Bali Livin: Footloose and Fancy-free

As an American when I thought about Bali, it seemed like a far off distant Neverland that could only be dreamed about or pinned on Pinterest. When I moved to Thailand I truly had no idea that I would explore South East Asia so much while I was there. I quickly realized that I absolutely had to take advantage of being on this side of the world therefore any chance I got to explore a new country I took. After many separate groups of teacher friends made their way to Bali after our first semester in Thailand, I knew I had to make it happen. Just like that Jackie, Maggie and I booked our flights and convinced our friend Brittaney to come along with us. (Not that it took much convincing). We got tons of advice from friends which made planning our trip relatively easy. We also agreed to remain extremely flexible in our plans by only booking our first hotel. We started our Bali adventure in Ubud, which is north of the airport near the center of the island. Ubud is known for its rice fields and amazing scenery. I will tell you a little secret…Ubud is the best kept secret of BalI! We expected to spend a night or two, do some outdoorsy stuff and then head straight for the beaches. We were absolutely captivated by this town the moment we stepped foot in it. It was so quaint and interesting, with brick sidewalks and tree lined streets full of shops, cafes, spas and art galleries. There was a huge cultural influence woven into the streets due to the temples and ancient architecture still standing but converted into hotels, businesses and restaurants. It was a whirlwind experience and we ended up staying a few extra nights to soak up as much Indonesian culture as we could. Must sees if you are traveling to Ubud:

Monkey Forest– A short walk from the action of downtown Monkey Forest is a nature reserve and temple swarming with wild monkeys. They can be vicious (one bit Jackie & stole her sunscreen from her bag) or they can be very loving (at least 3 climbed on my head and gave me high fives). I think it just depends on the monkey vibes you give off. Clearly, there has to be part monkey in me somewhere.

 Sunrise at Mt. Batur– We woke up at 2 am and took a painfully winding ride to the bottom of the active volcano Mt. Batur. We proceeded to hike 1,716 meters up this volcano in the freezing cold and pitch black. Maggie was the ultimate trooper and completed the hike in FLIP FLOPS! On top of the volcano watching the sunrise above the fog is one of the most vivid memories I have of the trip. I felt like I was on top of the world. The hike down the volcano slowly brought us back to reality but that is the way things go with traveling, you gotta take the good with the bad.

A Coffee Plantation– Bali is known for its coffee and this made me ecstatic after suffering for a year with instant coffee in Thailand. We got the chance to visit a coffee plantation and taste test about 10 different types of coffees and teas. The most famous coffee was called Luwak Coffee. It is made by feeding the coffee beans to an animal, a Lombak, and waiting for them to poop it out. The bean ferments in their stomach and then it is roasted normally. It is casually referred to as “Shit coffee”. Jackie and I had to try a cup and it was honestly delicious. Good luck finding some in the states because it supposedly costs 50$ a cup!

Authentic Scenery- We had so many friendly tour guides/cab drivers who took us on excursions off the beaten path. It was incredible to explore the rice fields and secluded neighborhoods of Indonesia. I can picture the narrow roads in my head and I hear the ONE Indonesian song playing…that lasted about 25 minutes….and was on every time we got into a car. Nonetheless, it was magical scenery and so different than what you picture when you hear “Bali”.

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Great Expectations

I apologize for disappearing but I am here and ready to get you all back up to date with my crazy life. I am now back in America sitting in my bed at my parents’ house in Syracuse, NY shivering under 3 blankets. It is 28 degrees and snowing outside. In the past two months I have been in four countries, countless cities and have sucked more out of life than some people will for the entirety of their existence. I wrote this piece before I set out on my month long trip. To be honest, I had no intentions of including it in my blog, it was more for personal reflection, but it does an uncanny job at introducing the past two months of my life and a trip I will remember forever. I am going to try to condense the trip into three blog posts but we will see what it turns out to be. One of my quirks as a writer is that I go in completely blind as to what I want to say and simply let my thoughts guide me. But that is also what I attribute my authentic voice to… I have tried to fight it but ultimately it’s what works for me. Enjoy these expectations and stay tuned for the rest of the stories to come!

