Bali, Baby!

Similar to other Southeast Asia locations, any traveler could spend months here and not see everything! So, take what you wish and savor every moment!

Nusa Penida

Before you go…

Packing…

I chose to use a budget airline, Jetstar, which means very limited weight allowance for baggage. I only had a 7-kg carry-on, but discovered a few hacks that make packing less of a nightmare.

  1. Use a smaller suitcase… Large suitcases are great but can be extremely deceiving, especially when faced with a strict baggage weight allowance. For a 7-kg carry on (approximately 15 pounds), I knew this was not much.
  2. Wear a jacket with lots of pockets… Even when I am traveling to a hot place, I always bring a jacket. It keeps me warm on the plane and also doubles as a rain jacket for the tropical weather which can be quite temperamental. The jacket I bring with me has 6 huge pockets, which I can load with all of my heavy items such as electronics. This brings me piece of mind, in case I do want to pick up that extra souvenir too!

I must also mention that whenever and wherever you travel, be sure to pack:

  • A towel – You can grab a small microfiber towel that does not take up much room. This is helpful, especially if you are backpacking. It can also be helpful while on an airplane or train as a pillow or blanket.
  • A sarong – It is incredibly important to be culturally considerate. From Southeast Asia to the Caribbean to Europe, bring with you something to cover your knees and shoulders (especially if you are a female). Whether you find yourself in a village or temple or church, respect is extremely important as a traveler. A sarong can also double as a blanket for the beach or grass.

Transportation…

A 30-day visa is free upon arrival for US citizens and most other countries. Customs can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour.

Organize airport pick-up! My flight arrived late in the evening, I had quite the trek to my hostel, and I was alone. Most hostels and hotels have an option for airport transfer (sometimes it is free!). Most times, I feel comfortable using public transport, but when it comes to taking a taxi in a country where I do not speak the language, I prefer to use reputable sources to avoid being ripped off or end up in the wrong place. Most hostels/hotels are reasonably priced and comparable to the going rate.

This was also helpful, because he took me to an ATM outside of the airport, which is where I will insert a friendly reminder to SET UP A TRAVEL NOTICE WITH YOUR BANK. I forgot to do this and immediately got declined. Luckily, I was able to sign onto my e-mail via wifi and take off the flag on my account. I also had to use two different ATM’s.

Expect to pay cash! In Bali, they accept US dollars and the local currency which is an Indonesian Rupiah (1 USD = 14,000 IDR). I use the app, XE Currency, which is an offline resource for converting several different currencies while abroad. I used this several times a day when haggling for a good deal and staying on budget.

Expect to Haggle! All prices are negotiable. I would recommend starting your bid at half of the price that is stated. Then, you can go up from there. It isn’t rude- it is expected.

Transportation while in country… If you have done any research on Bali or have traveled anywhere in Southeast Asia, you may have heard of GoJek or Grab, which is essentially Uber. Bali is not very accepting of these modes of transportation because it has negatively affected the local taxi driving association. Therefore, it is best to use local taxis. Most of the time, we hired a taxi driver through our hotel. They tell you the price up-front, and you can hire them for the entire day!

Food and Water…

Bali belly is, in fact, a legitimate phenomenon. It is caused by drinking unfiltered water in Bali. Most restaurants and hotels wash their vegetables and fruit with filtered water, so I was able to eat raw salads and fruit and drink water with ice cubes. But if you are unsure or have a low immune system, I would either double check or do not chance it. Bali belly will absolutely ruin your trip with nausea and diarrhea for at least 3 days. Another tricky culprit is the local alcohol- after brewing it, they will dilute it with unfiltered water. So do not drink local liquor! The symptoms may be delayed and not show up for a few days. Just take caution, and there is plenty of options to help you avoid this.

Luwak coffee is unique to Indonesia. Luwak is an animal resembling a possum, who digests coffee beans. The defecated coffee beans are then harvested, cleaned, roasted, and brewed.

Weather…

April to October is the “dry season” with an average temperature of 84F/27C degrees. November to March is the “wet season” with humidity and an average temperature of 92F/32C.

We visited in late November, and it was certainly humid and hot. What I did notice was after 3 pm, it was certainly more bearable. We learned very quickly to do activities in the morning, stay by the water in the afternoon, and then explore some more after 3 pm.

Ubud…

Ubud is about 1.5 hours from the airport. It is in the mountains and known for its yoga retreats. There are heaps of day trip options to check out, such as temples, waterfalls, etc.

Where to Stay…

The first night I arrived, I stayed at Halaman Depan Hostel. It was ideal for many reasons: $3USD per night, offered airport pick-up, and perfect location to the city and Sacred Monkey Forest where I was meeting up with my friends the next day.

We stayed at Ulun Ubud Resort. They gifted us with the honeymoon suite, which came with amazing view of the forest as well as walk-out access to the pool. The restaurant in the resort was delightful and so convenient, so we ate our breakfasts and dinners there.

What to Do…

Tegenungan Waterfall

Waterfalls in the area include Tegenungan and Kanto Lampo. Kanto Lampo was much better, because it was more remote with less tourists and breathtaking in terms of beauty. This also meant that it was quite slippery and hard to maneuver in some places. Tegenungan was very crowded and there are about 150 paved steps to reach the waterfall. You must pay a few dollars at each location.

Kanto Lampo Waterfall

On the same day, our driver also took us to the Rice Terrace. This is basically a group of rice paddocks all connected by walk-ways. At each rice paddock you walk through, you must pay the owner of the land a few dollars.

The Sacred Monkey Forest is open daily from 8:30am-6pm with an entrance fee of 80,000 IDR ($5.64USD). People usually spend 1-2 hours here. Although, the monkeys did not seem to like me. Even though I was very mindful to not make eye contact or interact with the monkeys, I got poop thrown at me, and a monkey jumped on my head. There are also instances where the monkeys bite people. Needless to say, I was ready to leave pretty soon after the monkey jumped on my head. The Sacred Monkey Forest is located close to the main street with heaps of yummy restaurants and fun shops.

Sacred Monkey Forrest

The Real Bali Swing is a great place to overlook the forest and river, while also getting a picture for the ‘Gram (because that’s why everyone goes to Bali, right?). It consists of a series of swings and nests where you can get in. I recommend getting there earlier in the day to beat the heat and wave of tourists.

Real Bali Swing

Other Day Activities:

  • Lake Bratan Ulun Danu Temple
  • Munduk Moding Plantation – infinity pool
  • Mount Batur – Great sunrise hike, but only go if the weather is clear
  • Ubud Market
  • Yoga Barn
  • Lovina – beach in the North
  • Amed – beach in the North
  • Mount Agung – don’t hike, just go and see the sunrise

Don’t go chasing waterfalls…OR DO! Other waterfalls located farther North:

  • Tukad Cepung Waterfall
  • Tibumana Waterfall
  • Nungnung Waterfall
  • Banyumala Twin Waterfall
  • Sekumpul Waterfall
  • Aling-aling Waterfall
Real Bali Swing

Places to eat…

Pizza Bagus has an organic market on Saturday’s that supports local farmers and reduces plastic waste. They also have a cafe and small convenience shop with local, sustainable snacks!

Sanur…

Ubud to Sanur is about 40 minutes. Sanur is basically a beach town with small markets and shops. It is very cheap, and you will see lots of locals. There is not much to see around here, except it is very close to the ferry that takes you to Nusa Penida. But Nusa Penida is also accessible from Seminyak or Canggu.

Where to Stay…

  • Inna Bali Beach Garden – We stayed here, although I would not recommend it. The accommodations were beautiful, it was equipped with a pool, and located right on the beach. Unfortunately, the AC never worked, and bugs were a bit of an issue. It was also far from the city center.
  • Prama Sanur Beach Hotel
  • Prime Plaza

Where to Eat…

Nusa Penida…

Upon arrival, we set up a tour to Nusa Penida by walking along the beach and stopping at several stalls of people selling tours. Again, be ready to haggle! Because it was off-season, we got our tour at half-price (Approximately $40USD per person)!

Some people like to stay on Nusa Penida island, although it would be extremely hard to get around. If you opted to stay in Nusa Penida, it is accessible via ferry. If you book a tour, the ferry is included in the price. Another thing to note is the roads in Nusa Penida are very steep and windy- you may want to bring some meds to help with the motion sickness.

The West Tour of the island includes beaches such as Angel’s Billabong, Broken Beach, Kelinking Beach, and Crystal Bay (great place for snorkeling if you can haggle that into the deal!). Unfortunately, it is extremely crowded at each of the beaches. I can’t imagine how even more crowded it would be during peak season!

Kelingking

For the tour, it starts around 7 am – 8 am, and you will return around 5 pm. Tours will usually pick you up from your hotel lobby.

