Thank you, Kaila

Kaila’s message arrived when I needed it most…

My family drama is so bad that I’ve been losing sleep over it for weeks.

My job and responsibilities are constantly changing against my will.

Many friendships that I thought would last a lifetime are ending right before my eyes.

I’ve been living day-by-day, going through the motions all while hiding my hurt. Reading Kaila’s letter taught me that I do have great friends around the world, even though we may not speak or see each other often. Her kind words showed me that no matter what I’m going through personally, I’ll always have support from my truest friends!

Seeing this picture of us together took me back to that weekend in Chiang Rai. I have never felt better about myself or where I was going in life; I was confident, passionate and carefree.

I hope I can find her again…

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today’s post is for some of my favorite women that I’ve either met abroad or are from another country (or both)!  People are the reason why I love travel as much as I do; it’s about immersing yourself in new cultures and creating strong friendships along the way.  In case you’re reading this, thank you for all of the fond memories, laughs and sharing once-in-a-lifetime experiences with me 🙂

Saskia – friends since 2011 (met through foreign exchange)

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Hamburg, Germany – 2012
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Hamburg, Germany – 2016

Carolyn – friends since 2014 (met as roommates in France)

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Aix-en-Provence, France – 2014

Anwar – friends since 2015 (met as coworkers at our SVSU Writing Center)

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Saginaw Valley State University – 2015

Bethany – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)

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Chicago – 2018

Jacomijne – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)

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Arctic Circle, Sweden – 2016

Gloria, Jagoda & Hui Jun – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)

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Lund, Sweden – 2016

Kaila – friends since 2017 (met as volunteers in Chiang Rai, Thailand)

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Bangkok – 2017

Why I Left Social Media (Part I)

Those of you who know me outside of WordPress know that I LOVED Instagram! It was my favorite social media platform and it’s the only one that had remained with me (I’ve kissed Facebook and Snapchat goodbye years ago)! With that said, however, there are loads of issues I encountered with Instagram.

Despite the fact that traveling is and always will be a huge part of my life, it isn’t for a lot of my Instagram friends (who are also my friends in life – I only added people I knew). In fact, one of my best friends on this earth has never been on a plane! That’s the beauty of my closest friends: we are so different yet so similar. Instead of sharing about myself, I want to hear about my friends and their successes (their schooling, careers, relationships, etc.).

In a roundabout way, I’m trying to say this: this blog is a community where we all love traveling. We can all share our experiences without envy, without bragging… it’s storytelling and an exchange of memories. Instagram has become a bragging mechanism, which will I expand on in part two, and I don’t want any part of it!

I want to leave travel stories here, not Instagram. And if my best friends ask about my travels, I can share photos and stories in person as opposed to social media (and vice versa).

One positive thing about Instagram is that it made me love WordPress even more! It’s true. I love chatting with bloggers from all over the world, sharing travel adventures, hearing about others’ goals and what we’ve overcome. I absolutely love my blog and it’s definitely here to stay 🙂

Throughout this post, I included some of my favorite photos from my now-deactivated Instagram account. I hope you enjoy; thank you for reading!

Five Favorite Foreign Cities

As the friend who is “always gone somewhere,” a lot of people ask me where my favorite place is (or what city I enjoyed the most).  The truth is that after visiting 20 countries abroad, I can’t pick “one favorite.” So instead, I have five!

I put this in chronological order, not in order of preference:

Aix-en-Provence, France (2014)

  • At this time, this was the longest period I’d been away from the United States.  I spent three weeks in Germany when I was 18 (two years prior) but this felt different, because it WAS!
  • I was truly immersed in the culture.  I lived with a host family as well as someone from New Jersey (who is now one of my closest friends) and learned more about how the French saw world issues, like the Holocaust for example.  Aix will never be Paris, but on the same note, Paris will never be Aix…think about it…
  • My mother’s side of the family is predominantly French.  Although they weren’t from Southern France, I felt close to my roots here.  The experience of living in Aix for two months was something I wouldn’t trade for the world, no matter how insane my host mother was!!

