Change Yourself…Change The World.

What To Do With Culture Shock/Homesickness
October 1, 2009, 3:45 am
Filed under: Paraguay, Travel Tip

Dear friends,

Well, I’m not going to lie. Adjusting to Paraguay is very difficult for me. It is a very isolated place, and I feel very far away from everyone and everything I care about right now. I am living with two people who I am not sure about yet, in a very big and empty house that makes me feel nervous. I am unsure about what to think about this internship so far. The locals seem unfriendly, and it is dark and cold outside (the biggest problem I have with Paraguay is that I was told it would be very hot here- and it is exactly the opposite. I am definitely not a ‘cold’ person, and that has been the hardest part about adjusting here).

How to combat this? Well, it seems that I am going through some severe culture shock. For the first two days I laid in bed and felt pretty miserable. I slept a lot, talked to friends on the internet, and refused to even unpack my bag- I didn’t want to admit to myself that this was the place where I was going to call home for the next two months.

On the third day (today), I started my internship. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to feel enthusiastic about it. These all pointed to bad signs for me. I needed to do something about it. So I marched right on home and fully unpacked all of my bags. I fixed the heater in my room so that I wasn’t lying in my bed in my warmest clothes shivering. I found out today that instead of paying $800 for 2 months, I only have to pay $600, which means another $200 in my pocket from my tuition. I decided instead to spend $100 of those dollars on things that will make my room feel more homey- maybe I’ll buy a lamp, a nice rug, and some pictures to hang up so that it doesn’t seem so bare.

In my opinion, this is the best way to combat culture shock. ‘Settling in.’ It is a very important step, especially if you are living in a country for awhile. You have to make it your home, literally. I went out today and bought all kinds of groceries for cooking. I bought rice, eggs, pasta, and flour to make bhale (tibetan bread). I bought all kinds of delicious fruits and vegetables (star fruit, kiwi, plums, carrots, lettuce, scallions, red and white onions, garlic, red and green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, hearts of palm), and spices like cumin, kaffir leaves, and black pepper (the upside about Paraguay is how cheap everything is- I bought all of this for about 30 dollars, on top of the fact that fruits are imported here). I bought all of this because I needed to feel like I was at home. I needed to feel like I was staying here for awhile, that all of this food I was buying was going to be consumed, that the lightbulbs I bought for the lamps in my room were going to be used- I dragged a desk and a chair into my room to set up a working space. I found a seamstress down the street to mend my pants. I took my laundry to a laundromat.

Another thing that is good to do when you have culture shock is make resolutions. Make things and schedule things that will get you excited. I am going to take three days to visit Uruguay. I am going to take another three days to see Iguazu Falls. I am trying to wrangle my internship hours so that I can go to Bolivia for a week. These are all things that I can look forward to and be excited about and plan, even if they don’t actually work out. While adjusting to Paraguay is a hard situation, I know that this is great experience for the Peace Corp, and for life. I refuse to let things get me down. I am going to make Paraguay fun, and meaningful, and even if there is no life here than I am going to inject it full of all of the life that I have inside of me, which is more than enough for any country to handle.

And that my friends, is how you conquer culture shock and homesickness.

Much love,

The Problem with Traveling
September 17, 2009, 6:57 pm
Filed under: Costa Rica, Panama, Travel Tip

Is that there is only a certain amount of time you have to be in one place, and SO many things to choose from.

I am going to Panama for four days this weekend. I am very, very excited, because I have never been to Panama before, and who knows whether I’ll ever have such an experience again? This is how I go into traveling- ‘I may never have this experience again.’ The anticipation of being in a country for only four days makes me feel very rushed. I’ve been poring over Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring; Panama section.

I first planned this ridiculous itinerary that was somewhat affordable for my price range. I get into Panama at 10:50 AM tomorrow. Then I will run over to Casco Viejo to check out the old part of Panama, catch this crazy bus to the Mireflores Locks to see Panama Canal, and end the day in Mi Pueblitos, a kind of old town of Panama that sells indigenous crafts, food, and has dance performances. After that I would take an overnight bus to David, Panama’s second largest city (and for those of you that take overnight buses, you know I won’t be getting a lot of sleep). Then I would arrive in David at 3 AM (ouch, sketchy), and take an hour long bus at 6 AM to Boquete, this amazingly beautiful village (from what Lonely Planet describes at least…and let’s be honest here, can we REALLY trust Lonely Planet?) that has gorgeous views and lots of places to hike around. Then the next morning I would take a four hour bus to Bocas Del Toro, the ‘party’ place of Panama where apparently all of the gorgeous beaches in Panama are. I would hang out there for a day and half, finally taking an overnight bus back to Costa Rica.

