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My Top Items For Long Term Travel

A couple of weeks ago, we crossed the 6 months of traveling marker. Unsurprisingly, it feels like it has been much longer, and much less all at once. I can’t believe we still get to do that long all over again! Even though I was already a pretty experienced traveller, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t learnt some valuable ‘how to not travel like an idiot’ tips along the way. Here’s a small list of some of the best things I have brought with me on this trip. Traveling long term through many different climates is a whole different kettle of fish to other types of travel, in my experience so far. None of this is sponsored, obviously, just my cool opinion. However if any companies want to send me free stuff, go ahead. I’m an #influencer (or is it an effluencer that I am? I forget.)

  • Kindle Oasis 

I have been reading on a Kindle for about 3 years now, and I am a big fan. I love being able to instantly look up words, I love being able to track the characters using the X-Ray tool, I love being able to track my progress - I love it. I know not everyone is a fan of the ebook, and I get it, there are definitely some books that I have tried to read on Kindle, (Woolf Hall, comes to mind) where you need to keep a constant eye on the family tree at the beginning of the book to know what’s going on, that are much better read in their analogue state. But, especially while traveling, I am so glad I have my trusty Kindle. I read a lot. Even when I was gainfully employed I read a fair bit, but since sacking-in having an income, I have ramped that up a whole lot. I have read almost 30 books since starting our trip, and there is no way I could have carried that many, or had the freedom to choose what I read if I was relying on swapping and trading with other travellers. 

I got this particular Kindle for Christmas last year, and it’s genuinely one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten. It is the fanciest model of Kindle, but having had the most basic one before - I can assure you that if you read as much as I do, I reckon it’s worth the price tag (I say, not having actually purchased it for myself…). It has a backlight, which is awesome for reading in hostel dorms, planes, and even when you have a sleepy boyfriend who wants the light switched off while you’re in the middle of a thrilling chapter. It also has a touch screen and page turning buttons, which is actually one of the best features. It means that you barely have to move move a muscle to turn the page, and it is just a small thing, but in terms of ease of use and the tangible experience of the device, it is such an improvement on the previous model. 

Also - it has 3G access all over the world, so even if you don’t have WiFi, you can purchase new books, and you don’t even have to pay extra for that. This feature is incredible and has saved my butt a number of times… in the sense that I would have felt mortal danger if I didn’t feel like I had something to read… Never mind. (Side note: please send me book recommendations)

  • Splitwise

Despite having been together for almost 7 years, Neil and I do not share finances. Whether at home, or here on the road, we split all of our shared expenses equally. Neither of us are particularly wild spenders, but we have quite different attitudes to and histories with money. Ultimately Neil is probably more conservative with his finances, and I am a little more frivolous. The last big trip we went on we had a little conflict around who owed who, when we were just keeping track of debts in our heads, so we wanted to find a solution that meant there wasn’t going to be any uncertainty that could spark any resentment or conflict. There were a few options that we put discussed, including contributing to a shared account, but for various reasons, this wasn’t going to work. The solution we came to was committing to entering every shared expense, from coffee and beers, to flights and hostels, into an app called Splitwise. It consolidates our debts to each other, and you can split each trip out into it’s own group, using the local currency. It makes it easy to see who is bearing the financial brunt, and settle up quickly if the balance is off. By making the commitment to put every single expense in there, it also gives us the opportunity to make it clear if we want to treat each other, by saying “This is on me, I’m not putting it in the Splitwise”, we ensure that romance isn’t entirely killed by a finance tracking app.

I also have an aversion to keeping track of money - I’d prefer to just not look, keep swiping until the card doesn’t work, and then figure it out when that happens. Not super mature, I know, so this has been good for helping me overcome my… financial idiosyncrasies. And while we have had arguments about plenty of things while we have been travelling, hardly any of them have been about money, which I think is largely thanks to Splitwise. 

