Tag Archives: wanderlust

“I Have No Idea What I’m Doing” – Cambodia, Thailand, and Homeward Bound

Cambodia, oh where do I begin? How, how did 6 days go by so fast? The very first thing I did when I got off the plane was look up. Stars. Finally! I couldn’t stop smiling. I hopped in for my first tuk tuk experience and I could not stop giggling as he drove. For those of you who don’t know what a tuk tuk is, it’s a scooter with like a small carriage hooked to the back. It’s probably my favourite mode of transportation now. If I didn’t live in a country with snow half the year, I’d make one.

I had booked all 6 nights at a new hostel called Tipsy Turtle. As I got there the one owner said, so where are you from? I said, Canada… Saskatchewan. He said the other owner was from Red Deer, Alberta. In fact, we had mutual friends. What a small world. From there on, the Canadians just kept flocking in.

The hostel had their grand opening while I was there and it was like a mish mash of some of the coolest, most laid back travellers I’ve ever met. I got to speak Japanese with a few people, tried out my Italian with one guy as well, and shared Canadian prairie jokes with a group of girls from Alberta. 

I splurged and got the 3 day pass to the Angkor temples. Another bucket list item. On the first day, I shared a tuk tuk with a girl from India and we went all day around the main temples. To be completely honest, Angkor Wat itself was a bit disappointing. The pictures are better than the real thing, however, the less popular temples were absolutely amazing! 

As we watched the sun set that night over the temples, a group of high school kids approached me for a picture. I immediately could tell they were from Japan and I started speaking in Japanese. Their faces showed a cross between shock and amazement. I had my Japanese baseball hat with me and so I put it on and they couldn’t stop giggling and taking pictures. One brave boy who could speak some English talked to me for a while, telling me he wanted to study abroad. In front of his friends (who were shyly watching from a safe distance) he asked for a hug, I said sure. As he hugged me his friends went craaaaazy! Laughing and shouting. So I turned to them in my best Japanese and mockingly said “yabai” which means like ‘risky’ or ‘exciting’. This made them lose it again and the teacher was even cracking up and thanking me for talking with them. It was just as funny for me as it was for them. 

Unfortunately on our way home that night, we got mugged outside our hostel. It was scary and stressful, but neither of us were hurt. A guy on a motorbike cut the purse strap as he drove by and stole everything from my friend, but nothing from me. We screamed and yelled and some locals came running to help, but by that time it was too late and he was long gone. As wonderful as places are, you can never forget how carful you really have to be with your belongings. Travelling alone, it’s always something to be aware of, but I’ve never actually had this situation happen before. I guess there has to be a first for everything. I’m just glad everyone came out unharmed. 

I took a bicycle for my second day at the temples, which I definitely recommend to anyone if you feel you can physically do it, and go to the less known temples for the best photo opps. I even had a street fight with a monkey… that sounds way more badass than I mean it to be. Basically a monkey wouldn’t get off the road (also a wild pig…) and me, being stubborn, wouldn’t give in. So we had a stare down as I got dangerously close to running him over with my bicycle, but he finally gave in a I felt victorious as I peddled on. 

My third Temple day I woke up at 4:30 with 2 Canadian guys and a guy from Hong Kong and we went out to catch the sunrise in a tuk tuk. It was beautiful, but by noon we were exhausted and headed back to the hostel.

Before I went to Cambodia, I read a blog about the different charitable organizations and eating sustainable products. Cambodia is definitely still recovering from their devastating history, but there are so many organizations that have sprung up to help give back to the community. I made it my mission to try and hit as many of these as possible. I mean, a girls gotta eat, may as well give back to the community while doing it. 

Over 5 days, I managed to make it to New Leaf Eatery, Sister Srey, Blue Pumpkin, and Genevives. They were amazing! They each had a different charity to support or reason to give back, and I was happy to support them all and see local people coming together to make a difference for their future. I also hit the fair trade market, giving fair market opportunities to disabled people in the community. I met one of the artists who was in a wheelchair and he showed me his work. He was so proud of what he had done, and I found his paintings so unique I bought some for myself. 

I really wanted to see New Hope Restaurant, but after biking around for an hour through a very rough area, I had to give up. Although the experience was not wasted. I got to have a look at how people outside the city centre actually live. It was the most poverty I’ve ever seen, but the smiles and waves as I rode through, made my heart so happy. Small children running beside me on my bike, yelling “hello!” While laughing and smiling. I think it’s very possible I’m one of the first white people they’ve ever seen, from the looks on their faces, they had no idea why I was there, but they were happy to see me. 

Things I learned from Cambodia:

  •  you can make use out of everything
  •  $1 can go a long way
  •  “Lady” is the most well known English word
  •  A smile is a beautiful thing and the resilience I saw here has made me be more grateful for what I have in my life.
  •  6 days is so short

So I made my way to Thailand. Guys, I am not joking when I say I had no idea what I was doing. Maybe I gave off the impression (to my parents.. cough cough) that I was totally okay, ya no problem, I’m a travel guru, I know what I’m doing. Well, in reality, I had absolutely zero plans. So I got on a bus from the airport to Au Nang. On the bus I met a guy from France and that started it all. I met a ton of people all sort of on the same travel agenda. We met up, separated, and met up again several times during my week there and I’m grateful for their part in my travels, though short, it was sweet. 

I made it to Railay Beach with a Scottish guy who coincidentally had also just come from a year working holiday in Japan. It was super cloudy and we decided it was a good day to try and rock climb. Those of you who know me from home, know I have a bit of a shoulder problem at the moment and don’t have the ability to pull or lift with my right arm. So, climbing was interesting to begin with. 

We tried climbing to find the “blue lagoon”. It was crazy muddy. The red mud that just sticks to you and slides everywhere. Using a combo of ropes and tree roots to climb, we made it up in about 20 minutes, but then this lagoon was nowhere in sight. We were then told no, no now you’ve got another climb down to the lagoon. As we started climbing down an even steeper cliff, a wild monkey started jumping from tree to tree overhead. Sounds exciting, but those little guys are demons. So we tried to avoid drawing any attention to ourselves. 