First off, that entire itinerary sounds mouth-wateringly amazing. Here is the problem. A) There is no way that I can feasibly accomplish all of this and enjoy it at the same time, B) there are ALWAYS going to be problems that will pop up- my flight will be delayed and I won’t have time to see the parts of Panama City I really wanted to, the overnight bus to David will break down in the middle of nowhere (yes, this happened to me in India), Boquete is apparently cold at night and I will freeze with the small amount of clothes I have to take, etc. Will I see a lot of sights of Panama? Yes. Will I take lots of beautiful amazing pictures that look like I’m having the time of my life? Yes. Will I actually get to ENJOY being in the country? No. I will be majorly tired from driving around to a million places.

So, I decided to scratch the itinerary and just kick it in Panama City for the weekend. There’s a million things to do there, a million things to check out, and I feel that I need to give it at LEAST three day’s justice to see everything that I want. That gives me enough leisure time to actually get even a moment’s glimpse of what the life is like there, instead of always on the road.

This is the choice that I made. I wish that I had two, or three weeks to check out Panama. I wish I had a few days to check out Panama City, then I could leisurely make my way to David- then Boquete- then Bocas del Toro- and then even get to visit the indigenous Kuna islands in the south. But I have four days. And I am going to make the most of four days, even if that means just hanging out in Panama City.

In my opinion, this is the problem with traveling. When I was backpacking through Europe, I went to Switzerland for about four days. I totally panicked- ‘this could be my ONLY time in Switzerland, I have to see EVERYTHING, I have to check out Interlaken and Bern and Laussane and head over to Zurich-‘ well guess what. It was my worst travel experience. I was trying to experience everything SO much, that I completely tired myself out and just ended up kind of passing out in my hostel room for most of the time that I was there. My iPod got stolen on the train. I felt homesick. I don’t want to have that kind of experience again.

I am going to be traveling around South America for six weeks, and I am having the same problem. I want to visit EVERY country on the continent. I know that this isn’t feasible at all. I’ve cut it down four countries. I’m sad that I won’t get to check out Bolivia, or Uruguay, or spend a lavishingly long amount of time in Brazil (let alone go there at all). I’m sad that I’m not going to see Easter Island in Chile (well mostly this is because the flight there was $800. Ridiculous.) But I would rather spend my time enjoying the fact that I AM in one country, rather than preparing myself to dash off to the next one.

So that is my tip of the day friends. Chill out and enjoy the place that you’re in.

Panama adventure starts tomorrow. I can’t wait.

Much love,


Pimp of the Day
September 11, 2009, 12:54 am
Filed under: Costa Rica, Travel Tip

Check out my good friend’s blog, Lady The Tramp. I don’t know why I haven’t pimped it out before, considering I have read it for over a year now and it gives sound advice. If you are a female traveler looking to get around on a low budget, this is the perfect website for you. Check out her archives to get all of the good stuff.

She also has a great post about child beggars that so adequately describes an earlier post I wrote. It makes me wonder why I bother writing a blog at all… her words are so much more insightful than mine.

One of my close friends arrived in Costa Rica today. I am so happy!

Much love,

Traveling Safely As a Lone Female
August 26, 2009, 6:22 pm
Filed under: Costa Rica, Travel Tip

This is a post on how to travel alone safely in developing countries (or any country, for that matter).

There are the obvious things, such as not wandering down deserted alleyways, walking alone on the streets at night, and walking down the street in broad daylight flashing expensive jewelry, your huge professional camera, playing a video on your brand new iPod where everyone can see it, (basically showing off whatever fancy designer brand/technology you own) etc. I would hope that those who wish to brave traveling to a developing country would know this before going there, or they will definitely have some problems.

However, there are some things that travelers are not aware of before entering a country, or there are some things that they are out of their control. For example. there is an incredibly high crime rate in Costa Rica, and I had to be aware of this coming here. People are mugged in broad daylight, with friends, on buses… if you are even walking down the street alone with valuables on your back (in a backpack), people could slash your backpack and take them without you even noticing- so there are certain precautions that need to be taken to make sure that you (and your valuables) stay safe. I would definitely recommend reading up on the country you are going to (even if it’s wiki travel) just to get a general idea of what you should be looking out for before you go there.