Where to Eat…

Where to stay…

Nuansa Penida Hostel they organize tours to take you around the island

Broken Beach

Seminyak

Seminyak is a major city just 10 km from the airport. This is where we ended our stay. It has many shops and great places to eat. From here, you can visit Canggu, Nusa Penida, Kuda, etc. The traffic in Seminyak is quite atrocious at any time of day. There are heaps of motorcyclists who whiz around the cars and even go up onto the sidewalks (if there even is a sidewalk). This is why people often opt for a Grab or a GoJek (you can also use these apps to order food).

Where to Stay…

What to Do…

Finns Beach Club is a famous attraction that consists of 4 pools, 9 bars, 6 restaurants, Sushi Bar, daily DJs, live Vocalists, and night surfing. If you want to go here, you might want to book a spot in advance. There are also things for kids and families.

Other clubs include The Lawn, Mrs. Sippy Potato Head Beach Club, La Plancha Beach Bar, and La Favela Club. The vibe in these areas is to go to clubs during the day. Get there early to grab a spot and stay until sunset! I would recommend pre-booking any day club you plan to attend.

Shopping…Great shops with great deals…

  • Lost in Paradise
  • Bamboo Blonde – this is a chain you will see everywhere!
  • Bali Boat Shed
  • Asmara – another chain
Kynd

Where to Eat…

Kuda…

Full of Aussies for a reason, right? This is an ideal location for watching the sunset and getting your party on! It is close to the airport and has great prices.

Where to Stay…

Karma Backpacker House – free dinners

What to Do…

Watch the Sunset

  • Uluwatu Temple
  • Jimbaran Beach
  • Deamland Beach
  • Blue Point Beach

Day Clubs…

Canggu…

Where to Stay…

What to Do…

  • Serenity Eco Guesthouse and Yoga – I did yoga here on my last day and wish I had done it more! You can also stay here for a retreat or just as a guest. The yoga room has views of the ocean and great vibes. For yoga, you must have a sarong!
  • Kuta Beach – known to be full of drunk Aussies
  • Tattoo Room Canggu – this is where I got my tattoo while in Bali! They did a great job.
  • Tanjung Aan beach

Nightlife…

Shopping…

  • The Locals
  • Haze & Glory

Where to Eat…

Other Southeast Asia Destination…

While you are in the South Pacific region, check out…

Manifestation TF?

Manifestation can be a bit misleading. To be honest, I was skeptical at first. It felt passive and lazy. I am a go-getter and a creative. The idea that I sit back and wait for something to come to me seems impractical, inefficient, and a waste of time. 

I was introduced to the idea of manifestation through yoga about one year ago. Teachers would refer to setting an intention for practice or would encourage us with a mantra during mediation. 

The idea of setting an intention is to get clear on what you want out of your experience, your practice, and your life moment by moment.

After moving to Melbourne, I committed to an intention of presence and have manifested such an amazing life here. It required hard work and is continuing to challenge me to stay in alignment with my intention, especially and particularly when it gets hard. It can be quite easy to go into default mode or auto-pilot and book a flight to the other side of the world, but those are the times when intention-setting and manifesting were my most helpful tools.

Here are some steps that I have found helpful in manifesting the life that I want…

Step 1 … Get clear and get familiar.

This is where I want to address the notion of passivity in manifestation. I had this belief that manifestation looked like sitting in my room with my door shut praying for something to be delivered without ordering it. So, I would take it to the other extreme- I would muster up the determination and perseverance to go out and search. But that got tiring really quickly and never seemed to satisfy. The issue here is that I never knew what I was looking for. Setting an intention requires the action of getting clear on what you want. I had not gotten clear on what I wanted out of my experience.

Getting clear is hard work, because it is usually what I try to avoid. The resistance to get clear is usually the indicator that there is room for growth. Getting clear sets a path, a direction. I cannot grow if I do not know where I want to go.

Be in a relationship with your intention. Just like in a relationship, I begin integrating that new person into my life, my schedule, and my thoughts. I use that same mentality when setting an intention. I begin to incorporate what I want to create into my daily life. If I want love in my life, I must incorporate self-care and time with loved ones as a priority in my schedule.

Step 2 … Acknowledge what already exists.

Setting an intention is a way of manifesting what you want to create. But the craziest part about it is that our intention or what we want to manifest is actually just an uncovering of what is already there. When we set our awareness on what we want, that is the part of us that acknowledges what already exists. By placing our attention on this through intention setting and manifestation techniques, we are, in fact, setting ourselves up for receiving what is already there.

I can go throughout my entire day searching for presence, but that simple act is the barrier between me and my intention. I will never receive presence by searching for it anywhere else but within. Similarly, I can go throughout my entire life searching for peace, joy, and love, but if I neglect to acknowledge the peace, joy, and love that already exists within me, I will never have the capacity to receive it.

People may go their entire life searching for something to fill the void or fix the brokenness, when the answer lies within.

Step 3 … Never give up, always let go.

There is a balance between setting an intention and surrendering to the outcome. Stress is a response to expectations. Setting an intention is not a means to get somewhere or gain something, it is an access to the awareness that everything I need is already within me.

Be open to receive what you give, and be willing to give what you receive.

Setting an intention is like making a commitment, and a commitment is an equal exchange of giving and receiving. As I give love, am I open and willing to receive it? As I receive peace, am I open and willing to give it?

The Simple Life…Vietnam

Vietnam is vibrant with rolling hills of greenery, bustling cities, rich foods, and backpackers galore. It had always been on my bucket list and had heard only great things, so when my boss told me a few days prior I could take the week off, it did not take long for me to decide Vietnam was my next adventure.

Little did I know that Vietnam was even more beautiful and lovely than I had expected. The food is amazing, the locals are kind, everything is cheap, the scenery is breathtaking, and the weather is ideal. I wish I could have spent more time there (I only had one week), but I think even if I had six months, I still could not see everything I wanted to see. Just another great reason to go back!

Hoi An lanterns
Hoi An

Before You Go…

Flights…

It is best to buy your tickets early or about one month in advance. Any closer than that and the ticket prices soar. Because I only had a few days to plan, my flights were abnormally expensive. Don’t let this deter you from visiting Vietnam, because the flight is the most expensive part of a trip to Vietnam. Everything else is dirt cheap.

Where to fly into?

Vietnam has three international airports: Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City (South), Da Nang International Airport in Da Nang (Middle), and Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi (North).

Where you will be spending most of your time (or for me, I just chose the cheapest flight) will determine the best airport to fly into. Some people travel North to South so they will fly into Noi Bai and fly out of Tan Son Nhat. Others travel South to North (what I did and highly recommend), so I flew into Tan Son Nhat and flew out of Noi Bai. Da Nang is located in the center, so if you are doing Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hanoi, this could be a great option.

Nha trang iHome hostel
iHome, Nha Trang

Visa…

You need a Visa before entering Vietnam. There are several websites that you can get your visa from- I used Vietnam Visa Center. There are a couple of different options based off of time spent in country (30 days, 90 days, or 1 year), number of entries (only entering and exiting once or multiple times), and delivery time of visa (they will send it to you in 3 business days, 1 day, half day, or 2 hours). Prices vary per option, and you can find all of these options on their website.

I chose a 30 day single-entry 3-business-day visa. Even though I applied for the visa online, I still had to present a passport photo, $25US in cash, and a printed version of the visa to the immigration desk at the airport. So, in total I paid $45US and spent one extra hour at the airport after landing to get my visa.

sleeper train through vietnam
Sleeper Train views

Create a TENTATIVE Itinerary…

My biggest lesson while in Vietnam (and traveling in general) is that THINGS CHANGE. By the first day, my entire itinerary changed. Being flexible is essential, because most things are out of your control such as weather, public transportation delays, and food poisoning. Also, being flexible allows you to do more things that you actually enjoy. For example, I spent less time in HCMC because it was raining all week and spent an extra day in Halong Bay because I made a lot of great friends!

This does not mean show up with no idea of what you are doing. I recommend looking at a map and picking out points you definitely want to see/do. Then, do some research on hostels in the area and read their reviews. Make a note of these things- this saves time when you arrive to a city.

In my case, I wanted to see the entire country from South to North. The cities I chose to visit were Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Nha Trang (near Dalat Sand Dunes), Hoi An, Halong Bay, and Sapa. I made the mistake of booking all of my hostels in advance, although this may be necessary during high season (May – August). I ended up doing sleeper buses rather than staying in hostels to save time and could not cancel my reservations. This was a minor error that only cost me $5US in total, because hostels are so cheap. I did know that I wanted to do a Halong Bay tour, which I booked in advance through Central Backpackers Hostel.