As we got to the bottom of this one we looked down and (straight down with just a rope) was the lagoon. Getting down wouldn’t be the problem, but with my arm getting back up was a bit iffy. At that point it started pouring rain and the mud started running everywhere so we decided to play it safe and head back before things got unbearable. It took probably 45 minutes of slipping, sliding, and clinging onto any sturdy tree roots you could get your hands onto, before we got to safe ground again, but we were so happy we did it. Huge highlight of my Thailand trip.

I then headed to the famous Phi Phi Islands. I’m not really a beach person or a big party person so not sure why I thought this would be a good idea, but yolo I guess. First night on the island we realized how much of a party place this was. I’m telling you, lights flashing, music blaring, fire dancers, and booze as far as the eyes could see. So after a day out on the beach, we decided to give this party a try. It was crazy. From a limbo competition (which I got 3rd place in thank you), to a light up giant jump rope, to a game of musical chairs that I apparently missed, all along the beach. I pretty much have nothing else to say about that night other than a fanny pack is a great investment. 

The next day I was super sick (obviously thinking I was hungover) but it just persisted all day. Turned out to be sunstroke, and I had a really rough two days spent between my bed and the bathroom ( which had no toilet paper and a wild rooster that would run through randomly screaming all day and night). I had to get out of the sun and off the island, so I got the next ferry to Krabi town. 

As soon as I got there, I noticed everyone lining the streets wearing black. I assumed it was something to do with he Kings passing, so I sat on a nearby bench to watch. A police officer came over and told me to kneel down as the Royal Family passed. I weaselled my way in to sit with a Thai family and they showed me what to do with my hands as the new King passed. In a wave like fashion, the crowd of people waved flags and yelled something in Thai (I later found out to be “long live the king”) as he drove by. It was a really interesting historical event to be part of. 

Once I got settled in Krabi the sickness got worse, and I basically spent the rest of my trip like this. I managed to pull myself together for two outings in Krabi. The first, I made the hike up the 1200 and some stairs at Tiger Cave Temple to watch the sun set. It was totally worth it. The giant golden Buddha paired with the panoramic view as the sun lowered over the sea and the hills was the best sunset I’ve seen on my trip (apart from Mt. Fuji). I managed to get in with a really cool group of people to hike down with, and stay safe with. Monkeys are crazy everywhere here and they immediately attacked my bag and found my crackers I had with me. I let them have them. There ain’t no way I’m fitting a monkey for a pack of 50 cent wafers. 

My second outing was on my last day. My roommate and I got our butts out of the city and went on a kayaking tour through the mangrove trees and limestone caves. It was absolutely fantastic. We could see monkeys, crabs, fish, mud gliders, and lizards in their natural homes. Our guide was amazing and had learned a combination of words in many different languages. He even spoke to me in Japanese for a bit, and by the end of the trip, he was calling me teacher, and told me I can come back for free kayaking anytime if I teach him more English. He was a gem. 

Things I learned in Thailand:

  • It’s hot. 
  • I suck at bartering 
  • There are tiny invisible things in the ocean (jellyfish) that sting you and I can’t deal with it (damn the jellyfish… damn alllll the jellyfish)
  • Most bathrooms don’t have toilet paper
  • You will forget what it’s like to have a solid bowl movement…

Finally, it came. The day to leave. So after 8 countries, 17 flights, 5 jobs, and 422 days, I prepared to set foot on home soil again. Or should I say home snow. I’m incredibly grateful, amazed, overwhelmed, and touched by all the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the things I got to try. The pictures I have don’t do justice to what my eyes have really seen. My feet have walked through 6 seasons, touched down on 12 countries, and wore through an uncountable amount of shoes. I have learned languages, cultures, and life lessons along the way. I have taken trains, planes, cars, motorbikes, busses, ferries, long boats, kayaks, tuk tuks, taxis, hiked, and rode in the back of a truck. 

Am I excited to come home? Of course! Will i miss this life? Absolutely, but I won’t be settling for good quite yet. Don’t bother asking me what I’m doing next, because I honestly have no clue what even tomorrow holds. All I’m focused on is hugging my parents, kissing my grandma, laughing with my sister, gossiping with my friends, and and doing some much needed laundry. 

Please be patient with me as I come home. After 47 hours of travel across so many time zones, I’ll have some trouble adjusting to life back in Saskatchewan. Return culture shock is a big thing, and I’m trying to prepare myself for it. I’ll be really emotional for a while until I can get myself on my Canadian feet again and I’ll need all the help I can get. I want to see each and every one of you, but please be patient with me. Your support and encouragement over these past months have meant the world to me and have kept me following my dreams. I can’t begin to say thank you enough.

For the last time …
Your Armstrong Abroad

#GoDo – Meet Jack

One night over the Christmas holidays, while all of my friends were celebrating with their families or back home for the break, I ended up at a pub by myself in some attempt to get myself out of the house. That night changed the remainder of my time in Italy. I met so many amazing people that night who, in such a short time, became a really great group of friends to me. That night I met Jack. If I had to describe Jack in two words it would be ‘bright eyed’. Jack is the most caring, open, honest, eager, and genuine young chap I have met in a long time, possibly ever. He once told me that I had inspired him more in the 6 days we knew each other, than anyone before. That’s something I’ll never forget. He was my companion for a week and I was lucky enough to be able to ring in the new year with my new friend. Ladies, he’s single, a British soldier, AND he’s coming to Canada (wink, wink). It is my please as my first #GoDo, to introduce you to Jack.

  
Introduce yourself: Hi! I’m Jack! I come from a small village in Yorkshire, England.”

Where have you all been in the world? “I’ve been to many amazing places in the world, mostly due to my work as a soldier: Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Kenya, Cyprus, Greece, Vatican city (yup technically it’s a country), Belgium, Holland, Turkey, and The US”

Why do you travel? “I want to travel Because… To me, life is all about the experiences that you have, the variety of the things that you do, and the people that you meet. 