  • Google Pixel 2XL Phone

For those of you who have been following along with my blog, you’ll know that my phone was stolen in Mexico in July. It was a Google Pixel 2XL, and I was devastated. Not only was it my phone, a Christmas gift from my parents, but it was my camera, my maps and what felt like my link back to home. This phone is huge, I joke that it’s A4, and I use it to watch movies, communicate at length with friends and family and play Yahtzee (another thing that I have found to be a great joy on this trip!) After a week of no phone, I was lucky to be lent an old iPhone 4 by a friend we saw in Mexico City… and while I don’t want to sound ungrateful, I would have almost been better off with no phone at all. Yes, the Google Pixel 2XL is just a phone. But more than any other mobile phone I’ve ever used, it does what all phones claim to do - it makes your life easier. It is seamlessly integrated with the Google suite of apps and programs that I use to structure my life. The battery lasts for ages and charges really quickly. But probably best of all: the camera is Un. Be. Leivable. So much so that I don’t feel that I am missing out on capturing memories of this incredible trip by not having a dedicated camera.
Within days of arriving in Chicago, I took myself off to replace my Google Pixel 2XL with the exact same model (annoyingly the Google Pixel 3XL has just come out now, and I wish I could have gotten that one instead, but oh well.) It will take a lot for me to ever switch to another phone, and after my brief dalliance back with an iPhone, I will never be buying one of those ever again.

  • Yoga Pants

I packed yoga pants at the very outset of our trip when I was still under the illusion that I would actually be doing exercise while I travelled. What a fool. Yoga pants do not make this list because of how much they have benefited me during all the yoga I have been not doing. In fact, I have embraced the way they expand to hug some of my newfound CuRvEs that I have acquired (on top of existing cUrVeS of course) since getting on the road. At home I’m a pretty strict jeans and t-shirt kind of person, and active wear is strictly reserved for the times when I’m being active. But a whole day on a train, or 18 hours in transit is not comfortable in jeans, especially when the jeans you have fit a little better about 450 beers ago. My one regret? That I didn’t bring more pairs. The pair I have with me are a full length black pair of Running Bare yoga tights that I got for Christmas from my parents a few years ago. Wow - almost everything on this list so far has been a gift from my parents. Thanks guys.

  • Playing Cards

When you’re traveling with a partner, just the two of you, it can get… not boring, I don’t want to give off the idea that I’m bored of talking to Neil. But if I was having this much alone time with any one on the planet, you would benefit from a little time where you aren’t just chatting about the same old stuff. That’s where games come in. We liked playing games before we went away, especially Scrabble. But Neil is really good and really slow at playing Scrabble, so it can be kind of boring for me - I have to sit around and wait a lot to get beaten. We noticed early on in our stays in hostels in South America that all these travellers were playing a game where you have four cards laid out in front of you, all different nationalities at all different hostels, playing the same game. It was at a place in Colombia where we were indoctrinated into the amazing world of Cambio. I am bad enough at explaining Cambio in real life, so I won’t try to do it here, but it’s a fast paced game where the objective is to know when you have the lowest value of cards, while everyone’s cards are all face down. It’s awesome. There’s no limit to how many people can play, and it’s really fast to learn. We taught my parents while we were waiting for a plane in Israel, and they were immediately hooked. Neil and I also have a running score sheet going and each time someone reaches 100 points, they have to buy a round of drinks. Most games end in scores of -2 to 4 points each, so you can imagine how often we’re playing.

So there you have it, a couple of my top items for long term travel. Tune in next time for the items that I think a a complete waste of time. Spoiler alert: I’m taking down Big Australian Banking.

Can I get a suggestion of anything at all...?

For the last 4 weeks I have been improvising for 6 hours a day, 4 days a week. I feel like I’ve been at comedy gym, training for a comedy body building competition. It feels amazing, and I feel in the best shape of my life. In terms of my humour - physically I have been pretty inactive and eating a lot of chicken wings. 

This is one of the most gratifying and personally challenging experiences of my life. I can’t quite articulate what a joy it is to get to do my favourite thing this much. There aren’t many other scenarios in life where I could get to practice being funny, vulnerable, weird and silly with a bunch of legends, even though my colleagues at my old job would say that didn’t stop me trying, even in a professional corporate setting. 