Money money money…

Complete the standard traveling protocol of setting up a travel notice with your bank so that you can use your cards and reading up on your bank’s international policy pertaining to foreign transaction fees and atm fees. Vietnam prefers the American dollar or their own currency (Dong). So, if you cannot bring American dollars (although you will need cash for your visa- in this case, you could order Dong at your bank), then take out lots of cash upon arrival. Most atm fees are set and are not dependent on the amount you get out. Therefore, it is cheaper to take out more money less often.

How to Get Around…

Nha trang, vietnam
Nha Trang

Google Maps

Download Google Maps- there is a feature where you can download maps of cities to use when you are “offline” or do not have data. Another way I use Google Maps is to mark restaurants and shops that people recommend me. You can mark them using a colored flag. Then, when you arrive, you already have a ton of recommendations and don’t have to do much research which takes time. Another great perk of marking locations on your map before arriving is you can pull it up to show a taxi driver, local, or someone who can help you get where you are going.

Tip: Cross (the street) with confidence! You will never get to where you are going if you are not determined while crossing the street. Do as the locals do- I recommend following closely behind a local the first few times to get the hang of weaving through moving traffic.

Motorbikes…

A common way for backpackers to get around is via motorbike. I had planned to motorbike the entire country but there were a few things I did not consider: insurance for injuries and damage to the bike, how long it takes to get in between cities, how hectic the roads are in the cities, and money for gas. Due to all of these factors that I had not considered until I arrived the first day, I opted into the sleeper buses and trains.

Sleeper train through vietnam
Sleeper Train

Sleeper buses and trains…

Not only are they affordable, but sleeper buses and trains are a great way to cover more ground in less time by traveling overnight. For a sleeper bus, I recommend only taking one if you are 5’5″ or less. Luckily, I was able to stretch my legs out, but it pained me to consider anyone taller than me trying to get a good night’s rest all hunched over. I preferred the sleeper trains- you also have the option of renting a room on the trains if you have a hard time sleeping in a chair.

sleeper bus through vietnam
Sleeper Bus

Something to note about sleeper buses and trains is that they are never on-time arriving or departing. So, be sure to give yourself a couple hours barrier on either side before planning an excursion of some sort. Websites I used included: 12goasia and Baolau.

Tip: Beware of taxi drivers! They will wait outside just about every tourist location, especially train stations. The great part is…train stations have wifi. So, before leaving the station, call your Grab! They will pull up to the station and you can rush away before you are overwhelmed by taxi drivers.

Grab…

Grab is an app, similar to Uber but for Southeast Asia. You can order a car, motorbike, or even food delivery. It is extremely cheap and will randomly give you a huge discount during non-peak hours. One time it was 30 times cheaper and shaved off 30 minutes of transit time to take a Grab than the bus. This is also a safer option than using taxis. I have heard of taxi drivers taking foreigners to the wrong hostel and telling them wrong information. Grab also provides you with a helmet, and sometimes even a rain jacket if it’s raining.

Grab taxi through vietnam
Grab Taxi

Ho Chi Minh City

I flew into Tan Son Nhat International Airport, retrieved my visa after an hour of waiting, and walked directly out of the airport to the bus station. I simply showed the bus station attendant my map with the address of my hostel and paid him $1US. It was a 15-minute bus ride, and the bus attendant told me what stop to get off at.

Note: You may see signs for Saigon, which is the old name for Ho Chi Minh City. This confused me at first, but I was reassured that it is the same place.

Activities:
War Remnants Museum – Great museum that commemorates the Vietnam War. As an American I believed this was important to see, and the museum did a great job of bringing everyone together rather than shaming other countries.
Boi Vien – Street with lots of nightlife.
Cu Chi Tunnels – A day-trip which can be booked through your hostel.
Tan Dinh Church – A pastel-pink Gothic church.
Ben Thanh Market – Food and souvenir galore.
Com Tam Moc – AMAZING Vietnamese restaurant!! MUST try!!
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
Saigon Central Post Office – the Grand Central Station of HCMC
KOTO – A training restaurant for impoverished students. A great cause to support. There is one in Hanoi as well.
Book Street – An alley way with open-air cafes and bookstores- they have books in Vietnamese and English.

Book street, Ho Chi Minh City
Book Street

I stayed at Himalaya Phoenix Saigon Hostel. It seemed like there were a lot of people who were actually renting rooms like an apartment building. It was not your typical hostel with a large communal space or backpacker culture. The staff was extremely helpful and informative of everything I needed to know about sleeper buses and recommendations in HCMC.

Tip: Book your buses/trains and excursions through your hostel. They will give you the best price and most of the time will pick you up directly from your hostel.

Nha Trang

On the way to Nha Trang, you can stop at Dalat, which is a locals beach and there are also sand dunes. Due to time constraints, I was not able to go. Nha Trang is a coastal city with lots of backpackers. When I say there are a lot of backpackers, I am mostly alluding to the nightlife. There are night markets, bars, and karaoke everywhere.

happy hour at ihome hostel in nha trang
iHome, Nha Trang

Note: Kitchens close early (around 8 pm), then open again for late-night eats (midnight). So, be sure to catch an early dinner then maybe a late-night snack if you are still hungry.

I stayed at iHome, which contributed to the backpacker nightlife culture with a “Free Beer Happy Hour”. I discovered many hostels do this. My roommate ended up being a thorough participant in happy hour and threw up all over our bathroom. Other than that, there were a lot of great vibes- fun music, beautiful rooftop, ideal location to restaurants and markets, and great people.

nha trang vietnam
Nha Trang

Activities:
Xom Moi Market
Ponagar Tower
Night Market
Moka Coffee
Long Son Pagoda
Dam Market

Restaurants:
Lantern – Vietnamese
Hong Duc – Local
Pho Hong – Noodle soup
Olivia – Pizza
Mix – Greek
Local Seafood Place – cheap & good
Com Chay Bo De – vegetarian
Cheap Cheap Restaurant – Vietnamese food
Xuan Chau Barber – cheap & good

Note: Unless something clearly states “FREE”, then it isn’t free. There were times where I was offered beers or given a wet towel at dinner and was expected to pay for it after my meal.

Hoi An via Da Nang…

I arrived in Da Nang via train, then hopped on a Grab motorbike to head to Hoi An. This is only a $2US – $4US 30-minute motorbike ride, and it takes you right along the beach. I just put my destination as Old City, and they will drop you off right on the outskirts, because motorbikes are not allowed in the streets.

Hoi An is a westerners dreamland. It is full of lanterns, located along the water, and heaps of tourist shops and restaurants. It is famous for making tailored suits and clothing.

For hostels, I recommend staying at Tribee Kinh Hostel. They own 4 in the town, and you can use the facilities of all of them (ie have breakfast in one, use the pool of the other, and the bar of the next). They do a free food tour, free bike tour, free food making class (where you can eat everything afterwards), and free alcohol at night.

Another option is to go to Hue, which is North of Da Nang. There is an abandoned water park that you can explore if you pay the person that is supposed to forbid the entrance approximately 20,000 VND. Because there isn’t much to do around Hue, it’s a great opportunity to do a homestay.

Hanoi…

Hanoi is another bustling city, but probably my favorite “urban” city in Vietnam that I visited. I took a 17-hour sleeper train from Da Nang to Hanoi, and walked from the train station to my hostel.

From Hanoi, I flew to Ho Chi Minh to catch my flight back home. A flight was much cheaper and faster than the train.

Activities:
Train Street – food and drinks
War Museum
Temple of Lit
Bach Ma Temple
Hoam Kiem Lake
Giang Cafe – great coffee
Dong Xuan Market

Note: Everything is SO cheap. Some souvenirs I got were Nike sneakers, NorthFace fanny pack, NorthFace bookbag, and a dry bag – all for $20US.

Day Trips from Hanoi…

Halong Bay. I booked my tour with Central Backpackers Hostel, and loved it so much that I extended my stay on the island another day. It included a hike, kayaking, and boat cruising. You get to visit floating villages with baby shark farms! It is a completely unique experience that you do not want to miss out on. Do the 3 day/2 night tour!

Sapa. I would recommend visiting Sapa via booking a tour through the hostel as well. Otherwise, you can grab a sleeper bus to Sapa and stay at a hostel. Points of interest include Thac Bac Waterfall and Ban Pho Village.

Ninh Binh. Rural, beautiful, natural landscapes.

Ha Giang Pass. This is the famous loop that people take via motorbike. Apparently, it has some of the best views in Vietnam. It is very windy so be extremely careful! It takes about 3-4 days.

What to Eat…

Banh Mi – A baguette usually with egg and veggies. This is a typical street food.

Iced Coffee – Vietnamese coffee is unique in that it uses condensed milk. Or you can try egg coffee which is very popular as well.