There’s so much world out there to find! And so little life in which to do it, I just feel that travelling opens your heart, and your mind and makes you a better, more fulfilled, more interesting person.”

What’s your craziest experience while travelling that you’d be willing to share? “Craziest experience…. Mmmm. I guess work ones don’t count (driving a tank on the public roads is pretty crazy) but travel wise… Meeting a Californian girl in a Rome nightclub, and realizing that we were EXACTLY the same age, to within like, a few minutes of each other… At the time that felt pretty crazy.”

What advice or tip could you give to people wanting to travel? “My tip? Hmm.. my experience is somewhat limited so far, but it has to be this: Talk to everyone! You meet so many interesting people who, more than likely, are just like you; looking to expand their horizons. You see a girl at the bar on her own.. Just go and talk to her. You’re standing in the que for a historic building, ask the people around you where they are from. I’ve made so many random friends by just not being afraid to say ‘hi’ and break that first later of social ice that most people are afraid of stepping onto.”

“I hope my travels take me, well, everywhere! I don’t really have an aim, I like it to be unplanned and just let things happen. As long as you have the right attitude and approach, I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it”

#GoDo1

My European Adventure

Here is my final video. A compilation of all the wonderful memories I have that were caught on video. Its a little long, and I apologize, but so was my journey. This is for all of my family and friends that I have not yet had the time to talk to and tell you about my travels, and to all of my friends I left behind. Without those I met along the way, this trip would have been filled with feelings of homesickness, but you all became my family, and a family I will never forget. Ciao, cheers, salute, enjoy ❤

The Extension Begins, Cause I Gotta Catch Em All

When I graduated high school, I thought it was all down hill for me, that the best days of my life were over. Boy, was I wrong. Since my graduation day in 2010, I’ve traveled 10 countries and counting. I’ve lived in a town of 3,500 and a city of 2.4 million. I went from cleaning toilets as a summer job to pay for my first Euro trip, to working on the 24th floor in the business hub of one of the biggest cities in the world. I’ve lived in one of the coldest, driest regions of the world, and in one of the hottest, most humid. I’ve seen the oceans of Spain, the mountains of Montenegro, the volcanoes of Italy, sunsets in Greece, waterfalls in Croatia, cherry blossoms in Japan, and the Aurora in Canada. I’ve seen natural and man-made wonders across the globe that even my wildest imagination could not have created. I’ve studied two languages and countless cultures. I’ve worked and volunteered in 4 countries, enjoyed sports on 3 continents, and tasted Heineken in 7 countries. While I’ve loved and learned so much from being away, I’ve had to miss out on some really important things at home. I’ve missed some of my best friends getting married and having kids, I’ve missed family birthdays and Christmas, and I’ve missed annual events with the people I love the most. Although I feel terrible not being there for them and it breaks my heart sometimes to see pictures of everyone together without me, I don’t regret the choices I’ve made that have gotten me here. The only thing I can do is promise that I will come come eventually and that I will be back in those pictures next time. Don’t stop sending me pictures, videos, and updates from home, as it reminds me everyday what I have to look forward to about going home. I miss you all and appreciate your love and understanding in what I have chosen to do with my life so far. Now, back to the present, It’s been months since I wrote a proper blog. Not because I didn’t do anything, I’ve actually been running like mad. Rather, I didn’t have the ambition or inspiration to write. Writing is like travelling for me, I’m passionate about both of them, but sometimes you just need a break to regain some motivation. My last blog, for example, was just words on a page for me. It was lacking the Jody quality I try and bring to all my writings. So I decided to wait until I had something to say again. So, hello friends, I’m back!

  

It is officially につやすみ (natsuyasumi – summer vacation) and I couldn’t be happier. For those of you who think my life is like just one big vacation, you can all go stick your heads in the freezer until you get a brain freeze because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I work my little English butt off. I work more here than I did when I had a full time government job at home. So ya, I deserve this break, and I deserve the countless bees, ice cream treats, and guilt free matcha frappuccini that come with it. So, suck on that. ( and ya I know how to correctly pluralize frappuccino)  In the last few months I’ve embraced the “what the hell am I doing here” feeling, and started to work on answering that question. I traded in my Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night Netflix binges for time with real people. That’s right, I have friends now. A mix of coworkers and randoms, Japanese and Gaijins like me. I’ve joined an acroyoga group, started taking Japanese language classes, and started coaching a university cheerleading team. I’ve started saying “yes” to things I previously said no to. 

  • “Want to try grilled meet at a traditional やきにく restaurant? (Yakiniku – grilled meat) “yes, I do.” 
  • “Can I flip you upside down using only my feet?” “Yes you may.” (Context for this one might help. In acro yoga I actually go in the air… That’s a first for me)
  • “Want to jump off this waterfall into a river of nibbling fish?” “Sounds exhilarating, sure!”
  • “Want to go for さしみ (sashimi- raw fish)?” ” no….” The answer for this is, and will always be, no, because some things never change.

By saying yes more often, I ended up spending Canada Day in a Canadian pub in the middle of Osaka, where the staff were serving grilled cheese and poutine, while wearing Tim Hortons tshirts and passing out Canada flag tattoos. I happily wore my Canadian winter mittens in the 30 degree heat that day as I passed out maple cookies and candy to the students and my coworkers. Most Japanese people had never heard of Canada Day, so I got to shamelessly brag about all the wonderful things that come from my great country (surprise, it’s more than just Avril and Justin)  A great friend took me to たなばた (tanabata), which is where they write their wishes on streamers and hang them on the bamboo trees. It was like a Disney Fairytale land. I also went to Gion-Matsuri, which is one of the biggest festivals in Japan with massive floats, street food for blocks, and literally millions of people. ​​The next week I watched 40,000 はなび (hanabi – fireworks). There was 3 million people in attendance. That’s like if everyone from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, P.E.I., Newfoundland, and New Brunswick all got together for a night… Just to give you some perspective. 


