Whew! What a month!
Today marks one month since I left the United States to embark on my year of traveling the world. I made it to Iceland for a whirlwind journey around the whole country and then flew to Germany 10 days later where I am located at present.
Suddenly, time has seemed to go by incredibly fast. In the same breath, I look back astonished at how much I have done in what is actually a very short time.
Here are just some of the things I have already written about doing:
- I road tripped the circumference of Iceland
- I watched a massive number of Icelandic bunnies hop around me on a hill
- I learned to drive manual shift
- I showered in Iceland outside with buckets of hot water
- I ate horse and whale for the first (and last?) time
- I stood under a double rainbow
- I fell and injured myself while admiring beautiful ice formations
- I drank beers while watching gorgeous evening views in Kirk, Höfn, and Akureyri
- I was attacked by flies in Mývatn
- I partied with a huge group of multi-national backpackers/musicians in Akureyri and Reykjavik
- I drove a hitch-hiker to her stop near Borgarnes
- I walked a Roman sewer tunnel underneath the city of Cologne
- I ate Lindt chocolate from an old fashioned candy machine
But there’s been even more! In the coming weeks I will be writing about all of the following things I’ve also done in the last month…
- I explored the mine tunnels of a 13th century castle
- I watched the most outrageous fireworks show of my life while drinking Federweißer
- I camped and hiked along the Rhine River
- I walked on the autobahn (yes, walked!)
- I also drove on the autobahn
- I learned Dachau is much more than just a concentration camp
- I toured a palace with 70 rooms, 50 of which were completely unfinished
- I ate loads of bread, potatoes, pig, bread, and did I mention bread?
- I spoke broken German to my non-English speaking relatives
- I bought a hat from my grandfather’s favorite hat shop in Regensburg
- I got a tour from my aunt and uncle of the farm on which my grandfather grew up
- I drove into Austria just for lunch and to see the Alps
My MEI Voyager bag is holding up wonderfully. Carrying it around has been very easy even though it ended up being about 30lbs when I left the house. When I board trains and buses, I store the bag away below the bus or above on the storage racks and then use my Rick Steves’ day pack to keep essentials in the seat with me.
On the plane, I do the same thing but with my versatile scarf that turns into a shoulder bag (best for easy access to my passport, phone, and wallet around airports). These options allow me to avoid the awkward shuffle of having to access my bigger luggage on crowded public transportation or in busy terminals.
As for the stuff in my bag, I’m starting to notice several items deteriorating/depleting with use and items I'm not using at all. I think it’s too soon to share a revised packing list, but I will share one example: The awesome ExOfficio pants that magically didn’t rip when I fell at the glacial lagoon have been great.
They are so great I wear them practically every day (read this as every day and hold your judgment). I’ve been lucky to stay with people who have offered to wash my clothes for me, so smell has not been an issue (yet). However, I am seeing the pants starting to get pilly and look less “nice” than when I started wearing them a month ago. I think I’m going to order a new pair or else try to find something different before I depart for Thailand.
A few weeks ago I injured myself while gazing at the glacial lagoon of Jökulöldur in Iceland. I’m happy to report this injury is almost completely healed. The gash on my leg is almost gone. It just feels a bit tender/sore when pressing on it or walking a whole lot. The scrape to my arm and scratches left from punching the rocks mid-fall have only left behind tiny scars.
Before I left for this trip, I trained at my local gym to prepare for carrying around a heavy pack and for anticipated hiking treks. So far, I’ve engaged in quite a bit of activity (hiking, tons of walking, swimming, etc.), but since I’ve gotten to Germany my immobility has increased more than I would like.
While I have gone on a few hikes and have spent many days walking around cities, I do feel this has been imbalanced next to all the sitting on trains and buses, writing for this blog (!), and sitting around cafes eating heavy Bavarian meals and German sweets. I’m looking forward to increasing my activity level significantly when I go to Berlin, once I get to Thailand in a couple of weeks, and then certainly in New Zealand after that.
I also got a cold last week most likely from being very run down. I tend to go, go, go all day long and not get much time to myself. At night, I finally have a chance to sit down, relax, reflect on my day, and write blog posts.
This has resulted in loss of a lot of sleep because I will stay up late writing and then get up very early to begin the day's activities. This worked for a while–but my body recently said, “Nope!” My sniffling and coughing has finally broken after a couple of days of rest this week. I’m hoping the cold will be completely gone by the weekend in time for my Oktoberfest experience!
Something about travel must be agreeing with me because last week I looked down at my hand and saw the longest, healthiest looking nails I’ve had in over 6 years! I actually prefer shorter nails and had to sand them down a bit—something I haven’t had to do in a long time (what's pictured is even after filing them!).
Usually, I am a nail biter, and now I'm realizing nail biting is not just a habit, it's a direct symptom of stress in my life. There’s a correlation between the length of my nails and how content I am. To illustrate, see the helpful graph I have provided below... :)
(I may be finished with my graduate studies, but I still love data and graphs!)
Wait just a minute, there may be confounding factors here! Perhaps travel pulls my attention toward activities to distract me from my usual nail biting habit? After all, the time I spent destroying my nails the most was when I satin front of my computer reading scientific articles and writing papers for days. Even still, two factors remain true:
- I continue to spend a good portion of my time at the computer. I spend hours reading travel articles and news, looking up transportation and accommodation options, researching and fact checking, and writing and editing my posts.
- Any less time spent at my computer should be counteracted by my increased activity level which puts nail breakage at greater risk than just sitting in my bedroom.
Therefore, my assumption remains justified: I am less stressed out now as a traveler than when I was a graduate student. In short, my mental state is in an excellent place.
The challenge ahead
I have spent the last month trying to remind myself of my promise to stop, take a look around, and really recognize and reflect on the present. In Iceland, I made friends with other travelers and ended up on an incredible 6-day road trip around the country because I stayed open and spontaneous.
As much as I have been doing this I still think there is room for improvement. During my time in Germany so far, I have had back to back visitations with family and friends scheduled. Planned visits have not allowed much room for improvisation. I have had an amazing experience reconnecting with all of these people but the time spent in the comfort of their homes has made me itch for adventure more than ever! After all, I’m supposed to be deviating the norm.
Yet, I find myself falling back into my personal norm of planning ahead too much, over-focusing on the future and what’s to come, and forgetting to enjoy the present. Therefore, my challenge for this next month is to be more open to living in the moment.
One of the ways I want to invite some adventure and norm deviation back into my travels is to refrain from planning my accommodation. For at least one or two days, I want to wake up without knowing where I will sleep that night. I will be forced to be open to accommodation options I would have missed out on or overlooked as a result of having everything planned before arrival.
Another way to keep deviating will be to meet new people by my own efforts as a solo traveler without relying on help from any companions. I’ll have to rely on coincidence to bring me into contact with new potential friends from which to learn and with which to share experiences.
Finally, I will also deviate by spontaneously taking moments to myself to sit and write creatively and freely about whatever comes to mind. The purpose of this will not be to share it on this blog but to give myself the chance to write without rules, limitations, or deadlines—something I haven’t had the chance to do in many years.
At the start of each month, you can expect posts like this from me where I reflect back on the month as a whole and describe my current status.