Let Her Be Untamed

“Wow! Lara, huh? That’s an unusual name. Where did it come from?”

As the driver pulled up, he didn’t get out of the car to help me with my bags. Slightly annoyed, I opened the trunk and threw in my pack. I was in the middle of two days of travel on my way to Peru. More importantly, I was pre-coffee, which meant that no one should be talking to me. For their own sake.

I climbed into the back of the car. In the driver’s seat was an overweight man, probably in his mid-60s with grey hair and stubble framing his face. He looked like a classic Texan, worn jeans with holes and grease stains, suspenders tightly clinging to his belly and a grey t-shirt. His eyes look back at me through the rearview mirror.

I looked back at him in the mirror. “Have you ever seen the movie Dr. Zhivago? That’s where my parents first heard the name.”

“So it wasn’t just a misspelling, huh?” He chuckles. “Where are you headed?”

“I’m on my way to Peru. I had a layover in Dallas and I’m back at it today.”

“Peru! Wow. You must be an adventurous woman. You remind me of my daughter. She took a year after college and saved up to go and travel Asia. She spent three years over there! It was impressive to watch her take great care in planning and preparing herself. In the year leading up to it, she took scuba lessons, wilderness classes, practiced camping and the whole bit, so that she was completely self-sufficient once she got there.

“One of my favorite stories was when she was in Kazakhstan. She had planned a backpacking trip that was going to take three days to hike in, one day to stay over and three days back. So she was carrying seven days worth of food with her. Turns out that once she got on the trail, it took her six days to trek in instead of three. So halfway through her trip, she ran out of food. She decided to take the ridges of the mountains back because that was the most direct route, but also dipped down into the valleys to try and find people who could possibly give her food.

“At some point, she did find a pair of women who lived in the valley and had a garden and plenty of food. She didn’t speak the language so she tried to communicate through hand gestures that she needed food. The women watched her politely, but then turned their backs and went back to work.

“Rachel knew that she would need to provide a gift in order to open up communication with them. So she started searching through her backpack to see if she could give them anything in exchange for food. And you know what she found? A tin of Earl Grey tea. So she pulled them out of her pack and offered them to the women.

“’Earl Grey tea!’ they exclaimed in English.

“She was amazed that they knew what it was and immediately their entire demeanor change. The two women not only offered her a meal, but also food to take with her to finish her journey.”

Needless to say, he got me smiling after I heard that story. His enthusiasm was contagious and he made me laugh more than once. We chitchatted for the next 20 minutes and it came up in conversation that I had grown up in Beijing. We talked about all the countries that I traveled as a kid and compared notes to the ones that his daughter had visited. I had asked him if he ever felt nervous with his daughter traveling all over the world, especially since it was at a time where email was just becoming popular. He told me that he didn’t really worry, because all he could do was pray and hope that it would all work out. And it did.

What a refreshing conversation. Not once did he tell me that I shouldn’t be traveling or to be careful because I am a woman. He was encouraging. Because it was such a different pace for me, it struck me how much time I typically spend explaining myself to people on why I do what I do. It’s exhausting to feel like you are constantly justifying your choices, especially when you see your male counter parts traveling all across the world will little to none of the same intense questioning. Almost across the board when I tell someone that I am going to XYZ country, their very first question is, “I hope you’re not going alone, are you?” It was a breath of fresh air to have such a lively and wonderful conversation and not to be scolded for being independent. He was genuinely excited for me.

It was with this kind of attitude in which I was raised. My dad was constantly trying to ship me off to other countries when I was a young teenager (duh, who wouldn’t want their thirteen-year-old out of the house), in addition to our family vacations all over the world. Never once was I told as a kid that I shouldn’t go somewhere to do something. I remember my brother and I taking a train down to Hong Kong with his girlfriend’s family and spending the day exploring Macau, just us kids. Or the time that my dad took a bunch of my friends and I to hike the unrestored parts of the Great Wall because I had to prove that I could do anything my brother’s could. With that kind of background, it’s been a battle to have to deal with that so much push back on traveling alone as an adult.  

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that every person who has worried about me traveling has completely good intentions. They are concerned for my safety and their worry comes one hundred percent out of love. Even my own mother, who is not one to typically worry, has voiced her concern about me traveling. I give her credit though, because she will always tell me once that I should be careful and then just lets me do my thing. She learned a long time ago that I cannot be controlled and if anything, when someone challenges me by telling me I can’t do something, it lights a fire under my ass to want to do it even more.

Here is the thing that I always come back to. Women are going to travel. Even if it wasn’t me, there are plenty of adventurous women out there traveling the world, experiencing new things and exploring unchartered territory. And the more of us who are out there, the safer we all are. Whether it be living van life, traveling the US, being a nomad, backpacking across South America, or whatever it is that she wants to be doing, there is strength in numbers. Do we really want to let men have all the fun and explore all the new places?

I have met some incredible women on my travels and they are the ones who I keep in touch with. One women who I met in Guatemala last year, went home after that trip, finished saving up to meet her financial goals, quit her job cold turkey and is now traveling the world. All on her own. Because of meeting her, I now have an open invitation to visit her at any point in her travels. Right now she is in India, which is one of the places that I’ve wanted to go to most since I was ten years old. That invitation exists mostly because we were two single women hiking in Guatemala and hit it off. That kind of connection or bond wouldn’t have happened if I had been traveling with someone else. Naturally, when you meet women like that during your travels, there’s an unspoken agreement that we have each other’s backs.