Expectations for The Finale Trip

Before I moved to Thailand I read a girl’s blog who lived and taught here and one of her biggest pieces of advice was “to not have any expectations of what your experience will be like because you will most definitely be wrong.” I took this sentiment to heart and shared it with Jackie and we adopted it as our motto jumping into the experience without expectations. My friend who started teaching here this semester shared with me an idea given to him by his aunt. She told him to write down his expectations and hopes for his experience before he left for Thailand so he could have them to look back at once he was finished. She wanted him to realize how different his expectations would be from his reality. Looking back on how much my life has changed in the past year and how “normal” life in Thailand feels today, I wish that I recorded my expectations. Not because they would be right but instead to see how WRONG they would be. I decided that it isn’t to late to use this technique both for my final backpacking trip and for my adjustment back into American culture and life. I won’t be disappointed if I am “wrong” because I know that the reality will be even better than what I can imagine. It is wonderful that my life seems to work out that way and I accredit it to using my knowledge of the law of attraction, a positive attitude and bringing kindness with me everywhere I go.

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If you don’t like the book, STOP READING IT

Once again the anticipation leading up to my two weekends of traveling in July was validated and surpassed by the actual experiences. Amazing Thailand… always amazing. Our first weekend out of our town of Suphanburi in a few weeks was spent in Bangkok celebrating the Fourth of July! Nothing starts of Independence Day like being asked by your boss to sing the National Anthem in front of the whole school (about 2,500 Thai people). We asked for the day off to celebrate and our deal was that we had to sing the National Anthem in the welcoming ceremony for some visiting teachers from America first. Reluctantly we agreed because neither Jackie nor I have a good singing voice and it’s one of the hardest songs to sing for a GOOD singer. But, we already made plans to leave early and meet friends in Bangkok. We sucked it up and luckily recruited two more singers to join us so no ones talent stuck out too much.(Thanks Jared, even if you forgot the words) 😉

After being in Thailand for an extended period of time, when you are in Bangkok Khaosan Road is definitely not the first area that you are eager to visit. Since it was our American holiday weekend, we figured that Khaosan Road was the best place to run into travelers, backpackers and expats and hopefully find a way to celebrate despite being away from the Land of the Free! We did some research and found a great hotel right on Khaosan, D&D Inn with a rooftop pool, swim up bar and decent rooms. After our stellar rendition of the National Anthem we left school and hopped on the bus to Bangkok. We were in our red, white, and blue suits soaking up the sunshine and jumping in the pool by 1pm. Well worth the semi embarrassment.

As the day played out we began to meet new tons of new people. The pool was packed and we were surprised to meet a big crew of Americans. They understood our excitement! Things escalated quickly from there and despite the dirty looks we ran around that pool deck waving our American flag and made sure that every single person knew what July 4th meant to us! We even befriended a few Brits, Irishmen, and EVEN Canadians (LOL inside joke). The party continued that night on Khaosan Road, which is an experience like no other. For the rest of the weekend we continued to take over the rooftop pool, meet amazing people, shop, eat, dance, and especially laugh. We reunited with teacher friends that live in different areas and when we get together my cheeks literally start to hurt. Funny people make the world go round.

On Sunday we made the best discovery of the weekend, a little brunch/dinner spot a short tuk-tuk or even walk from Khoasan called Chomp. The food, coffee, sangria, milk shakes and desserts were heavenly. Yes, we tried them all…And, yes we not only ate brunch there, but also stayed late in Bangkok just so we could go to dinner there too. Nothing and I mean nothing pleases my friends and I more than a good meal, especially a good western style meal. Don’t get me wrong I ADORE Thai food, but in my town there are absolutely no options for other styles of food and sometimes you just need to satiate your craving for Italian, Mexican, Indian, French and ESPECIALLY SUNDAY BRUNCH. A twenty something girl has GOT to have a good Sunday Brunch spot, it’s basically a part of our genetic make up. After an action pack weekend in Bangkok school on Monday was extremely difficult but luckily my students’ smiling faces always make me feel good about where I am Monday morning. I really have the best of both worlds.

