Tag Archives: wanderlust

Never Stop Exploring

2 Apr

Welcome back, dear readers!

So as you know I started this blog before my big move to Prague. It was 2013 & I was nearing my university graduation & had no idea what I wanted to do.

So in the single most important act I have ever done–I bought a one-way ticket & moved to a faraway land all alone for a year of ups & downs.

Fast-forward 3 years later to today, where I can honestly say that I am in such a happy place. While I am now living a lot closer to home, I still have made a point to surround myself with as much travel opportunities as possible.

Whether with family, friends, or solo, I made a pact to myself when I moved back to the U.S.: never stop exploring no matter what. 

No matter what others say & no matter what the news says–just keep going.

Even if you have to save up entire paychecks for plane tickets, take painfully long yet affordable budget buses cross country, or sleep on someone’s lumpy couch for a couple of nights.

It will absolutely always be worth it.

And it always has been.

But sadly while the past few years have been comprised of some of my best vacations abroad, they have also consisted of some of the most tragic world events.

Every day tells of another bombing or shooting or death toll; innocent lives are drastically being wiped out by evil.

It’s unexplainable, it’s incomprehensible…it’s terrifying.

So why would I still want to travel?

Why would I put myself at risk to be another statistic

Well, that’s simple: because travel has always given me so much.

It has given me global perspectives: shattering ethnocentric ideas, expanding cultural knowledge & fully allowing me to experience being “the other”.

(Quite noticeably the only Westerners in Hong Kong’s remote Ngong Ping village, Grampy & I just went with the flow) 

It has given me self confidence: learning to navigate new cities, new languages & unfamiliar customs all on my own.

(Living in a city with minimal English-speaking, I learned the Czech language basics fast. Especially when it came to pivo!)

It has given me my dream job, uniting students & families from all over the world to form life-lasting bonds.

(Wonderful exchange students my company brought to the U.S. & are currently living with volunteer host families)

And of COURSE it has given me all my wonderful friendships with so many extraordinary human beings.

(My Japanese “sisters” in Tokyo)

(My host mother & host brother, Simon, in Paris)

(My TEFL “family” in Prague)

(My friend Meaghan & I spending Xmas 2013 with the family of my French friend, Apolline!)

When I say travel is my passion–I mean it.

And when you are fully invested in a passion, you will let nothing else stand in its way.

And I won’t.

Think about it: some people have “risky” passions like extreme sports. Yes, there is possible danger, however, with proper education & precaution, the dangers minimize drastically.

The same way you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a race car without proper training, I would never travel to a foreign city without doing proper research.

Of course, any true traveler knows preparation is key. Making sure maps, currency conversions, accommodations & plans are finalized before moving forward. & A heightened sense of common sense can go a long way.

“Traveling smart” has saved me more than a few times abroad. Whether it be using my intuition about bad situations or being prepared should plans go wrong–this is my first rule of going anywhere.

(Though considered a “Second World Country”, Thailand had some of the nicest locals I’ve ever met)

As prepared as I am, every time I announce a new trip abroad, I am still always met by a response of worry & concern.

While sometimes it can seem understandable, I am still so sick of justifying my travels to people who know nothing about the destinations I’m going to.

To people who allow a heightened sense of media-induced paranoia cloud their logic. Reading exaggerated headlines & watching sensationalized videos that teach them that every thing outside their front door is a war zone.

& I’m sorry, but I refuse to buy into this mindset.

Don’t you understand? That is what terrorists want. They want us afraid & divided. They want us hateful & unable to continue our daily routines. They want us to scapegoat & point fingers.

Well, I don’t know about you, dear readers, but there’s no way I will let them succeed.

I will never stop exploring, asking questions & looking for answers.

I refuse to close my mind. I will not stigmatize 1.6 billion people for the horrendous actions of few. I will not panic about going to a city near Brussels when my own city has already had several shootings in 2016. I will not listen to politicians who use racism to further a disgusting agenda of hate. & I will never use blanket statements like “they” or “them” when discussing large groups of people.

(MEPI friends from various countries in the Middle East/North Africa!)

Because every human is different, & I refuse to believe that everyone is inherently bad…& travel keeps re-enforcing this for me. 

I have met with Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans who have an indescribable sense of faith in the wake of so much tragedy.

(Service trip with my High School to New Orleans in 2008)

I have had strangers in Budapest, Prague & Vienna (who spoke zero English) literally take me by the hand to steer me in the right direction when I was lost & afraid & alone.

 

(I only found my way around Austria & Hungary thanks to the kindness of strangers!)

I have had wonderful experiences in Tokyo, Istanbul & Paris that would not have been half as special if it was not for the overwhelming hospitality of local friends.

