How Much Travel is Too Much Travel?: Knowing the Right Amount for You

Travel Too Much

I’ve been a “digital nomad” for around two and a half years now. I’ve had a chance to travel all over the world and to have incredible experiences, from seeing the northern lights in Iceland to kayaking down the Amazon. However, I have never really had the chance to develop roots in a particular place. Being on the road isn’t always easy. I have trip after trip planned for the next few months (and after just getting back from Greece and Egypt and after currently being in Guatemala), I’ve started wondering when you know you’ve been traveling too much.

I always admire fellow digital nomads who manage to keep going year after year. They never seem to slow down or to wonder what life would be like if they had a bit more stability. I scroll my social media pages and see other young women exclaiming how they are having the time of their lives and how they want to continue their lifestyles forever.

The truth is, you can get burned out on anything. Before I began this great journey, I was a homebody, choosing instead to stay home and read a book instead of exploring my world. Things have changed greatly for me, but every now and then I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach where I wish I had something a bit more permanent. How much travel is too much travel? When does it become not a way of life but a way to get through life or to escape it?

It’s not any easy question to answer, and it doesn’t mean I want to slow down any time soon—it’s just that I know my days where I can feasibly travel the world without major expenses and a job that doesn’t cover my health insurance are limited. There is no manual for life, and I’ve been doing the best I can in a world that hasn’t given me much security to begin with as a member of Generation Y.

The real question is how much travel is too much travel for you as an individual. Some can just keep tramping a perpetual journey around the world. I need time to come home every now and then, to see friends and family, and to know that I have a place in this world and that I’m not running away from anything.

What is the right amount of travel for you?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Hiking the Highline Trail: Beautiful Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Sometimes, getting older is not always a bad thing.

When I was younger, I was never much of a nature nut. I always loved curling up with a good book or watching a movie more than hitting the trail. It wasn’t until I lived in New York City for two years that I started to appreciate the more natural surroundings I had grown up surrounded by.

For my twenty-fifth birthday this year, my father took me up on the Highline Trail up in Glacier National Park. While not much of a difficult hike, it was definitely one of the most beautiful ones I have gone on. It’s amazing to think that some of the most gorgeous sites you will see are ones right in your backdoor.

Highline Glacier Park

I grabbed my daypack and some water along with my camera and we began the 6-mile hike to the halfway point of the trail. The beginning was not for the faint of heart—it’s a sheer drop down to the bottom of the Going-to-the-Sun Road with no barrier to keep you from falling. In fact, there’s a rope that you can hang on to if you feel the need to grab on for dear life.

Baby Goat Glacier

I was astounded by the amount of animals I saw. Baby mountain goats, marmots, and chipmunks were all friendly and allowed you to get close. Because no one can harm them in the park, they’re not afraid to get up close and personal.

Glacier Dad Alex

Marmot Glacier Park

Every turn brought a new view of the gorgeous mountains drenched in summer sunlight. I stopped to take a picture every few minutes, amazed that this was my home and how I could have missed its beauty before. I have been so fortunate to live and travel all over the world, but there is something about coming home and seeing those mountains that will always make me feel like I am truly home.

Mountains Glacier Park

Sheep Glacier Park

If you are planning on taking the Highline, I would recommend taking the full hike, though the last stretch can be a little tricky if you are doing an overnight. Bring plenty of water and your camera—you’re going to want it for all the fantastic views you will see. Also, make sure to arrive early—sometimes it can be a little difficult to get parking.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

The Great Headscarf Experiment: Traveling in Egypt

Egypt Headscarf Women

I’m used to traveling alone as a woman and dealing with a little bit of sexism everywhere I go. From the initial shock of being a girl on the road alone (“Why isn’t your boyfriend with you?”) to dealing with catcalling (“Hey there, Miley!”—why does everyone think I look like her?), I’ve dealt with my share of problems. However, on a recent trip to Egypt, I experienced a whole new level of harassment.

I loved Egypt for many reasons, the antiquities, the history, and the marvelous smells in the air of saffron and lotus flower. Floating down the Nile river and seeing the pyramids have so far been one of the major highlights of my travels.

But how I was treated was not.

Granted, I know that I am the foreigner in this situation. I am aware that I am purposefully placing myself in a situation where I have little to no control. Traveling as a woman is never easy to begin with, and I knew that even when I booked the ticket.