Spring rolls – at every meal!

spring rolls and salad
Spring Rolls and Vietnamese Salad

Pho – A noodle soup. I recommend to spice it up with chilis…if you don’t mind sweating during your meal.

beef on rice noodles and spring rolls
Beef on Rice Noodles (Bun Bo Nam Bo) and Spring Rolls

12-Day Holiday in Spain

Meet Natalia. Not only is she insightful and caring, she is also extremely knowledgable and successful in all she does! I am so thankful for our friendship. This is a guest post by her about her time spent in Spain including Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Malagna, Nerja, and Frigiliana!

First stop…Barcelona

We arrived at night so that jet lag wasn’t too bad, we had dinner around the Airbnb and ate some local tapas and drank wine! We had a slow first night so that we could hit the ground running. We stayed in the Poble Sec neighborhood. If I had to do it again, I would stay in the Gothic neighborhood or next to Barceloneta to be near more things, but we were near Blai street which was nice!

Day One…

We woke up SUPER EARLY to go see Park GUELL. Highly recommend hitting it early in the morning, so you miss most of the tourist crowd. Buy your tickets ahead on Tiquets App. Wear comfortable shoes because its a hike to get up there!

Next, we walked and walked and walked to see La Pedrera. We only saw the outside, but I wish we would have gone in. It is another building designed by Gaudi. On our way, we stopped and got 1 EURO croissant and orange juice, and it was SO YUM. After we walked around the strip next to La Pedrera with all the expensive stores (aka LV, Gucci, Fendi, Cartier). We ended up buying Longchamp purses because why not!!

After walking a ton, we went to eat at Brunch and Cake. When I tell you that this was the very best brunch I had in my entire life I am not lying. If you come to Barcelona and don’t go here, you have missed the point!!! Super aesthetic food, super yummy, and not expensive.

Next we went to Sagrada Familia. BUY TICKETS AHEAD OF TIME. We bought our tickets on the Tiquets app. This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Both sides are completely different and the inside is stunning. I teared up- it is such a special place. Listen to the audio tour!

After Sagrada Familia, we went and chilled at the Airbnb for a little bit then walked over to the Gothic Neighborhood. We ate at Gourmet Tapas by Sensei, and it was one of the best meals of my life. Talk to the waiter/waitress and get their recommendations. Also, get the super yummy Sangria!

Day Two…

We slept in but we had plans to go further explore the gothic neighborhood- OOPS.

Woke up and went to Barceloneta. Took pictures, laid on the beach, haggled with some street vendors. We walked inside of the W and the lobby is beautiful. I would go back and have a drink there, because it’s so pretty.

ADVICE: DO NOT drink any alcohol on the beach, they keep everything cool with sewer water and you can get food poisoned easily.

We had lunch at Pez Vela. We went for the Paella and it was the best paella we had the whole trip!! Also got a pitcher of sangria and I can also say it was the best. On the $$$ side, but worth every penny!

That night we wandered around Blai street, ate tapas, and went back to the AirBnb.

DAY Four – Six…MÁLAGA – NERJA- FRIGILIANA

Woke up super early, called a Taxi with Cabify and took a flight to Malaga. We wandered around Malaga. We walked around the main plazas, a pretty plant bridge, and little parks infested with middle schoolers. Malaga has so many pretty parks and beautiful castle-like structures. We were only here for a few hours, but we bought fans that would be cute to bring home for friends and fam!

We took a bus to Nerja which WE LOVED. A much quieter city in southern spain that had so much character. We ate at la marina (tapas bar), and la dama ( SUPER CHEAP yummy italian food) and ate a meal with our Airbnb host at her place. 

The very best part of Nerja is the Balcon de Europa. Go wander there and watch the sunset or sunrise at least once! 

Day Seven…

While we were in Nerja, we booked a yogi brunch through AirBnb. We contacted Karina, and she picked us up from Nerja to take us to the house. It was in Torrox Costa & was located in this BEAUTIFUL house with an infinity pool to take the yoga class. They fed us a super yummy brunch!! The house (Casa siempre viva) is so eco friendly like they grew most of the food we ate on their property. If I were to do it again, I would stay in this house! You can find the house on Instagram @casasiempreviva

On our last evening in Nerja, we took a bus (super cheap, maybe 3 EURO each way) to a small city, Frijiliana. A super cute little town that felt like Greece. We spent a few hours there, but I wish we would have had a full dinner there and done more shopping because it had a ton of cute local ceramics!

Day Eight – Nine…Sevilla

The next day, we took a train to Sevilla. We were so tired by this point, so we shopped lots in Sevilla. The highlights of Sevilla were Plaza de España, Real Alacazar de Sevilla (buy tickets ahead of time), and Las Setas (a cool architecture structure that you can walk on top of and see the city).

Day Ten – Twelve…Madrid

We took a train from Sevilla to Madrid and arrived at night. We hung out with my SWEET cousin who lives in Madrid and then woke up in the morning and hit the ground running. 

We had lunch at Perrachica which was the most beautiful restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. I want to design my house the same way this restaurant was designed. Had yummy food with a slightly higher price point but SO worth it. We walked around Gran Via which is a beautiful bustling street that has huge stores! A must see.

Later in the day we explored El retiro and did the little boat paddling in the park! Highly recommend because it was so fun!

We finished the trip by getting churros at Chocolateria San Gines which is the original and oldest churro place. Its open super late and always has a line, but don’t leave Spain without eating these churros.

Other Spain Recommendations by City…

Barcelona…

Tips…

  • Enjoy at least one S L O W spanish meal…tapas around 8, dinner around 10 or 11 sit in the streets and talk for a couple hours and then finish with drinks somewhere 
  • Do NOT buy “cold beer, agua, cerveza, mojitos” on the beach–they keep them in the sewers
  • Don’t eat anywhere right next to Sagrada Familia–they will probably rip you off.
  • A lot of places will charge you extra to eat outside, so ask! 
    • Like the same food will literally cost more outside than inside
  • Normal lunch time is about 2pm, so keep in mind when trying to avoid lines
    • Restaurants will start filling up with tapas and drinks around 6 or 7 usually and stay full all night
  • Festival de Sant Juan is in the end of June and a lot of fun
    • There is an all night beach festival and they set tons of fireworks off
    • The whole town stays up all night and the challenge is to make it to sunrise 

COFFEE…look here!

Food…

  • Organic cafe buena ventura 
  • Gelateria on the way to the arc 
  • La taqueria 
  • chechey limona right down the street (good for brunch)
  • El Viti: spanish tapas 
  • Fruit pops at Travessera de Gràcia, 271 08024 Barcelona Spain
  • Granja Petit Bo (brunch/lunch—no wifi here but really good)
  • Firebug: really good tapas
  • Cervecería Catalana: tapas (go at a weird time bc its very popular)
  • Brunch and Cake: brunch THIS IS THE BEST EVER
    •  go to the one right by the beach & the barceloneta stopGo on a week day or at a weird time if you can, its often very crowded
  • Blai Street: go for tapas!! 
    • its like 1 or 2 euros per tapa and get a couple from each restaurant and work your way down the street—a lot of times there are fun bands playing
  • Pizza Nap(oil): so yummy 
  • La Boqueria food market
    • check times because it changes a lot-really cool–for cultural experience, you can eat on the benches outside—try a fruit pop too!
  • Pez Vela Chiringuito: beach side paella-you have to try at least once, its near the W hotel
  • Picnic: if you have time take the train to Sitges, really gorgeous beach town and they have the BEST paella—if you’re going with a group call ahead or go at a funky time, they fill up sometimes
  • El Corte Ingles
    • its like a 9 story department store, the top level has a restaurant/cafeteria that’s really good and has a beautiful 360 view of the city
  • Timesburg: burgers
  • George’s: its corner of Passeig San Juan and Carrer de Valencia 
    • Smoothies the size of your head and get the strawberry nutella crepe!
  • Milk: brunch
  • Bo de B: sandwiches
  • Eyescream and friends: ice cream
  • Makamaka: burgers
  • Rosa negra: closest thing to Tex mex
  • Petit Pot: anything
  • Restaurante La Barca del Salamanca: paella
  • michael columns pub 
  • el osao goloso italian 

