Here Come the Pre-Travel Butterflies

Disclaimer: This article contains references to anxiety. I am not a health professional; this article is based on my experience dealing with anxiety. Please consult your doctor or a licensed medical practitioner if you feel you need medical advice.

Being excited to go on a new adventure, but also constantly on the verge of crying from nervousness.

Suddenly second-guessing every single packing decision you’ve made.

Wondering why you’re so nervous about traveling when this is something you’ve always wanted to do, or something you have done many times before.

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Sound familiar? It might be pre-travel anxiety.

I’ve dealt with this kind of anxiety before, so I’ve been working to handle it in a productive manner. For this trip, however, I’ve been dealing with a potent combination of pre-travel anxiety and PMS, so it’s been an additional challenge. Do I actually need two more tops to go in my suitcase? (Jury’s still out.) Should I reschedule my flights so I’m sure I have enough time to get through customs? (I did.) Do I actually need to eat this whole bar of chocolate? (*hides the empty wrapper*)

Especially when I’m traveling solo, I view my peace of mind as worth every penny. I try to think about what I could be doing to help my nerves before I travel. Some tactics I’ve been using to calm my anxiety include:

  • Walking around to get some fresh air, sunshine, and exercise
  • Limiting caffeine and excess sugar to avoid exacerbating anxiety symptoms (e.g., restlessness)
  • Cleaning my apartment so I have a nice, tidy apartment to come home to
  • Writing how I’m feeling so I don’t bottle everything up
  • Adhering to the packing list (no crazy additions to avoid overpacking)
  • Finalizing last-minute details (e.g., how to get to my accommodations from the airport/train station and loading up my iPad with entertainment options)
  • Planning a daily routine when I’m in-country so I know where I can get breakfast and snacks near my Airbnb

I hope this gives you a starting point for dealing with pre-travel anxiety. I feel like planning a trip is part of the adventure, so I hope this makes the planning process much more enjoyable.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be blogging in the countries I’m traveling to, but I’ll be posting to social media as often as I can, and I intend to work on articles as I go. Let’s get this trip going! Until next time, zai jian!

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Happy Holidays from Fenghuang

I talk about a trip to Fenghuang to celebrate the Christmas weekend

DisclaimerThe views and opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

I hope everyone had a happy holidays, and that everyone has a safe and happy New Year!

My cohort Caileigh and I went to Fenghuang in western Hunan to celebrate the Christmas weekend. According to legend, Fenghuang (Chinese for “phoenix”—coincidentally, also the Chinese name I chose for myself) got its name because two phoenixes flew over the town and found it so beautiful that they were reluctant to leave (source). It’s known as a home for the Miao ethnic minority. Notable people from this town include Shen Congwen (a writer that has contributed to the development of modern Chinese literature), Xiong Xiling (the first premier of the Republic of China following the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty), and Huang Yongyu (a contemporary Chinese painter) (source).

I live a stone’s throw away from Zhangjiajie City, so I was able to get on a bus to Zhangjiajie and then get on a bus to Fenghuang from there. Be advised: Fenghuang has no train station, so trains are not an option. It’s about five hours by bus from Changsha, and three to three-and-a-half hours from Zhangjiajie. I felt like I was getting sick that day so it probably felt a lot longer than it actually was, but I was able to fit in some of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses on Audible, so that’s good.

My entrance into Fenghuang was after dark, and each lamppost had a phoenix light display—it was then that I knew we were in Fenghuang. My taxi stopped at Hongqiao (虹桥), a pedestrian-only bridge with a lot of shopping. After I crossed Hongqiao, I was now in the old city, and I had to walk the rest of the way to my youth hostel.

Our youth hostel (AirBnB) was in a side street of the old city part of Fenghuang. The place is really clean, well-decorated in an old-world style (which I can appreciate), and—HOLY MEMORY FOAM—it had the softest mattress we’ve slept on in the five months we’ve been in China. According to the AirBnB site, the host spoke English, but since both Caileigh and I speak Chinese, we didn’t really push to see how much English she knew.

We spent a lot of time walking around the town, ducking into cute little shops (and petting some cute cats and dogs, in Caileigh’s case; we both recognize the health risks of petting animals in China, so proceed with caution). It was a really sunny day and even if it was supposed to be 17˚C that day (62˚F, which is a bit chilly for a Floridian like me), it felt really warm in the sunshine (but then again, I had a fever so take everything I say with a grain of salt).

Side street in Fenghuang with hanging decorations

We stopped at a café that looked like something out of a Studio Ghibli movie named 影子咖啡 (Yingzi Kafei). We spent a great time enjoying coffee and looking out on the Tuojiang River, not far from the step-bridge that is in all the photos of Fenghuang on Pinterest.

Yingzi Kafei

View of the Tuojiang River from Yingzi Kafei

In the evening, we went to a nearby restaurant (one of the perks of being in Fenghuang is that nearly everything is within walking distance) and went nuts with pasta, fries, and their take on garlic bread (which was like regular toast with roasted garlic but hey, we still ate it). There appeared to be a lot of bars and music venues in Fenghuang (which makes sense, considering its tourist appeal), but neither of us are bar-hopping people so we went back to our hostel and listened to the music they were playing there. Since it was Christmas Eve, our host gave us apples! (It’s apparently a Chinese tradition to give apples on Christmas Eve.) The next day was spent heading back to our sites, since we both had fairly long journeys home.

I think we could have spent another day here, taking in all that the town and the surrounding scenery had to offer, but I think we did a lot for the time we had there. I think we both had a really good time in Fenghuang, and I’m glad we were able to go!

I’m looking forward to winter break in the coming months! I have some ideas for traveling, and I hope that they can become reality. Once again, I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season, and I hope to see you in the new year with new content! See you then! Zai jian!

View of the Tuojiang River

Four things I learned in Inner Mongolia

I’ve put off this article about the lessons I took from Inner Mongolia for far too long.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.

 

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One of my favorite photos I took out in the grasslands

Hello, everyone! I have returned! It’s been almost two months (!) since I got back to Hunan Province from Inner Mongolia, and I’ve had a lot to think about for what I want to write about my time there. I’ll probably write about what we did and where we stayed in another post, but I want to write about what I learned out in the grasslands, because quite honestly, I’ve put off posting this article for far too long. I know I hoped to have more articles after my last article, but the Universe had other ideas; we were without WiFi in our apartments for pretty much all of November. We are, however, now back online, and I’m hoping to make up for lost time and make good on my promise to bring y’all more articles! So here are the four things I learned in Inner Mongolia:

1.     I want to learn beyond the surface. It’s easy to just visit the tourist spots and say I’ve been to an area, but for me that almost feels like cheating, and it feels like I can’t say I’ve been to a certain place (e.g., I’ve been to the tourist attractions in Paris, but I can’t say I’ve seen France). When I was at Dazhao Lamasery in Hohhot and out in the grasslands, I could tell that the places we visited were old—very old—and I was curious to know about the history and the culture of the place. When we were out in the grasslands, I wished I knew Mongol so I could sit with our host families and ask about their story. There was one instance when I was sitting in the family’s kitchen, and I would have loved to be able to sit with who I assumed was our host’s wife, and talk with her about what she was cooking or how life was out there. The fact that I know Chinese is rather convenient for Inner Mongolia, but if I’m to travel to other countries like Thailand, Cambodia, or Nepal, or any other country where my language proficiency is less than ideal, an interpreter would be invaluable for this.

2.     I realized my privilege in America. I know that Pinterest and other social media platforms can make off-grid living sound really comfortable with the right tools and planning (when my parents learned we were living in a yurt, they asked if it was like “glamping”), but out in Inner Mongolia, we got a taste of no-frills off-grid living (AirBnB). When we were out in the grasslands, we had no running water, no paved roads, no power grid, no central heating, and no public infrastructure like police or medical centers. We depended on potable water, solar and wind power, a wood-burning stove in our yurt for heating, cars made for off-roading, outhouses, and a lot of hoping and praying that no one got hurt or sick. While it was easier than we expected, we were also staying there for only a few days. I imagine that there’s a lot of planning that goes into living out there, but they at least seemed to make it work. It just made me realize how much privilege I have living in America, not only to have that security of public infrastructure, but also having the opportunity to travel and have these experiences.

3.     I realized how much stuff I actually need.  When I was preparing to leave for a year in China, I realized how much stuff I had accumulated, even after only a year in my apartment at the time. I’m starting to begin my journey to minimalism as a result, especially if I want to travel somewhere else after my time with WorldTeach is over. In Inner Mongolia, I knew we’d be on the move a lot of the time, so I knew I had to pack light for the week we were traveling. I traveled with a small suitcase (my backpack wasn’t big enough) with all my warm clothes, which were only a few items like sweaters, a light coat, a leather jacket, and leggings I layered under my jeans (we were totally unprepared for the cold). Aside from that, I’ve realized how much I need certain things like my journal and my tablet, and how much I don’t need other things, and it’s been liberating to travel without lugging around a giant suitcase.

4.     I’ve questioned some of my views on traveling. Before I went on this trip, a lot of anecdotes I had read about traveling almost belittled the idea of youth hostels, claiming that they weren’t safe or they weren’t up to par with hotels in terms of cleanliness or service. That was not my experience when I stayed at a youth hostel in Hohhot near the East Railway Station (AirBnB). The woman was very helpful, she spoke enough English to have a basic conversation, the rooms were clean and comfortable, and I never felt that I or my belongings were not safe. Also, when I booked a standing (!) train ticket from Hohhot to Sanggendalai, strangers were kind enough to let me share seat space with them. I realized how lucky I was to have a place to sit down on a train, which was amusing to some of the train staff when they realized a waiguoren (foreigner) had to buy a standing train ticket. I never thought I’d do those things when I first came to China; I would be open to doing a standing train ticket again (but for a shorter journey), and I’ve stayed at another youth hostel in Zhangjiajie City since then.

I’m glad to be able to have this experience growing as a person, as well as being able to go out and see the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. If you want to know more about where we stayed and what we did, please leave suggestions and requests in the comments below!

A few life updates: I was able to win NaNoWriMo (*cue celebratory fanfare*) so it’s been good to work with my novel and hopefully get it published before the end of the academic year. Plans for the Christmas holiday are still up in the air; I get Christmas Day off (effectively giving me a four-day weekend, since I don’t teach on Fridays), so I will likely go and travel another part of southern China. I hope to get back into the routine of posting updates to the blog regularly after having no WiFi in the apartment for a month. See you then! Zai jian!

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Shifting Winds: My Introduction to Digital Nomadism

I’ve only recently heard of the term “digital nomad”—being able to work remotely from anywhere in the world and travel full-time—and I’ve been curious about it ever since.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

I remember watching Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was four or five years old, and watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for the first time when I was ten or eleven. I remember being in love with all the locations that they were traveling to and everything they did, and that’s a major part of what got me into my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Unfortunately, that also made me realize that my options for anthropology invariably required a doctorate, which I was not ready to commit to right after undergraduate, so that took that out of the equation (at least for now; I’m not saying “never” because anything can happen).

I’ve been thinking about graduate school as a possibility when I’m done with my fellowship here, but after all the changes I’ve experienced already, even a year feels too far ahead to plan in advance. Even before orientation was over, there was already a bit of talk among us cohorts of “what happens next”—what we may plan to do after we return to the United States. I think a lot of us (myself included) are still in the “wait and see” phase, which I see as a bit problematic because a lot of deadlines in the U.S. for opportunities like graduate schools are rapidly approaching. I was lucky that the deadline for WorldTeach was this past April, so I could apply for this year’s fellowship! So, what happens next? I’ve written down a few ideas, and one involves digital nomadism.

 

 

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Digital nomads usually don’t work from the beach. The sun, heat and sand make working with a laptop very hard. The Instagram pictures are only to show-off.”- Digital Nomad Soul

I’ve heard of people working remotely, but I’ve only recently heard of the term “digital nomad”—being able to work remotely anywhere in the world and travel full-time—and I’ve been curious about it ever since. I know I’ve been curious about the idea for a while about being able to live anywhere (one of my dream home ideas involves a tiny house on wheels), so this is not helping my imagination at all (I’m laughing at myself as I type this). It seems like that was what attracted me the most about the lives that Dr. Jones and Lady Croft lived—the fact that they could go anywhere they wished and still do their work.

I’ve had a writer’s callus on the middle finger of my right hand for as long as I can remember, and I go nowhere without a notebook and pen to write any ideas for stories, poetry, or blog articles. Being here in China has helped me become even more productive with writing for the blog and writing my stories, and with my writing, I feel like I’m getting closer to where I belong in terms of what I’m meant to do. I’m tempted, now more than ever, to make a career out of writing, and with the idea of digital nomadism, as long as I had Internet, I could possibly write from anywhere in the world.

 

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This is not to say that I’ve already decided this is what I want to do. This is just to say that this has been on my mind for the past week, and I’m wondering if this could be something that I can do after my time with WorldTeach is over. I hope to travel to Southeast Asia and other areas of China while I’m teaching in Cili, and I would love to be able to share my experiences and combine that with my passion for writing. Having adventures and writing about them sounds like an ultimate dream for me; I’ve joked with my friend that I’ve become Bilbo Baggins, “I want to see mountains and finish my book!”

If I chose to take this path, I understand that the reality of digital nomadism is likely not as glamorous or carefree as it appears on social media (but then again, one could easily say the same about any lifestyle—even a “normal” one, by societal standards). I have no illusions that hardship would be nonexistent, especially when I’d just get started. One common thread I’ve seen, however, is that despite all the drawbacks and sacrifices that the bloggers and location-independent freelancers have to make, the end result—being able to travel around the world, having the freedom to live the life they wish, with only what fulfilled their daily lives—is more than worth it. Hopefully if this is the path that I’m meant to take for the time being, that it is well worth the hard work that it will take to make it a reality.

As I’m writing this, my classes have been cancelled for today and tomorrow so I’m taking the time to plan my next lessons and keep up to date with what’s going on with Hurricane Irma (I’ve checked with my family and friends, and everyone’s okay thus far). Random update: a group of cohorts and I booked our tickets to the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia for the National Week holiday! I’m really excited to travel to a part of China I’ve never been to with other people in my fellowship, and I hope that I can bring you along with me! Hopefully, I can be back here later this week with a new post! See you then! Zai jian!

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