86 Things Backpacking Taught Me

1) Always pay for the biggest amount of storage.

2) Except with luggage space. Always pack like you have no room for anything.

3) Bring a big book for long travels.

4) Check to make sure restaurants aren’t closed before walking to them.

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5) Don’t trust Instagram geo tags ever!!!!! People always post things belatedly and pretend like it happened yesterday.

6) Google maps only knows so much. Don’t be shy. Ask for directions. Chances are they know a better way (and cooler points of interest along the way).

7) People in chronic pain suffer so much and require so much patience to live a normal life and not be an asshole (as I experienced running around Japan with a swollen ankle).

8) Alwaaaays bring your own toilet paper.

9) You might look like a mom but that coat is so warm and compact so fuck it.

10) Safety and comfort are paid for in expensive ways (usually money or time).

11) The worst someone can do when you ask for something is say no.

12) Take the damn photo.

13) Take the time to take the damn photo so it comes out exactly how you want it.

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14) Buy goods from memorable people.

15) Souvenirs are trinkets that eventually become clutter. Always remember: sentimental, useful, and compact.

16) When receiving gifts from people or in places you will likely never visit again, go for sentimental over stylish every day.

17) Get a damn wrist watch.

18) 7/11 in Japan has free hot water.

19) Always check for yourself whether something is closed otherwise you will regret it!!!! Trust yourself first!!!!

20) If you’ve been on a train or in transit for more than 6 daylight hours in a day, explore the area you just got to or chill the fuck out. Do not plan a massive expedition; you’ll waste even more time traveling and you will be grumpy. Seeing things in a rush, unless it’s the only thing you came to see, will 9/10 ruin the experience.

21) Don’t get the extra box of sake.

22) Never put more than $10 on any transit card.

23) Convert only the amount of money you plan to spend in that country (outside of flights and transportation).

24) Don’t do it just for the foodgram; you’ll go broke, be disappointed, or spend half your trip waiting in line for food.

25) Always show up to a show at least a half hour early (before it starts/before ticket windows open.)

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26) Make time for your art or else stop calling yourself an artist.

27) Always bring your notebook.

28) Buy enough birth control or Thinx panties and a diva cup because feminine hygiene products can be expensive, hard to find, and annoying to pack.

29) Also always bring your own detergent because you never know when the next time you’ll find a washing machine.

30) If someone from a local area is going to treat you out let them pick the place so you don’t accidentally spend $440 in a restaurant you saw on Instagram.

31) Anything (restaurant or landmark) on the 52nd floor of a high rise is a tourist trap. So bring the moneys or stay away.

32) When it comes to food, you pay for the taste or the ambience. (If you like the taste and are on a budget stop trying to be fancy!!!)

33) Don’t get major medical procedures done right before a long trip because sorting out results and billing problems will be a huge bitch.

34) Consider getting a new debit card and cash back/mileage credit card a month before your trip.

35) It’s better to book flights yourself so you can change it as you want to (I’m looking at you, Hopper…)

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36) Track your finances when you travel so you can check to see if your money is going where you want it to, or if it’s going towards stupid things. It can be as simple as writing it in a bullet journal or as comprehensive as an excel sheet.

37) Cheap airlines all have some stupid rule. Like restricting carry-on to a total weight of 10kg for your purse AND luggage, or not letting you eat food you bought outside of the $15 crap sandwiches they’re pushing on your plane.

38) In Asia, if there is a mall there is a train station.

39) Also a bus station.

40) Always go VIP for a ground floor festival.

41) Try sneaking in a box of sake. It’s only a dollar anyway.

42) When you think you’ve had enough, sleep on it before you really give up.

43) Listen to your body and what you feel. Make every decision on these two factors alone, even if you have a travel companion.

44) This is first and foremost your trip, and a good travel companion will allow you your alone time. (Just as you should allow them theirs)

45) Always check that you have check-in baggage for international flights.

46) Always have at least $20 in cash at the airport.

47) Order what you want to eat but also don’t be afraid to order what everyone else is ordering (it’s probably because it’s delicious and you should ask before you assume that they are willing to share).

48) Visit a bookstore abroad to see what the local cultures value or dream of.

49) Be of great heart and fear less.

50) Go ahead. Book one night at a fancy hotel. You deserve it.

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51) Traveling alone can get boring. When it does, let yourself find comfort in familiar activities (climbing, watching Netflix, reading in a cafe, drinking or eating with new company).