Activities…

  • Montserrat
    •  try to do the whole day, there are some great hikes!
    • Take the train right outside the city
  • seven water fall hike 
  • Sagrada Familia
    • go when the sun starts to set and buy tickets ahead of time
  • Parc Güell and anything by Gaudi
    • buy tickets in advance—you can take the metro about halfway and then you have to walk
    • It sells out days ahead of time usually
  • Tibidabo (the castle looking thing at the top of the hill)
    • hike is brutal but worth it, take the tram if you want to, the bus is pretty cheap and picks up from downtown
    • Amusement park at the top, kind of pricey for rides but beautiful view of the city
  • Camp Nou: FC Barcelona stadium
  • Montjuic
  • Placa Espanya
    • fountain show timed with music Thursday-Sunday at the museum at the top of the hill go early if you want a good seat…it’s packed about an hour before, but you’ll be fine showing up at any time.
  • Barceloneta: beach area
  • Parc del Guinardó/ the Bunkers
    • not a long walk from sagrada familia
    •  Its a lookout over the city–go at sunrise or sunset, it’s really beautiful at sunset
  • Arc de triomf and the park near it!
  • mont de rebei: (insanely cool, but you have to rent a car to get there…BLUE river and beautiful sand stone hike—get kayaks too!!
  • Get your feet eaten by the fish at a nail spa
    • Usually like 10-20 EU

Night life…

  • Dr Stravinskys crazy cocktails
  • Espit Chupitos: shot bar sort of near the beach—the bar tenders are really fun & there’s 140 shots! ask for one they light on fire
  • George Payne: really fun atmosphere, kind of an irish-pub with thursday night karaoke
  • check out rooftop bars too! they change seasonally
  • harlem jazz club 
  • hotel condes de barcelona rooftop with live music 
  • Dow jones (fun shot bar)
  • La ovella negra (multiple locations)
  • Le cyrana (get to pour your own drinks)

Clubs…

Join Aashi guest list on Facebook if you’ll be there for a while, as he gets you in to a lot of places free and usually VIP if you message him (he can be sort of weird but it works). these are pretty touristy, but definitely a big night scene—check for good bands and be prepared for higher cover charges—also guys have a certain dress code

  • Opium
  • Shoko
  • Pacha 
    • Usually has cool artists, but sometimes super high cover charges
  • Ice Bar (you have to go down to the beach level and its in the back—book your tickets online and get a student discount)
  • Harlem Jazz Club (SO cool, kind of an older, local crowd and really chill but the bands are amazing)
  • Razzmatazz (lots of levels, fun, but more expensive)
  • CDLC

Madrid

Must-See…

  • Sol is the heart of the city and it connects to all the major shopping streets. 
    • There’s a spot there that starts all the roads in Spain
  • Plaza Mayor is the town square with the famous horse statue and there’s a lot of restaurants around there
  • Past Plaza Mayor is the Mercado de San Miguel which has every food you can think of. I would recommend getting lunch there because you can spot at a bunch of different food stands and everything is around 2€
  • Prado Museum is Madrid’s famous museum and it’s gorgeous. It’s free on Mon-Sat 6-8pm and Sunday 5-8pm. The line looks crazy long but it goes by in like 10 minutes. 
  • Near there is Retiro Park which is basically Madrid’s Central Park. Their fountain is popular there and you can row boats and things like that.
  • Another museum is the Sofia Reina. It’s more contemporary art (to me wasn’t that special) but it has the Picasso exhibit.
  • Gran Via is the huge shopping street there (prepare to have absolutely no money after this!!)
  • Calle Preciados is another shopping street (go to Berksha for cheap cute clothes)
  • Malasaña is a trendy neighborhood with a lot of good local bars
  • Azotea del Círculo has the best view of Gran Via/the whole city and it’s a really cool rooftop bar (I had the best mojito of my life there)

Food…

  • La Mallorquina is Sol’s oldest bakery. Get a cappuccino and a napolitana de chocolate.
  • Chocolateria San Gines is the best place to get churros (not America’s bullshit sugar coated ones).
  • Takos Al Pastor has THE BEST tacos you’ll ever had and they’re only 1€.
  • Madrid has the oldest restaurant in the world…Botin Restaurant
  • 100 Montaditos has 1€ sandwiches and they have Tinto de Verano which is a lemony sangria which is really good (you can also buy it at grocery stores).

Bars & Clubs…

  • All clubs have a dress code so look nice and don’t act all touristy bc they’ll charge you more or even not let you in
  • Always look for promo codes before you go to a club bc most have deals that include drinks and cover
  • Don’t go to a club before 1-1:30 unless you want to look dumb
  • Kapital!!!!! My home!!!!!!! It’s a 7 story club and which level is a different theme. It’s the most touristy club but you have to go. 
    • There’s also promos every night so you can get in for 17€ and get 2 drinks (and the drink are SO strong). Every night, they have different performers, dancers and this huge smoke thing goes off every few minutes. Go on Friday or Saturday (on Thursday’s, there aren’t that many people there).
  • Teatro Barceló is a famous bar a bunch of celebrities have gone to. 
    • It’s more local and a better reputation, so it’s harder to get into. I only went with one person when I went and I had no trouble, but a group in front of us got denied bc they looked too young and touristy (I think I read somewhere you had to be 21 to get into this one but they didn’t check our ID’s). It’s more expensive, and there are 2 sections (at least when I went). The main entrance is more expensive (and for less drinks), but it looked incredible so I would pay the extra money. Thursdays are fun there
  • Joy is big club there too
    • Go on a weekend- I went on a Thursday, and there was no one there.
  • La Vía Láctea is a local bar that has pool, and it’s more laid back.
  • Any bar on Malasana is pretty chill
  • Sidrería El Tigre is a shitty bar that serves free tapas and cheap drinks.
  • Independence is the club everyone goes to on “fucking Mondays” and if you go early enough it’s 8€ for 2 drinks
    • They also have a bunch of theme nights on the weekends
  • Dubliners is for Wednesday nights and they have 1€ shots
  • Gabana (after Dubliners) on Wednesdays, and it’s free entry and open bar until 1:30am.
  • Velvet is fun but you have to go late

Culture…

  • Their meals are later. Breakfast is a normal time, lunch is around 2, and dinner can range from 9:30-1am
  • Most people know English in the city but it’s smart to know phrases like:
    • Check- La cuenta
    • Excuse me- Pardona

Want more of Europe? Check out these posts!

Supporting Someone Through Grief

Grief is a tough reality- whether you are experiencing it personally or someone you love is experiencing it. Grief is often accompanied by loss; this can be a loss of a loved one, a relationship, a pregnancy, a pet, a job, or a way of life. Grief could happen as a result of a child leaving home, infertility, or a loss of friendship.

No one is immune to grief, and it can be experienced on a spectrum. From grieving the death of my mom to grieving the decision to move to Australia and leaving many loved ones behind, I have found that having support is crucial to my ability to move forward.

Having support is crucial to my ability to move forward. Capernaum, Israel

I do not claim to know everything about grief. I do not claim the ability to know everyone’s experience of grief. But I am encouraged to think that people may read this and feel empowered to support someone around them who is grieving.

Acceptance…

The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it

“A New Earth”, Eckart Tolle

Grief is messy. It is unpredictable and spontaneous. It does not discriminate between the “deserving” and “innocent”. So, it is important to begin to address suffering, especially when supporting someone else, with acceptance.

Accept that you don’t understand their experience. Even if you think you know what it is like to grieve, coming to a grieving person with a sense of entitlement to impose your experience is not helpful. Acceptance involves humility and a unique listening.

Oldest grave yard, grief through loss, Israel

Allow them the space to speak without an answer or a solution. Hold space for someone to express where they are, then accept where that person is. Maybe that person is still stuck in a place that is not serving them, yet they seem to know the way out. Sometimes people want to stay in grief, and that is okay.

For example, the majority of people know that social isolation is not a productive action over a long period of time. The person experiencing grief most likely knows that they should get out of bed or text their friends back, so telling them they should do so is not necessarily the best task of action. At some point, it may be necessary to be a stand for someone and tell them what they know deep down, but that must come from a place of acceptance and a place of trust.

Open yourself to the reality that they may need something from you that you cannot give. And that’s okay. This is a great opportunity for you to express humility and direct them to a place where they can find the proper resources.

Friendships and support as well as travel buddies

Trust…

Trust is built in the smallest moments. Show up at the funeral. Notice when someone tells you who their grandmother’s birthday and put it in your calendar. Remember their favorite candy. Send simple texts.

A fear that may come up when wanting to support someone who is grieving is that they feel “othered”, or that you are treating them differently than everyone else. A way to avoid this is by not mentioning the specific circumstance that they are grieving. If they want to talk about it or bring it up, they will. In that case, just listen. Otherwise, simply present your actions as a way to support them regardless of their circumstance.

Trust is built when you choose to connect with someone over and over again just because it is important to another person.

Brené Brown defines trust using an acrostic of the word BRAVING.
B- Boundaries. I have clear boundaries. You respect them.
R- Reliability. You hold to your commitments and stay true to your word.
A- Accountability. You are willing to make a mistake, apologize, and make amends.
V- Vault. You hold information in confidence, including those who are not in the relationship.
I- Integrity. Choose courage over comfort; choose what is right over what is fun and easy.
N- Non-judgment. You can fall apart. You can ask for help.
G- Generosity. You have generous assumptions and assume good intentions in another.