Finally, after two and a half years, I met up with a Japanese girl that I taught when she was an international student at my university in Canada. It was so nice for the roles to be reversed. In Canada I took her to a hockey game, ate thanksgiving dinner together, and taught her about Canada and about English culture. This time she was able to teach me things about her country. So nice to see you Anna! 

After six months of being here, I’ve gone through you’re typical stages: overwhelmed, excited, hopeless, motivated, homesick, angry, and finally content. There are still some things that stump me on a regular basis though:

  • Why do you not use soap after using the bathroom….?
  • Why is Avril Lavigne so popular here?? And why do some people think the Spice Girls is a new band?
  • How is it possible that nobody knows the word ‘gymnastics’?
  • To the old guy casually walking around with a live canary on his head… Why?
  • It seems mathematically impossible, but every Japanese girl knows how to walk perfectly in 6″ heels…

I always get people to guess my age, and the average guess is 27. Some people even ask how many kids I have…. Like, people, I’m 23 here. I’m the same age as some of you! The university keeps me laughing and has introduced me to great coworkers and hilarious students. Thanks to them, I am now fluent in nerd…. I mean, fluent in Japanese Pokemon. To add to the “ridiculous things my students have said”, (and I’m going to leave these out of context to make them even more hilarious) here’s a list, because I love lists:

  •  “When you go camping in Canada do you just tap the trees and drink the maple syrup for food?”
  •  “Do you have summer where you’re from?”
  • “So there’s no octopuses where you live?” “I live in the middle of Canada” “ya, but there’s no octopuses?” “There’s no ocean” “yea, but are there octopuses?”
  • “You’ve been in Japan for six months and you can’t speak Japanese? Really?” … Well, you’ve been studying for 9 years and you can’t speak English yet….
  • “Does everyone in Canada have a special wallet for business cards?” “No.” “WHAT?!”
  • ” I’ve been listening to a new English group, theyre called the Spice Girls, have you heard of them?”
  • “Everyone in Jakarta hates you” …. “What?”
  •  “I know how to swear in English, but can you teach me how to say subtle dirty things?” ….. “No, absolutely not!”
  • “I had to work late today.” “Oh, that’s too bad, why?” “My boss went into rehab again.” …
  • “What kind of work do people in your town do?” “It’s mostly agriculture.” “Ohhh, so how many rice fields does your dad have?” ……

My students always make me laugh, but on the other hand, I’m sure I make them laugh too. Like: that crazy white girl… What will she say next. I can’t count how many times I’ve cried from laughing in a lesson.

I’m finally starting to climatize. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, considering I’ll return to Canada in the middle of winter. Either way, I’ve been able to go a whole day without taking all my clothes off. It sounds crazy, but when it’s 35 feels like 42 with a 90% humidex, sometimes it’s the only way to stay cool. I’m basically personally employing the ice cream and iced coffee industries at this point. I’ve also accepted the fact that deodorant has no effect on people in August. We will all continue wearing it and reapplying it, but the results will always be unsatisfying. I generally don’t eat lunch because it’s so hot the only thing my body wants is water, yogurina (water with yogurt in it, I’m not even kidding you), or うめしゅ (plum wine – it’s like alcoholic juice). I’m on holidays, it’s okay. 

So on my 12 days off, I’ve visited the Byodoin Temple (it’s the temple that is on the 10 ¥ coin if you’ve ever seen it), enjoyed playing tourist in Kyoto, and took a day trip to 赤目48滝 (akame 48 taki – Red Eye 48 Waterfalls). I rode passenger on the highway in a Porsche… Pretty much an awesome start to any day. I always say, having friends who can drive is the best way to see things. We even jumped off the waterfall into the water below (while reading this, my mom is going to be imagining me jumping off something like Niagara Falls… Relax mom) it was so refreshing and natural. The only thing being, it was full of fish. Little ones, but unfortunately they were the nibbly ones. Once they started biting my legs I was out of there so fast… All in all it was one of the best things I’ve done so far. 


I just got back from 4 days in the Hawaii of Japan: Okinawa island. Guys, this is the weirdest place. It took me 3 days to even begin to wrap my head around what kind of atmosphere it was. I went on my own and stayed in a hostel in an area “owned” by the Yazuka (Japanese Mafia basically) in the middle of the soap lands (look it up yourself, I’m definitely not explaining that here). It was definitely one of the rougher areas I’ve seen of Japan, which may have been why it was the cheapest hostel on the island. However, it was 42 steps from the beach and all of the lifeguards were living there so it had a really cool vibe. As opposed to mainland Japan, people in Okinawa didn’t seem to mind tanning, spending time in the sun, and wearing a bathing suit. When I got off my plane I headed straight for the beach, as it was 33 felt like 49! 

I must have been a strange sight as I pulled off my dress to reveal the whitest skin most of them have probably ever seen. Swimming in the ocean was like taking a wonderfully cooling bath, and I made it my mission to hit the beach every day. I even got to teach a very informal English/swimming lesson to two guys who realized I was the only person who could actually swim at the beach and asked for my help. During the days I found myself at a summer festival, scored VIP tickets to watch a drum show front row, toured the World Heritage Site, and did some shopping. As Okinawa plays host to a huge American Army base, it has a lot of Western influence, while still holding strong to Japanese and Chinese history. I mean, I found Roxy flip flops in my size. Hallelujah, take me money, just take it! 
Over the past months of being here, I’ve been communicating with a Canadian guy who has been living in Japan. He is a friend of a friend of a friend type deal from back home, but we have never actually met face to face. He helped me with housing, setting up my phone, and making travel plans. It just so happened that he moved to Okinawa a few days prior and so we finally got to meet! Him and his wonderful girlfriend took me for dinner, drove me around the island, and took me to see some very unique limestone caves.