First off, blending in with the culture is a huge plus. This means clothing. In Bangladesh, it is most common for women to wear a salwar kameez; if I was walking down the street in a tube top and jeans, there would definitely be trouble (not only is it disrespectful, but it also SCREAMS oblivious tourist). Obviously even if I was wearing a salwar kameez I would still be considered a tourist, because I am white-skinned. But the fact that I AM wearing a salwar kameez implies that I respect their culture and know it enough to wear their clothing, and in that sense, I am smart enough to not carry around super expensive things in my bag that are worth stealing (even if I am).
However, if in Costa Rica I went around in my salwar kameez I would be considered a tourist- honestly, I don’t think there is an India population here (if there is it is probably incredibly small- and pardon me if I am ignorant and am not aware of this, I arrived three days ago). So I need to blend in with the culture around me, which means wearing jeans, skirts, small t shirts- this is common for girls my age to wear these things in Costa Rica. So far I have not been hassled (though people DO greet me in English, which makes me wonder why I still somehow stand out as a foreigner).

The most important part about traveling safely is how comfortable YOU feel. If you’re in an incredibly cheap hostel and you feel really uncomfortable, or if suddenly it’s night time and you don’t want to walk home- then spend a little extra money. Take a cab home. Get a hostel that’s a bit more expensive. It is MUCH better to feel comfortable and safe than to not, trust me. I have been in a few situations where I’ve felt very uncomfortable- there was a time when I took a rickshaw home by myself at 1 AM in Bangalore (Yes. This was a very stupid idea. I regret it), or when I was in a marshrukta (a van that people travel in) at night by myself with two guys in Yerevan, Armenia, or the time when I stayed alone in a very cheap hostel in PaharGanj, Delhi where the windows were taped up by cardboard, and then I thought someone was trying to get into my room at midnight… most fortunately, nothing bad happened to me. Something bad COULD have happened to me. All three of those times, I felt incredibly uncomfortable and nervous. I never want to put myself in those situations again, and you don’t want to put yourself in those situations.

So like I said, if there is a little voice in your head that is saying ‘this is not smart, this is not a good idea,’ then LISTEN to that voice. It is not a good idea.
Right now, I am in Costa Rica, and I am very nervous about the pick pocketing. I have to walk 15 blocks to school from my homestay house every day, and while my homestay family assures me I won’t have any problem walking alone (during the day), I still feel uncomfortable. Therefore, I carry pepper spray with me (I have my backpack on my back with my valuables, and I conceal the pepper spray under the rain coat I carry on my arm). Do I feel silly carrying pepper spray with me? Yes. When I start to feel more comfortable with the country, will I ease up on the pepper spray? Maybe. The fact of the matter is, right NOW I am completely new to this country and I don’t feel comfortable traveling 15 blocks alone during the day with valuables in my bag that could be stolen. It makes me feel much better carrying pepper spray- I feel more confident, and there isn’t a little voice in my head going ‘this is not a good idea, what are you thinking?’ Would other travelers who have stayed in Costa Rica think me carrying pepper spray in my hand while walking is a bit over the top? Probably. They may even laugh at the idea. I don’t care. It makes me feel comfortable and it gives me power in any situation that might pop up. So I carry it.

Basically, it is all about how comfortable you feel. If you don’t feel comfortable in a dingy hostel with a door that has a questionable lock, then upgrade to a more secure one. If you don’t want to take a bus alone at night, then change your plans so you take one during the day. If you don’t want to walk alone, then take a cab. You may feel frustrated and inconvenienced at times, but- nothing is more important than how safe you feel.

It’s also important to understand how cultures interact with one another. For example, in India, many men will approach you on the street and ask about you, where you are from, and what you are doing in India. However, in Indian society, strangers will NEVER approach a woman they don’t know and just start talking to them. So you have to ask yourself- what is it this Indian man wants from me? Maybe he’s harmless and he just wants to practice his English. Maybe he wants you to eventually come to his shop and buy his goods. Maybe he wants to hit on you. Maybe he wants to get you alone so he can take advantage of you. Maybe he wants to offer you drugs so that he can take advantage of you. There are a whole range of possibilities, but the fact of the matter is, these men COULD take advantage of you.
I’m not saying that every person you meet will be bad, or that they’re trying to take advantage of you- I’ve met many amazing locals in every country I’ve been in- but it all depends on the context you meet them in. If you’re walking down a crowded street in PaharGanj, Delhi, and some man comes up to you asking about your name and where you’re from- that’s a red flag for me. I ALWAYS completely ignore these men (to even say ‘hello’ to them indicates that they can now follow you for 20 minutes asking you questions that you’re forced to answer). If you’re walking down the streets in Costa Rica and some man on the street watches you walk by and just says “Hola, Como te llamas?’ I ignore these men.
Examples where I have NOT ignored people I’ve met: Meeting with someone in Varanasi who our institution was paying to coordinate our trip there. He has become a very good friend of mine. Meeting my Tibetan family, who I homestayed with in Dharamsala (that was set up by an agency). They are like a second family to me. Meeting a local Nepali in the Bangladesh Embassy, who I started talking to and invited me out to lunch. I never saw him again, but he was incredibly nice, and it’s a very nice memory. No harm there. Like I said before, it really has to do with your radar- whether you feel comfortable in the situation and with the person you’re talking to. People are a little more tricky, because they can be deceiving, and you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you can be taken advantage of later. But with that being said, don’t be afraid to make friends, because that’s the best part about traveling- meeting amazing new people.