I want us all to be smart when we travel. Not just women, I want us all to prepare, be strategic, plan and make smart choices. I also want to challenge us to set aside our worry and put that energy instead into calling upon whatever higher power or energy or deity you believe in, so that we are all surrounded with positive energy as we embark on our adventures. The last thing I need when headed out into the wilderness for days, is to feel like everyone around me is worried. How much more empowering would it be if I knew that everyone around me was cheering me on? Invest in the positive energy. It’ll pay off in much greater dividends, I promise you.

Being a Nomad on the Road with a Dog

If you follow me on any of the social medias, you will already know that I am a self-proclaimed co-dependent human with my dog, Simone. I have no shame, especially since I know she is just as co-dependent with me as I am with her. We go through withdrawal from each other and I would not have it any other way. We just recently celebrated our seven year anniversary in honor of the fateful Saturday where I woke up and decided I wanted a dog. I spent a short time on Pet Finder and I immediately fell in love with her. After driving to the Bloomington, Indiana Animal Shelter to pick her up, I put her in the car and she immediately peed all over the back seat. But I didn’t care. She was perfect in every way.

Until she chewed up my couch, running shoes, leather belt, slippers, clothes, bedspread…

I am often asked what it is like to have a dog with me on the road and my immediate response is it is freaking awesome. I love having a hiking buddy who never complains and can keep up with any activity. She loves all the same things I do — hiking, snow, physical challenges, water, being free, breakfast sausage…  you know, the staples in life. I call her my little mountain goat, because she is more agile and nimble on rocks than I am. And there little in life that is more rewarding that seeing the bliss on her face when she is prancing through the woods.

With that said, she did not come to me that way. The first six months of having Simone was an absolute nightmare. I spent a ton of time training her (i.e. training myself) and there were even points where I thought I was going to have to bring her back to the Humane Society because I could not handle it. I cried every day for those six months. I hated her. I thought I was going to get evicted because she would whine, cry and howl every time I left the house and I was sure all of my neighbors were complaining to the landlord. I vividly remember after a month of having Simone I was lying on my bed (crying) thinking, “If she doesn’t get noticeably better in two weeks, I’m out. I’m bringing her back.”

It was then that I decided to bring Simone to dog training. She was about six or seven months old. Keep in mind that she was my first dog, so I recognized that I needed as much training as she did and we needed a third party to keep us from killing each other. So I took her to a training class where I dropped her off in the morning and picked her up after work. They spent those hours working with her to teach her basic commands. Then, when I came to pick her up, they would tell me what she learned and how to reinforce it at home.

This was a literal life saver.

All I needed was to be told what to do and how dogs think and we were golden. I had spent too much time on too many blogs and read about too many different ways of training a dog that I was overwhelmed and confused. But once we had one trainer telling us one way to do things, it all worked. The key was consistency. If I let her slip just once, we set ourselves back by a month. So I buckled down and stuck with it for six long difficult months.

And ta-da! I got a perfect dog out of it.

I know that not every dog is the same and for some it may take longer than six months to reinforce the good behavior you want. The morale of the story is that you get out of your dog the amount of work that you put into them. They need stimulation. They need a job. They want to do the right thing, but they need to be trained on what the right thing is and rewarded when they do it. And hugs and kisses are not enough of a reward, folks. If you want your dog to do what you tell them to do, bring out the big guns. For example, Simone wasn’t crazy about the hard baked treats, but anything soft and gooey or better yet, a piece of real meat, would incentivize her to do anything. If you want a good dog, praise is not enough of a reward for good behavior.

One of the other big lessons I learned with Simone early on was that unless I wore her out every day, she wouldn’t listen to anything I said. So it was fetch twice a day plus walks once or twice a day as well. That’s a small price to pay for an obedient dog.

Now that I’ve rambled for far too long, I want to highlight a few things about having a dog on the road and what you should expect if you are choosing the nomad life with your pooch.

1) Invest into training.

I bring Simone everywhere with me. She stays at campgrounds, she sleeps in the van, she stays at my brother’s house when I’m in Minnesota and at Air BnBs when it’s cold. So it was imperative that I could trust her to be well-behaved in just about every scenario. Admittedly, she has slipped up a few times… the most recent was when she got upset and destroyed several paintings that were on a counter at a friend’s house who is an artist. Of course I was appalled and embarrassed. But to her credit, it was because I was lazy and did not play with her that day.

For the most part, she is a good dog. As long as I put in my time to play with her and stimulate her brain, she is good to me. I can trust her to get along with most other dogs, back down when I tell her to be nice, rest calmly at a home if needed, and not get into other people’s stuff. She doesn’t take food from counters, make a lot of noise, and she is sweet when she meets new people. All of that came with an investment into training and it was one of the best investments I have ever made.

2) National Parks do not allow dogs on trails.

This was something that I did not realize until my sister warned me when we were planning out my route out west last summer. National Parks don’t allow dogs on trails, mostly because of the wildlife in the parks that they are trying to protect. Dogs attract that wildlife more than humans, so it is an increased risk to have them on the trails. I have mixed feelings about this policy, but it is what it is. If you are planning a backpacking trip or even a long day hike, you will need to board your dog or leave her with a friend. Most of the time I am able to board Simone at a place nearby the park. I haven’t had an issue finding a place when I need one. However, I will warn you that many dog boarding places are not open on Sunday, so if you are planning a weekend of hiking, you may need to wait until Monday to pick up your pup.

3) Always have your vaccination records on hand.