During those 4 jam packed and delightful days, I had a few reoccurring thoughts:

  • It’s 49 degrees. Why are you wearing pants, socks, shoes, and a sweater?
  • It feels like I’ve been wearing a wet bathing suit for 4 days straight
  • How many tacos could I eat today?
  • *while choosing outfit. Which shirt will show the least back sweat?
  • SPF 50 and water resistant? LIES
  • How is it possible you live on an island but you can’t swim?
  • $139 for a mango…. Is it filled with the answers to all life’s questions, or?

I really hope time lets me get back to that island before I leave from Japan, as I felt strangely comfortable there. It was like Japan, with a dot of Chinese influence, a dash of Spanish lifestyle, and a dab of Western culture, all rolled into one beautiful paradisio! I have a few more days of unplanned vacation before its back to work. The great thing about going back to work is I will only be 3/4 time instead of full time! Leaving me with some extra time in my last few months to continue my travels in order to make the most of my extension. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next.


Where to next? My. Fuji, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Cambodia, and Thailand….. Here’s to a full passport and camera, and an even fuller heart. 125 days till my feet hit Canadian soil, I mean snow, again.

Until next time,

Your Armstrong Abroad

#GoDo – Who do you want to be?

When I graduated high school I honestly had a dream of never leaving Saskatchewan (that’s a Province in Canada by the way for all my foreign friends). I always wanted to learn about other cultures and languages, but I wanted to do it in the safety and comfort of my own country. When I moved away to go to university I met a very dear friend who changed everything for me. On a wintery afternoon, as we were having the “what am I doing with my life” conversation, she said, lets go to Europe together. I said yes. I think we were both secretly waiting for the other to backdown because it was so random and spur of the moment, but neither of us did and before we could tell our parents, we had purchased our plane tickets. I’ve never looked back.

So now I’ve had opportunities that 6 years ago I would have never imagined were possible. But, I’m tired of just travelling, seeing things, meeting people, and not giving back at all. I believe travelling is one of the best things you can do to better yourself and reach a greater understanding of the world and why it is the way it is. So I’ve been sharing my story here for you all to read, but what about everyone else… I want to inspire people to get up and go. Say yes to travelling, yes to climbing that ridiculously huge volcano, yes to getting on that train with the group of French guys you only met yesterday, yes to sleeping in a room with 20 people to save a few dollars, yes to showing up in a country you know nothing about, yes to making uncountable mistakes along the way. So I came up with #GoDo. 

As I meet people from around the world, I’m going to interview them and post it here. I’m not special or unique in the fact that wandering the world is the life I am choosing. There are so many people who feel the same as me and I want to be able to share their stories.

Where are you from? Why do you travel? Introduce yourself to the world.

So, I’ll go first.
 

 
My name is Jody Armstrong, I’m 23 and I am from Saskatchewan, Canada. I started travelling when I was 16, but didn’t become addicted until I was 19. I’ve been to France, Spain, U.S., Mexico, Greece, Germany(barely), Italy and soon I’ll be heading to Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Japan, and Thailand. I travel because I want to understand the world. My dream is to work with immigrants and refugees in Canada and to best assist them I need to have seen more than my own country. I also travel to better myself. Travelling has taught me to enjoy the little things, to let go of the little things, to rely only on myself, to love myself, and to allow myself to be free. While travelling I’ve experienced the most fear, anxiety, loneliness, and anger towards the world that I’ve ever felt, however it’s also made me feel the highest levels of joy, pleasure, and freedom that I’ve ever experienced. One of my craziest experiences: A) Sleeping alone in an airport in Madrid to, spur of the moment, catch the next plane to an island I had never heard of to meet up with two crazy Canadians I had met the day before to learn how to surf, which I successfully did. B) when I somehow skipped going through customs when re-entering to Canada from Greece after 4 months abroad and convincing airport security that my check bag was actually carry-on approved… Doesn’t sound too crazy, but ask me for the full version and you’ll realize it was the most ridiculous thing ever. Craziest person I’ve met: I met a girl from Korea who was travelling on her own, with about $400, she had had her phone and all communication devices stolen and was completely unable to contact home, but she was still travelling. And not to the typical locations. When I met her she was on her way to Egypt, Morocco, and some African countries. ALONE! With NO communication and basically no money…. And she was the friendliest, happiest, bubbliest person. She even invited me to Korea. 

So, #GoDo. Buy your tickets, climb that mountain you have a picture of on your bedroom wall, stop procrastinating. What do you want to tell your grandkids when they ask you about your life? Do you want to tell them you had a good job, made lots of money, and lived a secure content life? Or, do you want to be able to tell them about the one time you went swimming in the ocean in your underwear at 4am, got a tattoo with someone you just met, sang spice girls karaoke in a basement club with no one else who spoke English, and convinced your mother to illegally train hop with you?

The decision is yours. #GoDo

From Sunbathing to Snow, I’m Coming Home

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And the trip home begins. This will most likely be my last blog post for everyone out there to read, as when I get back I will expect face to face conversations instead of communication via The internet. (Kids these days) I have noticed this trip that being overtired makes me extremely emotional. So be prepared for tons of tears upon arrival. I write this just before heading to the port to begin my 36 hours of travel: 6 hour ferry, 14 hours on planes, and about 5 hours in a vehicle, not to mention passing through 9 time zones….

Speaking of tears, I don’t know if it’s the magnificent views of Santorini, or if I’m just getting emotional about this being the end, but man I’ve been a baby for the last two days. Probably a combination of them both because Santorini is just so majestic! I love it. Unfortunately I made the mistake of staying on the side of the island that is a beach…. But it’s still low season and there’s no one here and it’s windier than Lethbridge in summer. That being said, I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 yesterday to watch the sun rise over the ocean. It was very beautiful and I don’t regret losing some sleep over it, however it was so cold I had to wear layers… And socks and sandals (not okay). After I got ready, I took the bus to Fira, the main town on the island. When you are at the middle point on the island you can see water on all sides and it is quite the feeling when you realize just how small the island is. I could probably run from one side to the other. Fira changed my disappointment into amazement. The town is perfect. White houses all up the coast, it was a combination on Mykonos and Cinque Terre. With little shops everywhere, and the fact I had saved all my ‘tourist shopping’ until now, I went to it. I had a great lunch of stuffed eggplant, and a terrible coffee which tasted like it had sand in it… They call this Greek coffee apparently. After I found out the museum I wanted to check out was closed, I took the bus to Ia (Oia). This is the town famous for the white houses (it just auto corrected that to White House…. No) with blue roofs. Also, for all my fellow Travelling Pants fans out there, this is the town they used in the first and second Travelling Pants movies. In my desire to make my life the same as the movie, I went in search of the place they jumped off the cliff into the water. Sadly, I didn’t find it, but I did do my own rock climbing and got to a place it was obvious few had been (thing I don’t tell my mother). It was secluded and right on the tip of the coast. Beautiful. Upon realization that I think I have a fear of donkeys, I did not ride the donkey up the hill again and check that off my bucket list, but rather walked…. I lived in Italy which has the worst stairs ever, and even I thought these stairs were death. I walked and walked until sunset, which is suppose to be the best thing to do in Ia (Oia). (If you haven’t realized yet, I am obsessed with sunsets and sun rises, but due to my inability to wake up that early most days, I usually stick to the sunsets). I felt like a princess all day, as I still had money left over (hooray!) so I was able to treat myself to some nice food on my last full day. 20140430-224404.jpg

The Greek Islands are stunning at worst, and if I am ever rich one day, I am going to rent an apartment in Ia that overlooks the ocean and the sunset, and has an infinity pool, because that’d be insane. Something I do wonder though, is if Greek people ever feel like they just want to get crazy and paint their house, I dunno… Grey? Ah! Crazy. Before catching my bus to the port I got to enjoy some sun on the beach where they brought me the best lunch of Greek salad and a dinner of homemade tzatziki and stuffed eggplant. The hostel even let me hang out here and use all their services for free until I leave at midnight. People here are wonderful.

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You know, I’ve travelled alone for four months now, but even when I was the only person in a room, I wasn’t really alone. Guess who was with me, always, just hanging out? Irene! And she came to Greece with me too! What a party animal that gal is, I tell ya. Grandma I can’t wait to see you and to show you all the places you have been with me. You have been a conversation starter and an inspiration. Oh yeah, you’re also now famously featured on Studentsville Italia!

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So, weird things happen when you travel. You sometimes get a little crazy. You hop on trains to Naples for lunch, you get tattoos (surprise dad), you use a fake identity majority of the time, you sleep in airports to save money, you stay out way too late and book travel tickets for way too early, you go swimming in the ocean at 4am, you spontaneously purchase plane tickets to places you’ve never heard of, you walk without a map and purposely get lost (sometime to see the best things, sometimes to fear your life and turn around), you trust people you’ve only just met, and (craziest thing of all) you learn to live without a cell phone. Oh my God, I know. However, just when you start to think you’ve done it all, you meet some crazy Germans who slept on beaches for two weeks and hiked a mountain to sleep above the clouds for the most amazing sunrise of all time, or some Swiss guy who works all summer and travels all winter living in a tent along a river and having the best stories ever, or a young Aussie travelling the world who has surfed with Jack Johnson, accidentally ran into Ricky Martin at the beach, and who stayed in a 100 bed hostel room (best story ever, someone ask me to tell them this when I get back). Have I learnt lessons from anything I have done? Heck yes. Would I take back anything I’ve done? Heck no. If I were to change anything about this trip, it would be that I would have lived a little more at the beginning. I guess that is part of the process though. Quote of the trip: you’ll never look back and reminisce about the nights you went to bed early.

If I said I made all these decisions on my own, I would be lying. So I would like to take this entry to thank a few people for supporting me before, during, and hopefully after my travels. Without a little voice inside my head (named Deanna) telling me to “put the map down and just go”, I would probably be one of those tourists you see in the subways with their tiny backpacks strapped on their chests wearing matching t-shirts and ridiculously bright coloured hats. I know she’s at home living vicariously through me, but not for long, as I know her travelling days are coming soon, whether she knows it yet or not. My Grandma and Marilyn pushed me to do this too, whether they know it or not, they are responsible for most of my actions… Okay some of my actions. My grandma always wants me to experience places that she will never have the chance to see, and I have made it my personal mission to take her with me to as many places as I can (see above). Marilyn once hosted me at her house for a weekend and over a nice glass of tea, or coffee.. No probably wine actually, she told me stories of her travels and of all the people she has met from all over the world and the treasures she had collected. It was obvious to me how traveling had turned her into the wonderful person she is and just how many things she had learned from people outside of the country. Oh, she was also the one who told me it was possible to work abroad, and I literally went home and started searching for options. Thanks also to my roommates Kelsey, Laura, and Jenna, for convincing me to apply to the Florence internship. Whether you remember it that way or not, I recall your exact words while I was sitting on the couch in a state of depression after my first internship placement fell through. “Florence?! Jody, apply. It’s a sign”. Thanks girls, you kept telling me everything happens for a reason, even if I couldn’t see it at the time, and boy were you right. Finally, my boyfriend. Living in the most romantic country ever, and travelling to some of the most “lovey dovey” locations in the world was not easy when you’re all on your own and know that the one person you’d want to share them with is at home, in a snow storm, studying for like 700 exams. That being said, I’m sure it sucked for him too because all I did was talk about how much I loved it, how much fun I was having, and how I wasn’t ready to come home. He’s the most supportive person I’ve ever had in my life and I’m glad he stuck around, and is even willing to come get me at the airport at midnight. What a keeper.

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The last three people responsible for everything I have done are the most important. My family. Without the support of my parents, I wouldn’t have been able to leave the house, let alone leave the country to live thousands of miles away by myself. I can’t say thank you enough, nor will I ever be able to repay you for the amount of money, love, and trust you have given me. Every parent wants to give their child the world, but you have literally already done that for me. Congrats! You’ve won best parents of the year award, your job is done. Thank you to my dad for passing down most of your “Armstrong” traits on me and making me the leader that I have come to be. As no one would survive this trip if they didn’t have that instinct in them. Oh, and thanks for monitoring my bank account… That was a pretty important role too. Thank you to my mom and sister for joining me for the most wonderful two weeks I have ever shared with them. The memories we have created in those few days will last forever and will be some that no one else will ever understand. Even one year ago I would never have imagined climbing rocks in Cinque Terre, illegally riding trains (not as badass as it sounds), drinking sangria in Barcelona, or even FLYING with you two. I loved every minute of it. Even the time I accidentally purchased an extra hotel room…. Funny now, not funny then. Thanks for not leaving me alone for a month, that meant more to me than you’ll ever know.

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I’ve met some outstanding people from all corners of this world (why is that a phrase? Everyone knows the world is round, come one, it’s 2014 not 1820). I hope to keep some contact with everyone and hope that some day I will be able to visit all of your wonderful countries (hint hint, can I stay with you?) you are all welcome in Canada any time you want. Call me up and I’ll give you a place to stay, that is if you’re willing to come to the most uneventful part of the country. You could tell your friends you visited Regina… Eh, eh, eh? “It never gets old” yes, I am from Regina, I get it. Shout of to Global Experiences crew. Reunion at my place? We can, like, go snow shoeing or beaver trapping or something. And Lauren, Boas, and Sebastian… If we are working our way from North to South, you know Canada comes after Iceland.. 2016. And hey, by that time, Sebastian will even be legal. Speaking of which, we might have to do Maryland last…..

If anyone is looking to get me a welcome home gift, or if you have anything that you’d be willing to give me… I’ve started a list of things I am in need of: new feet, a hair cut, a massage, a straightener (mine blew up…), a personal trainer or someone who can kick my butt back into shape for summer, heck while I’m asking for things I also need a job and a home.

See you all so soon! (See some of you as we walk across the stage to receive our diplomas!!!)

Thinking of home,
Your Italian-Canadian Armstrong

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Do You Speak The Greek?

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Were down to single digits in the countdown to Canada ladies and gentlemen! In fact, I can count the sleeps on one hand. I am so adjusted to everything European, it is going to be so difficult to adjust to home again. Please be patient with me upon my arrival. I will most likely wake at a normal time, but when it comes to lunch, I will probably not eat it until 2 o’clock. Lunch will possibly be followed by a half hour siesta (think I should put that on my resume?), and I won’t start preparing dinner until at least 7 or 7:30. I am going to want some form of bread every day and probably won’t have butter in my fridge (sorry Wendy). Some words in my English vocabulary have been permanently replaced by words in other languages, particularly Italian (duh). I’m not attempting to be one of those kids who go away for a few weeks and return thinking they have the world in their hands now, it’s just become habit because frankly, some words just sound so much better in a different language. If you are with me when I start using these strange words, feel free to ask for clarification. Everyone could use a few Italian words in their vocabulary. In fact, if you learn a few random words in Italian, you can really impress people, and when someone asks you, “say something beautiful to me in Italian” (because you’ve obviously told them your cool friend Jody went to Italy and taught you some language) you can reply confidently, “per che il cattivo cavolo salta arcobaleni” ….. Literal translation: “because the bad cabbage jumps over rainbows”. Seems legit, they’ll never know…

Since I wrote last time, oh what an interesting week I have had. After getting to Madrid I checked into my hostel, which was basically set up like a hospital with five cots right next to each other, no where to lock up any of your belongings, and a really weird “vibe”. To keep unpleasant details to a minimum, I will sum up my experience there by saying that I slept with my important items in my underwear, avoided all contact with the guy in the next bed for fear of being the product of “Taken 3” without Liam Neeson to save me, and didn’t shower for three days to avoid contracting any possible diseases I didn’t already have from the bed itself. Hostel aside, I was actually able to meet up with two girls who I met through work in Italy and went boating, toured some museum (shows my enthusiasm there), and attended a Flamenco dance. That part, that part was nice. I was so glad to see them once more and very happy to be a part of their holidays as well.

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After the two girls left, I RAN out of my hostel, but really Had no where to go. Thankfully I had met some guys from France when I was in Barcelona, and they happened to be in Madrid and told me there was room at their hostel. I ran there and told the reception I would take absolutely anything they had. Turns out this was the Madrid hostel from the group “World Famous Hostels” and it was awesome! I was so relieved when I got there. When I got into my room I met some awesome Canadians, well no, the first thing I did was shower, then I met some awesome Canadians. We walked around Madrid, met up with my French friends, and had a night filled with tons of funny memories including a limbo competition, the ceiling giving out and the disco ball falling right on my head, and exchanging some epic dance moves. But everyone has their own travel schedule, and they left several days before I was suppose to catch my flight to Greece. I was suppose to meet up with another travel friend, but unfortunately that fell through. I was very sad that I would be alone for the next five days, as I was not really fond of Madrid. However, everything happens for a reason, and after much dilemma I decided I hadn’t really done anything spontaneous on this trip yet. So, I booked a flight, slept at the airport, and hopped on the next plane to follow the Canadians to the Canary Islands near Morocco. You only live once, right? (Refusing to abbreviate that. Choosing to hold onto my dignity here a little)

The islands were amazing! I stayed at a little hostel right off the beach, went boogie boarding and also tested my balance and skills, or lack there of, at surfing! Who would have thought I would go surfing on this trip. It was so much fun and the water was so warm, but so, so dang salty. Finally, after about 40 hours of not sleeping, I crashed. After the Canadians left, I went with other new friends to a surf competition (sadly I was not a participant, as I could barely move I was so sore), and then again went boogie boarding. My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer. I hardly took any pictures because we just went and went and went. Man have the last few days been, for lack of a better word, cool.

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As excited as I am to be on my way to Greece, and still very sore, I am starting to get excited about coming home too. I have started a mental list of the little things I am looking forward to: body lotion, homemade muffins, not sleeping in bunk beds, not having to fly again for a while, salad, having a different pair of shoes, having more than 3 shirts, being able to hug someone for more than five seconds without it being weird, going to the gym, not having to think in 24hour time, not being scared to pick up my own vegetables at the grocery store for fear of being scowled at when I ‘do it wrong’, and, as much as I have become accustomed to coffee here, I am still excited to have a good ol Tim’s!

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It’s impossible to make a list of things I am looking forward to without also thinking about the things I am NOT looking forward to: my feet having to be clean all the time… this just doesn’t happen here; wearing make up again and doing my hair, I thoroughly enjoy not having to care about what I look like; the chance that there is going to be a snow storm when I arrive, having to live in reality again, driving in traffic, poorly made wine, poorly made croissants, poorly made cheese, basically anything made poorly or not as fresh as here.

Well, after panicing about missing my flight to Greece, I made it. And yes, this was written over two days. After getting to the Athens airport late, I finally made it through security (after having my “liquids” taken away at security because I was stupid and in my panic forgot to put them in my other bag). By this time I had changed time zones so many times I had no clue what time it was, but I boarded a tiny plane, at what they told me was 5:45am, with probably 50 other people. I was pretty sure the plane was made from paper mâché, but was so tired that I got on anyways. The flight was AMAZING. A solid 25 minutes of low flying (my favourite) over the Greek islands, landing in Mykonos just as the sun was rising over the ocean. The airport was basically a small gymnasium, but I didn’t mind, I was just so excited to be in my final destination.

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Let me tell you about Greece, because everyone should go. First of all, the pictures are accurate; white houses, blue shutters, friendly people, crystal clear ocean, and cats everywhere. Hola! Apparently Mykonos is the party island, but to be honest, I’m so exhausted that all I want is to be on my own relaxing, eating great food, and taking some great pictures. I literally don’t want to do anything and I’m okay with that. I walked all day and saw all the famous sights, good thing because it’s storming today. I finished off my day with the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen in my life, followed by a dinner of typical chicken pita with tzaziki and baklava for dessert while laying in bed watching Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, which, let’s be honest, is the reason I wanted to come to Greece in the first place. As my room continues to shake from the thunder today, I am pretty sure I will be doing nothing before boarding my ferry tomorrow to Santorini. Oh! And to answer my earlier question…. Yes, it is still called a Greek salad (or typical salad) here. Speaking of which, I’m going to get one for supper.

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Shout out to home: Happy Belated Birthday to the thing I am MOST excited about seeing when I get home. Wish I could have been there to celebrate with you Tyler, see you in four sleeps my love.

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Soon to be no more,
Your Italian Armstrong

Oh, It’ll Fit: Airport Struggles and Many, Many Giggles

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Exactly two weeks to go in this adventure of a lifetime and I am now completely alone. Alone, however not lonely. I can’t wait to make some decisions completely on my own and just get up and go every morning.

The last two weeks have been some of the best memories I have ever made with my family. We did things and saw things together that I never would have ever imagined we would get the chance to do together. It was so much fun to be able to play tour guide and take them all around Florence, and then join in with them to be tourists in Rome and Barcelona.

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Having them with me in Italy made me realize how much I have learned since being here. They made all the classic “you’re clearly not from here” mistakes. As we walked into the cafe for breakfast Wendy says to me, “the lady working here is French” when I asked how she knew that she replied, “well she said bonjour when we came in, so I replied bonjour”… No, no she said buongiorno, which is Italian for good morning… She’s definitely Italian. Translating for them was one of my favourite things. I really got to show off my less than outstanding language skills. We had some terrible luck throughout the trip, but what else is new with the Armstrong family. Riding the train two and a half hours to Naples only to find out that our next train to Pompeii wouldn’t be running because of flooding underground. So, we went to Naples for lunch, turned around and went back to Rome.

I am not sure if I have ever laughed so hard as I did in Rome getting ready for our plane ride to Barcelona. Oh Ryanair, as long as you continue to sell scratch and win tickets during the flight, I will never consider you a real airline. After reading the “luggage requirements” the night before our flight, we came to realize that there was no way we were within the size and weight restrictions. For those of you who don’t know my family, we are literally the cheapest people ever and go to great lengths to save money anywhere we can, because we would rather spend it on fun things than extra luggage costs. That being said, we attempted The funniest thing we have ever collectively come up with. Can’t fit your clothes in your bag? Why no wear them all? And so collectively on a 26 degree day, we wore: 6 sweaters, 3 jackets, 3 bathing suits, 2 pairs of leggings, 3 pairs of pants, a pair of shorts, 2 tank tops, 2 shirts, 2 scarves, socks, underwear, headbands, sunglasses, 2 pairs of runnings shoes, and a pair of winter boots. After a 15 minute metro ride, an hour bus ride, and being sent to the wrong terminal twice, we finally arrived in security where we had to take everything off, and put it back on again. Oh, and mom got a pat down. Finally, after our flight was delayed and we were forced to sweat for an extra hour, we were on the plane and soon arrived in Barcelona where we immediately stripped.

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Barcelona was amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and our Starbucks. Thank you Spain! We laid on the beach where the two of them found out quickly that their skin was still in winter mode and not ready for the sun yet. However, despite the crisp skin and blistered feet, we walked and walked and saw so many beautiful things and enjoyed amazing food. We then saw all those sights again from above as we took a gondola across the port. It was amazing.

I was so sad to see them go, but I am so glad they came. I will never forget the last thing Mom said before they left, “thank you, this was MY trip of a lifetime.” This meant more to me than I think she will ever know. I hope they have both caught the same travel bug that I have. 🙂

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Since I have been on my own I have decided to stop making a list of things I want to do, and start crossing things off instead. I have gone for a midnight swim in the ocean, been rollerblading from one side of the beach to the other, eaten more coconut than is probably healthy, went for a run down a street lined with palm trees, and watched the sun set over Barceloneta. What a wonderful last day I had there. I am on the bus on my way to Madrid. What will I do there you ask? I literally have no idea, but I am sure I’ll find something to do!

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Although not in Italy anymore,
Still your Italian Armstrong