Known for its laid-back, hippy vibe, Pai is a 3-hour drive from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Most hostels in Chiang Mai can get you set up with a ticket for a mini-bus; some travelers brave the many, many hills, twists, and turns by renting a scooter as well. I was in Pai for 3 days which proved the perfect amount to fit in everything I wanted to see, but there are a lot of people who fall in love with Pai and never leave. I can’t say I was that enamored, though I did enjoy the relaxed feel and yummy street food.
In December, I traveled solo for one week to northern Thailand. It wasn’t my first time taking a trip by myself, and I’ve written multiple posts about how much I’ve enjoyed being alone.
And while I met some really lovely people on the trip and enjoyed myself overall, I felt pretty lonely most of the time. When my carefully laid out plans got cancelled (on multiple occasions), I had no one else to turn to and say, “What’s next?” When the first hostel I stayed at in Pai was a nightmare, I texted friends at home and said, “What do I do?!” instead of hashing it out with someone else IRL. When I was tired and couldn’t muster up the strength to leave my bed, I needed someone to shove me out and say, “You’re only here for one Sunday! Don’t miss the Sunday market!!”
My sophomore year at university, I got this itch to go on a study abroad trip for May term (one month either spent traveling or in class) to Asia, though I’m not sure what possessed me seeing as my family had never traveled outside of the country. After having convinced my parents that China was where I wanted to go, I spent a month with my fellow classmates traveling the country. Within 24-hours of being in Beijing, I knew that I was going to live in China someday. And at the end of my years in college, I applied to a school in Shanghai but ultimately decided it wasn’t the right time for me.
Instead of a big move to China, I decided to take a job offer to teach at a rural school in Illinois about an hour away from my hometown. After having failed to leave college with a single friend thanks to a drowned relationship, I was excited at the prospect of meeting new people. My school was an absolute gem and my coworkers were friendly and fun, yet I was still having troubles making friends with my same interests. The teachers were all married, and many of them had kids in that small town sorta way. I went to yoga a few times a month, spent Saturday nights grocery shopping or at my parents’ house, and diligently set my VCR any time I had a school function after hours. While I loved reading and drinking tea, preferably at the same time, I cringed at the thought of going to the book store or coffee shop alone. I wouldn’t have dared to go to a restaurant by myself, and a solo trip to the movie theater was out of the question. Sad and lonely, I clung to the job I loved, spending hours planning lessons and decorating my classroom.
More times than I can count while living in Hong Kong, people told me that Americans were a hard group of people to truly like*. Non-Americans complained that Americans were loud, wore inappropriate clothing, and acted entitled. I’d go to a museum and hear the Americans coming. I’d walk into a store and see a line of Americans complaining. It was embarrassing. I am proud to be an American, certainly, but I wasn’t proud that a select group of Americans were worldly enough to hop on a plane to Asia, but were not cultured enough to know how to assimilate, or at the very least, not stand out.
While living in Hong Kong from 2010-2012, I caught the travel bug visiting 11 different countries, most of which were in Southeast Asia, except for my trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina during summer break. I wrote about a few of my experiences in my then-blog, Ashley’s HK Experience. As a new travel piece to this blog, I’m reposting my piece on a trip to Buenos Aires where I went to visit my friend Steven in August 2011.
Granted, I live in a country where English is not the (only) official language and I am sufficiently able to survive, but Buenos Aires is not quite the same as Hong Kong. With its signs in letters and characters, Hong Kong is easy on the eyes and brains of travelers and expats alike. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, has signs only in Spanish. Now if you donned a Spanish name, learned to count to 100 starting with uno and how to order a cheeseburger in high school Spanish class, you could easily survive the capital streets of Argentina. But for those of us who sported berets, listened to stories about Pierre et Fifi and watched movies with Gerard Depardieu, Buenos Aires can be a tricky location to find your way around. It’s not that I can’t match street signs to the Spanish words on a map, but asking for directions, ordering lunch or shopping for a pair of new boots can seem to be on the verge of impossible.
With four comp days to kill and vacation always on the brain, I decided to take a budget trip, so I went to Kayak.com/Explore and the cheapest flight was to New Orleans. NOLA was on my bucket list, so I was sold! My nonprofit paycheck and my desire to go to South America in December, made the budget for this trip even tighter than normal. I was also going by myself, so there was no one to share a hotel bill or taxi fare with. Here are a few hints if you’re ever looking to go to NOLA on a budget and by yourself:
Spirit Airlines is awesome and annoying all at the same time. The flights are super cheap because their bare bones flights get you exactly that – a flight. Pay to print your ticket, pay for baggage, pay for water on the flight. So for $97, I flew to NOLA for 4 days with a personal item (has to be less than 16x14x12). I stuffed all I could into my duffle and that was it!
The ultimate accommodations in budget travel are hostels. At $26 a night, my hostel served my purposes perfectly. Check out my first experience in a hostel here.
As I’ve done in Barcelona and many other European cities, I love to take free tours when I get to new cities. I took three free tours when I was in NOLA – at the French Market and with Free Tours by Foot in the Garden District and a ghost tour. The tours are free since the guides work on tips. I also took a tour of St. Louis Cemetery – which isn’t open to the general public – through a tour I found on Groupon (I also saw a pub crawl Groupon on there, which would’ve been super fun if I’d been there on the weekend).