Friday, December 2, 2011

A letter to my doubters...

  It's no surprise to me that a lot of people didn't believe I was actually going to take this trip.  Hell, I was one of them. What surprised me were the supporters who seemed to think it was a great idea. What surprised me even more was that most of those "supporters" were full of Oscar Mayer B-O-L-O-G-N-A!   As soon as I bought the backpack, everything became real, because as one of the bouncers at work said, "Sandi may not always do what she says she's going to do or finish what she's started, but if there's one thing Sandi doesn't do, it's waste money." The trip is on, and now that everyone else is realizing it, their fears are starting to surface. Great timing, folks.
  Look, I love everyone who loves me enough to be concerned, but it's too late to be concerned now.  The best thing for you all to do is think of it like I do--pretend you're a crazy hippie if only for this next thought:
  Everything in my life is pointing me in this direction. I have NEVER felt so sure that I was doing the right thing at the right time as I do at this very moment. So if this is the case, then whatever happens bad or good is what was meant to happen.
  It's this thought that gets me through my terrible fear of flying, and I am hoping it will give you all a little bit of comfort as well. If you need some reassurance that's a little less...well...hokey, than here's all that I have:
1.People have been doing this for years. Women have been doing this for years. In fact, most of where I am going is along what is known as the "hippie trail." It's been called this since the actual hippies of the 60's began traveling these routes, these SAME routes, that people, women, hippies have been traveling for years...Did I mention I'm not the first one to do this?
2.I am not an idiot. Yes, I have my stoner moments, occasionally misplacing things or losing track of time, but I have been living alone for years now in less than the best neighborhoods, and I'm still standing.  Common sense goes a long way and I was raised with plenty of it. I promise to not go walking down dark alleys, not go out late at night alone, not get too drunk to know what I'm doing when there's no one looking out for me...In other words, I promise to continue to use the exact same common sense thinking that's kept me safe from harm all these years in America.
3.I will be reachable, and so will you.  Gone are the days when you would have had to spend your time waiting on a month old postcard to see that I am safe. Internet cafes are EVERYWHERE. I have this blog, my email, and facebook. I also have an ipod touch, and oddly, wifi is apparently much more available in 3rd world countries than first world. I can video chat, and also I will have a phone number on it to send and receive text messages.   A lot of travelers stay too connected to technology and never really get to experience the now unless they are reporting on it so with the exception of this blog, I am hoping not to spend too much time contacting you all, no offense, but at least we all know that the option is there.
  I hope, I have put a few worries to rest. There are plenty more arguements I could go into--the abundance of crime and danger in America, the welcoming people of Thailand, even my hair-brained arguement that everyone you hear of that gets kidnapped was traveling with a group so see, I am actually safer traveling alone--but like I said, it all boils down to common sense. I am a smart girl, I'll be fine.

Friday, November 11, 2011

An interview with myself

  So obviously, until I actually go on the trip, there's not a whole lot to say. I mean, I have never been at a loss for words so I'm sure there's plenty I could say, but this blog is for my trip so for once, I'll try to stay focused.
  I thought I might take a few minutes just to quickly answer the random questions that anyone who doesn't stalk my facebook wall might ask. So here goes...

Q. Where do you plan to go?

A. Originally I planned to start in Bali and work my way up. Now that I'm leaning more towards starting in Thailand, Bali (being very far to the south) is still up in the air. But besides Thailand, I plan to go to Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. If I make it to Bali (Indonesia) than I will most likely also go to Malaysia. At some point, I will go by plane to India, but I haven't yet routed my itinerary for there yet. I am trying to be as flexible with dates and destinations as possible. I am planning on at least 6 months so I will totally be free to go at whatever pace I want.

Q. Where will you stay?

A. From what I have been reading, hostels are mostly in Europe, guesthouses are more common in South East Asia. Pretty much the same thing-- very cheap living and you get what you pay for (less than desirable shared bathrooms, bedbug possibilitie, etc.) but I think the rooms are a little more private than the dorm style hostels. And whenever I'm near a beach there are little bungalows you can rent for like $4 a night. I'd like the chance to stay with a family and really experience the culture, but I worry about the food thing. It's considered very rude to waste food, especially rice, and I am a very picky eater and not a big fan of rice. If my friend goes with me for the first few weeks, she has an American friend who lives in Thailand, and we should be able to stay with him for at least a few days.

Q. How much money will this cost?

A. Gosh, you're nosey. Seriously though, it's sooo cheap. Staying in guesthouses for under $10 a day, finding meals for under $4, there are some places in India where you can get by on $12 a day. I am budgeting for roughly $1000 a month, and it should cost much, much less. Airfare from here and back should put me back about $1500 and I am not sure yet about the price of the flight to India, because I think it will be cheaper to buy over there.