Trust takes time and energy. It is an investment. Count the costs before diving in, because your lack of follow-through may negatively affect someone’s ability to trust another person. Grieving is a sensitive time and a time where people can be skeptical that forces of good are, in fact, on their side.

Freedom…

In the Yamas and Niyamas (the yogic ethical guide to living), there is a story about man walking down a path along a river and looks up to find a monkey in a tree holding a fish. The monkey explains that he is trying to save the fish from drowning. Although the monkey has great intentions, he does not realize that the fish needs the water to survive. A lot of the times, we, as humans attempt to save someone from something that we fear, but it may just be exactly what they need to survive. In fact, suffering in a lot of ways can be such a transformational time that is vital to someone’s quality of life. Suffering, in this case water, is the ideal vessel through which our greatest awakenings are produced.

Freedom is love. Love is freedom. Offer someone the freedom to cry, get angry, to express their needs, and to ask for help. Consider that the greatest, most loving thing you can do for someone is to give them to freedom to be exactly as they are.

Inquiry is better with friends, Athens, GA. You feel supported during tough times like grief.

This begins with you. Give yourself the freedom to not know the “right” thing to say but try anyways. Give up the need to fix. Surrender to the present moment you have with the person who is grieving.

Allow someone to make a request of you of how you can support them. This may also mean offering some suggestions. “Hey! Want to go to lunch together on Wednesdays during lunch break?” “Want to carpool home on Thursdays after the game?” “Want to run together on Saturday mornings?” They may refuse at first, but just let them know the offer is always open. Their initial refusal may be a sign of a lack of trust or a test to see if you mean what you say. So, this may require you to offer something else or offer again the next week. This requires some forethought- make sure you can commit and get curious about something they like to do or something about your schedules that would be a good suggestion.

I acknowledge you for learning about how to support someone through grief. I acknowledge those who have supported me during my times of grief. You are all game changers.

Supporting someone through grief pinterest link

Attachment – an Addition vs Extension

Relationships are tough. But connection is vital to our existence as cohabiting creatures on this planet.

Most recently, I have reflected on relationships that did not necessarily go how I had hoped. I tried to illuminate the common thread amongst these relationships, and it came down to being an addition or an extension…

Botanical Gardens, Geelong, Melbourne, AUS

Addition…

Consider the word “addition”. What comes to your mind? A room someone built on the back of a house that is not original to the house or the plus sign in math? What I picture is a path where another lane merges into a larger path. You are simply running along the path and are met by another runner when the paths converge. So, you begin to run together.

An addition alludes to a partnership where two people are in equal contribution, and the intention is growth both collectively and individually.

Healthy relationships look like additions. One person is living their life and then decides to invite another person to enjoy life alongside them. Each person has forward momentum ignited by their passion and contributing to their growth– passions and growth that began prior to the partnership. This partnership allows for both individuals to reach further distances through support and new perspectives.

This does not mean that you or your passions or your life course cannot mold or change while in an “addition” relationship. In fact, this is likely to happen. Also, this does not mean that all addition relationships last forever. Partnerships, even healthy ones, can be temporary. Sometimes there is a lesson to be learned or an awakening to be had, of which relationships sometimes are the best teacher or facilitator.

Waterside, oceanside, Botanical Gardens, Geelong, Melbourne, Australia

Extension…

This is what I found most of my “failed” relationships (relationships that did not go as I had hoped) had in common. When I think of an extension, I think of a water puddle that has begun to trickle out from one spot to become attached to another puddle. One puddle is feeding into and filling up the other puddle.

An extension is a relationship where one or both partners attempt to merge with the other in order create their identity by fulfilling another’s gaps.

An extension relationship is sometimes masked with good intention. Maybe someone wants support through a tough transition. Maybe someone feels insecure and craves reassurance. Maybe someone doesn’t know their next career move and is looking for inspiration. Maybe someone did you a favor, and you feel indebted to them. Maybe someone is alone or sick, and you feel capable and available.

I resonate with all of those examples. Every time though, I have lost myself. I pour myself endlessly into a relationship and invest wholeheartedly from a place of love. But because the other person has no stake in the relationship and no investment, they can so easily leave. Then, the pain feels so deep and personal, because I am empty and alone and exhausted.

Together at Bend, Oregon sunset

Be an Addition, not an Extension

Easier said than done, right? I had to seriously evaluate the relationships in my life. I was able to decipher whether I was an addition or extension when I looked at the exchange of investment. The relationships where there is a mutual investment means that I am more than just an extension of that person. I am not just filling a gap in their life. I am an addition to their life, and they are a contribution to my life.

It is important to acknowledge here that everyone is a contribution. I used to think that I was unworthy of connection, so I found myself in a lot of relationships where I was an extension. I didn’t allow people to support me.

I subconsciously wanted to prove that I was abandon-able by creating my own abandonment- how crazy is that! I grasped onto this idea that I deserved abandonment from a young age and spent a majority of my life subconsciously trying to prove that negative, unproductive belief. That’s what our mind does- it involuntarily seeks information to prove our fundamental beliefs. It wasn’t until recently that I became aware of this thought pattern to which I am now trying to deconstruct. I would pour myself into a relationship and not allow the person to support me out of fear that they would leave. Support requires vulnerability, but I was not willing to commit to being vulnerable (although I craved authentic connection which requires some form of vulnerability). Because I did not allow them to support me, they did not feel invested and easily left.

My fear of abandonment led to abandonment, because what you resist persists. You must allow people to support you. This is a very humbly yet essential part of being in a healthy, addition relationship. I have found that support is the common denominator amongst all of my healthy relationships– where I am both a giver and a receiver of support.

Healthy attachment in relationships, pinterest link

Drop the E.G.O.

I did it. I moved to a new country and finally feel settled into my new life. For months now, I have literally been clearing space in my life for this new beginning which included getting rid of most of my belongings, saying goodbye to family and friends, leaving my beloved job, and doing lots of inner work. This inner work has included yoga, meditation, counseling, journaling, and reading. I say all of this to say…I have learned A LOT, and here is my attempt at verbalizing this growth.

Bend, Oregon slack lining along the river journaling and reading and listening to music

Who Am I Exactly…

From a young age, we begin to form our identity. We acknowledge our name as ours. We, then, create this concept of “I”, “my”, “me”, and “mine”. We learn our gender, race, socioeconomic status, and family dynamics. We build a personality, sense of humor, and style. We claim objects, such as toys, as a part of who we are. As we age, these toys get replaced with cars and houses and diplomas and net worth and friends in our circle. When we begin to claim all of these things as a part of our identity, we assert value to them. So, the more we have, the more we valuable we are.

The reality is we are infinitely more than what we have.

What we have limits us to a belief that we can achieve more value. Rather, our value is inherent. We are born with eternality and depth and expansiveness. We are creative creatures with the ability to interact with others and things on this earth.

Examples of things we possess or believe add value to us include titles such as sister, mother, friend, teacher, lawyer, and church-goer. We also include possessions such as houses, cars, and new iPhone. We include the number of followers we have on Instagram and the compliments we receive about our new shirt and the amount of countries we’ve been to.

When we separate ourselves from the things we possess, we can feel liberated to pursue the things that excite us. Once we rid ourselves of titles and possessions, what is left? This space that is created leaves room for the creative within to follow their excitement.

Bend, Oregon hanging in a hammock talking about life and love

Defining the EGO…

The space between who we are and what we possess is called our EGO.

My mom always said, “EGO stands for easing God out“. Whether “God” means a Higher Power or your enlightened self, the ego is the obstacle to awakening to your true identity. Luckily enough, recognizing the ego is overcoming the ego. Separating who you are from what is actually happening is the battle against the ego.

For example, there is a 14-hour time difference between Melbourne and Atlanta. It takes a bit of extra effort to connect with friends back home because I am usually sleeping when they are awake and vice versa. When I haven’t heard back from a friend, I could make it mean that I am a bad friend or that I have done something wrong or that I am unworthy of friendship and connection. The ego comes in and says that this experience is a part of who I am, and I need to take on this experience as a part of my identity moving forward. It is easy to let the ego win, but if I want to overcome this and commit to a deeper understanding of my depth as a human being, I can step back and realize that I am not defined by the actions of others.

Maybe you did make a mistake, maybe someone thinks you do deserve to disconnect from a friendship, and maybe someone does intend to inflict harm on you, but our value is innate. This experience is a tool we can use to discover what is within us. We can acknowledge our emotions and physical sensations, which remind us of what is present. We can connect with others who have had similar experiences and ask for support. We can remind ourselves of our humanness when we make mistakes. But may we never lose sight of our worthiness.

