Monday, March 30, 2015

South and Southeast Asia in 7 Months

What a trip. Bradford and I dreamed and talked about traveling to South and Southeast Asia together since basically the day we met and he couldn't stop talking about the time he'd recently spent in India. He was so passionate and enthusiastic about his time there that it made me want to hop on the next plane there. Well, it took about six years, but we finally did it. In February 2014, we purchased one-way tickets to Bangkok. In April, I quit my job, and in May, we were gone. We visited 8 countries and 86 cities in seven months.

Before leaving, we had a rough idea of where we wanted to go, but that's it. We booked everything as we went, rarely planning things out more than a few days in advance. We decided to stick to South and Southeast Asia for a couple of reasons: (1) this region of the world is so far from America, we knew it would be difficult to get back soon, (2) some of these countries are pretty rough so we wanted to experience them before children, (3) things are CHEAP in this part of the world!

Below are the countries we visited.










And for those really interested, below is a list of all the cities we visited:
(Disclaimer: India is a HUGE beast of a country...we hardly even scratched the surface, believe it or not.)

THAILAND: (Leg 1): Bangkok, Trang, Koh Muk, Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai, Hat Yai, Su Ngai Go Lok
(Leg 2): Hat Yai, Bangkok, Aranyaprathet
(Leg 3): Nong Khai, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Bangkok
(Leg 4): Bangkok, Lopburi, Ayutthaya

MALAYSIA: Kota Bharu, Perhentian Islands, Kuala Lipis, Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown

CAMBODIA: Poipet, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh

VIETNAM: Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi

LAOS: Muang Khoa, Phongsali, Udomxai, Nong Khiaw, Muang Ngoi Neua, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane

INDIA: Chennai, Pondicherry, Chidambaram, Thanjavur, Pudukkottai, Rameswaram, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Kollam, Aleppey, Kochi, Mettupalayam, Ooty, Mysore, Sravanabelagola, Shimoga, Hampi, Hospet, Margao, Colva Beach, Arossim Beach, Aurangabad, Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Bhavnagar, Shatrunjaya, Udaipur, Ajmer, Pushkar, Jaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Deshnok, Amritsar, McLeod Ganj, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi, Sarnath, Kushinagar

NEPAL: Lumbini, Pokhara, Kathmandu, Patan, Nagarkot, Baktapur

SINGAPORE: Singapore

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pico de Gallo

There is something so simple and perfect about pico de gallo. It's essentially three fresh, healthy ingredients blended together with additional spices to create a powerful, flavorful garnish. As a California native, I practically consider Mexican food a food group and find myself eating some form of it almost everyday. This pico de gallo is the perfect dish to add some freshness to those meals. 

Pico de Gallo
Yield: about 3 cups
Total Time: about 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

6 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pinch garlic powder
1 pinch ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl. For best taste, let sit in the refrigerator (covered) for at least 3 hours before serving. Enjoy!




Chocolate Chip Coconut Energy Bites

Since the arrival of our sweet daughter, schedules and meals have been a little unpredictable at our house. On top of that, I'm nursing which means that my appetite has increased dramatically as my body produces milk. I was very excited when I found this recipe and these little energy balls have proved to be delicious and effective at sustaining my energy levels when I feel like I'm lagging a little. They manage to satiate my hunger when there's no time to eat a full meal. 

Chocolate Chip Coconut Energy Bites
Adapted from I Can Teach My Child
Yield: 24 bites
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, coconut, and chocolate chips. Add peanut butter, greek yogurt, honey, and vanilla. Mix well until fully incorporated. Refrigerate mixture for one hour. Remove and form into 1-inch balls. Store in an airtight container (or freezer bag) in the freezer. 

When you're feeling lethargic, pop a bite and energize up!



Friday, January 30, 2015

India


{View of the Bay of Bengal in Chennai}

When I think back on our time in India, I think to myself, "what a trip". I've never done drugs before, but I think a 3-month stint in India would satisfy just about anyone's desire to remove themselves from the ordinary and experience something totally and completely different. For my first few weeks in India, I was completely enamored and mesmerized by the country. Sure, there were piles of trash and cow pies in the streets, but the colors were so vibrant, the smells so fragrant, and the people so warm. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before yet oddly I felt a sense of familiarity also. After about a month, the wear and tear of seven hour bus-rides, non-air conditioned trains, and over-friendly crowds of people started to get to me.

After month one, India seemed to play a game with me: it would give me a horrible, disgusting experience that made me want to leave the country immediately, then it would follow it up with an incredible, enlightening, delicious experience that made me want to stay forever. In some ways, it felt like an abusive relationship. After two months traveling through India at a very rapid pace, we started to slow down in month three (mainly, I think we were enjoying the cooler weather of the North) and did our best to savor our last weeks in such a unique, special, vibrant country. 

I have so much to share about India...we visited more than 40 cities and I'm still processing all that we learned and saw there. For now, I'll share a sampling of photos from our time there.  


{Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur}


{Cool guy who then turned into a creepy guy on a bus somewhere between Palitana and Ahmedabad}


{Thali meal served on a banana leaf in Rameswaram}


{Goa}


{Elephant crossing at Mysore Palace, Mysore}


{Niligiri Mountain Railway, on the way to Ooty}


{Sikhs at the Golden Temple, Amritsar}



{Buddhist monk in Kushinagar}


{Amber Fort, Jaipur}


{Jodhpur: "the blue city"}


{Pushkar}


{Kerala backwaters in Kollam}


{On top of Victory Tower at Chittorgarh Fort}


{Golden Temple, Amritsar}


{King of the road, Jaisalmer}


{A sampling of the many friendly Indians you'll meet while enduring hot temperatures, long stops in the middle of nowhere, and cramped quarters on a secold-class Indian train ride}


{Fruit vendor in Kanyakumari}

{Dawn boat ride on the Ganges, Varanasi}

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Baby Girl Nursery Inspiration







For a couple years now, I've looked forward to decorating a baby nursery. I think it started when a co-worker sent me a link to laybabylay.com and I saw how a nursery doesn't have to be pastel and "soft". It can be cool and edgy and still function as an awesome space for a little one.

It's been difficult to give in to the nesting instinct that pregnancy brings while traveling for six months and then living with family for another month. Before we had our own space, I put together this inspiration board for a nursery so at least I could have a place to "virtually" create a space for baby girl. We're finally starting to get settled into a home (just in time for baby to arrive) and I'm more than ready to get this nursery in order for real. 

1. Urban Outfitters Claire Oring Mermaid Stretched Canvas Print - $34.00
2. RIFLE PAPER Co. Bangkok Illustrated Art Print - $40.00
3. Etsy (theloveshop) The World Is Your Oyster Print - $18.00
4. Urban Outfitters Magical Thinking Geo Pendant - $69.00
5. Banquet Atelier & Workshop Fluoro Heart Print - $50.00
6. IKEA Bild Yellow Elephant Poster - unknown
8. CB2 Junction Low Dresser - $799.00
10. Land of Nod Milo Glider (White with Copper Base) - $649.00
11. Etsy (VLiving) Embroidered Indian Elephant Pillow Cover - $20.00
12. houzz Leather Moroccan Pouf, Gold - $90.00
13. Jenny Lind Fixed Side Convertible Crib: Natural - $129.00
14. Home Depot Ficus Pandurata Bush in Pot - $16.98


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Longterm Travel While Pregnant

{15 weeks pregnant in Dhanushkodi, India}

About a month into our 7-month travel adventure, I learned that I was pregnant. We were planning on getting pregnant at some point during our trip and were thrilled at the news, however it happened a little sooner than we were expecting, causing some mixed feelings from both of us. I was, above all, grateful for this little miracle inside of me. But there was another side of me that wanted to live out our travel adventure to the fullest and I was really nervous about how being pregnant would affect the rest of our travel plans. 

During the first few weeks of my pregnancy, I searched and searched online for stories or advice from other women who have traveled extensively (aka backpacked) while pregnant and found nothing--maybe that's because no one is crazy enough to do that. Now that I've made it through our journey alive and healthy (and still pregnant), I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings on the experience, and offer a few tips*, in case someone down the road is as crazy enough as I was to travel through places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India, and Nepal for six months while pregnant. 

I don't necessarily recommend this type of travel while pregnant as there are unforeseen risks that can happen during any pregnancy and traveling can make them much harder to deal with, but if you're an adventurous person and willing to accept what life throws at you no matter what, I hope this post will help you. 

I'm happy (and slightly relieved) to say that we returned home to America safely just as I entered my third trimester and while my pregnancy did slow us down a little, I still felt extremely happy with our travel experiences and decision to keep going even while pregnant. In many ways, I think travel was a great way to spend my first and second trimesters because it forced me to stay active, helped me to eat nutritiously (especially in India, the food is chocked full of vegetables and fresh spices--a winning combo), and helped keep my mind active instead of wondering and worrying about all the things that are so easy to worry about when expecting a baby. 

Now, it's really starting to feel real that we'll have a baby (a girl!) in less than two months. I love the fact that she was with us when we experienced so many wonderful things and I hope we can raise her in a way that reflects the many things we learned during our time in South and Southeast Asia. 

Now, here are some tips if you or someone you know ever finds themselves pregnant while traveling the world. 

*Please note that these are my thoughts and opinions only. I'm not a medical professional. I'm just sharing one girl's experience. 

1. Remember that women are pregnant and give birth to healthy babies all over the world. Half of what I struggled with while being pregnant during our travels was the mental anxiety of wondering whether everything was going to be okay. It's good to be aware of your body and your health, but at some point, you need to accept your situation and be at peace with your decisions. Stress and anxiety are not healthy traits. Knowing that women get pregnant all over the world helped me feel better that my baby was safe and healthy.

2. Take pre-natal vitamins everyday. I would actually suggest that anyone traveling for an extensive amount of time take a daily vitamin no matter what your situation. Before you leave, stock up on enough vitamins to last through your travels and carry them with you. One of the biggest challenges of travel can be finding nutritious (and safe) foods to eat and this is one of the most important things you can do for your baby while pregnant. If you're taking a pre-natal vitamin everyday, you can rest assured that your baby is getting the nourishment it needs, even if the only actual food you're eating is chicken and rice. For anyone traveling through Asia, I would also recommend finding a calcium supplement to take daily as things like milk and cheese can be hard to come by. 