(Mike is from Chicago but he was the best tour guide in Istanbul! Thanks, brother!)

& I have met extraordinary human beings in every single city I’ve been who have shared delicious meals, informative pub debates, & deep insight into their beautiful cultures with me, an outsider.

(Like my Japanese sisters, I am also very close with the group of Brazilian students we befriended who were studying at my university in 2014)

So next week I will venture back to Europe alone. I will FINALLY be reunited with the cooler older sister I never had, Gillian, in her new home, The Hague. Then travel by myself to Amsterdam & Copenhagen.

And I have not an ounce of fear.

Because I will do what I always do. I will pack all my travel supplies: my maps, my converters & my clothing layers. I will print out all my itineraries, my plane reservations, & my hostel addresses.

& I will be aware of my surroundings.

Not a panicked hyper-awareness, but not a foolish lack of awareness–just simply aware.

Like I always am when I’m in a new city.

And I will be fine.

I mean, I get to explore two brand new cities! I will see the wold-famous Keukenhof Tulip Gardens & the beautiful seaside Nyhavn canal & get to have some much needed pub talk with one of my best friends!

(See you soon, Gillian!)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past few years, dear readers, it is that you cannot allow anything to dictate your happiness. 

No job, no lover, & absolutely no fear.

You must continue to venture on, to explore the unknown even when it can be terrifying. Because you never know what wonderful experiences or people may be waiting just around the corner.

Happy travels!

JG 🙂

 

 

 

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The Other Side of The World

8 Mar

Whew. Sorry it took me so long to update you on my life, dear readers! I have been so busy traveling the world & then attempting to regroup from the jet lag from said travels! But now I think I’m finally back to normal, enough to tell you about some bucket list milestones I recently crushed including:

-Drink out of a fresh coconut

-Take a Japanese bullet train

-Visit a monk in a Buddhist temple

and…

TRAVEL TO ASIA!

If you know me/have been following my blog for a while you know that traveling is definitely my true passion & it seems like I do it a heck of a lot. Well, you’re certainly not wrong, but one thing to note is where I travel–to all the SAME places!!!

I definitely have my “favorite cities”, which I cannot get enough of. So I keep going back whenever I get the chance. I mean I’ve been to Florence 3 times, Prague 2 times after living there for a year & Paris a whopping FIVE TIMES.

It was time to venture some place new!

Also remember how I vowed to treat one person to “a special vacation” every year? Well this seemed like the perfect chance. But who to take?

If you recall, my last trip was with my Mom. She is truly my best friend & really helped me the most through my dog bite fiasco. We longingly planned adventures while I laid in a hospital bed & hoped maybe one day they’d come true.

Then they did.

Last October we took a girls trip to Dubrovnik, Prague, Paris & Florence! And it was the best. I lead, she followed. I spoke the languages, held the money, organized the tickets, passports, keys & directions…and she had one hell of a time!

And it was a success! So successful that I was pinching myself. No pick-pockets, no scams, no disasters, & no sickness (well, I stuck it out until the very last night!). It was pleasant too because, besides Croatia, I already knew all the places we traveled to so well. 

I was comfortable & familiar. 

However, as much as I absolutely LOVE Europe, I knew the day was coming: the day when my wanderlust would force me to wander into the unknown aka: anywhere but Europe, or in this case–Asia.

Ever since I was young, I have always been fascinated by Asian culture. Mulan was my favorite movie growing up, I learned to use chopsticks at a young age & a few of my exes even have Asian roots.

My desire to travel there grew the more I made wonderful friends hailing from this vast continent, specifically a group of Japanese girls that I worked with at my university during Summer 2014.

Once their program was over, the girls begged me to someday come visit them in Japan.

Little did I know that fate would step in & allow that to happen much sooner than expected.

(Summer 2014 with my girls <3)

So yes, I knew that my next trip HAD to be to Asia & I was freaking out. When would I go? Where would I go? Who would I go with?!

Not sure which of my friends would be adventurous enough, let along who could even get the vacation time, I considered my yearly travel rule. Who was next on the Jessi Dream Vacation List?

And then the answer was clear. Who else but the youngest 70-something I know. The person who not only helped me through all my lowest lows, but has always been my super hero…

My Grampy.

It all made sense. He was energetic, adventurous, & had told me Hong Kong was the top of his bucket list! Oh, & one thing you should know about Grampy is he has endless energy & positivity. He may be 78-years-old, but he still does backflips into the pool & loves a good dessert. He is the epitome of a kid at heart. 

Plus he could really use a vacation from Grammy sometimes.

So I planned & planned & then it was settled: I was officially taking my 78-year-old Grandfather on a 12 day backpacking trip through Thailand, Hong Kong & Japan!