We can leave an experience or a relationship with a greater understanding of the impermanence of life and commit to the acknowledgement of our inherent value.

The idea of the ego can feel emptying. For me, I think, “well, if I am not all of the things that I own or titles I claim, then I am pretty much a blank canvas“. EXACTLY!

Watching the sunset in Bend Oregon together with friends
An ongoing journey of learning how to drop the ego

Depression – The Elephant in the Room

Depression.

“That’s depressing”. “They SUFFER from depression”. “Studying for this test makes me so depressed”.

I am not sure what is worse – the normalization of using “depression” as a joke or the stigma associated with the reality of word – that causes such disconnect in our society. Maybe we joke about it or overuse the term, because we are truly afraid of its impact on the people around us…or maybe its an attempt to neglect what may be going on within us.

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in America (source). This overwhelming statistic tends to make me feel so helpless. How can I impact this statistic for the better? How can I aid in the fight for mental health awareness and support those who struggle to come up for air in the dense, deep waters of depression?

You are not alone.

Depression can feel lonely, Sea of Galilee, Israel

Depression is, in fact, the big elephant in the room. 7.6% of Americans are struggling with the reality of depression and many even go undiagnosed and untreated (source). Therefore, you are not alone.

You can find power and healing in speaking out against the stigma of depression. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops but sharing it with others in confidence that this is not a death sentence and that this is NOT the end of your story. This provides space to heal and feel support from others. One of the tendencies of depression is to isolate yourself, and the lie begins to form that you are unseen, invisible, and not worthy of attention.

Fight the Lies…

I am strong. I am worthy of love. I am equipped with the knowledge and skills to make good decisions for myself. I have the power to extend myself grace when I fall or make a bad decision. I am enough and not too much. I am not defined by my past. I can take one step forward today.

The denseness of depression can sometimes immobilize us in our journey towards healing. Once these lies begin to overwhelm our minds and hearts, we can chose to speak truth over them. After negating these lies, we can fill our mind with ANYTHING else: what we are going to be for Halloween, what we are going to make for dinner, where we want to go on our next vacation. Substituting negative thoughts for positive or even neutral thoughts provide a framework for a habit of letting go of negativity. There is power in learning to live with your hands open (not clenched) and heart abandoned (no expectations).

Being by the water can be a place of self-reflection and love

Seek help…

We are multi-dimensional beings going through an earthly experience. Depression is a result of clinging to the tangible things this world has to offer instead of extending ourselves to who we truly are. We were made to be more than just doctors, lawyers, teachers, and investment bankers. We have other dimensions to us than just mothers, daughters, sisters, and cousins. We are neglecting our spiritual beings; we aren’t satisfying our cravings for more than this one dimensional space we exist in on earth. We must seek help from God and the Holy Spirit dwelling on this earth.

My mom always told me, “intelligent people go to counseling”. So, here is my time to plug for all of the counselors in the world. There are trained professionals that can help you to alleviate your burden. My mom considered counsel-seekers intelligent, because they are able to humble themselves enough to say that they do not have it all together. We all have something to learn- even if we are not depressed. If we are depressed, there are professionals that literally are certified to walk through it with you.

Lonely in a crowded place

Be a support…

As multidimensional beings, we long to satisfy our callings and our gifts. When we exercise these gifts in exchange with others, we become more satisfied. The tendency is to remain busy (or at least act like it) and not to slow down to have intentional encounters with those around us. These are missed opportunities to use our gifts.

In all honesty, it is sometimes hard to love someone who experiences depression. It is hard to love someone who hates themself. It is hard not to become overwhelmed with negativity, because it is harder to pull someone up than to pull someone down. If you have a friend or family member who may be experiencing depression, it is important to have your own support in order to make sure you are coming from a place of fullness. It is important that you have a well to drink from before you start pouring all of your water into someone else’s well.

My Journey…

After my mother passed away about 3.5 years ago, it was a slow decline for about one year until I began experiencing physical depletions. I had blood work done to show that my body was literally attacking itself. My cells lost their identity and began to attack each other instead of what they were structured to do. This caused me physically to slow down, but I continued to push myself (I was training for a marathon). This lack of rest and ability to rejuvenate my body caused me to mentally deteriorate. I went through a tough break-up which caused me to fall flat on my face. I had lost everything. I had lost my mom, my boyfriend/best friend, and my health- these were all critical parts of my identity so I lost myself, too. I struggled with an eating disorder and over-exercising. I was wasting my time instead of investing it in using my gifts to help others- my true calling. I was fighting against my own identity, which was also what my cells were doing to themselves. Our mental state has an intimate correlation with our physical being. Luckily, I had been seeing a counselor for many years up until this point, but she had to move away so I stopped seeing her. I took it day by day, and clung to the friendships I had, which became my saving grace. They are what provided me strength and the momentum to keep going. It was not until a year ago did I get diagnosed with depression. I had been told before by my counselor that I could be depressed but I would immediately shut her down. I didn’t want to be labeled as “depressed”. It seemed like a hopeless place full of shame and stigma. I didn’t want to be on medication that would take away my personality and would soon be addicted for the rest of my life. These were all socially constructed ideas that surround depression. I found a new counselor and talked with my doctor about what the medicine would entail. He described it basically like it was a vitamin. It was a low dose anti-depressant that was not addictive and would simply balance the neurotransmitters (signals) in my brain to do what they were meant to do instead of fight against each other. I would only have to be on them for a year or until I got better. Ever since I humbled myself to accept that I am not okay, I have been able to begin my healing process.

I am constantly striving to better myself.

One and a half years later and I can confidently say…I am strong. I am worthy of love. I am equipped with the knowledge and skills to make good decisions for myself. I have the power to extend myself grace when I fall or make a bad decision. I am enough and not too much. I am not defined by my past. I can take one step forward today.

Let's talk about depression.

Down Unda…Australia

Australia is in the South Pacific pretty isolated from the rest of the world geographically. But when it comes to fashion, architecture, economics, business, and social innovation, Australia is right alongside everyone else. Australia is a continent as well as a country, which pretty much means…it’s big. There’s a lot going on on the east coast with the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney and the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast. As of the past decade or so, the west coast has developed- the main city being Perth. Everything in the middle is basically uninhabited.

Lady Elliot Island sunset

I got to spend about three weeks on the east coast of the country and checked off most of my bucket list, except for Melbourne (so, I had to return a few years later to check it out and now I live there).

One thing I really appreciate about Australia is there global minded-ness. The majority of people know what is going on around the world and form an opinion based off of experience. Most Australians travel extensively within their own country and throughout Europe. Many of the friends I made while backpacking through Europe were from Australia that I still keep up with to this day!

Great Barrier Reef nurse shark

Getting Around…

It is not necessary to have a car in Sydney or in Australia at all. Everything is pretty spread out, and domestic flights are cheap!

Day 1…Arrive in Sydney

Accommodations: Sydney Harbor YHA in the Rocks.

The Rocks” is an area of Sydney that is walking distance to the Sydney Harbor and Opera House. There are also fun markets and museums close by. The Rocks is located near transportation including trains and buses to get anywhere else.

Sydney Opera House sunset

Note: Some Telstra phone booths are wifi hotspots that will allow you to have 30 minutes of wifi free. Most McDonalds also have free wifi and many coffee shops will give you 30 minutes free with purchase of a coffee.

Day 2-4…Sydney

Sydney is huge!!! You could be on a train for an hour and a half and still be in Sydney.

They have great museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Australian Museum. We also did a tour called Giba Nura: History of the Rocks from an Aboriginal Perspective via Sydney Learning Adventures.

Other things to do in Sydney include Manly Beach, Bondi Beach, China Town, Botanic Garden, and Parliament. All of these things are accessible via public transportation.

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

Day 5…Sydney to Hervey Bay Airport and flight to Lady Elliot Island

Because there was a large group, we chartered a bus from Sydney to Hervey Bay. Hervey Bay is a small beach town with souvenir shops and restaurants. We had lunch at Hervey Bay, then flew on a 10 seater airplane to Lady Elliot Island.

Harvey Bay dock

Lady Elliot Island is a small island- literally one mile wide- located in the Great Barrier Reef. There is a resort called Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, which was all-inclusive. There are several islands that can give you access to the Great Barrier Reef, but it is important for sustainability purposes to choose a place that is focused on the conversation of the Reef.

Great Barrier Reef

Day 6-9…LEI

Although Lady Elliot Island may be small, there is so much to see! Most days consist of snorkeling, reef walks, walks around the island, and watching the sunset and the sunrise. The food is amazing, and the staff is very helpful in educating their guests about the Reef.

