It was 6am when the overnight bus reached the ancient city of Bagan. The passengers around me began to rustle–reaching for bags and shedding layers of warm clothing. I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window. Taxi drivers had already crowded the door, and the sky was growing pink.
It had been nine fitful hours of attempted sleep, but it didn’t matter. I had arrived to the place that topped my bucket list for the last five years—one of the world’s greatest archeological sites—16-square miles of pastoral land, decorated with more than 2,000 Buddhist monuments.
I jumped in the first cab I saw and headed to the hostel. And after a quick shower, I rented an electric bike and spent the next two days exploring. Continue reading
I remember the first time I saw a picture of Bagan—a misty green landscape, dotted with pagodas and temples, as far as the eye could see. Hot air balloons floated in the distance, among the mountains. It was a place that looked as if it was conceived by someone’s imagination—as if it came from a beautiful dream. I had to go there.
Every year in China, the Mid-Autumn Festival allows me a week off of work at the beginning of October. It’s not much, but with flights connecting in Kunming, a trip to Myanmar is doable. You just have to plan.
I decided to spend 1 night in Yangon, 2 nights in Bagan, 3 nights in Inle Lake and 1 night in Mandalay. It was a lot to cram into 7 nights, but it was worth it.
Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a Facebook post written by my favorite writer, Elizabeth Gilbert. It was entitled “Why do we travel?” and began with a picture of herself, donning an eye mask and clearly suffering the effects of jet lag.
It was 3am. A time every traveler who has covered a multitude of time zones will tell you, is when you question your life choices. Much like Gilbert, you recall all the money you spent, the chores you left behind, and how many emails are waiting in your inbox. You look in the mirror, at a mere shadow of yourself—eyes hollowed, skin dry and taut, stomach bloated. And you wonder, “why the heck do I do this to myself?”
As you know from my latest post, one of my favorite parts of visiting St. Augustine was touring the local distillery. I mean, free booze? An excuse to buy gin and vodka? Come on.
Then, today, I got a follow-up email, containing recipes for St. Augustine Distillery’s two signature cocktails. It felt like Christmas. Or happy hour. Whatever. Either way, it was enough justification to break out the bottles and do a little taste-testing. For you, of course.
As a teacher, I plan my entire school year around holidays. Myanmar for October break, Belize for winter vacation, Bali for Chinese New Year. I can’t help it; I’m an eternal wanderlust.
However, something was different at the end of this school year. The thought of traveling exhausted me, and I wanted nothing more than to spend time with family and friends in Florida. Plus, after a year of learning the IB curriculum and navigating my way through the Chinese culture, the only plans I wanted to make involved my parents’ pool and a lounge chair.
Day three in Florida, and still surrounded by the heavy fog of jet lag. My head aches, my eyes are straining to stay open, and I’ve been up since 4am.
It’s been awhile since I’ve experienced this sensation, as I deliberately keep my vacations within a few hours of Shanghai time. Actually, the last time I had to make this 12-hour adjustment was when I moved to Shanghai last summer. And before that, when I moved back from Korea, in 2011. There’s a reason for this.
It’s said that it takes the body about one day per time zone to get over jet lag. This means that if you traveled from, say, New York to California, it would take you as much as three days to get on California’s schedule. If you traveled from, say, China to Florida, it could take up to 12 days. Twelve days, people! Now, I only predict it will take me half of this time (fingers crossed), but regardless, it’s not fun. Luckily, I have my family, the sun, and pancakes.
People often ask me to name my favorite country, or my favorite vacation. But I can’t. I tell them that asking me to do this is like having me choose between ice cream and chocolate. I like both. I’m going to eat both. So instead of telling you about my top travel experience, I’m going to share my top ten thus far (while enjoying a bowl of ice cream topped with chocolate sauce).
#1: Hiking the Inca Trail
I mean really, do I need to provide a caption or explanation for why this is number one? Look at this. And the picture doesn’t even do it justice. It was four days and three nights of hiking at high altitude, sleeping in tents, and seeing world wonders. It was challenging but oh-so-rewarding. I went through a company called Enigma and would highly recommend.
I am not a morning person. I never have been. I never will be. But the fact that I’m now a high school teacher means I at least have to pretend.
So Monday through Friday, I set my alarm for 6am, giving me a solid hour to quietly enjoy a giant cup of coffee. I make breakfast. I cake concealer under my eyes. I bike to school to get my blood pumping. By the time my students enter the classroom at 8am, I fake a smile and actually resemble a human being.
If you’re an expat, or if you’ve ever traveled by yourself for long periods of time, you know that sometimes it’s tough to meet people. True, you may get lucky and meet that perfect group of people at a hostel, or another solo traveler on a walking tour. But what if you don’t? Well, my advice for you is to get online. There’s Meetup.com, which is a great site for finding activities or weekend trips with like-minded individuals, Couchsurfing.org, good for finding a couch/room or meeting locals, and the Tinder app for the single traveler, looking for a possible romance on the road. But if you’re planning on making a semi-permanent or even permanent move abroad, Internations is the way to go. The website is similar to Meetup, but with an emphasis on networking opportunities. I’ve personally been to several events, and have made many friends and business contacts along the way.
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what I do for a living. “How did you start teaching overseas?” “Do you teach at a Chinese school or an American school?” “How do you travel so much?” “What kinds of benefits do you get?”
Then the most important: “How can I do it too?”
Six years ago, when the U.S. economy took a turn and I was left without a job, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and move to Korea to teach English. I had never taught before, I hadn’t traveled much, and admittedly, kids weren’t really my thing. But I thought, Hey, I can do anything for a year.