be her first time sleeping away from her family, her first night sharing a bed with a man instead of her sisters and mother. She is being married into a new family and house, and with that, she is forced to accept the duties that come along with it.

From now on she will be in charge of taking care of her new husband as well as his family, and will transform into their cook and maid overnight. Though most Indians do not see it this way, from my Western perspective it seems like she is walking into slavery.

A few minutes later the groom saunters in wearing a huge decorated head piece while dancing and singing with his friends. Unlike his wife-to-be, he is not leaving behind his house nor his family, and has no reason to be sad.

He dances his way over to where his bride and a Hindu holy man are waiting to begin the 8 or 9-hour ceremony that will conclude in their official marriage.

“Will they kiss? Or hold hands? Or even sit near each other?” I ask my Indian friend who has brought me to this ceremony.

“Shame on you!” she scolds me gently but firmly – physical contact is absolutely unheard of, even at a wedding.

She explains to me that the marriage is official only after the long ceremony of chanting and rice throwing that will take place throughout the night. Once that is finished, the bride and groom will be free to eat and dance with the remaining guests, though many, such as us, will have already left for home long before the sun rises.

As the ceremony proceeds, a few guests gather to watch, but most stay in the large field in front of the house where the music is blaring popular Hindi songs.

Children, women, and teenage boys all dance enthusiastically together, losing themselves in the music. Others look on laughing, notably the older women with small children drifting to sleep on their laps.

They announce the food is ready, and we rush to be in one of the first few rotating groups to sit on the benches in a large open tent.

The family is obviously wealthy as they’ve served an extravagant meal of rice, dal, and lamb from huge buckets. The second we finish our dinner, the next thirty guests rush in to take our places.

The evening continues as such, with the guests dancing and celebrating throughout the night as the bride and groom sit stoically in the corner, nervous and excited to begin their first day as a married couple.

Or perhaps, in the case of the bride, maybe just nervous.

Shirine is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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