Instead of lamenting this after I had arrived and witnessed the accosting I was likely to receive as both a foreigner and as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl, I decided to perform a little experiment for other women who might be wondering how best to get around Egypt without being bothered. I call it, “The Great Headscarf Experiment.”

Without headscarf.

I embarked on a thirty-minute walk to the local café for some WiFi. My boyfriend, who had accompanied me the entire time, reluctantly remained behind. Without my headscarf, I started my journey out on the streets of Luxor.

As you can guess, it was a difficult journey. Every man that didn’t call out to me on the street was given a silent prayer of thanks on my part. One man followed me for four blocks with his phone, taking a video of my ass as I walked. I could list a few of the names I was called, but I wouldn’t want to offend anyone. Even some little boys ran up to me asking for candy. When I didn’t give them any, they told me to “feck off.”

I had read forums before traveling that going without a headscarf should be fine, but unwillingly, I had drawn far more attention than I have ever wanted in my life. I was relieved when I finally reached the café and was able to sequester myself in a corner.

With headscarf.

Taking extra care to make sure that my scarf was in place (along with my sunglasses), I began the dreaded walk back. This time, it was much better, however. I was at least called “madam” by a few of the drivers selling carriage rides. Though I was still obviously a foreigner and a girl, at least I seemingly had the sense not to advertise it, according to the men on the street. It was quieter, and I had learned that pretending not to exist was the best way to go about it.

And no kids approached me.

Conclusion.

Though I would love to encourage young women traveling to Egypt to go without the head scarf and to defy cultural norms, I would recommend taking care. By the end of my walk, I was so angry that I was shaking—and this was only an hour of my day. Wearing a head scarf made me realize how powerless we as women can be in a foreign environment—and that much of the world has a long way to go before we can feel totally safe.

However, this experience does not make me discourage women from traveling (either solo or with someone) to Egypt. In fact, I learned more about myself than practically any trip that I have taken so far. I also learned about being a foreigner, and how it can be a very different thing from one culture to the next. If you are a woman, please go to Egypt and continue to be strong and independent—that’s what the country needs.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Is Travel a Bad Thing?

Travel Bad Thing

I feel that most the time I tend to talk about my good experiences traveling. I always want to encourage other travelers, especially women, to expand their horizons and to think about the world in a new way. That’s originally why I started this blog in the first place. I believe that travel can really make people more aware of other cultures and in so, make them aware of what they can do to change it for the better.

But there are times when I have not fully agreed with this original thought. There are moments where I wonder whether I am doing more harm than good while abroad, or when I find myself developing certain prejudices against a people or place based solely on my experiences. Travel can, actually, cause stereotypes to be continued on. It can also be used to exploit certain views rather than seeing them from all sides.

Has travel changed me negatively? In some ways, yes. It has made it difficult for me to accept an “ordinary” life. I am bored incredibly easily. I find myself thinking about other cultures negatively sometimes because I am relating it to my own experience while there. I find myself comparing places rather than just appreciating each and every one for its own unique flavor. Sometimes, I find my impression of the culture and country is altered because of my own internal mood and problems I might be having that day.

I’ve thought about my interest in the environment and my wish to make it better, but how I really haven’t started in the right place—right where I live. I’ve thought about how travel has made staying in one location incredibly difficult for me, and how I’m never fully content when I have no plans to leave again. I find myself already thinking about my next trip before the one I am on has even finished—the sure sign of an addiction.

And it is times like these where I wonder whether or not travel has indeed made me a better person, after all. There is no way to know, but accept the truths that I can’t, and to see where travel might alter me negatively. As with any sort of power, it’s our choice whether to use it for good.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

4 Places You Can Experience the Real Reykjavik

Reykjavik Iceland Tourism

Iceland’s capital has seen an influx of tourism over the past few years, but the city of Reykjavik still holds some secrets for those looking to truly experience the city. The trick is to finding places that the locals love in the middle of the tourist hotspots. If you know the right places to go, you’ll have the trip of a lifetime.

For Food: The Fiskmarkaourinn

One of the greatest ways to experience a culture is through its food, and the Fiskmarkaourinn offers traditional flavors with a modern touch—just like the city of Reykjavik itself. Boasting a tasting menu with minke whale, puffin, mussels, sushi, and almost everything else you could dream of, the Fiskmarkaourinn is a favorite among those living in Reykjavik because it has the tried-and-true tastes of the culture, but it also includes some new flavors and presentations.