Q. What kinds of things do you want to do?

A. Like I said, I want to be flexible. I know once I get on the road, the possibilities will be endless and I'm sure to find things to do that I had never dreamed of. But there are a few things on my list of very-much-hope-to-do's...
  *Thai Elephant Home- while many places in Thailand are known to exploit their elephants, beating them into learning how do play soccer and do other lame tricks, the Thai Elephant Home is known for it's "happy elephants." Each elephant has it's own mahout, a keeper who cares for him, cleans him, feeds him, trains him, loves him, even sleeps beside him! These men truly love their animals and the love is returned. And for your stay there, which can be as little as a few hours to as long as a month, everyone gets their very own elephant that you learn to train, and bathe, and feed! It is definitely on my list.
  *Suan Mokkh 10day Silent Meditation Retreat in Thailand- a program designed to educate beginners, they guide you (in English) through ten days of silence and meditation. You sleep on concrete beds with mats, though I suppose you could use your own wadded clothes as a padding; you get only two very scarce vegetarian meals a day (no sneaking food in); no phones, laptops, etc...Just complete concentration on yourself, your peaceful surroundings, and whatever it is you are trying to find. I love that you can't even make reservations by phone or email. The retreat starts on the first of every month, and you have to just show up in person on that day so they can see with their own eyes that you're not some crazy crackhead looking for cheap rehab...because to me, the craziest part of it all is that the whole ten days costs a total of only $67.
 *Vang Vieng, Laos- apparently you can rent innertubes and float down the river, stopping along the way at makeshift bars that specialize in what is known as a "Happy Shake." Exactly what it sounds like, a milk shake with marijuana and/or mushrooms, and sorry Grandma, but I just might have to try one out. They also have a very high zip line course I am considering. I would never bunjee jump, but I've always thought zip line could be cool. Don't worry, I won't try the zip line on the same day I try the Happy Shake.
Of course, there are lots of other ideas, but I don't want to spoil too many surprises.

  Ok, I suppose that's enough for today, now I'm off to work to make some more money for those Happy Shakes.

Thai Elephant home

Suan Mokkh 10day Silent Meditation Retreat in Thailand

Vang Vieng, Laos

Friday, November 4, 2011

Crunch Time

Today, I took my friend Angel aside and said in a very serious tone, "I need your help."
"Okay..."she answered in a slow concerned tone.
"I need you to help me cut the cord...I need you to help me get rid cable."

  Yes, it's official--due to the sale of my building and thanks to Obama for signing a bill in 2009 that gives me the legal right to 90 days in my apartment (take that, smarty pants realator jerk), I am now planning to begin my journey around the end of january/beginning of february. And holy shit, that scares the bejesus out of me.
  There is so much to do. I still have to find a temporary home for my cat Disco, sell all my stuff including my car, organize the party/sale to do it, buy my plane tickets, buy travel insurance, make some extra copies of my passport pictures, buy a backpack and all the random stuff that will fill it--ooh, I need one of those compass keychain thingies, and ooh, I need to learn how to use a compass, and oh my god, am I even spelling compass right?
  So I try to calm myself by thinking of all the things I've already accomplished. I got my passport, got my shots, researched the hell out of this trip, ordered my ipod touch (I can video phone home wherever there's wifi!), started this blog, bought a pair of those cargo pants that zip into shorts...yeah, I'm totally ready.
  And then, there's the cable. Yup, it's gotta go. Anyone who knows me knows how truly hard this is for me. Much harder than getting rid of a boyfriend, cable has been with me my whole life! I was the first kid I knew to have HBO and the first kid to get the Disney Channel (you used to have to pay for it). In the days before DVR, I used to record one thing on my VCR at my apartment, and have my grandma using both her VCR's to tape two other shows. I have issues, I know. I've always said if there was a support program for people like me...well, I'd probably watch it on tv.
  But that's it. It's gotta go. To save money, it should have gone along time ago. I mean, most of my shows are accessible on the internet, but my problem is that I like to multi-task. I like to be on my laptop doing things like this blog while I half-ass watch whatever I saved on my DVR. I realized last night, however, as I looked around the room at the overwhelming amount of stuff I own that must be organized into a sale, that there are no magic fairies to swoop down and do it for me. I need to be half-ass watching my tv shows on my laptop while I keep myself busy, sorting through the multitude of accumulated crap...I mean the multitude of really awesome stuff that all of you, my wonderful friends, plan to buy from me so that I may see the world.
  So Angel is coming over on Monday to rip the remote from my trembling fingers and drive me to the cable store to return the best lover I ever had--my cable box, while I cope by testing out one of the valiums my travel doc gave me for the flight.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just me and my swagger...