52) Also try to book a tour; it’s an easy way to be adventurous when you have grown lazy of googling and figuring things out on your own (Pro-tip: your new friends might have already booked a tour you can hop in on so don’t be shy and just ask!).

53) Don’t trust any foreigner’s opinion on food or what to see if they hesitate to immerse themselves in the culture.

54) Do whatever the fuck you want.

55) Go home when you think you want to. You probably need to.

56) But sleep on it first before you buy your flight back home.

57) Traveling across islands with a rolling suitcase is the worst.

58) Always withdraw at least $50 from ATMs if you have transaction fees.

59) Count how many times you withdraw to make sure you don’t go over your limit. You shouldn’t even need to withdraw more than 5 times a month.

60) If you just want to try something to eat just get the one, not the pack. And if it doesn’t look like they sell things by packs, then ask for a sample.

61) For the every day instagrammer, taking pictures with your iPhone or GoPro is honestly the way to go. It’s non-intrusive, compact, probably waterproof, and if you don’t know how to use the bells and whistles of a full DSLR to capture those action shots, leave it in your hostel.

62) When you travel through safer methods (hotels, tours, guides) it is a little bit easier to take pictures with your DSLR.

63) Or else, you better just not drop your camera, have the balls to ask people permission to snap their photos, and the no fucks given attitude when people yell at you or make fun of you for standing in a corner trying to take the most perfect shot.

64) Always shoot video horizontally I don’t care if it’s for your story, you’ll thank yourself later.

65) Do not zoom in and out in a video while you’re taking it, and for God’s sake don’t walk around taking video unless you have a gimbal. It will look like shit.

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66) Traveling without a tour in a place like Thailand is hard and not glamorous.

67) Always pack in pouches to better organize your life. (ie: electronics bag, money + important items bag)

68) Always bring a waterproof everyday bag.

69) Water resistant long coats are way better to travel with than an umbrella. Especially in market places.

70) Locks are your friends. Bring lots of them for your bag zippers and to tie your luggage to your bedpost

71) If you travel a lot, stay loyal to an airline alliance vs budget airline hopping. The lounges, free luggage, random upgrades, and priority boarding are all small luxuries that will make you feel a little bit better if you’re traveling on a budget.

72) Get an ATM card that has no international transaction fees.

73) Don’t be afraid to just *live* in a different country. The activities you gravitate towards when you are alone in a foreign land are true passions.

74) Nothing about real life is an Instagram feed. All that food costs money, or if it’s free, time and effort to review. All those hotels and excursions cost money, good, safe connections, or a high tolerance for risk. If you’re going to be scared of being kidnapped the entire time just don’t do it, lol.

75) Make peace with the idea that you won’t see every tourist destination and that maybe all you need to do for a little while is write and find a project to work on.

76) You are only limited by what you think you can do.

77) Without knowledge of history, places are all the same, and get boring or repetitive.

78) Growing pains are not the same as mistakes. Growing pains are painful decisions you make 100% of your own volition. Mistakes are painful decisions you make when you decide to doubt yourself.

79) Stop downplaying yourself in fear of coming off as cocky or over confident. Be proud of everything you have done before, or at the very least, the lessons you learned from every consequence.

80) Travel friends are friends for life.

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81) Stop talking yourself out of ideas you like or what you want. Find reasons why this will work before you start poking holes in your dreams.

82) Don’t ever stop saying yes. Take every opportunity. Only say no to opportunities that you don’t want and don’t think you can grow from / lead nowhere you want to be later on in life.

83) If you say no to good opportunities that are here now because you think they’ll come around later, you are making a huge mistake. Things rarely come around twice.

84) Asking for help is not always the same as asking to learn. Help those who want to learn so you won’t be taken advantage of.

85) Never let an email or ask go unanswered. Wait a week and follow up. Be persistent in what you want. If you’re a bother they’ll tell you. Silence means nothing.

86) Let go with grace and gratitude. Respect when people tell you their limitations and find the love in parting ways.

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On Being in (Possessive) Love

My fingertips are addicted to the softness of the skin across his bare chest. I drink him up. The day started an hour ago, and if I don’t get up now I’ll be late to class but after the morning is over, I won’t see him for two weeks. We hold each other so close, and it is in those moments that I am engulfed by this need to find ways to come into him even closer. This possessive need feels so primal. I hate it. I feel like I’ve become everything I vowed against.

