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. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Chiang Mai, Thailand

{Wat Phra That Doi Suthep}

Chiang Mai will always live in my memory as the land of temples. We spent a week in this northern Thailand city while we waited for our India visas (more on that long, tedious process later) and I think we visited upwards of 30 Buddhist temples. You see, the thing about temples in Southeast Asia is that they're usually free, they're beautiful and unique, and you can often wind up in a meaningful, memorable conversation with a Buddhist monk. Sometimes these conversations are about Buddhism, but often the monks (who are typically in their young 20s) just want to talk about life and things in general. It's a great way to pass the time and learn about the region from a kind local. 

We rented bikes for our daily transportation around the city, which is a great way to get around, especially if you're exploring temples as you can usually ride your bike right on to the temple grounds and park them very close to the temples. We paid about $1 per day for each bike. 

Chiang Mai is also a really great place for night markets. There's a night bazaar every night on Chang Khlan Road about five or six blocks outside of the old city and every Sunday the main road in the old city shuts down around 4pm for the Sunday Market (also called the Walking Street Market). Both of these are huge with such a variety of goods and foods (four words: mango and sticky rice).

If you're in need of some relaxation, be sure to get a Thai massage while you're in Chiang Mai. The prices are so cheap and the experience is relaxing and memorable. Thai massages are different than what we're used to in America as they typically lay you on a pad on the ground and use their own body weight to stretch you in different positions and massage you in different ways. My first Thai massage experience was in Hat Yai (in the South) and it ended with the longest sound of my back cracking that I had ever heard...success! 

We traveled to Chiang Mai from Bangkok and took the Thai railway. Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a perfect distance for an overnight train and I recommend buying a ticket for Second Class-fan/sleeper. Riding the train is a great experience and a great way to see the beautiful Thai countryside.  

It's really popular in Chiang Mai to book a day trip out to an elephant sanctuary or tiger farm. While these are great ways to get some interesting photos, Bradford and I opted to forgo these experiences as it's nearly impossible to find a truly humane and ethical place that treats these animals well. (Perhaps we still felt bad about supporting the Sriracha Tiger Zoo.) 

Below are some pictures from our time in Chiang Mai. 






{Wat Chiang Mun}




{At the entrance to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep}






I was always so enamored by the exteriors of the temples in Thailand, and especially the rooftops. I eventually realized that what enhanced the beauty of these exteriors so much was that they were usually set against the backdrop of an incredible bright, blue sky. 




{Wat Srisuphan}

Wat Srisuphan is a little bit out of the way, but it is worth the effort as the entire temple is coated in silver, giving it the nickname "silver temple". It really is unique and beautiful. After spending a few days touring temples, I started to suffer from temple fatigue but this one definitely stood out as one of my favorites (despite the fact that women are not allowed inside). 


{Wat Phrathat Doi Kham--the largest seated Buddha in Chiang Mai}

On one day, we rented a scooter instead of two bikes so that we could see some sights that were farther away, including Wat Phrathat Doi Kham -- a really impressive and large seated Buddha. We also used that day on the scooter to ride to the top of Doi Suthep, which was surprisingly mountainous and cold. If you're looking for a way to beat the heat of Thailand, I definitely recommend taking a ride to the top!


{In front of the Sunday Walking Street Market--Warning: if you travel in Southeast Asia for an extended period of time, you WILL get a t-shirt tan.}


{One of the most heavenly foods there is: mango and sticky rice}


{Just inside the entrance to the old city of Chiang Mai}








Friday, December 26, 2014

Breakfast Guacamole & Chips





After 7 months of travel in Asia, it feels GOOD to be back in an American kitchen! The abundance of ingredients to choose from, the convenience of eating a small snack whenever you're hungry--these are things that feel so luxurious to me now. 

Two of my favorite things to eat are breakfast and Mexican food, so I decided to combine the two for a simple and delicious breakfast guacamole. Here's how:

Breakfast Guacamole & Chips
Yield: 4 servings
Time: about 10 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

2 eggs
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup shredded cheese
Salt & pepper
1 serving guacamole
2-3 tablespoons salsa
Tortilla chips

DIRECTIONS:

Scramble eggs in a non-stick skillet. When fully cooked, add tomatoes, then cheese. Stir until all the cheese is melted and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool for about a minute, then transfer to bowl and mix with fresh guacamole. Top the mixture with salsa.

Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vientiane, Laos


Vientiane is the capital of Laos and it was our last stop in this country. While there are several impressive Buddhist temples here and some other neat sights (like the above pictured Arc de Triomphe replica), this will not stand out as my favorite part of Laos. When I think back on Laos, I will remember the natural beauty and humble people found in its small towns in the North, the humility and simplicity of the majority of its citizens. Vientiane seemed to spurn a lot of conversations between Bradford and I on the role of communism and it's efficacy in building a developed economy and country. The conclusion we came to? It is not very effective in developing a sustainable economy with happy citizens. 

Nevertheless, this city has some beautiful sights. Here are some pictures from our time in Vientiane. 

{We were treated to a gorgeous sunset on our first night. This temple provided the perfect foreground.}

{Pha That Luang (or 'great stupa') is regarded as Laos's national symbol.}



{There are several reclining buddhas in Southeast Asia, including the famous Wat Pho in Bangkok, but this one in Vientiane was my favorite.}



{In front of 'Patuxai', Vientiane's version of Arc de Triomphe}


{View of the city from the top of Patuxai}



{Wat Si Saket, the oldest standing temple in Vientiane}






{A view of Thailand from across the Mekong River}


{Presidential Palace with the national flag waving in front}


{That Dam, or 'black stupa'}






{We stumbled upon this Buddhist celebration at one of the temples visited -- kind of refreshing to see a temple actually filled with worshippers, for once.}


{A cool shot of the full moon on our last night there}