Since I board Simone so often, I keep her vaccination records available with me at all times. I have both a hard copy and a PDF on my computer. At first, I would call my vet and ask them to fax her vaccination records to the boarding place, but it just became such a hassle to call them every time, especially since I was at a new national park every couple of weeks. I had to be sure to call them within the hours they were open and get the fax number from the boarding place and then follow up and make sure they got them. It was a pain, to say the least. Now that I have copies myself, I can easily send them to the boarding place when I make Simone’s reservation, which makes my life much easier.

4) Let your dog off leash at your own risk.

I know a lot of people who break the rules and let their dog off leash when they are hiking. Admittedly, I am one of them. However, I will say it again that you need to be able to fully trust your dog in order to do this. The only way it works for us is because whenever we see someone else on the trail, I’ll call Simone and put her back on her leash and keep her there until we pass the other hikers. I can trust her to comply with this plan.

Without coming to me when she is called and stopping when I tell her to stop, she could easily get in a fight with another dog or scare someone on the trail. I view being off leash as a privilege and if she ever starts to get out of line or stops listening to me (which she does at times) then it’s back on the leash. You should be so sure about your dog’s obedience that you know they’ll listen to you and come, even when they are tempted to go into a dangerous situation instead, such as interact with a larger animal.

I do not recommend to hike with your dog off leash until she gets to a point where you have full confidence in her obedience. It’s only a privilege that the best of dogs get to enjoy.

5) Sometimes you’ll need to sacrifice plans for your dog.

The one downside of traveling with your dog is that it does change your plans at times. When we were in Colorado this summer, we had planned a full day hike up to a glacier lake and drove quite a ways to get there. When I got Simone out of the van, I immediately noticed that one of her nail nerves was completely exposed on her paw. It looked terribly painful. She actually did not make a fuss about it, but I knew it would just get worse if we went through with the hike. So I was able to clean and wrap the wound and we chose to instead spent the day laying by the lake.
Not being able to go to National Parks every weekend and having to change my plans at times is a small price to pay for the numerous benefits of having a dog with me when I travel. She is such a great companion and I would not have it any other way.

Hiking the Peruvian Andes Mountains

One of my best qualities is that I am really good at making things as difficult as possible for myself. My trip to Peru definitely fell into this bucket. I had a myriad of travel fails in the process of getting to Peru, which ended up in over 30 hours of travel to get to Lima. Then I missed my flight to Cusco and had to wait all day at the Lima airport for the next flight (which was of course late). I didn’t let that get me down because even if my time was cut short, it was better than not having gone to Peru at all. The main thing that I was there for was my 4-day hike through the Andes, so as long as I got to do that, I would be happy.

The night before the trek into the Andes Mountains, I lay awake listening to the drunken shouting from the bar across the street. It sounded like someone was really upset and I wondered if I should go down there and see what is going on. There were car horns blaring and dogs barking. Someone thought it was a really great idea to have a “battle of the car horns” where different horns were trying to match the pitch of the others. I’m not used to sleeping with urban noise anymore and of course, weekend nights are particularly bad. Then, all of a sudden, I felt a tight pain in my stomach. It began turning and turning in circles. This was not good.

Oh no. Something was going to come out. [Insert Ripley/Alien imagery here] I wasn’t sure which end it was going to be, but my body was not happy with whatever what was inside it and I was going to be sick.

Going into this hike, I was mostly concerned about my knee and the ligament that I had torn several weeks beforehand. I was still limping a bit and my leg couldn’t fully straighten. I was also putting most of my weight on my right leg, so it was also unusually strained. In addition, I had to give up my training regiment preparing for this hike due to the injury. So naturally, I was nervous about what to expect. My only choices were to either go or not go, and once I start, there is no turning back. I would have to get myself off of that mountain one way or another. Let’s be honest, I couldn’t not risk it. I had booked this hike months prior and it was a bucket list trip for me. So I decided that no matter how much pain I was in, I knew I would not die, and I was going to complete the trek through the Andes Mountains.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Little did I know that my knee was going to be the least of my concerns. We were driving into the Andes as the sun rose. The fuzziness of the green grass clinging to the mountain sides was enchanting in the glow of the morning light. It was the end of rainy season, so all of the plants and trees were proud and blossoming. It was like a magical fairyland of green lush beauty.

Yet, here I was. Riding in the van, bent over my legs, trying my best not to puke. I couldn’t even look out the window. The road was bumpy at best and rickety carnival ride from the 1970s at the worst. But I felt quite accomplished when I made the 1.5 hour ride without getting sick. The rest of the group consisted of only men and I overheard one of them ask another, “Is she going to be ok?” Per usual, that comment did kick in a bit more determination.

Now to start our 30 miles, three-day hike into the Andes mountains, ending in Machu Picchu on day four.

After a couple of hours into the hike, I didn’t give a damn about my knee. All of my energy was going into taking just one step further without getting sick in one way or another. We were told that day one of the hike was the hardest hiking day, as we escalated 4,000 feet in elevation. It was basically a straight up shot for the next seven hours, beginning at 10,000 feet.

Growing up in a big family, and especially considering that I am a middle child, I have always prided myself on my ability to go with the flow. But between being the gimp of the group, not having slept the night before and still recovering from food poisoning, I was clearly the weak link. It was a hard pill to swallow to realize that I was going to have to go much slower than I am used to and in the process was going to slow down everyone else as well. I even took up an offer to carry my pack on day two because I was struggling so much. It’s really frustrating to do a hike when you’re not at your peak health, then throw on top of it that you are at a much higher elevation than you are used to.

Regardless, I persisted.

