why i'm still traveling

I recently had a traumatizing experience in India that threw me completely out of orbit. For the past week I have felt emotionally and mentally lost and I haven’t found the same sense of urgency and excitement for travel. In truth, I’ve never felt so stuck, lonely and doubtful of what I’m doing.

Now I’m in Thailand, and as each minute, hour and day of this last week went by, I repeatedly asked myself the question, “Why am I still traveling?” After all, I’ve been gone for four months and I can go home at any point. Should I?

Yesterday I left my hostel here in Bangkok to spend my last two days in the city with Jackie, a TEDster I met three years ago at TEDGlobal. In order to get to her house, I had to walk 15 minutes from her office to the sky train, take that across town, and then walk another 30 minutes to her place. It was about 95 degrees outside, ridiculously humid and I had about 55 pounds to carry on my back.

As I was nearing her home, I started to become very mindful of everything I was physically feeling and seeing. I was drenched in sweat from head to toe, my shoulders were aching and it was about to downpour. Around me cars and motorcycles were whizzing by carrying everything from hundreds of plants and flowers to babies and animals. The cracked sidewalks were packed with men, women and children trying to sell anything from fresh fruit and poultry to handmade trinkets. Stray cats scampered by my feet, the smell of something burning filled my nose and the sound of dragonflies and honking horns filled the air. A mosquito buzzed in my ear. I could feel the warmth and weight of the moist air heavy on my body.

This awareness of my surroundings made me stop and sit for a minute. I thought of all the little things that backpacking around this world has made me come to love. The smelly streets and alleyways and the wrinkled faces peering out at me. The zips, clicks and clacks of packing everything up. Never knowing the language but being fluent in hand gestures. Constellations I’ve never seen and food I’ve never even heard of. Conversations with people I’d never dream of meeting.

On a deeper level, travel has given me the opportunity to flip the camera around and observe myself. Over the past four months, I’ve discovered more about my true character than I have in my entire life. I’ve learned that you find out what really makes you happy when you’re truly alone. That by going far, far away, you realize what you miss and call home. I’ve learned that negative energy is useless and the only thing that matters in my life is people. I’ve learned what it feels like to be one of a million and not one in a million. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself when there is no one else around who can. I’ve had moments leave me speechless and others leave me begging for a voice.

As I sit here writing, I realize that learning all of this is exactly why I am still traveling. I’m still traveling because what I discover from being truly alone trumps the feeling itself altogether. I’m still traveling because getting an opportunity to do so is not one I can guarantee in the future, nor one that I will ever take for granted. I’m still traveling because to me, learning and growth are paramount. I’m still traveling because it makes me feel human. 

Going forward, I know that I will be challenged and thrown off course once more. My thoughts and perspective will change again and doubt will be a common occurrence. But I also know now what my home is, what brings me there, and how to get back up after falling down.

-B

table for three

It's very, very hot here in Dubai (about 100 F/37 C with humidity) , so while I was standing in line tonight at a local burger place, I was fanning myself with the laminated menu. At one point I turned to see a man behind me doing the same. We made eye contact, said "it's quite hot," nodded our heads and smiled and laughed.

With some awkwardness in the air, he filled the silence by asking where I was from. "The US," I said, "California. And you?" "Pakistan. From a city in the east named Lahore."

From here we continued to talk about why I was in Dubai, my travels and studies, and how I've enjoyed my time on the road. He then introduced me to his beautiful wife who was also from Pakistan. After some more small talk and ordering, they both shook my hand and wished me well. 

A few meters away, however, we all found ourselves waiting for a free table together. When one opened, the hostess motioned to them and then me, seemingly confused as to if we wanted to eat together. The man then said "We're together," nodded at me, and then we all went over to the table. 

