The First Epic Trip

Two summers ago, young me decided to embark on a crazy trip. This is what happens when a girl with extreme wanderlust ends her first year of being a working adult. Even on an intern salary, little Rox was determined to make this summer the BEST. ONE. EVER. And to her credit, she succeeded (the best one of her life then, at least… the next summer was even better, as we’ve touched on in the previous post ^__^).

Little Rox’s first big summer extravaganza went like this: 27 days, 12 cities, 8 countries, 1 backpack. (Yes. One backpack. I’m still a minimalist traveler and try to only travel with carry-on bags, although I have become smarter about splitting my stuff into two bags [the smaller bag with flight essentials goes below, so I get more leg room… not that I really need it, but helpful during long-hauls when my objective is to sleep the entire time]). It’s easier to travel with just a carry-on, especially when you’re making multiple stops and flying only on budget flights, which is what I did. (Let’s take a moment of silence for our airline industry right now).

The first half of my trip, I mostly stayed with friends, which was lovely and I will always treasure my time in Nashville, Houston, Calgary and London because of that! Getting to explore Vanderbilt with Keerthana (and also spontaneously hang out with Mieke, who I knew in Singapore, and Maggie, who I met at Brown), having legit Texan BBQ and climbing bamboo structures with Cara’s family, hiking at Banff with Ms. Jayne, Alex and Ana, and exploring castles and having English roast, tea, fish and chips and more with Yema, my amazing internet friend of 10 years (as well as other internet friends!) whom I met for the first time, were absolute highlights. (Whew, that was a long sentence! SORRY!)

But Summer 2018 felt like two different summers. After the most amazing time with my friends (and one solo exploration in New Orleans where I frantically texted Keerthana all night because I thought the AirBnB I was in was haunted), my solo time to shine had arrived.

After saying goodbye to Yema and my lovely British parents (yes I have been adopted and Yema is my sister now), I boarded my super budget flight to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Extroverted me (who didn’t yet realize just HOW extroverted she was) was in for a huge dose of reality. I landed in Ljubljana at night, and immediately realized I was in a country where I didn’t know a SINGLE WORD of the language of the country I was in for the first time in my life. Immediately, I started regretting my decision. The airport in Ljubljana is tiny, and the van I had booked was super late, so I was standing in the cold night air, on my own, not understanding anything around me. When the van finally arrived, I gripped my phone in my hand with Google Maps open the entire time… and even when I was dropped off, because the street was so dark, I was like, “Where is this building?!”

In the end, it was fine! The Airbnb I stayed at was nice and provided a great breakfast, and Ljubljana was lovely. The experience also taught me the importance of at least learning a few words of any country I want to visit before I land!

I took a bus to Lake Bled, which was BEAUTIFUL (I always tell everyone who goes to Lake Bled to get a portrait by Bobi, the old man who sits under an arch about halfway around the lake. He’s hilarious, and each portrait is like, 3 euros?!).

After my time in Ljubljana, I got a bus to Zagreb. The bus was very, very late and in that time and confusion, I became friends with a retired missionary couple from Peru.

I love Zagreb! It is SO beautiful, and Croatia officially became the 15th country I’d ever visited. It was easy to get around, with an efficient tram system, and I loved walking around the city center. I stayed at a hostel and made friends with a lovely Taiwanese girl who had quit her job to travel the world, against the wishes of her family. Super cool! But protip: European hostels are VERY different from Japanese hostels (at that time, I had only ever stayed at a hostel in Tokyo and have officially been spoiled for life).

While in Zagreb, I took a day trip to Plitviče Lakes National Park. It was absolutely gorgeous. Between Banff, Lake Bled and Plitviče, that summer gave me the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery.

Also I got ice-cream in every city I was in that summer (that’s a lot of ice-cream!).

Then, it was time for the longest bus ride of my life. An 8 hour bus ride from Zagreb to Bosnia and Herzegovina. OH! I got an internet sim for the whole of Europe that worked in every country I visited except for Bosnia. Halfway through the bus ride, the internet stopped and I was like, “OK. This is it. No internet. I can do this.”

Sadly, I was too confident. Again, I didn’t speak the language, and I stupidly didn’t try to ask or clarify… and I got off at the wrong stop. Luckily, I found a hotel that was very kind and booked me a taxi to my Airbnb. (Ya, honestly, I don’t know how I survived this trip in one piece. Kids, again, don’t be like me.)

Mostar is such a unique city, steeped in culture and history, and the effects of the Bosnian War are still very present. I went to the war museum, and it was a jarring contrast to the huge WWII museum in New Orleans I’d visited just a few weeks earlier (I highly recommend the WWII museum – I got to talk to a WWII veteran and it was one of the coolest moments of my life). It was a little building on the side of the road, but the exhibits were raw and powerful, made more so without the healing factor of time (the Bosnian War ended 25 years ago). Visiting Bosnia was definitely the most educational experience of my trip.