Great Barrier Reef scuba diving with sea turtles

Day 9…LEI to Carnarvon Gorge

We flew back to Hervey Bay and took a 10-hour drive to Carnarvon Gorge on a chartered bus.

Koala in Noosa

Carnarvon Gorge is located in the outback; we stayed at Takarakka Bush Resort. The resort consisted of small huts and a communal bathroom surrounded by wild kangaroos and wallabies and otters and more.

Day 10-12…Carnarvon Gorge

We used Australian Nature Guides (our guide’s name was Simon Ling) to show us around Carnarvon Gorge. It is helpful to have a guide, because there are a lot of animals and insects you may want to know about as well as rich history.

Stargazing in Carnarvon Gorge outback

At Carnarvon Gorge, there is a lot of activities including Warumba Gorge guided walk, Spotlighting and Nocturnal Wildlife, Carnarvon Gorge hike, Boolimba Bluff Hike, and Southern Skies stargazing.

Day 13: Carnarvon Gorge to Noosa

This is a big travel day, as it takes the entire day to arrive in Noosa. Noosa is on the Sunshine Coast and was my favorite city that we visited during this trip. We stayed at the Coral Beach Resort, which consisted of condominiums.

Canarvon Gorge hike

Day 14-15…Noosa

Noosa is a small, quaint coastal town. There is a lovely downtown area and fun parks. Activities include the Noosa Spit, Noosa National Park, swim at Main Beach, surf, and Eumundi Markets.

Noosa Spit

Day 16…Noosa to Brisbane to Surfer’s Paradise

On the way, we stopped at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where you can pet kangaroos and hold a koala.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary kangaroo and Joey

Brisbane is another big city along the east coast- there are shops and restaurants just like a typical city. I did not get much time here, but they were having a fun festival the night we arrived. We stayed at Astor Metropole Hotel. We flew out from Brisbane via Brisbane International Airport to Surfer’s Paradise.

Surfer's Paradise beach on the Gold Coast

We rented an AirBnb for one week in Surfer’s Paradise, which is located on the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is famous for its surfing and beaches. There is also a lot of fun markets- when we were there, there was a sand castle contest. My friends also went skydiving at Byron Bay- another lovely town full of hippies!

While you are here…

Let’s be honest, you are already in the South Pacific. Why not check out more of the region?
New Zealand
Fiji
The Big Island of Hawaii
Melbourne, Australia

One month Down Unda, a trek down the East Coast of Australia

The Untouched World…New Zealand

New Zealand is probably on just about everyone’s bucket list (if it isn’t, it should be), but for some reason, many never make it there. Yes, it is expensive to get there. Yes, it is far away. Yes, you need at least two weeks to even make the trip worth it. But let me tell you, IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT. Just do it. There is so much of New Zealand to see- the landscapes, the ecology, the history, the people, the animals. New Zealand is unlike any other place on Earth, and it is constantly evolving due to its geographic location- on the edge of two tectonic plates that are sliding into one another.

Helena Falls, Doubtful Sound, Deep Cove Fiordlands, New Zealand

New Zealand consists of two islands, and they made it very simple: the North Island and the South Island. During this trip, I spent most of my time on the South Island and a bit of the southern tip of the North Island. I only had three weeks here, and as I mentioned earlier, you need at least two weeks in order to really get the experience that is New Zealand.

Getting Around…

Everything is pretty spread out in New Zealand, so having a way to get around is vital. Because I was traveling with a large group, we chartered a bus. Most travelers rent a car or take buses to cities. The bus limits you to only a number of places, whereas a car would give you more flexibility. For backpackers, New Zealand is known to be hitchhiker-friendly. The Kiwi’s (or local New Zealanders) are very friendly!

Deep Cove, Doubtful Sound, Fiordlands, New Zealand

Day One…Arrive in Queenstown

There are two major airports- Auckland (North Island) and Queenstown (South Island). I had a brief layover in Auckland (located in the Northern part of the North Island) before arriving in Queenstown (located in the Southern part of the South Island).

Tour of Zealandia, Wellington, New Zealand

We stayed at Pinewood Lodge, which is walking distance into the downtown area. This is a hostel style with bunkbeds and community/shared bathrooms, but they have other options.

Day 2 – 5…Doubtful Sound

From Queenstown, we took the bus then a boat to Deep Cove Fiordlands National Park in Doubtful Sound. We stayed in Deep Cove Hostel. It is important to bring rain gear and insect repellant, as the weather is rather unpredictable.

Deep Cove Fiordlands National Park, Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

There is plenty to do here in the Fiordlands including riding a boat across Lake Manapouri, hiking Helena Falls, and hiking Brasell Point.

Day 5…Doubtful Sound to Queenstown

Brassel Point, Doubtful Sound, Fiordlands National Park, Deep Cove, New Zealand

The trek back to Queenstown takes about 2.5 hours via Te Anau. Accommodations are Pinewood Lodge again.

Day 6-7…Queenstown

Day 6 is when we did the Ben Lomond hike, which takes the entire day. Bring plenty of water, because there is no shade near the peak. There is an option to take the gondola about half way up (NZ$30 round-trip, takes one hour). It is a tough hike, but it is the prettiest hike I have ever done.

Ben Lomond hike, Queenstown, New Zealand

Day 7 was full of excursions. Queenstown is where bungy jumping was first created (specifically, AJ Hackett), so there is plenty of things to jump off of. Other options include canyoning and boating.

Fergburger, Queenstown, New Zealand

Be sure to check out Fergburger, a burger restaurant, and grab it to go while eating it at the beach!

Day 8…Queenstown to Aoraki

Lake Wanaka, Aoraki National park, glacial lake, New Zealand

Aoraki National Park is surrounded by glaciers and aqua blue glacial lakes. We stayed at Aoraki/Mt. Cook Alpine Lodge. On the way to Aoraki, we stopped at Jone’s Farmer’s Market/Fruit Stand, Fork Farm (a working sheep farm), and had lunch in Wanaka at Lake Wanaka Park.

Day 9-10…Aoraki/Mt. Cook

One day, we went to the city of Twizel and visited Meridian Energy, which manages water resources in the Mackenzie Basin and Canterbury Plains. Then, we visited Ben Ohau Station, which manages high country and land tenure system.

Hooker Valley Hike, glacial lake polar plunge, New Zealand

Another day, we did the Hooker Valley hike and polar plunged in a glacial lake!

Hooker Valley hike, Aoraki / Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand

Day 11…Aoraki to Kaikoura via Christchurch

On the way to Kaikoura, we stopped at Rakaia Gorge (a braided river ecosystem) and Christchurch for lunch. We stayed at Kaikoura Top 10– a hostel with small huts and bunkbeds. The showers and restrooms are in their own separate hut.

Real fruit ice cream, Kaikora, New Zealand

Note: “Real fruit” ice cream is the way to go!!

Day 12 – 13…Kaikoura

The first day, we went on a dolphin swim with Encounter Kaikoura. Be sure to bring a towel and change of clothes (the water is very cold). You will wear a full wet-suit with mask and snorkel while swimming. You will be able to change on the boat, and there are showers back at the Encounter Kaikoura building.

Encounter Kaikora, swimming with dolphins, New Zealand

I am not exaggerating in the slightest bit. Swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura was the best day of my life. I always go back to that moment as the happiest I have ever been.

Day two, we hiked to Point Keane on the Kaikoura Peninsula hike.

Point Keane, Kaikora Peninsula hike, New Zealand

Day 14…Kaikoura to Wellington

Wellington is on the North Island, so we took a ferry at Picton. On the way, we saw Ohau seal pups. We stayed at Wellington City YHA– another hostel style with bunkbeds and community bathrooms on each floor.

Wellington city, New Zealand

Day 15-17…Wellington

Wellington is the business center of New Zealand. Here, you can visit Parliament, Te Papa Museum, Karori Wildlife Sactuary, and complete a Tour of Zealandia.

Zealandia, New Zealand, Wellington

This is also a city with great nightlife and fun events during the day. We found pop up art shows and street fairs and street dancing.

Day 18…Wellington to Tongariro National Park

After arriving at our accommodations (Howard’s Lodge), we explored the National Park Village. This is a pretty deserted town, but there is one fun restaurant to hang out and meet people.

Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Day 19-20…Tongariro

Tongariro, New Zealand

There are so many hikes to do in the National Park including Taranaki Falls Track and summiting Tongariro, which takes an entire day.

Day 21…Tongariro to Wellington

Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington also has an airport called Wellington International Airport, which is where we flew out of.

While you are here…

Let’s be honest, you are already in the South Pacific. Why not check out more of the region?
Australian East Coast Itinerary
Melbourne, Australia
Fiji
The Big Island of Hawaii

One month trek through New Zealand
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