Finally Nailed Down, Travel Plans for 2014

Planning next year has been a long and drawn out affair. I’ve cycled through probably a hundred different ideas. I’ve researched and contacted people in areas where I wanted to go, asked about opportunities galore and looked up flight costs and cost-per-day averages and border crossings and visa restrictions in what feels like half the world. And then I’d fink out on my plans or stumble onto something else amazing, and change my mind. And then I did it all over again.

It’s now less than a week until Christmas and less than two weeks away from the new year, but finally, FINALLY, I’ve figured it out. And booked the flight. And I feel so relieved and happy and excited, because this time, my plans fit like a glove and I don’t have a gut feeling holding me back on a single thing.

Before I reveal anything, let’s take a moment to mourn my discarded travel plans that weren’t able to come to life, at least not yet.

RIP

Backpack & Volunteer Around Mexico

This was plan numero uno, and after plenty of research, I came up with very little to actually do in Mexico. Well, there was one place on the West coast where I could work at an orphanage, and there were about a million opportunities in the city of Oaxaca, but the in-between was dark and unpromising, volunteer-project-wise. I’m sure more opportunities would have opened up once I got on the ground, but then idea numero dos popped up.

Backpack & Volunteer From Costa Rica to Mexico

I was alerted that an old family friend worked for an NGO in Nicaragua. Perfect, an in with a reputable place to volunteer. I also thought about the weather and that it would be a good idea to follow the warmth, so to say, and start South, instead, ending in Mexico during the summer months. My biggest dilemma in planning this was just how much I wanted to see in merely 8 weeks. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize AND Mexico? That’s only one week, per country. Impossible. And for some reason, I just had a weird feeling that kept stopping me from booking my flights.

Sad but true: no Costa Rican monkeys for me, this February.
Sad but true: no Costa Rican monkeys for me, this February.

Volunteer in Tanzania

Then I found a really cool volunteer project that was both local, cheap-ish and had a wide range of really inspiring projects I could work in. This plan died when I looked up how much all the vaccinations and visa costs were, though. I’d still love to volunteer and spend some time in Africa, but I need more than a month to get my ducks in a row, first. This is on my radar for the distant future. I’m 100% sure that at some point, Sally in Africa will happen.

Backpack The Balkans

I’ve always wanted to head through Eastern Europe, and with my parents relocating to an area near Berlin, the timing seemed perfect. The only thing about that same timing, though, is that I only have 10-11 weeks to do this and almost twice as many countries I want to visit. And if you know me, then you know that I can’t stand rushing from one place to the next. But deadlines are deadlines, and I need to be in Germany in April and the USA in July for some non-negotiable events; that’s just how the cookie/my Balkan-backpacking plans crumble into little tiny dead pieces.

So… what have I decided?

Did you catch what I just mentioned about Germany in April? (Now you did!) My parents are relocating to Germany for my dad’s work. So to figure out my plans once and for all, I went back to basics. I want to practice my Spanish. I don’t want to spend a million dollars on flights; I want to be closer to where I need to be for those big fixed events. Which led me to the conclusion that at the beginning of February, I should get on a plane headed for:

Just gonna torture you with this unrelated photograph. (Or is it?!)
Just gonna torture you with this unrelated photograph. (Or is it?!)

Germany!

Only long enough to settle my junk into my dad’s nice new place (he’ll arrive before me, my mom will arrive later), because booking round trip tickets is a lot less of a headache than two one-way. As soon as any jet lag has passed and I’ve had a dark beer and some bretzel, then I’ll be taking a train to:

Spain!

I’m sure you figured that out, right? Where else in Europe can I practice my Spanish? I have about two months before my mom arrives in Germany and I want to be there to help her settle in. So I’ll be… around Spain. I haven’t made those plans very well yet. But I’d like to spend the majority of my time outside of the city, as living in rural Korea has turned me into a little bit of a country girl. On my way back to Germany at the end of my two months, I want to make a stop in:

[February 2014 edit: These plans have already changed again! I’ll be spending only one month in Spain and then heading outside of the Schengen Visa Zone to Ireland and the UK for another month.]