What should have been a quick 15-minute jaunt by myself turned into an hour-long meal with this wonderful couple. We talked about everything from travel and marriage to the recent Humans of New York series with Pakistani people. The wife was so pleased by Brandon's (HONY) photos because of how well they represented the true culture of the Pakistani people, instead of folks simply creating their ideas of people by watching the news. We talked about how they met, where they went to school, what they studied... He is an engineer and she's a software engineer specifically. Her entire family is made up of software engineers and her two brothers live and work in Seattle, at Facebook and Microsoft respectively. They moved to Dubai a year ago and have been married for over three. They both have never been to the States but hope to go one day. She would love to live in Australia although she doesn't have a reason for it, which makes them both giggle. She has a nose ring, which looks great. She wears a traditional hijab like some of my friends do back in the States. He's very kind and gentle with the way he speaks, and it's so clear that he loves her. He's 29, she's 27, and he told me they got married early in regard to usual Pakistani culture but "we knew it was right," he said with a smile on his face. 

They asked me so many thoughtful questions about my journey so far and what I want to do with my life. At times it felt like I was talking with old friends. After dinner they asked how I was getting home (the friend's house I'm staying at) and I told them the way I had gotten to the beach in the first place: by taxi. Without hesitation he said "Let us take you back." I respectfully said they didn't have to and how kind of a gesture it was, but he pushed back. "Please," he said, "it's right on the way and it's no problem at all." {For context, it's a 25 minute drive from the beach back to my home here. In other words, it was ridiculously kind of them to offer to drive me back.}

As were leaving the restaurant he told me and his wife to wait for a bit. A few minutes later he came back from the counter with two cups filled with ice cream. He handed one to his wife, and the other to me. "Oh my gosh you're way too nice!" I squeaked out. He didn't even respond. His face just simply read that it was nothing at all. Again, so sweet of him/them. 