We had been hiking for a little over six hours on day one and the worst was over. We were finally on flat ground, which I had never been more thankful for in my life. I knew we were somewhat close to our campsite, but I’d already learned to take anything our guide said and add 50% to the time he quoted me. Then, it looked like we were going to have to go up hill again. At that point I, was so broken, in pain and exhausted that I decided I would rather sleep on the grass in the middle of that field with the horses than take one more step up. I literally stopped in my tracks and all I wanted to do was sit down and cry. I’m pretty sure everyone else could see the fear in my eyes and the guide assured me that just over this hill was our site. Thankfully he was right and I did not have to sleep with the horses.

That night I was terrified because if day two was going to be anything like day one, I was not going to survive. The pain of being sick, my knee, my leg… and now I was beginning to also get a cold. I had a terrible sore throat and knew it would just get worse with sleeping in the cold and pushing my body so hard.

All I could do was tell myself to sleep as well as I can and hope that my body miraculously recovers overnight.

Day two was a much better day. Good nourishment and a decent night’s sleep can work wonders. We woke up around 5 am, ate breakfast and hit the trail again. This was going to be our longest day, so I was already mentally preparing myself. It was supposed to be a 10 hour day, but ended up being about 12, because I was slow.

The views were incredible. Since I wasn’t constantly feeling like I was about to die on day two, I could actually enjoy the views and take more pictures. I was absolutely obsessed with the morning clouds and fog that hovered over the terrain in the morning. Mornings are always my favorite and I was so glad that we could enjoy brisk air, lush greenery covering and the clouds. Being at the tail end of the rainy seasons, it was a perfect combination of gray beauty and blue skies.

I did pretty well most of day two, except I kept getting the feeling that we were moving too slowly for our guide and he was worried about time. He kept offering that we could bring a horse for me to ride part of the time, but I couldn’t bear to think about giving up like that. But of course, I pushed it too hard and the last hour of downhill just about destroyed my knee. We were losing daylight so we were moving pretty fast. I decided that I had no other choice but keep up with the pace no matter how much it hurt my knee, otherwise we’d be hiking into the night. I kept trying to think of the things that I tell myself when I am running a race to encourage me to keep going. We had thirty minutes left until camp. Anyone can get through 30 minutes of hell, right? So I started my mantras.

Do it for your family.

Do it for your nephews and niece.

Do it for all the little girls who will know that they can do this too.

Do it for all the kids.

Do it because you had women in your life who showed you that you could do anything you set your mind to.

Do it because you know you can.

You’ve trained and your body is capable of getting through this.

You can handle 30 minutes of anything.

I looked down at my watch — only five minutes had passsed. That’s when the tears started. As you can imagine, crying while trying to hike really fast at 10,000 feet elevation just makes everything worse. I couldn’t breathe so I tried hard to make it stop, but I almost couldn’t help it at that point. I don’t often cry from physical pain, but I think that’s partially why I couldn’t stop the tears.

We finally made it to camp and got the tent set up. I immediately went inside and lay stomach down on the ground and sobbed. Everything hurt. I couldn’t tell if my knee hurt worse or my legs or my back. My feet were so tired. I tried to combat the negative thoughts by thinking about what parts of my body didn’t hurt. My arms, I guess. My arms didn’t hurt. Well, that’s one thing… It didn’t really cheer me up.

By now my sore throat was a full blown cold, I could barely talk and was super congested. This made it almost impossible to be at such a high altitude since I couldn’t breathe at all through my nose. Similar to the first night, I felt like if the next day was going to be like day two, I wasn’t going to make it. But supposedly day three was mostly downhill. Going downhill was painful on my knee, but is nothing compared to not being able to breathe from my cold and the altitude so I did my best to feel grateful.

Day three was when we hit the Inca trail and started to see the first other hikers since we had started. It was odd to have so many people around us after being alone in the wilderness for days. We heard all languages and accents from our fellow hikers. I started to feel pretty happy that I chose to do this hike instead of the full Inca trail, because it was packed with tourists. Having so many others around really takes away from the magic of the Andes.

Regardless, it was fun to at least see a part of the Inca trail and many ruins on our way down to Machu Picchu. Day 3 really was a breeze compared to the others and we only hiked about 5 hours before we had lunch and headed into town for the night. The next day we went to Machu Picchu and enjoyed the misty morning clouds among the ruins. It was absolutely breathtaking.

 

If I had known how difficult this hike would be on my body that was not at 100%, I don’t think I would have done it. I was also incredibly grateful for my hiking companion Justin to cheer me on. I felt like such a whiny baby, so to hear him tell me that I was the toughest person he knew definitely brought a renewed determination when I felt like I couldn’t go a step further. The funny thing about pain is that we feel is so strongly at the moment, but afterwards, your memories immediately get fuzzy. I am glad I did the hike. I am proud that I was able to finish it, without a horse, and without any other injuries. The head cold definitely took its toll on me and put a damper on the rest of the trip, but I would still say it was worth it.

I also am so grateful to our guide Savi who I can confidently say was one of the best hiking guides I have ever had. He is also a history teacher and was able to tell us so much about Inca and Peruvian culture. The Incas have such a beautiful tradition where they focused their energy on integrating into nature, rather than trying to dominate it. So all of their architecture, water and food systems assimilated into the mountains. They worship Pachamama and other elements. Sadly, they did not have the weapons to compete with the guns of the Spaniards, so much of their history has been lost. I had very little knowledge of Peru or Incas before this trip and now I am itching to learn more.