I’m in fucking love.

He’s like vaporized shisha lingering in my lungs. I’m lightheaded, drunk, nauseated. I’ve written poetry about how I was 15 when I felt this way before. But I think my memory is wrong. I’ve never felt this way before.

I want to cry.

I could lose him at any time. He could die. He could cheat again.

I feel out of control.

Love is beautiful but right now it is abusive, ugly, angry, a wounded animal.

When I hold him I never want to let go. But alone in this moment, my body is shaking and I can’t help but think that I am my best self when I’m cold and unfeeling. Pretending that I can live alone for the rest of my life.

Where is this coming from?

I feel dangerous. Angel faced with spider fingers that would gleefully rip off the head of anything that stands in my way. Plump, pink lips that whisper poison into the ears of children. I could have people killed by their own hands with the things I say.

I could scream at you to jump, but it is so much more effective to let you whisper yourself to the edge.

I haven’t let go of the anger.

I haven’t truly forgiven.

My fear clings to him.

My pride clings to him.

But who is he to me?

Split Personalities

She smoked because that’s what classy, rich, and powerful women do in motion pictures and fashion magazines. But she was hardly rich and trashy at best.

Every Friday night she wore some black thing and always two sheer thigh highs held in place by gurdel clips that I saw for the first time lying on the floor in her room the weekend after Johnny left.

I always stared at her as she shifted through her bag, looking for a cigarette before walking out into the night. She was probably used to it because she always looked back–a fag nestled between her naturally pink lips–with this basked and unashamed look in her eyes.

One night, she thought to explain herself to me when she saw me sitting on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn on my lap and a box of Audrey Hepburn classic films on the coffee table. I’d just finished Sabrina–the one where Audrey falls in love with the grossly older but significantly more intelligent brother–when she pulled out her box of American Spirits and acknowledged me with dark eyes.

“I hate women who fuss with appearances.”

“And you don’t?” I indicated to her tight everything.

She raised an eyebrow quizzically and then she laughed upon glancing her outfit in the mirror in the foyer, as if she had no idea how her clothes even got there on her body. “No this isn’t what I mean, they come off quickly. I’m talking about handbags.“

I shut off the TV and looked at her with feigned intent.

“You know…” She lit a match and brought it to the end of her cigarette. “Men aren’t like hand bags, even though women want them just as much.” Then she waved away the flame and flicked the blackened thing somewhere across the room. “Coach, Kors, Gucci, Chanel. They spend thousands of dollars on animal skin. And for what?”

Inhale. Exhale.

“Bags don’t bite their bottom lip when your hand grazes over their groin.”

Inhale.

“Bags don’t push you down on a bed and have their way with you.”

Exhale.

“And most importantly… I don’t wear men to impress other women.”

She looked my untouched self squarely in the eyes, as if she were going to tell me a secret, teach me a lesson that Sabrina, or Princess Ann, or Holly Golightly could never tell me because of 1960s censorship.

“Do you think that the first thing a man notices when he’s looking for someone to fuck is their purse?”

She smiled.

“He doesn’t care if you are rich or stylish or even educated. In most instances the only time he will ever interact with you is without any clothes on. And honestly, you can’t shame him when you’re wanting him for the same things too.”

Inhale. Exhale.

“He may have chose me for the simple reason that I am a woman…”

Then she stepped towards me, with the cigarette in between two fingers and that hand on her hip.

“But it will only happen because I choose for it to happen.”

And then we were face to face.

“Judge me all you want. Question my taste in men. But at the end of the day…”

I know she thought about inhaling again, but she did not move at all.

“One of us… is fucking someone they are very sexually attracted to. And the other?”

Inhale.

“…Is riding her hand.”

She smiled once more before she strutted back to the front door.

“So,” I said, and she turned around. “Is that your rationalization for whoring yourself out every weekend?”

I don’t even know how we ever grew up in the same household.

Waiting for the Train

Sometimes I wish my handwriting were sloppy so I wouldn’t feel like people were reading as I write on the train. But now that I recognize that I have this problem of not writing anything at all I don’t feel so self conscious. If you are snooping right now, well then hello stranger.

What it feels like to be in-like with someone is similar to a train, I think. This morning I was waiting for the 6 train for 15 minutes, and it was annoying and unbearable. Two trains had sped past the station and the platform was crowding three layers deep with bored and sleepy faces that grew tempered after the announcement of a stalled train on 110th street. Frustration. Impatience. Annoyed at being teased by two trains, not even packed, never opened their doors, never stopped, never even slowed down.