On the drive back she fed him spoonfuls of her ice cream while he was driving. We talked more about my next destination and things I've learned along the way. When we arrived, they both got out of the car to send me off and I thanked them endlessly for their generosity. The wife then told me, "you're very special, and you're going to be someone great one day. Let's take a picture!" He grabbed his phone, we took a picture together, we hugged again and they drove off. 

~~~

Moments like these make up some of the best memories while traveling. They happen to me more often than I'd expect, and usually with perfect timing. Meeting people from far away places and cultures who you have so much in common with will always give me goosebumps. 

 

 

photos of europe and video of greece

A quick update for anyone following along - I have uploaded my photos from the very beginning of my journey up until Nice, France (September 1). I will be putting up some Spain and Portugal photos soon. They can all be found under "Europe" in the Gallery section above. 

Below is a video I made from my time I spent in Greece. I joined two girls from New Zealand (who are now new and wonderful friends) and we had an absolute blast. 

More to come soon!

ireland with the family

Ireland was a wonderful place to start my journey, especially because I was fortunate enough to be there with my family. Having them around for the beginning of such an experience was comforting and encouraging, and exploring the country with them also proved to be a classic Doyle family experience. Great food, even better conversation, and lots of moments that I’ll cherish forever.

Dad trying to snag a great photo...

We started in Dublin with a couple of days to explore the city on foot. Grafton Street, which is a main street of sorts there, had a steady stream of Irish folks and tourists, and we spent a good amount of time branching off from there to find great restaurants and bars. One day we walked to a delicious little coffee shop that was recommended to me by my friend Garrett. It’s called 3FE and it had a beautifully modern and minimalist aesthetic to it. The same day we then ventured over to St. Stephens Green, which is a gorgeous park right near Grafton Street. Another fairly famous part of Dublin that we visited that day was the Guinness Factory. This was such a fun experience/tour, particularly because at the end you get to learn how to pour a Guinness and then of course, you get to drink it. For me, this was big because it’s where I would learn that I really like Guinness; the first beer that I actually enjoy.
That day (June 26th) was also a day I will never forget because it was the day that the United States Supreme Court granted marriage equality across all 50 states. With the limited Wi-Fi I had at the time, I was nervously checking Twitter and all sorts of news sources for the good news. When it did come, I immediately told my family and we all celebrated the news with our Guinness, right there in the factory. Although it was a bit of a bummer that I couldn’t be with my friends in DC at the time, it was exciting to be in Ireland with their own recent passing of gay marriage and with my loving and supporting family.
After those first days in Dublin we rented a car and then began our journey throughout the country. Our first stop after leaving Dublin was Cork, a great little city that we would stay in for two nights. Each day we would usually venture out to a nearby coastal town or neighborhood and tool around for a bit before heading back toward Cork. Two of those places would be Kenmare and the Dingle Peninsula, both of which were beautiful in their own right. Kenmare was a quaint little town built around a small bay. We had lunch here and then drove to the end of the road where there was a golf course and some staggering cliffs to look out over. This would be the first of many times I was amazed by the stunning coastline of Ireland. Dingle was also a fun little area with lots of cute stores and bars. We tried something called Irish coffee while we were in Dingle and did some meandering through the streets.
After Cork we went to Killarney where we stayed at a cute little B&B. Killarney was one of the smaller towns we visited, with one main street running through the middle, but it was peaceful and enjoyable nonetheless. We ate at a restaurant one night where the dessert was a sticky toffee pudding and let’s just say that we all loved it (we ordered 2, almost 3). The next night there we actually had drinks with our neighbors from San Diego who we coordinated with while they were also vacationing in Ireland!
From Killarney we headed Northwest again toward Galway, but before we arrived we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher, one of the main attractions of Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip (pictures in Gallery) and I was so pleased that we could see them with relatively good weather (no rain). I highly recommend going if you ever visit Ireland.
Although Galway was technically our next stop for two nights (we explored it a bit each day), we stayed about an hour outside of the city in a great rural area surrounded by gorgeous scenery. We ended up going on a family bike ride, hiked a bit, and then my Dad and I went golfing one day while my sister and Mom went horseback riding. That day was truly special because again, the weather was superb, and also because golfing with my Dad is always one of my favorite things. I also had a great shot out of a bunker, so that’s nice. :) 

Back in Dublin for our final day, we took time to walk around again and just soak up the city atmosphere. The people are very diverse, very loud and fun, and the whole place just seemed to have a friendly vibe to it. While my parents and sister would leave the following morning, I spent the rest of that day alone in Dublin exploring and would end up meeting three girls from UCLA with whom I would later go to dinner with for a 4th of July celebration from abroad!
Ireland really proved to be a beautiful country covered with stunning shades of green that I’ve never seen before and wonderful little towns filled with great people. Having a car and driving to different locations definitely made it more enjoyable and easier to experience, so I would certainly recommend that if possible. Also, Times Hostel on College Street in Dublin was a pretty good experience, good price, and great location. Onward!