You could tell that Savi has a deep love for his country and so much pride for the people, especially in the small farms that we passed along the way. He told us he would like to go into social work to help small villages in Peru be more successfully and preserve their heritage. I cannot recommend enough how wonderful Action Peru Treks was to us. The food was incredible, the views were out of this world and Savi was a great host for the trip. Even though I was in pain and struggling most of the time, they truly made this an awesome experience. My advice for you if you are doing the Ancascocha trail would be to extend it longer than the 4D/3N hike. You’ll want more time to enjoy the scenery.

 

 

Adulting as a Nomad

Living the nomad lifestyle is invigorating. I wake up to the warmth of sunrise creeping through my windows, I drink my coffee near the edge of whatever given mountain called me to me that day, and when I want to explore somewhere new, I go. No ties, no one to report to, nothing holding me back. Early in my career, I always thought I would end up with a job that sent me all over the world for work, and when that wasn’t happening, I decided that I needed to create the life that I wanted to live. And I really love it.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I was fascinated with stars and space. I mostly blame Tom Hanks and Apollo 13 for these dreams. When I was twelve years old, we took a family vacation to Australia and happened to be there just at the right time to see baby turtles hatch in the middle of the night and run towards the white foamy waves of the ocean. I honestly don’t know if I watched a single turtle that night, as the entire rest of my family of seven eagerly watched the adorable little creatures, but what I do remember is the feeling of looking up at the stars and experiencing everything else around me fade into the distance. It was like the world was on mute and me and the stars were in our own dimension, completely isolated. I felt like there was a tunnel pulling me up towards space and I couldn’t break my gaze.

As you may have realized by now, I did not become an astronaut. That dream shifted pretty quickly when I realized how much physics I would have to take. After that, I honestly don’t really remember what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I pictured my life as an adult, the main images that came to mind were all of the places I was going to visit. I thought I might live in Thailand or the Philippines. I loved (and still love) Southeast Asia. Such warm and welcoming cultures where people take care of each other. But I also had never been to the middle east or Africa or South America or Russia. There was so much to see.

I had the great privilege of growing up in a family that took vacations around the world and I absolutely loved those trips. When we first went to China when I was seven, I remember that I got so excited that I had my own porch off my room and was convinced that I could now get a horse and keep it on my porch. Or when we went to Thailand for the first time, I had never seen a dolphin or driven a jet ski. Each trip was so exhilarating. The thrill of exploring somewhere new becomes quite addictive. Even the vacations where I was a complete brat and didn’t want to go to the Natural History Museum or Stonehenge — just leave me alone and let me listen to Savage Garden on my walkman! — e’hem… our family trips are what I remember most about childhood.

What I realize now looking back, is that wanting to be an astronaut was my internal spirit’s way of telling me that my lifeblood was to explore. I wanted to see everything and experience it all. And when I dreamed of life as an adult, I knew that was my path. I spent a lot of my adult life getting distracted from that truth. It’s not that I didn’t travel or explore before choosing nomad life, but it wasn’t a top priority and I was minimizing a part of me that brought incredible joy. I am sharing this background to remind myself (and you) to go back to those childhood memories. To really feel what it was like to be happy in those most perfect  moments and pinpoint what it is that brought you alive. Go back to those the thrills of childhood. There is something so genuine and true about the joys we experience as a kid. Make those dreams real.

With all of that said, choosing to live my dream of endless travel and adventure, comes with sacrifices. And it turns out that adulting is still a thing, no matter where you are or how much you try to simplify your life. I a still  I am a tax paying citizen, I pay my bills, I get junk mail. People often ask me what I do to handle these types of scenarios. Where do I bank? Where do I shower? How do I do laundry? So in attempts to bring some of the adulting to the romanticized life of the nomad, I am going to answer a few of those questions.

Where are you a resident?

This one is tricky because it impacts my taxes, car registration, voting, how my employer pays taxes, etc. I don’t have a childhood home or parents who even live in the country, so there hasn’t really been an easy default location to choose to be a resident. So I decided to keep my residency in Indiana. It didn’t make sense to change it to somewhere else if I wasn’t sure I would be there long term. Fortunately, I have friends who are gracious enough for me to use their home address in Indiana. I was still able to vote in the 2016 election, I filed my taxes and will be able to renew my car plates this month. My advice for other nomads? Stay a resident wherever makes the most sense for your job and is somewhere you go back to often enough that it won’t be too complicated.

How do you get your mail?

Honestly, there’s almost nothing that comes through the mail that I need to have access to. A few super old school businesses like my doctor and vet, but other than that, I purposefully made sure that all of my important info comes through email before I hit the road. This is SO important and really only takes a couple of hours to set up. As far as anything that does come through the mail, the easiest way that I’ve seen so far is to have a PO box somewhere in the country where you can request them to forward you your mail periodically. Forwarding is pretty easy and most of the time I have things sent to General Delivery at whatever USPS I will be closest to. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a package and sent it to General Delivery in Port Angeles, WA and when I showed up at the post office, there it was. Even the smaller town post offices offer this service. It’s pretty incredible! It has also allowed me to get a few letters and packages from friends here and there, which is always a highlight when you are on the road.

Where do you bank?

This one wasn’t much of an adjustment for me since I already had a completely online bank — Capital One 360. So I have not noticed much difference being on the road vs. not. If I need to send a check (god forbid…) I can issue one from my bank and it takes about a week to get to the recipient. I haven’t done that in over a year though and almost always use Venmo or PayPal to send people money. I don’t have a checkbook at all. There have been a few times where I had to get a money order, but that is also relatively simple. You walk into CVS, ask for a money order, fill out the little slip, hand them your cash, and there you go. Nothing from my bank goes through the mail, it’s all paperless, and I can deposit checks from my phone, so this is one area that is pretty simple to navigate.