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Contagious Enthusiasm

After an exciting weekend with two amazing ladies and friends from a place so near to my heart, Syracuse, NY (my hometown) I am left with lots of inspiration, new memories and a rejuvenated feeling in my heart. I discovered a while ago through social media that Hannah and Hannah would be traveling in South East Asia and specifically Thailand. Although I hadn’t seen or talked to them in years I knew that I had to reach out to them! Luckily, the universe aligned and they were able to come visit me within the first week of their three-month trip through South East Asia. As soon as they arrived at my apartment we began talking; swapping travel stories, reminiscing, getting in extremely intense conversations about life, love, adventure, YOU NAME IT!
We had a jammed packed weekend in my town Suphanburi; including attending a Suphanburi FC match, lots of delicious Thai food, a trip to the Samchuk 100 years Market, a visit to my school and did I mention delicious Thai food! The past few weeks have been filled with lots of Suphanburi activities! It actually feels like my home now, not just a town I am teaching in. We attended two Suphan FC matches which are the closest thing we are going to get to a college game day or professional NFL or MLB game here in Thailand. Our town lives and breathes for Suphan FC! We even bought our own jerseys so we could officially represent! We have had tons of activities going on at school and I have kept busy teaching my 7th and 9th graders. Every day guarantees at least one surprise! My kids keep me on my toes, make me laugh, frustrate me and most importantly remind me why I moved here in the first place.
It is a true blessing to wake up everyday and love what you do and I actively remind myself of that. The day I posted my blog about gratitude happened to be the day before a very important day at our school; the Wai Kru ceremony. It is a special day dedicated to students thanking their teachers for all of their hard work. They have a ceremony where they sing many songs and chants and wai out of respect for their teachers. They also present the teachers with extremely elaborate flower arrangements that they make themselves. I will let the pictures speak for themselves because these arrangements were truly works of art. I continue to feel lucky for how appreciated I feel each and every day. It is something that never will get old.

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The Best Ships…

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Today, I am biding farewell to another one of my closest friends who I met at our teaching orientation and preceded to grow into a tight knit friendship with. On our last day of orientation our coordinators from our new school came to pick us up. There were over 200 people spread across two hotels at our CIEE Teach in Thailand orientation. I had the pleasure of meeting tons of awesome friends which I have stayed in contact with via social media and our various meet ups on weekends and holidays. When our van arrived to bring us to Suphanburi, Jackie and I were nervous, excited, and anxious to get to our town. We knew there were other girls placed at our school and apartment building but we hadn’t really gotten to know them at orientation. The two hour van ride from Kanchanaburi to our new home was the perfect, awkward time to get to know each other. The conversation didn’t feel forced but we had to go through the obligatory initial questions, “Where are you from?”, “Where did you go to school?”, “What was your major?”, etc. All of us were eager and excited for this new chapter of our lives to begin! Erin and Kelsey were best friends from childhood and grew up together in South Carolina, Maggie and Kelsey were random college roommates at FSU and ended up becoming best friends, Jackie and I obviously went to WVU together and were each others life line getting through our graduate school program. We all had our own “security” best friend, which made getting to know each other as a group an interesting, but fun adventure.

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March Madness Final Round: America takes Thailand

It was such an awesome feeling returning “home” to Thailand. I really shouldn’t put that in quotes… this has been my home for the past 6 months and a wonderful one at that. It felt so great to be able to speak Thai again (no matter how little I actually speak), use baht, and feel comfortable with my surroundings. Not only was I home in Thailand but 3 short days later five of my closest friends from college were coming to visit me from America! Although I could not contain my excitement I also felt like my body just had been hit by an 18-wheeler. Over a month of backpacking will do that to ya. Luckily, I had two days to go back home to my quiet town of Suphanburi to unpack, do laundry, sleep, exercise and repack just to head right back out the door. Those two detox days were crucial to my survival for the rest of the trip. Not only did I have over two weeks left, I also had to play tour guide for 5 people who had never been to Thailand before! I needed to be on my game!

Waiting for them at the airport was one of the most nerve-racking, exciting sensations I have had in a while, and with all of my experiences lately, that is saying a lot. I knew their flight was delayed but when I got to the airport I had no way of contacting them. The flight board wasn’t updated yet when I got there and was on the opposite side as the arrival gate. Even when they landed their phones wouldn’t work internationally, so I just had to good old fashion wait. I made a little paper sign with an inside joke from college, “Wake up it’s Thailand time to pawty!”.