Food Reykjavik Tourism

You’ll want to order the Chef’s Tasting Menu. A full seven courses, you’ll be stuffed before you even make it to desert—usually a beautiful bowl of fruit grown in the greenhouses not too far away from the capital.

The Fiskmarkaourinn, Aoalstraeti 12, 101 Reyjavik, Iceland. +354 578 8877

For View: The Hallgrimskirkja Church

Representing the Icelandic peoples’ history as Vikings, the church wasn’t open until 1986. Designed by Icelander Gujon Samuelsson, it is by far the largest church in Reykjavik. Inside, it is pretty sparse—you won’t find any religious relicts or elaborate frescoes. However, the Hallgrimskirkja does provide the best view of the entire city from its top. You can take an elevator (about two floors) up to the top for a small fee.

Iceland View Church

You won’t find the top crowded, but you will find an expanse of charmingly-painted houses and the Pacific Ocean. Painted bright colors so fishermen and sailors could them from far out to see, they now create a colorful city and a beautiful view.

Alex Iceland Church

Hallgrimskirkja Church, Hallgrimstorg 101, Reykjavik Iceland. +354 510 1000

For Relaxing: Landmannalauger

Everyone knows of the Blue Lagoon, but that makes it part of the problem if you want to see the real Reykjavik. Located a short distance away is Landmannalauger, or “the people’s pool.” It’s a hiker’s paradise not only for the gorgeous scenery, but also for its changing temperatures. As the Icelanders know, nothing is more relaxing than resting in the hot springs after a few hours of hiking some of the nearby mountains.

Because it is slightly hidden away, you should consider looking into hiring a tour company to take you. Those who are feeling intrepid can rent a car to make the short drive from Reykjavik, but for a truly relaxing experience, treat yourself to a cheap tour where you can also learn about Iceland’s every-changing landscape.

For Nightlife: Snaps

Hidden within a hotel in the city center, Snaps has become the secret meeting place for the Reykjavik elite. Though it doesn’t look any different from the many cafes and bars lining the city’s streets, it has a quiet reputation for delicious food, some interesting imported wines, and unique beers.

Iceland Reflection View

Its cozy interior makes it difficult to find a seat, so if you are planning on a late dinner, make sure to book a reservation beforehand. Between the excellent bar snacks, many choices of cheap and imported brews, and atmosphere, it’s no wonder that Snaps has made a name for itself as the local celebrity hotspot. (It’s also a favorite hangout of the Icelandic pop star Bjork.)

Snaps, Dorsgata 1, 101 Reykjavik Iceland. +354 511 6677

Have you found any favorite spaces in Iceland?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Do I Need Travel Insurance?: How to Know if You Do

Travel Insurance Need

I recently had a good friend contact me who is headed out on a trip. She wanted to know what I knew about travel insurance and what I would recommend. Quite honestly, I was little ashamed to admit that I knew very little about it. My current health insurance covers me while I am abroad, but many companies do not. I decided to take a look into some of the pros and cons of travel insurance for Generation-Y travelers and whether it’s something we really need (especially if we are operating on a budget).

Travel insurance does not just cover medical expenses.

Depending on the package you use, travel insurance can cover a lot more than just if you happen to have an emergency abroad. It can also include flight cancellations because of illness or personal problem, and you can almost completely recoup the cost depending on how much you’ve paid initially for the service. If you are working a full time job, a family member is ailing, or for any other major reason you might have to cancel at the last moment, travel insurance can be invaluable.

It also covers lost or stolen baggage. While this might not mean a ton to Generation-Y travelers (I know I could care less if someone stole my bag of dirty laundry and smelly shoes at this point), it can mean something if you are transporting something valuable.

Some credit cards include travel insurance.

If you aren’t into buying a full amount of travel insurance, there are some other options. Credit cards actually have some great reimbursement rates. Chase Sapphire, for example, will reimburse up to $10,000 if you have booked your trip with your Chase card. However, cards don’t tend to cover any health insurance—so if you are worried about that, you might want to pay the extra and invest if your health insurance doesn’t cover you while abroad.

What’s a reasonable rate?