How do you shower?

I am not sure if I am proud to admit this or embarrassed, but I went a solid six months without having regular access to a shower. Some vanners have solar showers that are hooked up to the back of their van where they can wash off. I do not have such civilized contraptions… So I would shower wherever I could. Sometimes I would sneak into a campground to shower, a few of them actually had pay stations for their showers. In between long stretches, I would just bath in a lake. I actually didn’t mind doing that for a couple of weeks even. I could even kill two birds with one stone by soaping up Simone and playing fetch with her in the water until she was rinsed off.

On a daily basis, I use facial wet wipes to wash my face and at least every other day to wipe down the rest of me. It’s amazing how refreshed you can feel from something simple like that. I also use dry shampoo almost daily for my hair. I have since grown up (slightly) and gave in to buying a gym membership. I joined Planet Fitness, which is inexpensive and all over the country, so I have access to a shower in most states.

Where do you do laundry?

About once every two weeks or so, I’ll hit up a laundromat. I no longer sort colors, white and linens, it all goes into one giant washer and one giant drier. I actually kind of the like the routine of sitting in a laundromat, people watching, as we all stare into the massive machines tumbling our outfits round and round. There is something very iconic about the experience and it makes me feel like I am in a movie. To wash all of my clothes, it costs me about $10, which is not very different from what I was paying at the apartment previously.

Where do you go to the bathroom?

I was having a conversation with a group of people recently about building out vans and one of the guys mentioned that he didn’t think he would need a bathroom. I was quick to agree and said, “Hey, if I as a girl can function without a bathroom in my van, then any man should have no problem without one. Is that really gross and way too much information?” We all laughed.

TMI alert, I do not have a bathroom in my van and I frankly, I don’t really need one. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped on the shoulder of an off ramp to open my two side doors as “curtains” to pee. When you travel as many miles as I do, you don’t have time to stop at a gas station every time you have to pee. It’s completely inefficient. When I’m hiking, I pee in the woods. If I have to do more serious business, there are a million gas stations, McDonald’s, restaurants, Starbucks, etc. that I have access to. As much as I’d like to be in the middle of nature most of the time, the reality is that we live in a highly civilized country and accessing a bathroom is not difficult. Honestly, it’s the least of my worries on the road.

 


So there you have it! The logistics of adulting on the road has actually not been as painful as I originally thought it would be. The main way to make it work is to have supportive friends and family to help when needed. Happy to take other questions for anything I missed!

11 Tips for Working Remotely [VIDEO]

I am nine months into living as a nomad and I decided to transition to creating more video blogs since it is easier to film while on the road rather than writing. I am truly more of a writer at heart, but I think this will help get more content out there for fellow adventurers.

I get asked a lot what it is like to live and work on the road as well as how I got my current job. When I try to explain what I do, I am mostly met with confused looks, so in attempts to show you a bit of what it’s really like, I will share some of my tips for working remotely. If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, I’ve written out a short recap below:

  1. Discipline: First, in order to get a remote job, you need to prove that you are disciplined.
  2. Schedule: Stick to a schedule. Treasure your routine, wake up at the same time and end work at the same time.
  3. Timezone: Choose one timezone to work in no matter where you are.
  4. Weekends: Protect your weekends, even if it means you are working longer hours during the week.
  5. Food: Prepare your food and eat regular meals. This will reduce distractions during your day.
  6. Environment: Change your environment periodically throughout the day as you switch projects.
  7. Focus: Don’t mix work and personal. Don’t do laundry or talk to your mom or schedule appointments.
  8. Music: Listen to music. It will help distract you from outside noise.
  9. Coworkers: Communicate expectations, over communicate with them on where you are and when you are available.
  10. Make friends: Spend time calling your coworkers! Ask them about their life, which takes a lot more intentionality than working in an office together.
  11. Tech: If you want to succeed as a remote worker, you need the right tools, which are different than what you need for an office. You’ll need: a laptop, Spotify, noise-cancelling headphones, MiFi, cord cases for organization and a durable bag where you store everything and can bring with you everywhere.

Would love to hear from you on what your experiences are living and working on the road!

Stories from the Road: Joni

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One of the first people that I met on the road was a woman who I rented a room from for about a week in Boulder (check out her Air BnB here). Her home was essentially a half-way house for wanders and, naturally, I felt right at home. I mostly chose her place because it was inexpensive and pet-friendly, however, she did say that she doesn’t accept all pets, just the ones that she feels good about. Little did I know that I would get to know everyone in the house who came and went during my stay and find surprising connections with each one. It felt a lot like my life growing up living overseas where people came and went pretty quickly, but everyone had an interesting story.

When I first walked up to her door and knocked, a young man who looked like a college student and spoke in broken English opened the door. I asked if Joni was there and she yelled from the other room that I should come in. She was a short, fit and fiery woman in her mid-thirties with incredibly beautiful curly hair that dropped to her shoulders. I learned that she did jujitsu and could have probably thrown me on my ass if she wanted to. She was very blunt and particular. Take your shoes off at the door, no shoes in the house. Keep the cat in my room. Clean up after yourself in the kitchen. Clean up after your dog in the yard. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. This was clearly not her first rodeo. I then learned that she was a relator and just moved into that house, but also owns multiple properties around Boulder. She was one of those business savvy Jewish women who knows what she wants and kicks butt when it comes to getting things done. Needless to say, we had an instant connection.