Grampy was ecstatic once I broke the news & fully packed long before the trip.

Piece of cake.

Only not at all because I was so anxious. 

So anxious that I was freaking out a bit. I was venturing to 3 countries I have no familiarity with, on the longest flight of my life, eating exotic spicy food with most sensitive stomach & babysitting the most novice traveler 24/7.

See what I mean?

But I just did what I did best: prepared. I screenshotted directions, learned useful phrases, printed out tickets, wrote emergency contacts, organized folders & finally took a deep breath. Soon the day came & there was no turning back!

The next 12 days were just purely awesome…& I’m glad I allowed myself to realize that. 

Some takeaway things I learned on this trip based on my experiences:

1. I have never felt so safe. 

I mean this on a few different levels. First off: the crime rates in the countries we traveled to were insanely low & that was noticeable. In the U.S. you have to watch your back, in Europe you have to watch your belongings, but in Asia I felt at ease.

No one tried to approach us to scam us, no one tried to grab me (in a sexually harassing way), no one even stared at us due to our physical differences. Even in the suffocating crowded yet eerily silent Tokyo metro, no one batted an eyelash when we spoke English. And it was pretty nice. I was glad to not be on alert 24/7 like I usually am while traveling.

The cherry on top of this experience was when we were waiting for a ferry in Hong Kong & a Chinese man made conversation with us. My Grampy asked him if he had even been to the U.S. & he said:

“I was going to go 10 years ago but didn’t get to. I probably should have because now it is too dangerous there, it was much safer back then.”

The LOOK on Grampy’s face. Mic drop. Perspective.

2. We are ALL the same! 

While Grampy & I met many wonderful strangers in Bangkok & Hong Kong, the real highlight of our trip was venturing around Tokyo.

We ended up meeting up with those same Japanese girls I had taught a few years ago & it was awesome. Because originally when we met I was teaching them English & showing them around a small Rhode Island town, now here we were two years later & they’re showing me around this massive city speaking their language for me.

A very special travel moment indeed. 

They could have just met us for lunch, but no, these girls were A+ tour guides. They showed us landmarks, ordered us food, took us to traditional Shabu-Shabu dinner, sang karaoke with us for 3 hours & then gifted us with Japanese goodies!

Talk about some good friends!

The best was spending one of our last days on the trip in their home town Shizuoka, which is 3 hours south of Tokyo & near the famous Mount Fuji!

Girls, I can never thank you enough. My Grampy & I had the best time in Japan because of your kindness, you are truly my sisters for life ❤

3. Follow your instincts 

One of my biggest fears going into this trip was the unknown. I was afraid of getting lost, using unfamiliar money, metros, languages, hell even bathrooms. I was nervous about standing out so much & had absolutely no clue what to expect.

But then we landed in the sweltering Bangkok airport a 10pm…& I directed the taxi driver to our bed & breakfast with the directions I’d printed out. & Then I navigated not only the Hong Kong ferry system but also the metro, which, after 4 separate transfers took us to Lantau Island & the beautiful village of Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha. And then, on our final day of the trip I figured out the Tokyo subway system, during rush hour to get to the MASSIVE Otematchi underground station & then find our shuttle bus to the airport just in time.

The funny thing about this trip is I realized it didn’t matter that I’d never been there before, because I already had all the skills I needed to find the way. 

My sense of direction, my judge of character, my intuition are all tools that I use whether I’m in Boston or Bangkok. They’re survival skills that all true travelers rely on wherever they go.

And if something goes wrong that’s okay too. 

If you don’t understand–ask. If you don’t know what to do–observe others. If you realize you’re headed the wrong way simply turn around. Don’t panic, don’t freak out, just take a deep breath & continue on, you are on vacation afterall, remember? 

So thus, our trip was a HUGE success! It went better than I could have ever hoped & Grampy had such a good time.

He drank all the mango juice in Thailand & laughed on the back of the tuk-tuks. He stared in awe at the massive Buddha on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island & slept like a baby in our luxury hotel (my one splurge!) overlooking Kowloon Bay. & He sang his heart out during karaoke & he lovingly told everyone in Tokyo that the 5 Japanese girls following him around were his grand-daughters.

(Admiring the wats/Buddhist temples in Bangkok)

(The world’s best Pina Colada in Thailand)

(Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong)

(Ngong Ping Village & the Big Buddha) 

(The Tokyo Tower)

(Singing some karaoke in Japan with the girls.)

So there you have it, dear readers! Another amazing vacation spent with some truly wonderful people. I will definitely be back, Asia!

In the meantime, stay tuned for my next adventure!

JG 🙂