I noticed after the first couple of days that I was feeling really competitive. I wanted to be the best in my class. I wanted to be the funniest, the fastest and WIN every scene. But I quickly learned that there is no winning improv, and trying to do so only makes you an ass hole. iO, the theatre where I’m training has been operating since 1981, and their philosophy is that they are a theatre of the heart. They teach that the best possible thing you can do on stage is work as hard as you can to make your scene partners look amazing and make sure the show as a whole gets everything it needs to be incredible. They teach that you shouldn’t try to be funny, and not to shy away from emotional, heart wrenching subjects or scenes, even if that means that the audience isn’t necessarily laughing. This was a tricky one for me to get my head around. In week 3, when I was asked how I thought one of my scenes was, I said “I liked it, I felt good, but it wasn’t funny.” And my teacher, the formidable Farrel Walsh, said “Don’t push it, trust that you’re funny, and if you aren’t getting laughs, focus on the fact that you’re setting up your scene partner. If they get the biggest laugh of the night, then you helped orchestrate that.”

My class is a real rag tag bunch of misfits, in the best possible way. We have 13 people, a few Americans, 4 Brits, a couple of Canadians, a Swede and a Dane. There’s a big range of ages and some people have lots of experience with improv and some have less. We have highly trained actors, a lawyer, an advertising planner, a video game producer, a computer programmer, a retired writer… it’s pretty cool. It’s been really eye opening to see how there are some distinct differences of how I was taught improv coming up through Improv Theatre Sydney, and what people from other countries have learned. I have found that there is a lot more tendency in Chicago towards what is called ‘organic’ work, for show openings and group games. These are much less scenic, or narrative driven moments in a show, that I would probably describe as… ‘drama school-y’. An organic opening to a show would be to get a suggestion from the audience, then to let it move you as a group, physically, and just respond to the suggestion, and each other using your voices and bodies. To be perfectly honest, I hate doing it. I feel like a fool. But nothing makes you look more like a fool on stage than feeling like a fool. So I have been working really hard on suspending judgement during organics, and just TRYING TO ENJOY IT. And now I have been a part of a couple of them that I quite like. But still - it’s something challenging for me, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do it in Sydney. It feels like something that people would laugh you off stage for doing… but I think that’s just the old internal judgement creepin’ back in to my own brain with no actual grounding in reality.

I have also been seeing a lot of shows. iO has about 30 house teams, and at least 4 improv shows a night, as well as there being several other theatres in the city, such as The Second City and The Annoyance with world class shows 7 nights a week too. Some of the shows have completely blown my mind, had me crying with laughter and in absolute awe as to how they can have such a strong group mind, where they seem to be able to know what one another are thinking every move they make. Others (but not many) have been really crappy. But that’s ok too! It allows me to be a bit forgiving to myself when I feel like I have an off scene, and gives me an opportunity to reflect on what they’ve done that makes the show feel ‘off’. 

I have had 4 teachers so far, as well as taking several workshops with others. The “rules” of improv are pretty standard the world over, but there is a general agreement that whatever rules there are, are made to be broken. And every teacher has a slightly different idea of what those rules mean. Getting new perspectives from each teacher has been one of my highlights. You’ve probably heard the cardinal rule of improv is ‘Yes, and…” This means that you should accept whatever offer your scene partner comes to you with, and then build on it. One workshop teacher, the very cool and impressive Shantira Jackson told me she doesn’t really teach ‘Yes, and…” any more, she prefers to teach “Yes, because…”, so that we’re forced to build more real justification for each others offers. People also say “Never ask questions in a scene”, but I’ve also been taught these last few weeks that that is bullshit if the show needs questions. You have to do whatever is best for the show.

I tried not to come in here with the expectation that someone was going to give me the secret to being a great improviser. But shelling out a bunch of cash and giving over 5 weeks of my life… it’s hard not to hope that some beam of wisdom would strike me down and make me the world’s greatest performer. But… Unless that comes up in the next week, I’ve come to accept that the beam of wisdom probably isn’t coming. But what I have realised is that I just need to do it more. And more. And more. The iO jargon for this is ‘reps’. You’ve got to get as many reps as possible, it’s the only way to get stronger, just like lifting weights. But with your sense of humour.

Off we pop, then.

So I’m writing my first blog post on the plane from Brisbane to Auckland. I wanted to have already written several posts about the bits and pieces of travel I’ve already been doing in Australia and getting prepared to go on this adventure… but I’m sure this won’t be the only thing about the trip that doesn’t go to plan.