When looking around, I found that most companies charge around 5% of the total trip cost. So if you spend a few thousand dollars, it really only ends up being a few hundred more. However, most Generation-Y travelers might not be willing to lay down the money (let’s be real, we can spend that on another few nights at a hostel or cheap hotel).

In my personal opinion, if you can afford it, it doesn’t hurt. If you can’t, it’s okay to go without. Before you head to your next location, though, make sure that you check to see if your health insurance covers you while you are away and if you are heading to a place with socialized medicine—you might end up spending very little or even nothing at all if you need to head to the doctor.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

 

Interview with Mathias Friess: CEO of Webjet

Plane Webjet CEO

I recently sat down with Mathias Friess, the CEO of Webjet—a new company that has made its way from Australia over to the United States. Webjet has taken the idea of buying a plane ticket to a new level by allowing customers to buy their tickets in payments rather than all at once. I thought I would ask him a few questions on what exactly Webjet hopes to accomplish in the United States and how this might benefit Generation-Y travelers.

Friess has an impressive background. As the Head of Sales for American Airlines and Lufthansa, he has worked to move Webjet from Australia to the United States. Friess noticed that many customers were willing and able to travel, but they might not necessarily be able to afford the initial cost of a large plane ticket upfront.

Webjet is for a global citizen, someone young. Younger people are much more likely to have a passport than any other generation. Webjet can work for college students or those on a gap year from the ages of eighteen to twenty-five who are looking to experience travel outside of the United States,”

Friess says.

Webjet CEO Book

It also offers young people to prioritize whether or not cost is more important than convenience—something that other airline companies tend to assume would not be important to customers. As a Generation-Y traveler, I have chosen to spend more time in an airport in order to keep costs down. In some ways, it has allowed me to see other cities I would not have because I’ve had time to explore. Friess agrees, mentioning that Webjet “lets the customer decide” whether or not this is beneficial price-wise from him or her.

So how does Webjet work? Friess broke down it down to the basics for me.

Almost every other large purchase, you can make in installments. Whether it is a mattress or a car, you can make payments rather than the full amount. Why shouldn’t it be the same for airplane tickets?”

As a Generation-Y traveler, I could see how this could be greatly beneficial to those looking to study abroad but who find themselves struggling with being able to pay the full price of the ticket. As Friess mentions, those customers should not have to miss out on the experience of travel. I agree, though I wonder whether students will be willing to forgo their time abroad because they already have student loans and debt.

What do you think? Is this a service you would use?

*I have received no compensation or benefits for this post.*

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Unknown Cusco: Exploring the Ancient Capital

Cusco Peru TravelIt’s pretty obvious that when you head to Peru that you should check out Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail—they are by far the most-touted attractions and it would be a shame to miss them. However, I found myself more and more enamored with the city of Cusco while we stayed there. The city held secret dance clubs, historical locations, and most of all, some amazing culinary talent.

The former capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco was likened to El Dorado, the lost city of gold, when the Spanish first found it. Cusco has since evolved into a modern city where you can easily walk to most major sights.

One of my personal favorite activities were the salsa clubs. It’s been a while since I had pulled out my salsa skills, but even the most basic of beginners were not lacking a partner. Peruvian men are happy to spin you on the dance floor. (They are great leaders and can make anyone look like a pro.)

Cusco Cathedral Peru

The Cusco Cathedral is definitely worth checking out, as well. After falling into disrepair after several earthquakes, it has been restored to its former glory. One of the things I liked best about the cathedral were the hidden hints back the Incan Empire—both the Virgin Mary and Jesus were depicted with darker skin. I loved this nod to the “pachamama,” or the mother earth that the ancient Incans worshipped.

Another wonderful thing about Cusco that I loved was the fact that everything was very easy to walk to. You will want to check out the markets where you can sample some fresh juice (some of the best I’ve ever had) and bread. From there, it’s a simple walk to the main temple. Cusco is said to be shaped like a puma, and the head of the puma is located at the beautifully designed temple to the sun god.

I had heard that there was a budding culinary scene in Cusco, and I was eager to try some unique foods. I ordered alpaca (which I felt guilty eating after meeting a few in person). Served with sweet potatoes and a type of polenta, the alpaca tasted almost like venison or some other type of wild meat. It was delicious, as were all my meals in the city.