This is what it’s like for me. I know that someone’s coming I just don’t know when and I’m tired of waiting. I just want to go somewhere already.

A friend of mine told me that the way it worked for her and her current boyfriend was that she found herself insatiably curious about this small dude sulking (or maybe just being quiet) in a corner of a room at a party she went to the fall of last year. He was mysterious, intriguing. Perhaps it started at first as some inexplicable sexual attraction, but what she found underneath his lone exterior was powerful enough, desirable enough, for her to hold on to him, even as I watched her slowly lose the individual she was before she met him. Not that it was a bad thing for her to change, it was just that I had never expected love to be strong enough, truly strong enough, to recreate one of the most free spirited people I had ever known.

Thinking about their love makes me wonder if this is the same thing I’m facing. I’m not patient however, and I am concerned that my impatience will prevent me from experiencing something great and exciting. My horoscope this morning told me to be open to love, and while I think I am—I always am—I also think that by expecting, my openness reduces. For when I do not receive, I close in, and I bury myself. Why is it, I wonder, that a person can be so relaxed with a stranger when only considering the prospect of friendship, and at the same time paralyzed upon speaking with someone they feel more for? I’m very self-assured and I know that I am at least a little likeable when I am notactively trying to impress someone. I can’t imagine how this must feel for someone with a lesser opinion of themselves. But maybe they have their own benefits too. They don’t expect very often so they also don’t feel as much disappointment. Maybe I am… I am in my head too much. But that’s what writing is for. Not to converse so much as it is to release. I feel myself de-stressing already though today has been especially awful.

I wish I felt comfortable enough to tell him that I’m excited to see him today, but I am afraid that if I express such an emotion, he’ll just run away like the rest of them. I think they run because they can’t handle it, the amount of myself I am open to offer, and it scares them because they can’t match it. “Being a powerful woman, a loyal woman emasculates them.”

But another cause to run is too much affection. Smothering, falling into train tracks.

Sometimes I feel like my insides are screaming like metal and electricity echoing angrily down a subway station. And still at other times I am content with sitting on a bench listening to my iPod, waiting on the platform.

Bumps and Creases

Remember when we were little, when we were fresh out of third grade, we would M.A.S.H and map out our husbands and careers by drawing spirals with pencils in our green soft covered marble notebooks? (Pens were for older kids, and even if we had a pen we would never use it because if we messed up or didn’t like our futures, we couldn’t change the results; we would have to waste another page. But with a pencil, you just erase it and start all over.) Remember the times when we would check the bumps when we bent our wrists forward like Spiderman and the creases on the sides of our writing hand to see how many kids we’d have in the future. Or the times, when we would trace the lines on our palms to see if we had an M for money and a long, continuous life line.

When we would dream about prince charmings, and mansions, and two kids – one boy and one girl, and flying to the moon on a big bad starship, and we would tell our parents. And our parents would tell us that we could be whatever we wanted, instead of telling us that NASA has no funding and no job availabilities. Instead of telling us that our dreams aren’t practical for this economy. That girls can’t hide away in forests or towers with their animal friends and wait to be rescued. That the first guy or the second guy or the third guy they meet isn’t going to be the one. That even after 8 years of grade school, and 4 years of high school, and 4 years of college (if you’re lucky) and dozens of meaningless standardized exams, and millions of As and gold stars, your 5 year plan can still turn out to be nothing regardless of whether you were sticking to your dream or financial stability.

I spoke to my uncle this past Christmas and he told me that I was born in a selfish generation… and I think he’s right. I feel the pain of no free wifi and 12% battery life while my uncle lived less than luxuriously through World War II. It’s not a fair comparison, but it speaks a truth. They had no choice. I do. And I’m choosing the stars over financial book keeping. My dream and my uncle’s dream come from two separate realities, but it has been said that parents try to live vicariously through their children, giving them all the things they didn’t have themselves. I’d like to think the right to choose is one of them.

I’m only 19 and if this choice is a mistake I know God put me on this planet not with a pencil to map out my future, but an endless supply of ink and a fountain pen so that all I can do is turn pages, keeping every cross out, every MASH, every plan that didn’t work out with futile attempts at improvement squeezed in between the margins. This isn’t third grade I can’t erase my mistakes and pretend they never happened.

And that’s okay, because after a while pencils go dull.