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March Madness Second Round: Cambodia

I am not sure what I expected when I heard the word Cambodia, but I can honestly say I was shocked when I got there. The first thing I noticed while driving on the bus from Vietnam to the small beach town Sihinoukville, Cambodia, was how dirty the country was. There was literally garbage everywhere. I was trying to keep an open mind, but after 17 hours on a bus, (actually multiple buses with transfers and long waits at shady bus stops) I wasn’t feeling too confident. The surroundings looked very barren and poor. Eventually we got to the last stop on the bus on a random road and got out to grab our backpacks and make our way to the guest house. Literally, we got harassed by 17 tuk-tuk drivers trying desperately to get our business. The tuktuk drivers in Cambodia were so aggressive it shocked me! Finally, we negotiated a fair price with one of the drivers and piled our five battered bodies and 5 giant backpacks into one small tuk-tuk.

We were driving along the road and all of a sudden civilization appeared. There were bars and restaurants, supermarkets, tons of people walking up and down the streets, and of course dozens of tuk-tuk drivers. We checked into Sekal Guesthouse, which has a great location and clean rooms for a decent price (if you looking for a place to stay in Sihanoukville). We dropped off our backpacks, showered and ventured out to find some food. We stumbled upon a place called Mum’s Kitchen; which was a real hole in the wall place right across the street from our guesthouse. The food was incredible. At least one of us ate there, at least once a day for the entire week we stayed. Once we were full, we heard music and decided to wander into the bar next door called Utopia. Chaos ensued from there and we discovered that Sihanoukville may be a small town, but they sure know how to have fun. We spent all night dancing the night away running from beach bar to beach bar on the infamous Serendipity Beach.

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March Madness First Round: Vietnam

First, I would like to start by absolutely commending bloggers who backpack travel and keep up with their blog at the same time. I need to try to master the art, but due to a lack of Wifi, a lack of concentration, relentless hangovers and far too much shopping & sightseeing, I find it works better for me to summarize my journey at the end. I decided to brake up my backpacking trip blogs by the countries I visited; Vietnam, Cambodia and then back to Thailand for an amazing visit from my American best friends and the celebration of the Thai new year,Songkran(one of most unique experiences of my journey so far). I lovingly nick named our trip March Madness, in an ode to the NCAA college basketball tournament in America, but it ended up being just that; MADNESS!

So, I will dive into Vietnam first. I was so excited for my first time leaving Thailand since I moved here 6 months ago! My bestie and travel guru (shout out to Kelsey) planned our itinerary, but tried to keep it as flexible as possible (only booking our first flight and first hostel) everything else was an approximate guideline so we could stay places longer when our hearts desired. I was all packed and ready to go the night before our trip and I decided to double-check my passport, my Visas,and my wallet…. OH SHIT! My credit card…is…where? A frantic search of my room began disheveling all of my neatly organized and folded piles of clothes, toiletries, and electronics. WHERE IS MY CREDIT CARD!? This is actually one of the scariest feelings in the world in another country, with a non refundable 2 month trip planned scheduled to leave for the airport that morning at 4:30 am. My biggest problem was it was my Thai bank account, where my paychecks are directly deposited to; I don’t use any other money right now besides my salary so it was my only lifeline. Our flight was scheduled to leave before any of the banks opened and they didn’t have Thai banks in Vietnam or Cambodia…

Tears started wailing from my eyes like a two-year-old child having a tantrum. I stormed into Jackie’s room and told them the news. Of course they offered to help me but the problem was we were all living off the same salary and we wouldn’t be back to Thailand for a month! I knew there was no way they could lend me money while still enjoying and surviving their vacation as well. I couldn’t take them up on their offer even if they forced me.So, I called my super heroes, my lifelines, the two most supportive people in the world… my parents. Of course I got a small lecture about responsibility but they luckily understood and we began to figure out options. I traveled the whole next day with next to no money, I felt so helpless and aggravated. After a lot of tears and a lot of emails back and forth with my Dad I finally got the money Western Union-ed two days later. It felt like an eternity but I was so grateful to have such amazing parents who would literally do anything for me. (THANKS GUYS). And now the fun could begin!