Some tips for Costa Rica I’ve gotten (for those traveling there)- if you carry a black backpack, people think you’re carrying expensive items like a laptop. It’s better to get something that looks really cheap, or a handbag, if you’re carrying expensive items, because robbers won’t think that you’re carrying something expensive in there. If you’re carrying a backpack, most people have one sling around their arm, and carry the backpack in their front, so robbers won’t slash their bag and steal their things. If you’re traveling alone, always take a taxi at night instead of walking.
If you’re NOT carrying expensive items, but rather, important documents or a notebook with field notes in it- you can buy transparent bags; these show robbers that there’s nothing of value in what you’re carrying, so they don’t try to take your bag.

I hope that was enlightening and helpful! Happy and safe travels!

Much love,

Packing Post- Clothes
August 24, 2009, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Bangladesh, Pictures Post, Travel Tip

Hi friends! Sitting at the airport getting ready to go to COSTA RICA! This is my last post in the US for about four months.

Before we continue, I just want to say that Pictures from Bangladesh are up.

Anyway, this is the last post I have about packing, for travelers planning to go somewhere long term (traveling for more than one month). I hope that you all got some good ideas and tips on what to pack based on what I bring.

Also, to give you an idea of what I put all of these things IN, I use an Eagle Creek traveler’s backpack, and a small backpack to for carry-on for flights and as a day pack.

Check out after the jump if you’re interested.

What to Pack: Clothes

Packing Post- Randomosities
August 24, 2009, 7:44 am
Filed under: Travel Tip

Hi friends,

Today is another update in the ‘Packing Posts,’ which is targeted to traveler’s staying long term (that is, traveling for more than one month) in developing countries (developed countries works as well, as I traveled through Europe with this same pack list). Now I am focusing on those uncategorized things you bring on trips- such as batteries, an alarm clock, ear plugs, etc.

The top five MOST essential things (I say most because most of them are pretty essential) I use in my ‘Random’ Kit are:
1) My Jack Knife
2) Alarm Clock
3) Head Lamp
4) Inflatable Sleeping Pillow
5) World Travel Converter

As always, click on the extensive list if you’re interested.

What to Pack: Randomosities

Packing Post- Toiletries
August 21, 2009, 5:47 am
Filed under: Travel Tip

Hey guys,

As a continuation from yesterday, I will continue with my ‘Packing Tips’ Post geared towards backpackers traveling in developing countries, using an example of what I am bringing for four months to South America. Today I will be covering toiletries (and anti-bacterial things to bring).

To summarize, the top 5 most essential items I use in my toiletries kit:
1) Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap
2) A Nail Cutter
3) The obvious things (Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap, Toothbrush, Deodorant, Hair Brush etc.)
4) Hand Sanitizer
5. o.b. tampons (or Divacup)

Please check out the extensive list if you’re interested!

What to Pack: Toiletries

Packing Post- Medication
August 20, 2009, 4:20 am
Filed under: Travel Tip

Hey everyone,

I’ve been traveling for almost two years now: this means that I’ve almost gotten it down to a science on the most important things you need while backpacking and living in various developing areas, whether it be a few days or a few months. I know there are a lot of ‘packing tips’ out there, but I thought I would give my own seasoned advice on what to bring for a long trip (anywhere from a few weeks to forever, excluding restocking for medication). Some of the things I pack are ‘personalized’ (For example, extensive headache medication), and you don’t NEED to bring everything I suggest, what you pack should be to fit YOUR needs. With that being said, I will leave absolutely nothing out of the list on what I am packing for the next four months for South America.

Since the list is so extensive, today I plan to update just on medications/ointments that I am bringing on my trip.

To summarize, the top 5 most critical medical things I use/need:
1. Excedrin Migraine
2. Dramamine
3. Rehydration Salts
4. Cipro (traveller’s diarrhea prescription medication)
5. Tylenol Cold AM/PM

Please feel free to check out the much more extensive list if you’re interested!

What to Pack: Medication

Child Beggars
July 19, 2009, 4:40 am
Filed under: Bangladesh, Travel Tip

A bit of a ‘travel advice’ post- I just wanted to give everyone here a back round on begging (specifically child begging), so when they go out into the third world and see it for themselves, maybe they’ll have more of an inkling on how they should act.

Child beggars are commonly found in SouthEast Asia (probably Africa, South America, and other places too- though I haven’t been to those other places so I can’t say).¬† Usually they are dressed in rags, dirty, maybe an eye or a hand missing, and pitifully looking up to you with their big eyes and hand outstretched, constantly putting their hand to their mouth in a ‘feed me I’m hungry’ gesture.

I remember the first time I came to India, and didn’t know how to handle this scene in front of me. My leaders from Carpe Diem, Dan and Aleta, just walked down the street as if they didn’t exist. I was shocked at their apathy- but now that I’ve been in SouthEast Asia for over a year I’ve realized that it isn’t apathy- it’s just experience traveling in a third world country. I remember when Dan gave us all a talk in Delhi (one of my first days outside of the US), that in India, almost all of the streets are controlled by the mafia. Children, women, and men are all paying this mafia for their right to beg on the street- so most of your money isn’t going to that person, but to a corporation that allows begging to exist. Ever seen ‘Slumdog Millionaire?’ Then you know what I’m talking about. My leaders Dan and Aleta said, by giving money to these people (whether children or adults), you’re setting up a precedent that a) Westerners are walking bags of money, and b) that these institutions can be in place (begging) because it is profitable.

If begging WASN’T a profitable business (especially for children, because what Westerner’s heart DOESN’T break looking at an emaciated child?), where would these children be? Who puts these children out on the street? Their parents, or the mafia. If these children couldn’t make money from begging, maybe their parents would actually send them to school to get an education. This is what I hear all of the time.

So what I hear and know is, begging is bad. Giving money to beggar children is a bad thing, because it keeps them on the street, it enables people to do horrible things to them like cut off their limbs to make them look more pitiful, and they don’t get an education. Advice that I hear a lot of is that if you want to GIVE, then donate to an organization or charity. However, this is an issue too. When talking about this with my friends, they raise the issue ‘Well sure I can donate to an organization, but what about the child that’s RIGHT in front of my eyes who is hungry? What about right now?’

Even buying food for beggar children is a tough task, because that child will usually take the food and give it right to their parents, as they are told. Some interns in Bangladesh have gone so far as to invite beggar children to eat with them- but this has also started a problem. These beggar children outside of the Grand Prince Hotel now expect that these Westerners will take them out of meals (which they regularly do). Not only do they make a significant income a day (50 taka some interns have found out, which is a better salary than a Bangladesh adult working in a restaurant), but they also get free meals. What do you think the mother is going to decide? ‘Should I send my child to school, or should I continue to make them beg?’

I am not saying that what these interns are doing is wrong by any means (in fact, it is probably the best thing someone can do in this sort of scenario). But it just seems to me, that no matter what you do, there will continuously be negative side effects. If you give the child money, then they will continue to be out on the street instead of getting an education, as well as allowing this practice to continue. If you donate to an organization, then you’re trying to help eradicate this practice 20 years down the road, and aren’t helping the scene right in front of you. If you give the child food, they will bring it to their parents. If you BUY the child food, then they (and their parents) will have the expectation that every foreigner who comes along is a walking wallet (which is generally not a good practice either, but the lesser of all evils).

I am still figuring out the best way to handle all of this. Right now, I am usually in the mode of ‘apathetic traveler’- I ignore them. I tell myself it is because through my practice, maybe other Westerners will stop giving money to beggars, and maybe then these children will no longer be mutilated, and can get an education. I suppose that’s a bunch of BS but I’m really big on this whole ‘butterfly effect.’

Or maybe I’m just being a jerk who is completely insensitive to beggars. I don’t know what the right line is. I guess there is no right line in this kind of scenario. You have to do what you think is best. The problem is, everyone thinks there is a better way to sort this thing out, so it’s hard to achieve the eradication of begging when others (who are probably new to this), can’t help stopping and giving change to these children (and they shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it either).

Anyway, a lot of differing perspectives. There is my best line of thought. Let me know if you have some fresh ideas.