The family at the Cliffs of Moher

 

what i packed, how i packed, and tricks i've learned so far

Out of all of the little things that I enjoy in life, packing is actually one of my favorites. To me, it symbolizes the beginning of something or the start of a journey. Whether it’s packing my bag in college to head to a coffee shop or heading out for an international adventure, packing has always made me giddy with excitement - a sort of adrenaline rush for the unknown trail ahead. With this journey having been thought about and planned for over a year, you can imagine the rush I felt while packing up my massive backpack. It would serve as my suitcase and home base for the next 12 months, so I wanted to get it right.
And that’s exactly where I was wrong. In my opinion, there is no particular right way to pack for a journey like this. A good amount of friends and mentors gave me advice on what to pack and how to pack, and in the end, I took bits and pieces from all angles and came to terms with my own style. Here is a look into what and how I packed, some tips for packing that I’ve learned so far, and some important pre-planning tasks.
I have lot of clothes, (that’s what 4 years of free t-shirts at basketball games and community service events will do to you) so when it came time to choosing which clothes to bring, I thought I’d be in trouble. However, it actually was fairly easy. In fact, it was cleansing and freeing in a way. Since I had planned my trip to be in warm weather areas as much as possible, I didn’t have to worry too much about packing for completely different climates. That being said, I still had to choose wisely.
            Jacket (1): I have a super light weight one that keeps me very warm, and it’s pretty fashionable, which as silly as that sounds, is helpful since I’ll be wearing it almost every day. I did also bring a ridiculously lightweight sweatshirt that could be worn as an extra layer underneath.             Shoes (3): With help from my Dad, I chose a very durable and flexible pair of walking shoes from The Walking Company. They are waterproof, pretty European looking, and are very comfortable. I wear these most of the time. The other two are a pair of black shoes that are good to wear shorts with, and my Nike running shoes. These can be used for hikes, longer walks/exercising in, etc.
            Socks (10): Socks are easy to pack, so I made sure to bring a good amount of them. Wool socks are great, and I bought some from REI that you can wash out in a sink and dry super fast. Tip: put them in your shoes to save space when packing.
            Pants/Shorts (3/4): Two pairs of jeans, and one pair of khaki color pants that are similar to jean material. The khakis can be used if I need to look nicer at any point, and they’ve already come in handy a handful of times. Regarding shorts, I have 4 pairs with me. One is for exercise, and the others are for hiking and walking around cities, towns, etc. I also have two belts for my pants (a regular one and a nice/fancy one), and one for my shorts.
            Underwear (10): Underwear is pretty small, so bringing 10 pairs were similar to the socks in that they can be packed easily and won’t take up too much space. A key thing with underwear is to find some pairs that can be washed in a sink and dried quickly (like the socks), so that if you don’t have access to a washing machine/dryer for a while, you can have clean underwear.
            Shirts (12): I have 10 regular shirts (short and long sleeve), and then 2 button-down/fancy shirts. I’d recommend getting a few of the sink-washable shirts too. (Hint: REI is awesome)
            Hat (1): A dermatologist I went to before my trip gave me a super great hat to wear, so I brought that along.

With such a long journey ahead, much of which would be in places with limited access to medicine, I needed to be prepared. Therefore, I have with me a small first-aid kit and all sorts of pills to combat congestion, stomach problems, allergies, and everything in between. As I’ll mention later, I also have malaria pills for when I go to places with high risk of the disease.
Miscellaneous/Supplies:
            Towels: My wonderful aunt gave me something called a micro-towel that is basically the world’s greatest invention. It’s a full sized towel that dries almost instantly, and it packs away into the size of a bag of chips. I also got myself an even tinier one to serve as a washcloth of sorts.             Computer: Choosing to bring a computer was tough, but with all the photo/video editing I will be doing for personal projects, I needed to bring it. The good news is that it’s very lightweight and easy to pack. I also have a hard drive to store photos on that I have packed in a waterproof little bag that came in a toiletry bag that I have.
            Converters: I have two incredibly versatile converters for many different types of outlets. Along with these are my charging cords for my devices.
            Toiletries: Pretty self-explanatory. I made to sure to get travel sizes and to be truly smart about what I needed versus what I wanted.
            Camera: I have a very lightweight DSLR camera with me, as well as a GoPro. Each has their own carrying case and stays with me at all times in my daypack.

Tips for packing that I’ve learned so far:
-       Take batteries out of anything you have and put them in when you need to. This way nothing will turn on accidentally in your bag(s) and drain the battery.
-       Be strategic and pack things that are heaviest at the bottom of your bag. Also pack things that you won’t use too much toward to bottom of your bag.
-       Roll your clothing. It saves a lot of space.
-       Compartmentalize. At REI they have these amazingly light bags that you can sort your things into. For example, I have four and one has my shirts in it, one has my pants and shorts in it, etc. This way, you don’t have loose clothing in our bag that spills everywhere if you need to grab something. It’s almost as if your bags has little drawers and it’s been exceptionally helpful so far.
-       Bring backups of things that may be important. I have a backup daypack if mine breaks, and it can also be used as a waterproof bag in case I need it.
-       Be versatile with what you use things for. I got a toiletry bag at REI that I am using as my camera bag because it fits perfectly and is waterproof.