After watching people dive into the river from the Stari Most (Old Bridge) and exploring the market in search of halva (and buying five billion super cheap snacks from the supermarket), it was time to go back to Croatia – this time, to Dubrovnik. Oh yeah, also my phone cable stopped working so I went to a tiny electronic store recommended by my Airbnb host. (Yes, so I had no data and then no battery… smh, 23 year old Rox). I always secretly felt cool using my cable, because I got it from Bosnia! (Until the next year when that one stopped working while I was in Greece… but that’s a story for another day.)

Anyway, a three hour bus ride later and I was in Dubrovnik! Now, I had never watched Game of Thrones at this point, and I’m honestly glad because I could enjoy the city without being sucked into the commercialism surrounding the series. Ok but real talk, it was SO FREAKING EXPENSIVE. I was staying in a gorgeous, surprisingly cheap AirBnB within the Old City and had to leave the Old City every day to get sandwiches in order to not spend FIFTEEN euros per meal.

My biggest splurge on this entire trip was an island hopping tour off the coast of Dubrovnik. It was sooo expensive (I wanna say it was $85?! A lot for my poor baby intern salary) but 100% worth it. We went to three different islands (and I made friends with a lovely Australian couple I’m still following on Instagram). The first two islands were pretty nice (and I accidentally stumbled upon the nude beach area and ran away immediately because I was NOT READY FOR THAT LIFE), but the THIRD ISLAND. OMG. If heaven resembles a place on Earth, it’d be Lopud Island.

So I have to be honest here… I used my spy tactics to make the most of this island. Basically, the most beautiful area was a private beach that I think was reserved for people staying at the fancy resort there. Um… I might have pretended I was a hotel guest and just casually dumped my stuff on a beach chair there before immediately going into the water. Nobody said anything, but don’t blame me if you try this and get in trouble. xD

Anyway, basking in the beautiful Adriatic Sea is one of my favorite travel memories of all time. That for sure is my happy place, and I’m torn between wanting to go back when I’m super rich and can actually stay at that resort, and not wanting to ever go back in case it tarnishes my perfect memory of it.

Also adding to the perfection was getting to eat both ice-cream and cake by the ocean (ok technically a sea, but I wanted to use that line).

OMG this post is already so long but ok something cool was that I was in Dubrovnik during the World Cup and was there when Croatia won the semi-final and the energy was ELECTRIC! (I did not venture out into the crowd because I was scared – young, solo female vs a crowd of highly-amped up football fans? No, thanks – but it was amazing to watch from the fringes!). Seriously such a special time and awesome experience.

OK finally I also went to Montenegro where I went on another boat, hung out with 5000 year old rocks (and snuck pršut [Montenegro’s prosciutto] and sheep cheese across the border for my family – it was SO GOOD) and had a day in Finland as a layover (which I think counts because I explored Helsinki for hours and tried moose meatballs).

Whew ok if you are as tired of reading this as I am writing it, I’m sorry. But yes. That’s 27 days condensed into a little over 1,600 words. If you got to this point, thank you for reading! If you have any questions, or want to know logistical stuff (e.g. packing, planning, plane tips, etc.) , let me know if I should write a post about that!

Also, as I mentioned before, my extroverted self wasn’t satisfied socially on the solo portion of this trip (I overplanned and overbooked myself, so I couldn’t make as many friends as I could have if I had slowed down, plus to be honest I was extra wary and nervous, which was probably a good thing, considering my propensity for mishaps) , but my goal had been to explore as many countries as possible, so I succeeded in that. The next summer would become the year of making friends. 🙂

Shoutout to my bro Leo, whose kind words about my last post spurred me to write this one! Obrigada e te amo! ^___^

Getting to talk about my frivolous travels is a massive display of privilege, and it would be remiss not to mention the global situation.

Postscript: Getting to talk about my frivolous travels is a massive display of privilege, and it would be remiss not to mention the global situation. There’s a lot of unrest happening in the world: economic uncertainty due to COVID, police brutality in the US and systemic racism around the world, the humanitarian crisis happening in Yemen, and so much more the media doesn’t cover.

Here are some ways to help. I’ve listed suggestions by country (Singapore, the US and the Philippines are highlighted because those are the countries I’ve lived in, but there are similar organizations in your home country as well!).

If you can afford to donate:

There are just a few of the organizations I’ve supported and believe in. The list is obviously not comprehensive. Let me know if you want more suggestions!

If you cannot afford to donate:

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