3. Schedule a 12-week and 20-week doctor appointment and aim to be in major cities for these appointments. In America, pregnant women see an OBGYN about once a month. After research, I learned that 12-week and 20-week appointments are the most important ones and my OBGYN in Bangkok confirmed this. 12 weeks is when the all-important NT scan can be performed and 20 weeks is when the full anatomy scan is performed. Both of these are designed to check that the baby is growing and developing properly. 

For anyone who may be in Bangkok for these appointments, I recommend Bumrungrad Hospital. They're very easy to work with in scheduling appointments (everything is done through email) and the hospital is extremely clean and nice with professional staff. We had our 12-week appointment there and it cost about $200 USD. (We paid out of pocket.) 

India is a little bit trickier as there just seems to be more hoops to jump through to schedule appointments. Start early as it may take some time to confirm an appointment. I had to provide copies of my passport, visa, and plane ticket just to schedule the appointment. I ended up having my 20-week appointment in Delhi with Dr. Vandana Chaddha at the Sattva Fetal Medicine Centre. She was professional and clean and nice and my entire appointment with ultrasound cost around $40 USD. 

Overall, if you need to schedule a doctor's appointment while traveling, do your research (thanks, Dr. Google) to see what advice other expats living in those areas have to offer about the best places to give birth. Here is a great blog post about having a baby overseas

4. Tell one or two close friends about your pregnancy early on or join an online pregnancy community so you can have some good female support. For me, I was so grateful to have confided in my sister and best friend about my pregnancy very early on so that they could offer the moral support I needed to feel okay about my decisions and my pregnancy overall. If you're traveling with your significant other, he may be a great help and support, but I think it's harder for men to fully understand and sympathize with pregnancy, especially in the first trimester when you're not yet showing and also feeling the most sick. In addition to my real-life family and friends, I was also really grateful for the online community I found through whattoexpect.com. I downloaded their app to track my pregnancy and the online community was a surprisingly helpful and appreciated perk. Sometimes the easiest place to ask questions and cope with the ups and downs of pregnancy is with complete strangers. 

5. Stay active, but don't over-exert yourself. Be sensible in what you can and can't do. Walking for miles and miles is probably fine (and in fact, healthy for you), but you might want to think twice about hiking up mountains. There were a couple times when I sat in a restaurant while Bradford journeyed to the top of an ancient temple without me and I was completely fine with that. 

6. If you're traveling with a backpack, lighten your load. This wasn't a problem for me as we were already traveling very light, but I saw some backpackers with huge backpacks that would have been difficult for me to handle while pregnant. You don't need much while traveling, so stick to the essentials and keep your backpack small and light. 

6. Enjoy the journey. In some ways, being pregnant is the best time to travel because it is the last opportunity you'll have to enjoy life as a couple before children and what better way to do that than seeing new things everyday! Also, having a flexible schedule gives you the option to stay in bed for a day if you're just not feeling well. Embrace the opportunity to see new things, follow your gut, be sensible, listen to your body, and enjoy the journey. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

3 Realizations After 7 Months of Travel



One of my very favorite things about travel is the perspective it brings. I always pay close attention to my observations and thoughts when I arrive home after a long journey. While travel itself can teach amazing things, it's learning how those new truths fit in with everyday life that will allow them to really change your life.

Here are three realizations I made during my travels. (This pertains mostly to my life as an American, since that is where I came from and returned home to.)

1. We live in a land of milk and honey.

Wow. America has it all! Any type of food you can imagine at any time of the year (and at affordable prices), clean and FREE public toilets that are always stocked with ample amounts of toilet paper, safe and free drinking water, hot showers, working electricity, smooth roads, reliable public transportation, temperature controlled rooms. These are things that Americans take for granted and the rest of the world would die happy just to experience for a month.

I've found it more difficult to sympathize with small complaints from people around me. Even some of the poorest people in America live much better lives than the typical family in Nepal, Laos, or India. America is a land of wealth. 

2. We confuse comfort for success.

Americans place a lot of value on comfort. The depths some people will go to to ensure they have enough leg room on a two-hour flight or enough water for a short journey is quite appalling, to be honest. The human body and spirit is able to endure quite a lot of discomfort and I think it would do well for many Americans to experience a seven-hour second-class train ride in India with no A/C. I've observed that living a life of constant comfort can create a sense of entitlement and unhappiness. Occasional discomforts remind us how good we have it.

3. We are not living up to our potential.

I met a lot of people in places like Laos, Nepal, and India who would give anything for the chance to visit America. I recall one bus ride when I mentioned to a local Nepalese teenager that I was born in America. He replied in the most sincere tone with the most intent eyes: "You're so lucky."

Anyone with American citizenship is lucky. The opportunities given to us are vast and limitless, if we work hard.

The key is to work hard. To not complain. To be grateful for what we have and make the most of the life we've been given. If we have this mentality, there's no end to the things we can accomplish.