Paris, France!

How could I not? If I had another two months on my Schengen visa then I’d spend it exploring France, as well. Unfortunately I have to choose, so I’ll just spend a few days in the big city, take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and get even fatter than I already will be from eating tapas all day. Solid plan, I know.

Back in Germany…

I get to watch the shock on my mother’s face as she discovers all of these things about Germans are actually true. And pressure her into eating deli meat before 10am. I’ll probably just be doing a lot of boring things like visiting the post office and mapping the way to the local train station, but because it’ll be with my mom, in Germany, it’ll be kind of fun. I’ll also get a taste rural German life, because my parents will be living out in the countryside, thanks to my dad’s work.

Oh, and I’ll say hi to some friends along the way (Vienna, anyone?), but before long I need to head out to my next destination:

Parry wants to know... is this suspense killing you?
Parry wants to know… is this suspense killing you?

Somewhere in Eastern Europe

So vague, I know. Basically I want to be outside of the Schengen zone and not moving around too much, but still in a good place to take some two- or three-day trips. Bosnia, Serbia or Romania are all good contenders at the moment. We shall see! My trip will come to a close at the end of June, I’ll fly back to the USA for a wedding the second week of July, and from there, it looks like a return to Korea is in my future. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, planning until July is good enough for me!)

Wait, so… what will I be doing exactly?

Other than eating everything I can stuff in my face? Brushing up on that Spanish that I’ve let deteriorate a little too much. I’d also like to volunteer and maybe also work for accommodation, so I won’t say a WWOOF is out of the question. I would love to make some new friends, using Couchsurfing. And perhaps even run into an old friend or two, reunion-style. Whatever I end up doing, I don’t want to be living with my face in a Lonely Planet book. Sightseeing is great, visiting new cities is great, but I’m interested in a more culturally involved experience. Where will that take me? Well, who knows.

If I could know, maybe I wouldn’t want to find out. It’s the journey, right?

And perhaps part of the journey will involve wild goats. That would be nice.
And perhaps part of the journey will involve wild goats. That would be nice.

How You Can Help

Seeing as I haven’t planned out my time in Spain or Eastern Europe yet, any knowledgeable input would be really appreciated. I can use all the info you can throw at me!

What do you suggest I see while I’m in Spain? Do you know of any volunteering opportunities that I could be a part of?

What’s a good base in Eastern Europe that you would recommend? What was your favorite country, there? How about volunteer projects in the area?

Trip insurance suggestions?

If you can’t tell, folks, I’m excited! And so glad that this plan is complete and set in plane-ticket stone; it’s a huge weight off my shoulders to have this settled so I can sit back and relax this holiday season.

So with that, I wish you guys a wonderful end of the year full of cookies, happy memories, things with bright lights all over them and as many laughs as your diaphragm can stand. I know I’ll be doing the same.

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Confession: I’m No Vagabond

There are so many travel blogs on the internet and so many people who make their living heading from one place to the next and writing about it. It’s an exciting life, full of novelty and fresh faces, beautiful scenery and the percentage of the world that they’ve seen is constantly creeping up a little bit higher. It’s an important rite of passage into the well-traveled community to do a year long RTW trip, or something along those lines. But I have a confession to make: I don’t want to perpetually travel. I don’t want to wander without limits, forever. I don’t even want to dedicate a year of my life solely to seeing things in different countries. I’m not a vagabond.

I don’t feel compelled to walk down the untraveled path, just because I’ve never been down it.

So, why do I write a travel blog? Why did I go to Istanbul or Germany or Argentina and why the hell do I live in South Korea of all places? It’s not that I didn’t enjoy going to all of the places I’ve been privileged enough to see, on the contrary, I’ve had the time of my life and hope to continue the trend. But I don’t want to simply travel the world. I want to be a part of it. I don’t want to see all of the UNESCO Heritage sites. I don’t want to color in all the countries of the world on a map, one day. I want to do something in each of them.

How vague, Sally. Let me elaborate.