  The other question I get asked constantly is usually phrased as, "You're not going alone, are you?" Somehow, me being with someone else as clueless as I am about how to do this is much more comforting to people than me going it alone. I do have a friend who is interested in coming for the first few months if I leave in April, but it is looking like outside factors might be bumping up my departure date quite a bit. And that's okay. I've always wanted to do this alone.
   Part of it is because I went to San Francisco twice with my best friend Reggie, and he will be the first to tell you, I relied on him too much. I don't learn things unless I do them myself, and with Reggie and his handy-dandy iphone, I was pretty much free to research where we should go and let him handle it from there. So when he left early on the second trip, and I had some time to myself, it was raining and I was bored out of my mind, no Reggie and no iphone. I hadn't found my own travel swagger, I had always had Reggie's. I want my own swagger.
  Mostly though, my reason is in this conversation I had with my grandma (shout out! I love you Grandma):
Me: "So do you think what I'm doing is weird? I don't mean do you think people will think this is weird, I mean do you think this is weird?"
Grandma: "Sandi, I don't think anything any of my children do is weird, I just think it's different than what I would want to do."
Me (So happy that my grandma is so awesome and that she referred to me as one of her children): "But do you get why I want to do this?...why I feel like I need to do this? It's just that, let's face it, I didn't do my job as a mom, I didn't finish college, I didn't find a career--I don't even know one I'd want, I don't have a husband or a family or a house. I'm 35 and I haven't accomplished anything. I just feel like doing this would be such an accomplishment...something I could say I did...something I could say I finished...all by myself."
And my grandma? Yeah, she gets it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

But why Asia and India?

 This is one of the questions I get asked most often. I love to watch people crinkle up their nose and say, "Oh I'd love to travel, but I wouldn't go there." Oddly enough, two or three years ago, I would have probably said the same thing. I mean, let's be honest--Those of you who know me can agree, I've always been the pickiest of picky eaters, afraid of bugs, and yes, I'll admit it, a bit of a drama queen. So originally, I had decided to backpack around Europe. Like most of the nose crinklers, I liked the idea of eating my way through Italy, smoking my way through Amsterdam, brushing up on my french in Paris, and visiting our old exchange student in Germany. Then last year, I started helping friends edit their term papers, and I decided to take an English class at the university to brush up on my skills so I could charge for professional tutoring. When I couldn't get the class I intended on, I decided just to take something that interested me enough that I wouldn't lose the desire to be back in school. I ended up with World Religion, and I loved it. Learning about the Eastern Religions like Buddhism and Hinduism in class and reading Eat Pray Love at home...the seed was beginning to grow. When my professor decided to take a day off from teaching and show us slides of his own backpacking days, I was hooked. I adjusted my trip plans to include six months in Europe and six months in Asia, then changed it to about four months of Europe and eight months of Asia and India. Eventually, I realized that financially one month in Italy could buy me three in South East Asia, so I finally settled on six to nine months seeing South East Asia and India...and no Europe at all. I want to see the temples of Thailand more than I want to see the churches of England. I want to see monkeys more than I want to see museums.  I saw a video clip of a man in Vietnam peddling a bicycle that towed a cart stacked at least twelve feet high with packages, weaving it's way through the traffic like it was no big deal. Such a simple, silly image, but all I could think was, "That's what I want to see. I would NEVER see that here." I want to see things I would never see in America, and Europe was beginning to look more and more like just a fancier version of home. I want an experience, not just a vacation. I want to be challenged. I want to prove to everybody, especially myself, that I can do this and frankly, Europe just sounds too easy.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Series of Fortunate Events

  My decision to go backpacking was really the result of a series of events.  Like I told my grandma, if I believe in signs or omens or whatever you want to call them, then there have been many and they are all screaming at me, "This is your destiny."
  Here are my many influences.  I can't remember if this is the exact order they occurred in, and there is no order of importance, they all made an impact. Hang in there, this entry gets long...

1. I saw (and eventually read) Eat Pray Love. Yes, I know how cliche that is, but I spent weeks after watching it unable to fall asleep at night, because I couldn't stop thinking about the way my life is going vs. the way it could go. Elizabeth Gilbert's breakup with her husband and her relationship with the boyfriend she left behind were so similar to my own relationship issues. A lot of people criticize the author as someone who screwed over the men in her life to childishly escape the "real world."  It's hard for people who haven't experienced it, but sometimes you just realize that the life you are leading isn't the right one and you have to fix that. And most of the time, changing the rest of your life means leaving some of the old one behind.

2. Just as I started being able to sleep again, my amazing friend Krista and her amazing husband Stephen followed the call from an amazing God, and moved her three amazing kiddies to Africa to help the children of Swaziland. For weeks upon hearing this, I again couldn't sleep. Knowing that someone I knew could do something so brave and so unconventional made it really hard to deny that I had that same capability to do something AMAZING.