-       Leave space in your bag. My bag isn’t full (it’s currently at 40lbs) and that’s a good thing. This means that I have space should I need to buy something along the way (a new pair of shoes, an extra jacket, etc.) and it also means my bag is lighter than it could be. Yay!
-       Grab things along the way, but be smart. For example, I took some of the hotel shampoo and soap when I was with my family so I can use it in a hostel if I need it. I also grabbed a couple shower caps in case I need to put something wet away, but that could just be me overanalyzing things like usual…
-       Bring a Nalgene water bottle. It will save you money and will remind you to stay hydrated. There are also a bunch of refill stations in Europe.
-       Bring your student ID. It can get you discounts at tons of museums and other attractions.
-       Be okay with change: if a tactic isn’t working, that’s ok. Try something else. Just make sure you’re okay with things breaking, not going as planned, etc, and be ready to problem solve! J

Before I set out traveling, there were a few very important things I needed to get done. Here are as many as I can remember:
            Vaccines: Making sure I had all of my shots for this journey was important. I was lucky to have a few shots from years ago still covering me, but I still had to get a few. For example, a yellow fever shot is not only important, but it also is required to enter into a few countries.
            Passport/Visas: Visas can take a long time to get, so doing this as early as possible, no matter how many you need, is crucial. In my case, I need about 12 visas for places I want to go during my travels. Some require(d) sending in documents while others can be applied and accepted online. I recommend using Travisa. They’re great to use and at the very least to check out what is needed for each visa. When it comes to a passport, I actually applied and was accepted for a second valid US passport. This is because with the amount of traveling I am doing without returning to the US, I need to be able to send one off to get a visa while I keep traveling with the other. This can all be a bit confusing (still is at times to me), so if anyone reading this has any specific questions just let me know.
            Doctors Appointments: The generic checkups and whatnot are actually important as well. I went to an ophthalmologist, a dermatologist and a dentist before I left to try and get everything in good shape. It also helped because some doctors will give you special creams or pills or random things to take with you for free (like the hat I got).

Phew! I think that’s everything I wanted to get across. The main point with all of this, however, is that everything is constantly changing for me. I’m consistently figuring out better ways of doing this, and I will probably gather and shed some things along the way. I’m always learning along this trip, so please let me know if you have anything to add or if you have any questions!

quick update

Hi there! Now that I'm almost a month into my journey, I've been able to structure the next couple of months with room for spontaneity and adventure. With that, I have just updated my schedule up until mid October and I have posted pictures from Ireland and Iceland. The one below is of a place called Dinosaur Rock in Vatnsnesvegur, Iceland. Enjoy! - B

choosing a backpack

Ever since the idea for this journey began, many people have asked me how I am packing for this year-long adventure. For the purpose of simplicity and efficiency, I will be using a backpacking pack, which I purchased just the other day. Choosing the right one for me came down to a few specific details:

Size - A year is obviously a long time, so having a backpack that can fit a fair amount in it was important to me. Most of the ones I was looking at online ranged between 60 - 80 liters and had substantial pockets and accessories, so after landing on two that I felt comfortable with, I went to REI to check them out in person. I ended up getting one that is 75 liters, as opposed to the other choice I liked which was 65 liters. It also was better shaped for my body in that there was not a protruding piece on top that my head kept hitting (like it did on the other one). My pack also comes with the ability to adjust the length of the spine of the pack so that it can fit my torso. 

Brand - The backpack I got is a Gregory backpack. Osprey is the brand that most people like for these types of packs and it was between Osprey and Gregory for me as well. It ultimately came down to which served me better in terms of size and other details (see below). 

Price - These packs can be super expensive. Luckily, I've been saving an REI gift card for awhile, my Dad found a coupon in the newspaper recently, and we went during a huge sale. This made the ending price significantly cheaper than expected. All about that bargain shopping! 

Accessibility - Another hugely important aspect of the backpack for me was how it opened/how it could be packed. Some backpacks can only be unpacked / packed from the top so that you have to reach down to the bottom to retrieve something. The two that I was looking at could be laid down and opened like a suitcase. The one I didn't get could open its zipper in a "J" shape, whereas the one I ended up getting can open in a full and regular "U" shape. My backpack also has a significant external/outside pocket that fully zips shut as opposed to having a mesh covering. It also has a flap at the bottom that creates a small separate pocket from the main section of the pack where I can put things like dirty shoes/clothes. 

Daypack - Having the ability to leave my big pack in a hostel/Airbnb/room somewhere during the day while exploring was also very important to me. To do this, I needed to get a very small daypack. I found a great one that can either be attached to my big back or secured across my chest. With this pack I can walk around with my camera, a water bottle, etc., during the day without lugging around all of my belongings. 

Choosing a backpack proved to be one of the first important steps on an extensive list of preparation items for this trip. Big thank you to my Dad for his help with research and advice. 

Message me if you want more details on the pack or anything I mentioned! - B