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The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: First Backpacking Extravaganza

I’m back! I promised I would return to the digital world after my backpacking adventure but had little idea of what that trip had in store for me. I also underestimated how draining it is to travel consistently for 3 weeks! I am still recovering! In some ways, I wish I could have kept up with the blog along the way but I think it is extremely important to actually experience and live in the moment while traveling as opposed to trying to document every single second. It is a more authentic style of traveling. I took notes as I went with hopes of remembering funny memories, interesting people and conversations and defining moments of the journey. I took tons of photos, but I can’t count the number of times we said “Pictures just don’t do this place justice.” The pictures pale in comparison to feeling the breeze on the long tail boat, the visions of crystal clear waters all around, or the magnitude of sensations and stimulation you feel walking through a crowded temple or a popular night market. I also think about all of the people I met along the way, their stories, and all the stories in the heads and hearts of people who will never write them down.
In hindsight, I now have a different philosophy about my trip and my blog and dare I say, life, in general. The most amazing part about traveling is the sensation of vulnerability, you never know what to expect next, whether it be good or bad, you can only control so much. There was both good and bad experiences on this backpacking trip, but each and every moment and memory is apart of me forever. I want to share my experiences, my photographs and my musings of what they taught me, but I have to admit I have started to feel possessive of my experiences. I feel as though I am transforming from an American 20 something, teacher from New York into a traveler. A traveler with an interesting story, background, a loving family and friends, a bucket list and most importantly dreams of what’s to come. Being a traveler, it’s like a club that you aren’t invited to. You become a part of it and it becomes a part of you. The best part of every single city, island, hostel, resort, bar, restaurant, temple, airport, bus station or street corner we visited was the fellow travelers I met along the way. There is an inexplicable fire in their eyes when they talk about where they’ve been and where they’re going. There is a desire to move, to see, to experience; that truly is like an infection that spreads. You can recognize it in someone else and you form a friendship, an unspoken bond and respect for the good left in the world and the individuals who choose to experience it.
Travelers do not simply exist, travelers are never satisfied with staying in the same place, but always appreciative of their surroundings. Travelers do not listen to what other people have to say about why they shouldn’t visit a certain country, its “too dangerous” or “too poor”. Of course we must all utilize caution while traveling, but if you too scared to step outside of the familiar, you might as well stay home. On my three week backpacking adventure I saw more than I can possibly condense into one blog post. I figured I would give you a list of places we visited and a few highlights of each location (both good, bad and ugly) because anyone who has traveled knows that it is not all as glamorous as pictures make it look. The bad and ugly are usually quite trivial things, but at the time, they are roadblocks or moments of true vulnerability. Once you learn to embrace all aspects of traveling, it frees you to enjoy the perks and discover the beauty in the hardships.

1. Chiang Mai
The good: 1. Sammy’s Organic Cooking School-learning how to cook all of my favorite Thai dishes from a lovely Thai couple using all fresh ingredients from their farm
2. New Years Eve at the Tae Pae gate with people, lanterns, and fireworks covering every square inch of the roads
3. Meeting a monk name Aye at a temple I haphazardly stumbled upon and hearing his take on life, Buddhism and happiness (One of those “life changing” moments that happened right before my eyes)
The bad: Getting lost with Jackie the first day with no idea what street our hostel was on or how to get there (No one else knew either) Made the best of it by shopping til we dropped & finding a sacared Mexican restaurant we visited 5 times in 7 days
The ugly: 12 hour bus ride to Bangkok (a bus that we searched the whole station 4 times over for) and lots of waiting in the airport (Jackie fell asleep across 4 chairs in the “Muslim Only” section LOL)
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2. Ko Phi Phi:
The good: 1. Boat cruise around the island, visit to Maya Bay (where The Beach was filmed) & breathtaking private coves & beaches
2. Beach parties- Fire shows, mojitos, hookah, and LOTS of dancing with my girlfriends
3. Our splurge bungalow – the last night we decided to treat ourselves to a beautiful room after suffering in a new hostel every night. Well worth it!
The bad: Arriving at our hostel and immediately having to cancel our reservation due to the horrid conditions. Changing rooms EVERY single night of our 4 days on the island, Jackie loosing her phone (which was returned thank god) Shitty manicures & pedicures that chipped the NEXT day, already acquired two additional bags(not including huge backpack) we deem ourselves “The Worst Backpackers Ever”
The ugly: Throwing up the whole ferry ride to Ko Lanta(not due to being sea sick) having a Thai worker rub my back