Food Cusco Peru

I would recommend spending a day or two more in Cusco than you would on a booked itinerary if you can. Along with hidden night clubs, delightfully cooked alpaca, and ancient sites, Cusco was one of my favorite parts of my adventure with Contiki.

Have you ever been to Cusco? Have anything you would recommend?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Why I Have a Problem with Voluntourism: Are We Really Helping Others?

Voluntourism Travel Bad

I remember scanning my Facebook feed not only after graduating from college. Many of my friends had gone on to travel after graduation, and many had chosen to journey to distant locations on “voluntoursim” trips. Looking over pictures of friends (and people I didn’t know as well, either), I started to get a weird feeling in the put of my stomach as they posed with children from impoverished areas.

#blessed was a common theme, along with how rewarding their experiences had been abroad over the week or two they had been there. “How lucky that they’ve found WiFi so they can show us how their lives have been changed,” I couldn’t help but think sardonically. I hadn’t even known that I personally had a problem with this type of tourism until more and more of these photos popped up.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to volunteer, and on a superficial level, I have no problem with my peers traveling to other areas of the world in order to help others. In practice, it’s much more complicated than that. As Ian Birell states in this article for The Guardian,

Once again, clumsy attempts to do good end up harming communities we want to help. We have seen it with foreign aid, corrosive in so many countries by propping up despots, fostering corruption and destroying local enterprises. We have seen it with the dumping of cheap food and clothes, devastating industries and encouraging a dependency culture. And now we see it with ‘voluntourism,’ the fastest-growing sector of one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet.”

I have mixed emotions about this as a travel writer—someone who is supposed to encourage travel and the industry. But I can’t do that in good conscious when I know it is affecting so many lives negatively. I suppose I travel for, in some ways, a much more selfish reason: to make my own self a better person and more aware of what is going on in the world around me.

Helping others can be as simple as volunteering in your own community, or making a donation to a charity you believe in. It doesn’t have to involve thousands of dollars and Instagram pictures of how the lives you are affecting are better because of the trip you made. Chances are, in a lot of cases, they probably aren’t.

If you choose to travel and help others, I’m reminded of a shining example from a dear family friend, my “Aunt” Lucy. Living for years in Africa and Japan, Lucy devoted herself to teaching and truly getting to know the people she spent time with. This was before social media and before many of these places were deemed safe to go to.

For me, that is an example of helping others.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Travel Book Review: Among Warriors by Pamela Logan

Among Warriors Review

Reading a travel memoir is always such a huge treat for me—I’ve been slowly collecting a number of them to have in my library. There’s nothing I like more than curling up with a good book, especially if the book happens to be about a particular journey. A few weeks ago, I cracked open Among Warriors: A Woman Martial Artist in Tibet by Pamela Logan. Written in the 90s, I was curious to see how the author portrayed solo travel for women before there had been a big boom.

Logan starts the book out with a goal to visit the Khampa warriors in Tibet. Most of the book consists of the author combatting the strict laws set by the Chinese in the 90s that made it almost impossible to visit certain sites. It was entertaining to read about Logan’s exploits as she stowed away in trucks as a foreigner, how she communicated with others, and the connections she made along the way. Logan had some beautiful phrases tucked into her narrative, including:

Outside, the wind gusted and wailed. Sitting miserably on my thin mattress, huddled by the stove, I wondered how many more storms might cross my path on all those roads I had yet to conquer.”

The book started out with a great setup—I loved the goal the author had and how she tried so hard to make her dream of meeting the Khampa warriors happen. However, about two-thirds into the book, her goal doesn’t seem like enough. Instead of becoming a complete narrative, the book starts to take a turn for the observational. While some of these insights are interesting, others feel tedious and redundant. I felt as though the book could have ended before the last hundred pages, or it could have been expanded much longer. It almost would have been better as two books with one half as the author’s experiences in Tibet, and the second in Nepal.

Among Warriors Book

Also, the ties with martial arts at some points seemed strained. As Logan got farther and farther away from her original intent, she would insert “routines” that her martial arts colleagues would have been participating in at her home in California. While it was great that she recognized that her story had become a little disjointed, the connections she made between her home and Nepal were a little stretched.

Overall, the observations were what kept me reading and her gusty experience as a woman abroad. I was incredibly impressed how she took this venture on—learning two languages and biking across China in order to do so.

Read any good travel books lately?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander