Meet A Friend Afar: Liebster Blog Award

We are excited to announce that we’ve  been nominated for the Liebster Award by Jess at Jetsetting Spirit. Thanks so much for this nomination, Jess! We appreciate it!

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You might be asking, what is the Liebster Award? It’s a tool used to recognize new bloggers for their hard work and dedication to blogging.  It is passed down from blogger to blogger and just goes to show how supportive the blogging community is! Once nominated, the blogger must answer 10 questions they are given. They then must nominate 5 new blogs and write 10 new questions for them. We thought this would be a fun way for our readers to check out some other travel bloggers and get to know us better, too!

A Friend Afar: Stephanie and Meagan

Meet a friend afar: stephanie and meagan

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  1. What was your first blog post about? We both really love maps so Meagan wrote a post called Beautifully Illustrated Maps for our very first blog post!
  2. What was the first international trip you went on? How old were you? Meagan: I was 17 and went to Italy! I still have my journal from that first international trip, and it’s hilarious! Stephanie: I had just turned 17 and went to Australia with my high school band. We were part of a 2000 member band that marched in the 2000 Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony. It was such an amazing first international experience!
  3. What made you start blogging? Is it a career for you or a hobby? For us, starting A Friend Afar has been a wonderful hobby based on our love for travel and our careers in international development. We love sharing our favorite places and help our friends and family plan their trips, and that’s what A Friend Afar is all about!
  4. Where do you hope to see your blog in 10 years? We’re dedicated to becoming a great resource for the part-time traveler – the week-long and long-weekend vacation taker, the business tripper with a little extra time, and the hometown explorer.
  5. What is your favorite movie and why? Stephanie: I have a hard time choosing but I really love musicals, and The Sound of Music is my favorite! I love Julie Andrews and the setting in the Austrian Alps is stunning! Meagan: Oh so hard! I think I’ll have to say Midnight in Paris right now! It expresses my personality as a traveler who seeks out wonder and joy when abroad. Paris in the rain? Weather won’t ruin my trip! I also love history and the arts, and they’re the perfect pair in that movie.
  6. How do you manage your time when blogging? Do you have another job outside of blogging? We try to set aside time during our weekends to work on writing posts separately and then sometimes get together to work together. We schedule a “blog night” during the week where we work on “blog stuff.” Prioritization is super important to us since there’s always a to do list, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  We both work for international development non-profits (Meagan at The Carter Center and Stephanie at CARE) based in Atlanta so blogging is a part-time job!
  7. What is your dream trip? Where would you go, how long would you stay, what would you do? Meagan: Trans-Siberian Railway! I want to take the Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia route! I would love to take a month to be able to stop along the way. Besides looking out at the beautiful scenery, I would take a few good books and play the Ticket to Ride board game! Get it? Also Mongolia is one of the top countries I want to visit.  Stephanie: I’ve been to six continents so far, so I just need to go to Antarctica! I’d love to do a cruise from Chile or Argentina and would want to stay for a few weeks. I’d do lots of hiking before the cruise and then take kayaking excursions from the cruise! I also really want to see penguins, of course!
  8. How often do you travel? This year we’re trying for 12 Trips in 12 Months so we typically average around one trip a month.
  9. What is the one item you would want with you if you were on a deserted island with no cell reception or wifi? A water purifier!
  10. What is your favorite thing to do outside of blogging? Travel, of course!

10 fun facts about a friend afar

  1. Meagan: While in Belize at a sanctuary for wildlife rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, I let a jaguar lick my face. He had a huge sandpaper tongue!
  2. Stephanie: I lived in the same house in the same room until I moved into my freshman dorm in college!
  3. Meagan: I studied Spanish in high school and Japanese, Thai, and Spanish in college at Georgia Tech. I’m about to start a Chinese class.
  4. Stephanie: While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, I hitchhiked a lot. One time a Ghana Medical Service truck stopped for me, and when I got in the vehicle I realized they were driving a woman in labor to the hospital!
  5. Meagan: My husband and I met in Juarez, Mexico while building houses over spring break. Travel has been part of our relationship from the very beginning!
  6. Stephanie: One of my travel goals is to go to all 59 National Parks in the US. Really, I want to go to all national park sites but this feels more attainable since there are 400+ of those.  I’ve been to 18 so far!
  7. Meagan: Italy is the country that I keep going back to over and over again. I love the food and the history.
  8. Stephanie: My husband’s favorite place in the world is Hawaii- he’s been five times and I went for the first time on our honeymoon.
  9. Meagan: One of my favorite things to do when I travel is visit art and history museums.
  10. Stephanie: My favorite dessert is tiramisu. I really love all Italian food- pasta, pizza, gelato…

Our Five nominations for the liebster award

  1. Sauvignon Blue
  2. Jetplane Jean
  3. Postgrad & Postcards
  4. Say Hello Blog
  5. Alpha Traveler

Our questions are…

  1. What’s your spirit animal (the animal that you feel fits you the best) and why?
  2. Of all the places you’ve visited, which place is your favorite and why?
  3. What places are at the top of your travel list right now?
  4. What advice would you give to someone traveling abroad for the first time?
  5. Do you have a favorite guidebook or travel magazine?
  6. As a child, what occupation did you want to have as an adult?
  7. What item(s) do you never leave home without for a trip?
  8. Has a book or movie influenced your travel?
  9. Tell us a few of your favorite Instagram accounts you follow for inspiration.
  10. If you had the chance to work with any brand you wanted, who would it be?

And here’s what should go in your post, nominated bloggers:

  1. Thank the Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog
  2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you
  3. Copy and paste the award to your blog
  4. Answer the questions you were given and share ten facts about yourself
  5. Nominate 5 blogs to receive the award (must have less than 3000 followers)
  6. Let them know of their nomination!

Those are our fun facts! Do you have any more questions for us? Ask us in the comments!

Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

Meet Our Friend Afar: Ryan

France - www.AFriendAfar.com

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Ryan, husband of Friend Afar, Meagan, and high school teacher and coach.  I teach foreign language (Spanish), but I am also a certified history teacher, too.  One of the ways that I love to combine these two disciplines is by leading student study abroad trips.  I have twice taken my students to Europe, and I hope to organize another trip very soon.  I love all things sports, especially Atlanta Braves baseball, soccer, golf, and (American) football.  I also love movies, television, board games, and any kind of trivia game.  I think traveling is great because I can experience nearly all of the things I love while I am away from home, albeit in new and exciting cultures which have their own unique traditions, customs, and practices.  And to think that I can return home to share my stories and inspire a captivated audience of eager young minds in my classroom makes the experience of travel all the more thrilling!

Where did you travel for your first trip abroad? Was it for work, school, or vacation?

My first trip abroad was to Vancouver, Canada during the summer between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college.  My mom had a work conference there, and my grandma and I tagged along.  The experience was so exciting because I felt like I was in a completely different world.  The trees were different, the animals were different, the food was different, the cities were different, and the people were different.  My grandma and I traveled out to see the sights during the day while my mom was working, and then we would all explore the city at night.  We also just so happened to be there during the Celebration of Light international fireworks competition, and we watched the show from our high-rise hotel balcony downtown.  It was definitely a memorable first trip abroad!

Mexico - www.AFriendAfar.com

Ryan in Cholula, Mexico

Do you speak a foreign language? How has that influenced your travel?

As I mentioned, I do speak a foreign language, and the very fact that I do can be attributed to my experiences with travel.  I studied Spanish in high school, but I never intended to continue using it after graduation.  During my first year of college I got a chance to participate in a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico to build houses for families in need.  I don’t really remember how it happened, but somehow I was chosen as the designated interpreter to communicate with the Mexican family for whom we were building the house.  At first this task scared me tremendously, but by the third and final day on our work site I felt so proud of the relationship that I had formed with that family of complete strangers who spoke a foreign language and lived in a world so foreign to me.  I think it was in that moment that the world shrunk for me.  No longer did I view other cultures as so distant and incomprehensible.  From that trip on I embraced the excitement of using my Spanish skills, and the very next semester I re-enrolled in Spanish courses.  The following year I spent an entire semester studying abroad in Puebla, Mexico where I lived, worked, played, and traveled with native Mexicans.  My language skills got better and better to the point where I now teach Spanish to high schoolers.  My knowledge of Spanish has also allowed me to travel with confidence to places like Costa Rica, Panama, and Spain.  In each of those places I learned so much more about the Spanish language, lessons that I can then take into my classroom as well.  So in a sense, not only has my speaking a foreign language influenced my travels, but my travels have also influenced my language skills to a great extent.

[Editor’s note: Ryan and Meagan met on another trip to Juarez while building houses with Casas por Cristo. That’s where it all started!]

Mexico - www.AFriendAfar.com

Of all the places you’ve visited, which place is your favorite and why?

My absolute favorite city is Rome.  I’m a huge history nerd so being inside the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel sends shivers down my spine.  Plus, you can’t go wrong having the most delicious food on the planet for every meal.  Also, I don’t think one is truly living life to the fullest unless they have gelato at least once a day (but really more like two or three times a day!).  When Meagan and I honeymooned there, I remember saying to her how around every corner we turned it looked like an image on a postcard.  It is the perfect city for finding a bench in a square (or a spot on the Spanish Steps) and just spending hours watching the world stroll by.  Now that’s amore!

Rome - www.AFriendAfar.com

What places are at the top of your travel list right now?

I spoke earlier of my love for all things sports so pretty much all of the top places on my travel list are sports related.  I would love to follow my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, around the country to some of America’s iconic baseball parks.  I would also love to take a golfing trip up and down the British Isles, making sure to get in a round at The Old Course at St. Andrews, the home of golf.  I also really want to travel to northwest England to see my favorite soccer team, Liverpool, play a home match.  Finally, I would love to experience the Olympics or the World Cup in another country.  I’d love to be there from start to finish, going to the opening and closing ceremonies and attending matches all day every day.

Paris - www.AFriendAfar.com

Ryan just attended the Tour de France for his 30th birthday and took this great shot at the Arc de Triomphe!

Has a book or movie influenced your travel?

I had a Spanish class in college where an assignment was to show a film and lead the class in discussion about the major themes of the work.  I chose the film Diarios de Motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries).  It is the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara before he became the Cuban revolutionary figure that most people know him to be.  It is based on the true story of a motorcycle journey that Che and his friend took from Brazil to Peru.  As the adventure unfolds, they become transformed by their observations of the lives of the impoverished indigenous populations of South America.  Through the characters they encounter, they witness firsthand the injustices that the destitute face, and they are exposed to people and social classes they would have never encountered otherwise.  There is a quote from the film that has resonated with me ever since I watched it over and over again in preparation for my assignment presentation.  It reads, “Deja que el mundo te cambie y podrás cambiar el mundo (Let the world change you and you can change the world).”  I think often about this notion that if I truly want to make a difference in this world then I have to go out and see and experience it, warts and all.  Only then will I be able to fully understand the greatest challenges and needs of our society.

What advice would you give to someone traveling abroad for the first time?

A wise Alaskan native once told me (how I came to meet that wise and well-traveled man is another story for another day) that in order to truly experience a place you really need to travel that place by land.  It is easy to see the world by hopping from metropolitan city to metropolitan city via plane or even from major sight to major sight or subway station to subway station.  But you miss so much along the way that truly makes the experience memorable.  Traveling should not be about checking boxes off a must-see list.  It should be about living like a local, even if only for a few days or a few hours.  Stroll the streets with no particular destination in mind.  Buy your meal in a local market.  Take a train.  Rent a bike.  Go where the wind blows you.  Feel the vibe of a city.  You can still go to all the tourist sites and eat at the well-reviewed restaurants, but don’t forget to slow down and embrace the rhythm of life that your destination has to offer.  The moments that I remember most in my years of travel are often the most quiet and intimate ones that were never captured on camera or found in a guide book – a picnic under the Eiffel Tower, a late-night walk along the flooded cobblestones of St. Mark’s Square in Venice after all the tourists have left the city and the locals come out to play, or an ice-cold soda after a long, hot trek through the Panamanian jungle.  These are the memories that I cherish the most, and these are the moments that will make you want to continue traveling time and time again.

Venice - www.AFriendAfar.com

 

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Guest Post: 8 Family Travel Tips from Alli

We recently introduced you to two of our Friends Afar, Krista and Ja. We have a new and wonderful friend for you today – Alli! You’re going to love Alli! We sure do! We met her at our church in Atlanta where she had started Lazarus Ministries, an amazing non-profit that does wonderful work with Atlanta’s homeless community. Fun fact: that’s where fellow blog author Stephanie met her husband!

 Now Alli’s living in Washington, D.C. with her husband Joe, her pup Duke, and her darling little boy Jack who is wonderfully featured in this post. Alli has also expanded Lazarus Ministries to Washington, D.C., so if you’re in the area, find out how you can get involved here.  Alli’s been traveling all over the U.S. with Jack and Duke in tow, so she has some great tips on family travel! In fact, Jack has already seen more of North America than most people you know, so he’s Our Little Friend Afar! Enjoy!
Meet Our Friend Afar: Alli and Jack - www.AFriendAfar.com

Family Travel Tips from Our Friend Afar: Alli

Some of my friends call me crazy. I have a 15 month old son named Jack, and he has been to 22 states, Canada, 13 major cities, and has had his feet in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I travel for work, to be able to see both mine and my husband’s family, and for adventure. Sometimes he is traveling with me and my husband, but sometimes it is just me and our dog. I didn’t plan his first year to be so full, but it happened.  I learned a few things from my various trips, so I thought I would write a few tips.

1) Be mentally prepared and realistic. Just a couple of weeks ago, I loaded up the car with Jack and our dog, Duke, and drove from Washington, DC to Dalton, Georgia. Normally, it’s a 10 hour drive, but it would have been torture to try to make it in that time driving by myself with a toddler and a dog. I managed my expectations to be more realistic and knew it would be closer to 14 or 15 hours. We stopped every 2 hours — mainly so Jack could play. Because I was mentally prepared, it was a pleasant trip. I also try to make sure my expectations of the day match what it will be like.

2) What you wear matters. Of course, I want to be comfortable. But I am more on top of things if I don’t feel and look sloppy. I usually wear stretchy jeans, a shirt that it is not terribly noticeable if it is a little dirty from toddler hands (but still cute), my Puma ballet sneaker flats, and a stylish hat.  Also, bringing an extra shirt is ideal.  I highly recommend not wearing one piece suits (this is important for the bathroom… I’ll get to that).

3) Ration the toys. I keep most of Jack’s toys up front with me (or in my bag if on a plane or train) and hand them back to him one at a time. I have them positioned to be handed back safely. If I give him all of the toys at once, he gets bored much more quickly. Once I have handed him all of his toys, it is usually time to stop for a break. (It would take about 1.5 to 2 hours to go through all of his toys. We do this at home as well, and I have been told it helps with focus.) I usually bring a mixture of 15 toys and books.

3) Think ahead about entertainment. The last trip I mentioned was 14 hours long. We did that with no TV. I was prepared with a playlist that had songs we both like, some NPR podcasts, and audiobooks. When he was happy, occupied and content, I would listen to the podcasts or audiobooks. When he started to get fidgety, I would play the surefire songs that make him smile and clap (for Jack those are Mind Games by Leagues and Shake it Off by Taylor Swift — pretty much a guaranteed smile). Swing by the library and spend a second on iTunes; you will not regret it.

4) Nature does call. For me the hardest thing when traveling with a baby or toddler (and a dog!) is going to the bathroom. With the baby, I wear him as I go to the bathroom. He is too busy and public bathrooms are too nasty for me to let him down at all. Once in the Seattle airport family room, there was a little chair attached to the wall that had straps. That was a luxury! Especially since I was a wearing a fashionable jumpsuit that was one piece (learned my lesson there because not all airports or bathrooms have those and we had other layovers).

Family Travel Tips - www.AFriendAfar.com

5) Snacks. Jack was 7 months old when I drove from DC to Wilmington, NC by myself. It was the first time traveling alone with him. I was so worried about food and snacks, but another mom showed me the dissolvable snacks. It was such a relief to know that he couldn’t choke on them.

6) Traveling with a dog. Our dog, Duke, is a six year old boxer that is a saint. He is a therapy dog, has a wonderful demeanor, and loves the car! I actually have to spell C-A-R if I am not ready for him to know we are getting ready to go. Traveling with a dog brings its own obstacles. We can only do drive-thru restaurants unless I packed meals. I do not travel with him without another adult in the summer. I have to leave him in the car when I need to go to the bathroom. My sister recommended leaving a sign saying that I am just running in to go to the bathroom so that there is no confusion and so people know he is in there for just a few minutes. I always leave the windows down enough for him to get air and park in the shade. I also put the air on full blast for a few minutes before parking. Dogs should not be left for more than a few minutes. I hurry and then let him out to do his business.

7) Bring the right supplies; borrow the rest. A mirror in the backseat so I can see Jack while I am driving and travel dog dishes that go flat when not in use are the types of things that I find irreplaceable (I am hoping that the right carseat goes without saying, but just in case…). Highchair, portacrib, infant bathtub —  I try to borrow in the destination city. In the day of social media, it only takes one post to find someone’s friend’s sister’s cousin who has what is needed.

8) Be ready for THOSE moments. Like when your son is asleep, you’re listening to a Desmond Tutu audiobook, and you are overwhelmed with the beauty of the moment as you drive through the Shenandoah Valley. Or the flight from DC to Minneapolis where he is looking out the windows and giggling at the clouds. Or when a restaurant in Knoxville lets you, your son, and your dog sit in the fenced in patio, and your son stands at the fence holding his sippy cup and waving to people as they pass by. Those are the moments that make you glad you were crazy enough to take him on this adventure no matter how much work it is for you. Those moments.

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Meet Our Friend Afar: Ja

Last month at A Friend Afar, we introduced you to inspiring fellow traveler Krista. This month we’d like you to meet Ja. We became fast friends with Ja when we were exchange students in Thailand, and since then she’s lived in Australia and now calls Southern California home. We hosted her on a visit to Atlanta once and can’t wait until we get to hang out with her again!

Angkor Wat- www.afriendafar.com #cambodia #angkorwat #southeastasia

Tell us about yourself.
My name is Ja! I’m 35 years old, from Thailand, and a stay at home mom who lives in Los Angeles. I love photography and traveling! There’s a big difference from traveling when I was single to now being married and having a 9 month old baby, but I am still loving it. It’s my life, my journey. If I stop traveling, I’d die. Seriously!

Where did you travel for your first trip abroad. Was it for work, school, or vacation.
My first trip was in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I went with Meagan, Stephanie, and a bunch of other friends. We had so much fun! I still remember it vividly even though it was almost 10 years ago. It was adventurous, nothing fancy, but we had great time and now I have a memory with friends. My highlight was when we went to Angkor Wat for the day! What an amazing place!

Do you pack light or check a bag?
Of course, I packed light every trip until I had a baby. Now I have to check bag with all the stuff for the baby!

San Diego- www.afriendafar #sandiego #socal #california
Is there a place that you keep going back to? and why?
San Diego! It is absolutely one of the best cities to live in. San Diego also has some of the best weather in the country. The views are gorgeous, and most importantly, it is where I was proposed to and got married!
What places are at the top of your travel list right now?
Paris, Edinburgh, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Monaco! Seriously, anywhere in Europe! I also would love to go back to Melbourne, Australia, but it’s more practical for me right now to do trips in U.S. Yosemite National Park, all over California (so much to see!), Alaska, Colorado Springs, Grand Canyon, Florida, Boston, Texas, and New York are all U.S. destinations on my list.
Do you collect a specific type of souvenir?
Postcards! I send them to friends and to myself.
What is your dream vacation?
Cancun and the Caribbean on a cruise!
Melbourne- www.afriendafar.com #melbourne #australia
If you could recommend one place for us to visit, where MUST we go?
Melbourne, Australia. My favorite! It’s a multicultural city with scenic views, so many galleries and museums, and great coffee! It’s super easy to get around the city using the tram network. It has beautiful weather that’s perfect, really – not too hot, not too cold. Some people say they have 4 seasons in a day. I found it’s true and loved it! You should definitely visit Melbourne!
Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

Meet Our Friend Afar: Krista

At A Friend Afar, we want to introduce you to some of our most inspiring fellow travelers. We met Krista at Georgia Tech, and it’s safe to say that she’s been living abroad for the majority of the time that we’ve known her. Krista was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria and now teaches English in South Korea.

Feeding the Deer in Nara, Japan - www.AFriendAfar.com

Our Friend Krista feeding the deer in Nara, Japan on her most recent trip.

Tell us about yourself.
My name is Krista. I’m a global citizen who happens to hold a US passport. My passport opens quite a few more doors than some of my fellow world travelers, which is a privilege I appreciate and try to take advantage of as much as possible. I’ve been traveling internationally since I was 15 years old. My career is teaching. Currently I live in South Korea.

Do you have any specific travel interests?
Early in my travels I loved to experience anything and everything new. I wanted to see as much of the world as I could, and I quickly ticked off all the continents, except Antarctica which I’m still a little bitter about. Seeing new places all the time was exciting, challenging, and adventurous, however my interests in travel changed after about 5 years. I realized that for all my bucket lists completed and checked boxes there was a lot I was still missing. Living abroad and getting to know a place, culture, people, and not just experience a small piece of it, started to appeal to me far more, so I decided to live abroad.

I do still travel from my base country quite a bit, but my goals have changed in traveling. I like to travel to countries where I have friends that live there and know the culture well, that way I can have a better idea of the country, culture, and people. Now I base myself in a new country every few years and take small trips to surrounding countries where I have local connections. Most of the things I enjoy doing on my trips aren’t in any travel brochure or magazine, and most often I’m the only tourist. I guess you could say my interests in travel are cultural discovery, exploration, and always adventure.

Krista in London - www.AFriendAfar.com

Krista in London

Do you speak a foreign language? How has that influenced your travel?
I speak Bulgarian quite well and Spanish passably. Disclaimer: I lived in Bulgaria for 4 years. Speaking Bulgarian has definitely influenced my travel habits, but Spanish, not so much. Bulgarian isn’t the easiest language to learn, it’s also not very common, it shares an alphabet with several other similar languages, and the country where they speak it isn’t English proficient outside the major tourist areas. Being able to speak Bulgarian gave me a really good base for roughly understanding many Slavic languages. That, combined with being able to read Cyrillic, makes it much easier for me to travel with confidence in Eastern Europe, a region that’s not very easy to get around if you only speak English. I think that if I didn’t speak Bulgarian I probably wouldn’t have done most of the adventurous things I’ve been able to do in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. I guess I could tell you what some of those are….

I used to rent a car and drive to Greece every spring. I never had a specific location in mind, just somewhere near Thessaloniki or The Fingers. I’d pack a tent and sleeping bag and find a beach or mountain I liked, pull over, and camp for the week. Once I was accidentally on private land and the owner came out to kick me off. After going through English, rudimentary Greek, and then Bulgarian we were able to communicate and he let me stay for the night with the promise I’d move in the morning. I probably should have been really nervous in that situation, but knowing the culture and that eventually I’d be able to communicate it ended up being a really great interaction and we talked for quite a while about his family and land.

Do you plan everything out or go with the flow?
A bit of both actually. I’m a ridiculous researcher. I spend at least double the amount of time I’ll be traveling researching and figuring out all my options for the trip, then usually I make very few plans and decide what to do day by day. Having researched so much and gained a knowledge base of what there is to do, prices, timeframes, possible snags, and effort expended to do each different thing before I leave, I feel super comfortable going with the flow and not worrying I’ll miss out on something once I get to the actual place. Doing it this way seems to be a bit more stressful on the front-end before I leave, but super relaxing when I’m actually on the trip, which is more important to me.

Livorno, Italy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Livorno, Italy – Photo by Krista

What’s the craziest thing you’ve eaten on a trip?
I used to think it was pig brains or bat testicles in Vanuatu, and it still might be. But those were much easier to eat than live octopus and squid in Korea. When your food is moving it makes it a bit more challenging physically and mentally. The octopus suctioned onto one of my molars, and I was a bit worried I’d lose it, but it was just for a few minutes and then I chewed it to death. So the scariest thing was the octopus, but the oddest was the bat.

www.AFriendAfar.com

Always Afar!

Do you collect a specific type of souvenir?
Yes! I try to get a piece of small jewellery (earrings, necklace, ring) from each place I go or trip I go on. Each country has such unique techniques and styles that I’ve ended up with a very eclectic collection. I don’t wear much jewellery, but whenever I do it always reminds me of a unique time and place far away. It’s like taking a piece of the place home with you.

What advice would you give someone traveling abroad for the first time?
– Keep in mind you’re in a foreign country where no one is required to speak English. Don’t expect people to speak English.
– Go with the experience. Don’t try to put your own cultural values on someone else’s culture.
– Enjoy the experiences for everything they are! Imagine it as a window into a different world. Even if you don’t like some of the things you see, it’s not your world and you’re just looking; you get to go back to your world soon. If you do like what you see, then explore even more.

And most of all, be aware that you may see everything differently when you go home. it may change you, and that’s ok.

 

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.
Costa Rica

Guest Post: Leaving My Comfort Zone in Costa Rica

Today’s post is by our good “friend afar,” Emily! She recently traveled to Costa Rica for an anniversary trip with her husband. We’ve known Emily for over a decade now, so we loved hearing about how she faced her fears and the wonderful adventures she had in return.

For my 5th anniversary, my husband and I decided to take a big trip.  I am absolutely a read and relax on vacation kind of girl so when we settled on Costa Rica as the destination, I was a little terrified.  I knew the trip would be lots of hiking, sight-seeing, and adventure.  I decided early on to buck up and really enjoy the ride, and I made a promise to myself not to complain and to push myself to be uncomfortable.

We started our trip in gorgeous Arenal, and it was exactly as expected: crazy driving on dirt roads, 8+ miles a day of hiking, and hundreds of steps climbed.  By the time we reached Monte Verde and saw both a pit viper snake and a tarantula right beside our hiking trail, I knew I definitely wasn’t in my element any more!!  Still, I was proud of myself for taking it all in stride and really appreciating the sites and experiences that came with quite the workout.   I knew, however,  the true test of my resolve would come towards the end of the trip when we planned to take a zip line canopy tour.
Guest Post: Leaving My Comfort Zone in Costa Rica- Getting Ready- www.afriendafar.com #costarica

It only got higher from there!

I don’t think I can communicate enough how terrified of heights I am.  I get queasy even when driving near a cliff or drop off! We went to some hanging bridges at the beginning of the trip, and I had to dart as fast as I could across them to keep from panicking.  By the end of the 6 bridges I was doing a little better and able to take my time a little.
 Guest Post: Leaving My Comfort Zone in Costa Rica- Bridge- www.afriendafar.com #costarica

Hanging bridges may have broken me in a little at the start of the trip, but dangling by a cable for the mile long zip line didn’t sound like my idea of fun! My husband, however, was beyond thrilled! Standing around, in full gear waiting for instruction, I nervously chatted with my husband about how safe he though everything was.  Two guys nearby jumped in and assured me everything looked pretty good, except the hand breaking, which they had never done before.  Turns out this was their 3rd zip line trip, and they had done this before in Puerto Rico and Mexico.  It was great to get some tips from people with experience! Come to find out, one of the pair actually works at the same company as me in another office!  The world has honestly never felt so small!

For the entire experience, they stuck with us, encouraged me, and even used their Go Pro to video my trip down the mile long zip line.  It was amazing how meeting these strangers totally eclipsed my fear!  Hanging a mile above the earth, dangling from a wire was so invigorating!!  It was worth pushing through those terrifying moments in the beginning! It wasn’t an experience I will soon forget! I was so glad I had leaned into the fear instead of missing out, and I’m so grateful for my husband and new friends for encouraging me to be brave.

hot springs near Arenal: Guest Post: Leaving My Comfort Zone in Costa Rica- Tarantula- www.afriendafar.com #costarica

It was worth it for the chance to relax in these amazing hot springs near Arenal!

Traveling to new places can be scary.  There are language barriers, lack of street signs, and different customs and traditions to navigate.  If I hadn’t faced these fears, I wouldn’t have been able to relax in the hot springs in Arenal, summit above the Cloud Forest in Monte Verde, and see all the monkeys in Manuel Antonio.  Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on and maybe even buy that plane ticket with you.  Nothing is more rewarding that looking head on into those fears and leaping into adventure anyway.
Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.