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4. Ko Lanta
The good: 1. Chill out House- Coolest hostel EVER- 3 story tree house run by a woman from California, bar. Restaurant, authentic bamboo tattoo shop within the hostel, So many genuinely interesting and friendly travelers
2. Snorkeling& trip to the Emerald Cave- awesome boat cruise to the Emerald Cave, had to swim through a dark cave and wind up in a totally enclosed beach within the island
3. Meeting up with my childhood friend- Sarah Jane, so great to see a friend who happened to be teaching yoga on the same island
The bad: Sickness for a majority of our traveling crew (4 out of 6) food poisoning, sinus infections, etc. , Boat cruise boat breaking down and having to be taxied in to shore by two other long tail boats
The ugly: Hangover of DEATH the first day in 95 degree weather in the outdoor tree house hostel… Barely saw the island the first day

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5. Tonsai Beach, Krabi

The good: 1. Looked like Jurassic Park, a less crowded, super chill beach, my favorite spot of the trip (I think) Right next door to the popular West Railay beach ( If you are reading this KEEP IT QUIET, it would be a shame to see it turn into a tourist trap)
2. Kayaking around Krabi- great day! Watched rock climbers, visited caves & a few different beaches with the pack
3. Chill Out beach bar- our home base for the entire time on the island, amazing view, cool vibe, best bartenders (two goofy Thai men in their early 20’s) fire shows, good food & drinks
4. REAL COFFEE & Fabulous veggie burgers! (Two luxuries I totally miss from America)
The bad: Beach water was about two inches at low tide and couldn’t swim, at this point our backpacks were overflowing and we couldn’t find any of our belongings, sand covering every inch of us, our clothes, our room
The ugly: Electricity only worked from 6 p.m until 6 a.m and there was only one outlet in the room (three girls, one fan, no time or ability to charge our cell phones/ woke up feeling like we were in a sauna/disconnected from the world )

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6. Ko Pha-Ngan
The good: 1. Hacienda Resort- great pool & swim up bar overlooking the ocean, fun atmosphere, and tasty restaurant two steps from our Bungalow, barely ventured off the resort the first few days
2. Jungle Party & Full Moon Party- once a lifetime experience of pure chaos on the beach, some of the weirdest and wildest parties I have ever been to
3. Amsterdam Bar- amazing spot with a very relaxed atmosphere and great view of the Gulf, great sunset with great new friends, lots of laughs
The bad: Ants everywhere in our bungalow (bathroom, bed, every place you can imagine), everything was overpriced since it was so touristy
The ugly: Lost our room key, lost/broken cellphones (not me, Thank goodness) missed our ferry, started to feel “ready to go home” & very drained

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I hate to condense the richness of the journey in a simple list especially since I have developed a new feeling of animosity toward this popular blogging format that is infiltrating social media. A few of you will probably read that and laugh because I have bitched to you about it. Guilty as charged. I simply could go on talking about it forever and I want to give my followers, friends and family at least a taste of the experience. If anyone is interested in hearing more or visiting one of these places in Thailand, please let me know! I am happy to make suggestions and help you! The greatest part of the trip was how close I grew to my friends I was traveling with, the amazing people we met and how my outlook on the world changed. Usually, it is hard to pin point defining moments of life, especially if you take away arbitrary “life changing moments” like graduation from high school and college. Of course those moments changed my path and started new chapters, but I love traveling because you feel yourself changing in each passing moment. You absorb your surroundings and you float in and out of conversations with people from all different walks of life, whether it is a monk you meet a temple of a friendly English girl you meet in your tree house hostel. You proactively grow, change and appreciate the world around you. It is inspiring and addicting. It is fulfilling and surprising. It is uncertain and extremely intimidating at times, but then again, so is life. “ We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”. Now, back to teaching and planning for the next trip (Thailand’s Summer Vacation), which is quickly approaching in March and April! Here we go again! Stay tuned! Cheers!