...Let me pause this list to make something clear. When I say these events kept me from sleeping, I am in no way exaggerating. As a child, we've all spent Christmas Eve or the night before our birthday, unable to keep our mind from spinning with anticipation to the point where it was a struggle to fall asleep. And as adults, we've all had times full of so much stress and worry, that we've lost sleep while endlessly going over to-do lists and worst case scenarios in our heads. Well, what I was going through was a combination of excitement, joy, and grand possibilities all rolled up into a ball with fear, stress, and horrible outcomes. Now with the trip actually being planned, trust me, that giant ball of crazy still keeps me up at night. Hence, the late night blog entries. Now, back to the list...

3. My apartment building went into foreclosure. Our landlord went AWOL, so we all (me and the three other tenants) stopped paying rent. If it hadn't been for this lucky streak of awesomeness, I would still be behind on all my bills, struggling to buy ramen and cheap wine with no possible way to save a dime. I've lived paycheck to paycheck since I started getting paychecks, especially since I moved to California. I only wish I'd realized my destiny early on, as I did not really start saving for my trip until many months into the foreclosure, but it was nice to spoil my family at Christmas time. The building finally sold yesterday.

4. After hearing about Krista's journey, I ordered four books from Amazon. Three of them were about volunteering abroad; the fourth was a book called Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts. I thought it would just be a book full of some semi-useful tips about traveling overseas--buying plane tickets, what to pack, you know, that kind of thing. I severely underestimated it, and now I like to call it "the book that changed my life." Vagabonding is like an infomercial selling the idea of long term travel. All of the books on volunteering said you really had to commit to six months to a year in order to get the full experience. Reading Vagabonding made me realize that if I was going to commit to six months to a year of anything, I wanted the freedom to come and go as I please and I wanted to see as much as I possibly could.  It also convinced me, and I believe it could convince anybody, that long term travel is completely and utterly possible for EVERYONE. It's not just a book of travel tips, it's a guide to a new lifestyle. I recommend this book constantly, and I've loaned my copy out twice already. In fact, if you are reading this blog, go buy the book. You are obviously thinking, "Wow, look what Sandi is doing. That is so cool. I wish I could do that." Whether you are locked into a job, have children, or don't think you can afford it, Vagabonding will convince you that you can.
Happy Little Disclaimer: I am in no way trying to talk anyone out of committing their summer, their year, or their life to overseas or at home volunteer work. There are many great organizations and people like Krista out there who need help. But as I have learned, tourism IS a way to help. Many of the countries I am planning to see have a struggling economy that relies solely on tourism, and every single dollar I spend is helping their country to survive.

5. I missed a period. This one was a doozy. My boyfriend and I had been together for a year, but it was our second time around--we'd dated for two years, four years ago. We had a goal of marriage and a baby, and we were calmly moving toward it. I had made it clear the first time we dated that if we stayed together, I would eventually want a baby, and he wasn't a fan of the idea. But the second time around, he was completely on board--we'd even argued over baby names. Then I missed a period, and everything changed for me. "Oh my gosh, I don't want to have a baby." This was a huge revelation for me because not only did I not want one right now, but I wan't sure I even wanted one in the future. "Oh my gosh, I do not want to marry my boyfriend." This was also big, because even as I am typing this right now, I love him truly and deeply. But we are so different. And the differences that we have are fine for just the two of us, but they would affect so much of how we would raise a child that we would be sure to f*** a good kid up. There was also the possibility that I wasn't pregnant, but maybe the missed period meant there was something wrong with me and I couldn't have anymore children. "Oh my gosh, I don't know if I could stay with him without the promise of a baby." How odd that I wasn't sure if I ever wanted a baby, but I wasn't sure if I could stay with him without one. Yeah, I can't explain that one either, but there's one thing I knew...trip or no trip, baby or no baby, we had to break up. By the way, there was no baby. My period came the following month, and Planned Parenthood assured me my pipes are all still in working order.

  So that's pretty much what got me here.  I may have missed a couple of signs...doesn't everybody? but I still figured it out. This is my destiny.

Where to read Krista's blog

Where to buy Vagabonding

Where to buy Eat Pray Love

Where to get a pregnancy test

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A little intro...

  "The world begins at the end of your comfort zone." I heard this quote and I can not get it out of my head.  I am currently gearing up to jump far beyond my comfort zone, all the way to South East Asia and India. Everyone keeps asking me how they can keep in touch while I'm away so I figure I'd better step out of my comfort zone a little early, and get the hang of this blogging business. Besides, you're probably wondering why I, Sandi Field, the girl who doesn't like rice, bugs, or, airplanes decided to sell everything I own, strap on a backpack, and fly to the other side of the world.  So here goes...