Holidays abroad are a double-edged sword. On one side, you feel like you've been given a Get Out of Jail Free card. You're relieved of the pressure of figuring out who you need to buy for, what you should get for them, and whose house you need to be at when. AmIright single, childless peeps?
We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa with zero plans but a steaming pile of prejudice against the city having encountered a few people who either lived in South Africa or had visited there. Everyone, and I mean everyone*, described the city as no less than the 10th Circle of Hell...but with more pickpockets. We arrived and quickly holed up in our 8th floor AirBnB apartment where we could look down at the city with an air of smug superiority.
Hanoi: The place where John McCain was held as a POW for five and a half years, the burial place of Uncle Ho (Chi Minh), the gateway to the famous Dragon boats of Ha Long Bay, and the home of some of the most dedicated English Language Instructors I've ever met. They are the Bionic Women* of the National Economics Univeristy (NEU): boldly fighting English language learning apathy with Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), and an infinite amount of other confusing edu-speak without batting a perfectly-mascaraed eye!
Like every American girl growing up on 90s TV, I had a crush on Uncle Jesse from Full House. Ever since I learned that his TV character was half Greek, the Greek Islands have been on my travel bucket list. It just seemed to be a place where perfectly sun-kissed people flash perfect white smiles in front of perfect white houses with blue roofs, the whole scene bathed in the golden rays of a perfect perma-sunset. Have mercy!
Cyprus was one of the many countries I didn't know existed on this earth until someone suggested that we go there. It just so happened that the island nation is not in the Schengen zone, making it the perfect place to add to our itinerary. It's nestled just below Turkey with Greece to the west and Syria and Lebanon to the east.
I promised my mother as we were leaving Georgia that I'd tell everyone in Turkey, our next destination, that we were Canadian. There'd been a little too much political turmoil in that region of the world for her liking (something about Americans being arbitrarily detained), and she pleaded for us to pick a different travel destination.
Every 90 days, Nate and I have to exit the "Schengen Zone," which includes the vast amount of European nations, in order to not be deported...or sternly talked to. I'm not sure which, but it's a theory I do not wish to test. On the recommendation of some of our Couch Surfing hosts, we set our sights on the country of Georgia.
Every German stereotype ever imagined -- men in lederhosen with a stein of golden beer in one hand and a rope of sausages in the other while swaying brightly to an oompah band -- comes from the southern part of the country known as Bavaria. It turns out, much to my surprise, there is a whole northern part of the country that is far less oompah...y.
I considered skipping over writing a blog about Ireland. One, we only spent four days there. And B, we spent nearly all of our time outside of the hubbub of Dublin and instead stayed in our Couchsurfing host's suburban home.
If I had to choose one favorite country out of all our travels so far, it would have to be Scotland, and it's not just because of the prevalence of good ciders and the adorable-yet-slightly-incoherent dialect. It has an old soul. Every cobblestone foot path gives the impression that it once led to something dark and magical.
I have a confession. I've never actually had a very big "travel bucket list." I've always traveled for motivations other than the romantic notion of wanderlust (work experience, falling for a man who fell for traveling, etc.). That being said, India has always held a bit of fascination for me.
I’d like for you all to think that travel has taught me to live a threadbare-chic life, and that I need only to collect deeply meaningful experiences instead of material things to achieve happiness. Unfortunately, the brand new Birkenstocks sitting in my bag tell another story...All this means I gotta work hard for my money (cue Donna Summer), even while Nate and I are on this two-year travel adventure.
People always ask what my favorite place has been after a year and 21 countries of traveling. It's a simple question that I myself ask of many other travelers that I meet along the route. The answer is much harder. Every country is tainted or gilded by the experiences there and the people who make them up.
Select the correct answer:
If Jackie gets on a bus leaving Prague at 11pm and arrives in Krawkow at 7am the following morning, and the bus is traveling at 100 kilometers per hour, how many hours will it take before her laptop is stolen?
Welp, we did it. We skipped winter. It was very satisfying to land in Munich – back in our home away from home – and see buds on the trees and daffodils on the ground where there’d only been brown leaves in November. As Nate’s cousins drove us from the airport and told tales of 15 inches of snow cover while we were gone, we snuck smug sideways glances at one another. For 133 days, just over 4 months, or a whole third of the year, we lived out of our bags. We traversed through 11 countries and 32 cities.
Before travel, coffee was a morning comfort and, I’ll admit, a minor addiction packaged with unsettling withdrawal symptoms when absent from my life. Honestly, though, I can’t tell my Folgers from my French Roast. This is probably owing to years of abusing my taste buds with copious amounts of salt. Nonetheless, a cup of joe is never far away when I sit in front of a computer screen or have a book in my hand.
26 days and only 4 showers later (ewwww), Nate and I have completed our camping trip around New Zealand. It was by far my favorite part of our travels so far, minus the incessant rain and the regular lack of showering. Our south island experience couldn't have been more different from our travels around SE Asia.
I interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for a cooking show. When New Zealand rains on your parade, you make a cooking show at the first sun sighting. Obviously.