Amsterdam, Holland (2014)

  • My boyfriend and I visited Amsterdam together once my two months in Aix was over, and boy was I pleasantly surprised!  There is such a bad reputation of Amsterdam here in the United States (sleazy, dirty, etc.) and although some of that can be found here, Amsterdam was one of the greenest, cleanest, beautiful cities I’ve visited!
  • Amsterdam is such a melting pot of cultures, languages, and lifestyles.  Hearing Norwegian, Spanish, French, German, and British accents all on the same street is something you can’t experience in Michigan very often!
  • There is absolutely no judgement here!!

Kiruna, Sweden (2016)

  •  On a school trip during study abroad round two in Sweden, we visited Lapland (in the Arctic Circle).  As a third grader, I wanted to visit the ice hotel SO BADLY and my dreams finally came true in Sweden!  It was more breathtaking than I imagined…
  • Being in Lapland was one of the best weeks of my life.  Still is two years later.  I was in love with every aspect of the trip, from dog sledding to seeing the Northern Lights (twice!!) and everything in between – it was perfection.

Bergen, Norway (2016)

  • I visited my mom’s family’s foreign exchange student, Kjell, after studying in Sweden for one semester.  My mom and Kjell haven’t been able to physically see each other once he returned home in the 80s, but they have been able to talk on the phone and write each other letters ever since.  Meeting Kjell, his wife, children, and basically all of his immediate family was something I’d been wanting to do my whole life.  Bergen itself is beautiful, but the sentiment behind my visit made it even more memorable.
  • Um, well…Bergen is absolutely stunning!  I think the photos above speak for themselves…

Bangkok, Thailand (2017)

  • Although I volunteered in Chiang Rai for one month, Bangkok was the best possible way to end my Thai adventure!  I had previously booked a room for myself to explore Bangkok, but then my friends Kaila, Karl, and Hee Cheol decided to join.  I’m beyond thankful that they did because I know I wouldn’t have had as much fun without them!
  • On our first night together, we ate at one of the best restaurants I’ve been to!  And right after, we had drinks on a rooftop bar, which was the perfect way to end our volunteering and begin our weekend together!  I think Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were places I’d rather be long-term; however, because of the people I was spending my weekend with, Bangkok (and its memories) make the list for me!
  • And aside from what I’ve just mentioned, WE HAD A ROOFTOP POOL!  People, it doesn’t get any better than this!  For a month, I was taking cold bucket showers, squatted down to pee, and had mosquito spray on me 24/7.  This 180 was exactly what I needed 🙂

Where are YOUR favorite places?!

The Luxurious Side of Thailand

While volunteering at an orphanage in Chiang Rai, Thailand this April and May, I lived in village-like conditions. With that said, I was able to travel during weekends because our foundation did not allow volunteers to stay in the grounds in order to clean, etc.

I visited downtown Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok during my weekends off. Below are some of my favorite photos of my “vacay time,” which was full of affordable three-course meals, rooftop bars and pools, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences! 

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai 

This weekend, I participated in something extremely spiritual and heartwarming. I visited an elephant sanctuary with my friends from the Mirror Foundation. Mind you, we didn’t ride the elephants, nor do we condone that behavior; however, we fed and bathed them! 
Riding elephants, no matter how “well cared for” they are, is awful. It’s an exploitation of Thai culture, as well as a form of animal cruelty that I won’t even get into. The bottom line is this: always educate yourself on animal treatment, as well as cultural acceptances, when researching zoos and animal sanctuaries!!! 
The experience was incredible. A songtaew picked us up from our hotel in Chiang Mai, where we met three Swedish girls. I recognized the Swedish instantly, and it turns out they lived in Kalmar, where I lived for five months! Small world! 
When we arrived, we immediately changed into matching shirts to wear over our clothes. We had an educational lesson about elephant sanctuaries, which ones are proper, and how to feed/behave around the elephants. 
Feeding them was beyond what I thought it could be. They didn’t even need the bananas to be peeled for them; the only one who did was the seven month-old male named Ronaldo! How cute!!! We held the bananas behind our backs and fed them one by one. I absolutely loved the experience, even if my hands became muddy from their thick tongues! 
Throwing mud at the elephants seemed like an odd task, but we all had so much fun getting messy and the elephants were enjoying themselves! Bathing them off with buckets of water was probably my favorite part, because we could really get up close and personal with the elephants. 
My words and photos don’t do the experience justice. Visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary if you’re ever in Chiang Mai!