I plan on writing this blog for a few reasons. Mainly it’s for my self and my mum (Hi Mum!) - a memory for me to look back on, and a way for her to keep track of where we are and what we’re doing. I also want to use my brain for something other than converting currencies while we’re away, which is why I hope that more than just a log of activities, I will write about what I’m experiencing as a person - the changes I find myself going through, my relationships with myself and others, my struggles and my achievements. Beyond all that, I hope when we get back to start making writing a part of my career, so I might as well start now. There, I’ve said it. Now I have to do it.

To begin, I thought I’d give a little explanation of the trip we’re embarking on. Set the scene, and maybe it’ll be something to look back on if (when) I feel disillusioned at any point.

WHO is going on the trip: I’m Jen, currently 29 years old. I have travelled plenty before, and lived in more than 7 cities. I haven’t ever done a trip this long, and have mainly travelled to see friends or to work. Sometimes I’m not the greatest at relaxing and letting go of plans, so I’m foreseeing a bit of a challenge there.

My travel partner is my boyfriend Neil. We have been in a relationship for over 6 years. We’ve travelled together a fair bit, and we work well together on the road. I’m good at planning, Neil is good at executing, pretty complimentary skills.

WHAT am I thinking: I’ve come to accept in recent years that I am a pretty anxious person. Nothing too debilitating, but my anxieties can set me in to unproductive, irrational thought spirals that I have to work hard to get out of. The things that I am most anxious about for the trip are money and regrets.

I have worked hard and saved up a considerable amount of money to take on this holiday. I also have additional savings for emergencies, credit cards, insurance and wonderful parents who, if I get really stuck, I imagine would be willing to help me out. So really, I have nothing to worry about. But I have been fretting about money in a way that probably isn’t healthy. It’s not rational, it’s not helpful. But hopefully it has prepared me be cautious with my money, which will make it last longer. Or make me a scrooge who doesn’t experience all the things I want to because I’m too worried about spending money, not embracing all the opportunities that come my way. Oh god, it’s happening again.

I’m nervous that we are travelling to too many places. I feel like I might get too exhausted and need a holiday from my holiday. I’m worried that this is a once in a lifetime trip, and there’s some major error that we’ve made in our planning that means it won’t be as good as it could have been. I’m worried that there might be a place in Mexico that sells better tacos than the place we end up getting tacos and we’ll have missed out on the best tacos we could have ever tried. See what I mean? Irrational.

Hopefully by writing my worries down and publishing them on the internet, it will make my brain say “See Jen, you’re being an idiot. Go to sleep.”

WHEN will we be back: We have bought a round the world ticket from Flight Centre (not an advertisement, but we have had great experiences with them so far, 10/10, would book again). The way our ticket works is that we have planned a route and booked flights, but the dates are completely flexible. We plan on being away for about 12 months, but that could change. We might run out of money sooner than we thought. Or we might get sick of travelling and just want to be at home in our bed. I’m trying very hard not to put any pressure on myself about anything, but especially that if we have to come home earlier than anticipated, there’s no shame in that.

WHERE are we going: Brisbane > Auckland > Wellington > Queenstown > Auckland > Santiago > Buenos Aires > Bogota > Mexico City > Chicago > New York > Los Angeles > Black Rock City > Los Angeles > Tel Aviv > Jerusalem > Istanbul > (now I’m going to change to countries, as this is about where our plans aren’t as set…) Greece > Italy > Spain > France > United Kingdom > Kenya > India > Thailand > Cambodia > Vietnam > Brisbane (And maybe more in there… To be determined!) If you find yourself anywhere weird in the world in the next 12 months, send me a message, because in all likelihood, we could be there! Let’s catch up!

WHY the hell: Why the hell not? We planned on doing a big trip a few years ago, but when a great job opportunity came up for me in Sydney, we decided to take it. That was the right thing for us to do at the time, but it made me realise that there is always something that could get in the way, always a reason that right now isn’t the right time. So we bit the bullet and quit our jobs. I don’t think we’ll regret it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t waste a lot of emotional energy worrying about whether it will all turn out to have been a huge mistake.

The other main reason for me is that I am very nearly 30 years old. I thought that was as good a reason as any to make a big fuss, change things up and mark the milestone in a big way. I’ve never liked staying in one place for too long. I felt ready to challenge myself by getting out of a very comfy comfort zone. 

So that’s the long and the short of it. Stay tuned for more neurotic musings, reviews of bed-bug ridden hostels and pictures of breweries. Lots of breweries.