Several of the mornings I was there we shared breakfast together. I also made a quinoa salad one day for lunch and without hesitation she asked if she could have some. I loved her bluntness and she was a hoot to talk to. Of course, as with anywhere I go, I enjoy grilling people on the place that they live and to learn why they love it. One of the things that she kept telling me was that she loved Boulder because the men all stayed 21 with awesome abs and they were always so grateful for a women who knew what she was doing.

Thank you, Joni. Noted.

Joni liked to get things done. During my one week stay with her, I helped her bring a load of stuff to GoodWill, did a few sewing projects since my machine was already out, and helped cook dinner for her and her friends one night at the house. She had suggested that we all do a group meal one of the evenings I was there and of course I was all about it. Goodness knows that I needed the company after several weeks of solitude, so we grilled ribs, I made vegetable kabobs and it was one of the best evenings I’ve had on the road to date.

Two of her friends had just bought a house together in the mountains and had also met on OK Cupid. The woman had just quit her corporate job and was finally really following her dreams. She also happened to be into pet psychics and we got talking about how Simone didn’t particularly love the van. I explained that she loved our apartment because it had a deck and she could be outside at any time and now I have to often leave her in the van by herself when I am working or running errands. What I didn’t tell her was that I also had not yet secured all of the things in the back of the van and sometimes stuff fell on her… I’m sure that didn’t help. Regardless, she gave me advice for how to talk to Simone to help her like the van better. She suggested that I talk to Simone every time we are going somewhere so that she knew what was going on and shouldn’t be worried, but also explain to her why we live in a van and what we are doing. She was adamant that dogs understand what we are telling them through our tone of voice and manner when we talk and it helps calm them. I can’t say I disagree, it was certainly a fascinating conversation.

Another one of Joni’s friends, who was also staying at the house, was Lee. He had been staying there a few months and was on his way to Hawaii to set up sustainable energy projects on the islands. He was essentially going to be a caretaker for a state-wide sustainable energy initiative. Sounded pretty awesome. He had noticed the solar panels I had installed on the van and we ended up talking about the process to install them, how many I had and then got into a long discussion about the amount of energy that is required to make solar panels and if it is so much that it’s not worth it to make them. I learned a ton from him and was definitely envious of his next adventure to tropical paradise.

One of my favorite moments of that night was when the Chinese student, Ying, was FaceTiming another one of his friends in China, speaking Mandarin and explaining the whole evening over the phone. He didn’t know I spoke Chinese, but he was sweet and grateful in his conversation and told his friend he was having a lot of fun with his “Mei Guo peng you”.

That night I felt so at home. I honestly didn’t really want to leave there. I can’t put my finger on why exactly I felt that way, but it probably had to do with the eclectic mix of people who were all there to enjoy the moment, but were also off to their next adventures. There were people from all over the world, and each person was following their dreams. It was refreshing. I cherish that night. I am inspired by those stories. It was a pinnacle moment in time for me where I felt encouraged that I was doing the right thing and simultaneously invigorated by all of the other amazing things I could do if I put my mind to it. Here I was, seeing it all first hand.

Thank you Joni. I can’t wait to have my own wanders’ commune like you do someday.

10 Things I Couldn’t Live Without on the Road

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Blog post originally posted on Van Life Explorers. 

One of the most difficult parts of beginning van life was figuring out what exactly I needed. I got rid of so much stuff, but am constantly haunted by this feeling that I still have too much. I enjoy a tidy space, so van life has been particularly challenging to find the balance between tidy and still fitting everything I need in the space. Most of the time my conclusion is that I don’t actually need that thing and would rather get rid of it than make my space too crowded. Yet, I also wanted to be careful not to get rid of something that I would need further down the line. In addition, there were definitely things that I needed to buy along the way that I had not expected to need. So as you prepare for your life on the road, I’ve compiled a checklist of my must-haves:

  1. Propane Stove $40

I use this stove every single day. Even if I am eating cold or raw foods for meals, I cannot go a day without my coffee. I use an aluminum espresso maker, which does not require filters, so all I need is water and coffee grounds. I also have a hand grinder to grind my beans. The hand grinder takes a while to get the quantity that I need to fill the pot, but it makes for an excellent cup of coffee. I have to say that I have grown to enjoy my mornings staring into the mountains, grinding my coffee to start off my day. It is quite peaceful. Then just put it on the propane stove and in ten minutes, you have fresh brewed espresso! You do need to keep your propane tanks stalked as well.

propane-stove

  1. Cooler $45

I have solar panels that are bolted to the roof and I started off my journey with a small mini fridge that I used to keep my food fresh. However, I quickly learned that if I did not have a full day of sun, the two 100-watt panels were not enough to power that little sucker. Sometimes in the middle of the night my inverter would start beeping at me because the battery ran out of juice. This was (clearly) super annoying and I did not want to drop the $800 bucks on an energy-efficient fridge, so I decided to go old school and use a small cooler. I do have to spend money on getting ice every day, which ranges from $1.50-$3.00 depending on where in the country you are located (pro tip: don’t buy ice in Aspen, CO), but it was worth saving the solar energy for other more important things.

cooler

  1. Cosmetics + Toiletries

I am not a high maintenance girl, but I do like to stay clean and take good care of my skin. This could apply to men or women – these are the main items that I use every day:

  • Cleansing towelettes: disposable face cleansing cloths for when you don’t have water to wash your face. After driving or hiking all day, there is not much better than having a clean face.
  • Sunscreen: Summer, winter, it doesn’t really matter; when you are in high altitude, you need sunscreen. Your 80 year old self will thank you.
  • Bug spray: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped at a state park for an evening run and quickly realized I would need about a gallon of bug spray for the woods I was about to embark on. This is a no-brainer for any vanner since we spend most of our time outside.
  • Dry shampoo: I often go 3-4 days without showering and I have both thin hair and bangs, so dry shampoo is a life-saver for what would be a grease ball on top of my head. I mostly use it on my bangs and it at least keeps me looking somewhat like a normal productive member of society.
  • Chapstick: I am a particularly dry-skinned person, so I have chapstick in every bag and every compartment around the van. I probably have a dozen different ones, but I use them ALL the time. When you’re hiking in the desert, you’ll thank me.
  • Biodegradable shampoo: You can buy this a REI or any outdoor store, but biodegradable shampoo is incredible to have on hand when you are hiking. I bathe in rivers and lakes more than I do showers, so this gives me peace-of-mind that I am protecting the environment while still able to stay clean. I use it for everything — my hair, soap for my body, to shave my legs and wash my face. I prefer to have separate products for each of those things, but when you are in the woods, beggars can’t be choosers.

van-interior

  1. Ceiling Fan $124

When I first got on the road I did not have a fan in the ceiling. It got so hot when I was sleeping because I wasn’t able to keep the doors open for safety reasons. I also worried about leaving my pets in the van without a fan, so this was an imperative addition. Especially when you are in the mountains, this is all you really need to stay cool at night. Open a few windows, turn on the fan and the cool mountain air will keep you comfortable. I have it hooked up directly to my solar panels and am able to track which speed settings will use what amount of power.

ceiling-fan

  1. Portable Speaker $65

This little portable speaker is my best friend. I prefer to use it when I am driving rather than the crappy speakers that came with the ‘96 Chevy. All I have to do is hook up my phone up to the Bluetooth and we are off to the races. The sound quality is great and the size is perfect for what I need. Each battery charge lasts me about 8 hours of driving and it uses a micro-USB, which I can plug right into my adapter to charge while I am driving. I take this with me when I am working at a park, hanging out in the van, camping, etc. It’s small enough that you really can bring it with you anywhere. Music is a huge part of my life, so good speakers are a must.

  1. 120-Watt Power Inverter with USB Outlet $20

I spend so much time on the road, that I mind as well make use of the car battery when I am not using it for the van, hence the power inverted that I plug into the cigarette liter. It’s been great to be able to save power from the solar panels and plug into the cigarette lighters from time to time. I can charge my computer, phone, speakers, lamps, headphones, etc. Almost all of my accessories need to be charged, so before I hit the road, I’ll plan out what all needs to be powered up and make sure those things are on hand near me during the drive.

  1. Camel Back $77

I went on several hikes the first month or so where I used just an old backpack that I had on hand. After a few 5-6 hour hikes several days in a row, my shoulders were killing me, so it was time to invest into something better. I started to think about how much water I drank on a long hike per day and decided that the 70 oz Camelbak would be good for me. I could always fill up extra water bottles to pack in the side pockets if I needed them. If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that I drink a ton of water on my hikes, so I wanted to make sure to have enough for a day, but not over do it with weight. I liked that there were also several other compartments in the pack for things I would need on a day trip: Rain jacket, flashlight, snacks, change of socks, bug spray, sunscreen, battery pack charger for my phone, Polaroid camera, etc. It is incredibly comfortable and I have no regrets with this purchase.

camel-backpack

  1. Bike Rack $199

This was another purchase that I did not make right away, but knew early on that I would need it. At the beginning, I was storing my bike on my bed and had to pull it off, lock it up somewhere while I slept and haul it back into the van in the morning before leaving. This was a huge pain in the ass. The bike rack I chose has been awesome to have, it hooks into my hitch, it super stable, but also folds down so that I can open up the back doors and easily access my kitchen area. It has space for two bikes, which is all I really need, but you can buy ones that are 3 or 4 bike if you need that.

bike-rack

  1. Kitchen Supplies

I have never been much of a chef, but I do like to cook at home rather than eating out, so I had to think strategically about which kitchen utensils I would need on the road. I have a full drawer compartment of cooking accessories, but here are the essentials:

  • Medium Pot with lid for cooking rice, heating up water.
  • Cast iron skillet for eggs, meat, stir fry. I actually have two, one small one for eggs and a medium sized one.
  • Small pot for heating up milk – this might just be specific to me since I like milk in my coffee.
  • Wooden spatula for cooking in the cast iron.
  • Bowls – I prefer to eat out of bowls, so I keep 4 of these on hand.
  • Silverware
  • Coffee mug – Splurge on one you love because you will be using it a lot.
  • Nalgene – this is a no brainer, but I use this instead of a cup.
  • Medium bowl for mixing salads or peanut butter balls
  • Hand coffee grinder
  • Coffee pot (or in my case, espresso pot)
  • Tupperware for leftovers

kitchen-supplies

  1. MiFi Wireless Hotspot $100 + monthly data

This proved to be imperative for me to do my job on the road. I work in marketing and need to have access to the Internet at all times. There have even been cases where I am at a coffee shop and the WiFi sucks, so I turn on my MiFi instead. I pay for 24G of data per month, which is enough for me to use this on a part-time basis. It’s great when I’m in small towns or somewhere where the WiFi is not reliable. It’s definitely saved my ass when it comes to client calls and getting projects done on time. If you have a remote job, this is worth the investment. Think of it as job security.

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