I want to spend time with the people in each region and make their lives better in whatever way I can. I’m talking about volunteering or meaningful employment, sharing, discussion. I really believe that every single person in the world has something to offer someone else that can improve life for both of them. It could be simply getting a cup of coffee and filling an hour with mutual laughter, or spending the time to braid someone’s hair or just sitting on the ground and creating sidewalk chalk art with a neighborhood kid. I’m not talking about monetary resources or marketable skills, although those certainly can be used to create happiness in someone else’s life. But those aren’t necessary: I believe that everyone has something to give, regardless of wealth of experience. It’s one of my priorities to use what I have, wealth, experience and otherwise, to add value to lives around me. It’s not enough to see the world for me, I want to create something positive in it.

My favorite lady monk did nothing but tell stories, but my life (and Korean!) was better for it.
My favorite lady monk did nothing but tell stories, but my life (and Korean!) was better for it.

One of the ways that I believe I can add happiness to the world around me forms the second and maybe the biggest motivator for my travels: I want to learn. The more you know about the people around you, the better you can make decisions that are considerate and kind. The entire world would be vastly different if each and every one of us took the time to understand and appreciate the strange cultures on the other side of the ocean. I think national politicians from every country should probably be reeducated in that regard. But that knowledge, that understanding and appreciation is why I want to see the world. It’s because I want to learn about it… all of it.

So while I’d be thrilled to spend a year traveling the world, I would hate spending that year only traveling the world. I want to volunteer with the world, I want to talk to the world, I want to learn about the world. The Taj Mahal is breathtaking, but the story behind it is infinitely more valuable and fascinating. Just like Croatia: the scenery is spectacular and it’s a beautiful place to vacation, but the history of Yugoslavia and each individual city in Croatia makes my eyes light up. I want to see the evidence of a different life in older times, or perhaps evidence that life was the same. I want to see how today’s economy is influenced by that history. When the history is sad, I want to cry with it and remind myself that there are things that we can prevent as moral human beings and it’s ultimately our responsibility to do so: the monkeys and camels of the world aren’t likely to intervene in an ethnic cleansing.

So while I don’t have itchy feet, longing to see something new and discontent with where I am, I certainly have a curiosity that has me by the neck. My insatiable thirst for knowledge and history and understanding cultures has the reins and is pushing me to ask questions. It pushes me to read books and talk to people and investigate the lives already lived and those that are still living. I’m a student and the world is teaching me every step of the way: division, reunification, love, hate, war, peace, destruction, restoration, cries and laughter. The how and the why of the past and their connections to everything going on today are what drive me forward, onward to new lands and people.

Germany isn't the only country that's faced division.
Germany isn’t the only country that’s faced division.

Traveling for the sake of travel has benefits and there are countless articles on that topic. Self confidence, understanding of your own culture, empathy and the release of materialism are all wonderful reasons to leave your hometown and set out for a bit to see something new. I’m not knocking the good in this, it’s real and it’s valuable. But, for me, travel has pushed me into all of this and then into a new arena: passion and a sense of justice. Everyone should have the chance to worry about “first world problems.” The entire world should be able to complain about their significant other buying the wrong kind of jelly at the grocery store. I’m not saying it’s a good thing to forget perspective, but it’s an evil thing to have perspective forced upon you by poverty, war, dying family or dysfunctional government. I want to contribute to eliminating circumstances like this, because I can and therefore I feel a responsibility to do so. I can’t simply sit back and watch, traveling country to country, buying the souvenirs and checking off the list. I need more.

So this is my confession: I’m not a perpetual wanderer of the world. I’m not a vagabond. I’m not pulled by adventure to see new horizons or complete a list of things to do before I die. At heart, I’m really just a slave to my curiosity, my need to know more about someone else, my desire to understand better and contribute where I can and add something positive to another’s life. At the end of the day, I’m nothing more than a naive, compassionate and curious nerd with no limits. I will go anywhere, give everything and talk to anyone in pursuit of knowledge and then follow that up with my time and dedication to making life better for all of us. That’s my big secret. My full, written and signed confession that I’m not a gypsy soul and I never will be.

And with that, I’m completely happy.

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