Side note: We might be losing our minds.
After two months of traveling around SE Asia, Nate and I touched down in Jakarta, Indonesia; my home away from home. I’d lived and worked in the city from 2010-2013, and we were both eager to visit some of my old stomping grounds.
It’s easy to catch martyrdom syndrome when backpacking. Oh whoa is me! I’ve relinquished my career ambitions (really more of a ‘pause’), reduced my possessions to what I can carry on my back (and fit into my mother’s storage spaces), and shunned worldly comforts such as Pandora, Hulu, and Amazon Prime (Now I only have YouTube and Netflix!). You may gaze upon me with pity and secret admiration at my minimalist lifestyle. Right.
Siem Reap – rhymes with Read ‘em and Weep – is the home of the famous Angkor Wat. Why is it famous, you ask? It’s famous because Angelina Jolie once posed as Lara Croft Tomb Raider in front of some temple ruins, twisted and crumbled under the weight of an ancient banyan tree here.
Last time on Adventures with Nate and Jackie, we found our heroes in a video montage along with some chickens and ill-tempered men on a 24-hour bus from the capital city of Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. Did they make it? Is their sanity intact? Read on to find out…
The time Nate and I spent in Vientiane, Laos – food poisoned and hiding from the writing on the wall respectfully – was a lower point of the SE Asia trip, but hope lay on the horizon in the form of a little town called Luang Prabang.
Well, we did it. Nate and I checked all of our boxes and then some in Thailand:
People are always (never) asking me what it’s like to quit adulting and become a funemployed traveler, so I’ve put together this top ten FAQs for your convenience.
With Christmas approaching, it was time for Nate and I to move from Malaysia on up to Thailand. In order to get back on the rails again, we only needed to hop on the ferry, take a bus to the train station, get on a commuter train to the border, get on a shuttle train to Hat Yai, take an overnight bus to Phuket, and then take a taxi to our hostel. Easy.
After an hour train ride and a 20 minute ferry ride to the island of Penang, we stumbled onto the hot streets of it's main town called Georgetown. An UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, this city had a lot of British colonial architecture connected (disconnected?) with a lot of missing or interrupted sidewalks. Georgetown was definitely infused with the liveliness of young backpackers and the bars and party hostels that keep them coming, but the bones were basically the same as Ipoh: great food and fun street art. There was one major difference: It wasn’t sad.
To round out Malaysia, Nate and I visited two more cities on our way to Thailand: Ipoh (pronounced E-poh like Eeyore, both a helpful mnemonic and a beautiful metaphor for the city) and Penang.
Nate and I alighted from our train into the main station in Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capital city of Malaysia. Our Airbnb host instructed us to hail a cab, but we noticed an MRT station and thought it would be a cheaper, faster option in rush hour traffic. Aaaaannnd it might have been had we not been following directions to Regalia Residence instead of Regalia Residence and Suites, the former existing only on the map and not in real life.
11:21 AM, Friday, Dec 8: Nate and I are on a 6-hour train ride from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. We’re feeling pretty good having navigated a bus ride to the border, customs, and the train station to get to this point. Admittedly, it was a lot of herd following, but still, we should get a badge or something.
In our original plan, Nate and I would stay in Germany for a year or so, learn the language, learn about our roots, and do whatever else we wanted in our spare time. However, within a week of my arrival and after realizing just how tricky it might be to get permanent residency, we decided to migrate somewhere warm and cheap to wait out the winter months and our Schengen visa renewal. So, after exactly one month in Germany, Nate and I will be saying Auf Weidersehen a la Heidi Klum to Germany.
Gishbaugher is a weird last name. Apparently we make it even weirder by insisting on pronouncing is “Gish-bahkr” instead of the expected “Gish-bower.” This has resulted in inventive renditions from Dishwasher to Fishburger and every other version that the middle-school mind can conceive. It took me so long to remember how to spell the name when I was learning my letters that my father amused himself by adding on new and creative endings each time I asked him how to spell it. Once he got all the way to an impressive “Gishbaugherzooniruts” before the gig was up.
Nate sent me an article touting that the most popular blogs are How to blogs. Always wanting to please my audience, I thought I’d give it a shot and talk about how to be (f)unemployed. To clarify, if you want to know the nitty gritty of getting oneself to a place with enough savings to survive, talk to Nate. That’s his area of expertise. Here you will learn how to prepare your brain, not your bank account, through three easy steps (and one kinda difficult one).
Home is going to be a fluid concept for the next year or so. Nate and I have a pretty solid list of countries we want to see while we have the time, but Augsburg will, for all intents and purposes, be the place we hang our hat and unpack our suitcases. Since I’ve been here for all of 10 days now, I feel I have the authority to tell you a little about it.
Fisch auf dem Trockenen…I came across this German idiom on the first day that I cracked open my German for Dummies book (Thanks, Sierra!). It’s the German equivalent to our American Fish out of water, and as the near-title to my old blog, I chalked it up as one of the many, many signs affirming my decision to quit my job and go traipsing around the world with Nate.