Malaysia First Impressions

The sun has just set on our 2nd week here in Malaysia so it seems like a good time to finally write about this awesome country. To be completely honest, upon leaving Thailand, all I knew about Malaysia is what I read in the inflight magazine… so in other words… nothing. Just two weeks here have left me speechless. Malaysia has surpassed my expectations for a multitude of reasons.

Malaysia first Impressions. Petronas twin towers

Yes, taking a selfie with the Petronas twin towers is as hard as it looks

The first one being the diversity. I expected Malaysia to be a lot like Thailand, they are neighbors after all. I was wrong, very wrong. Thailand, in general, is not all that diverse. The majority of people are both Thai and Buddhist. Malaysia on the other hand is home to a melting pot of different religions, cultures, and ethnicities. The main ones are Malay, of course, Chinese, and Indian.  From food to clothing to architecture, Chinese and Indian cultural influences are very visible in nearly every aspect of society.

 

Malaysia First Impressions. In Georgetown mandarin script dominates old British colonial building

Mandarin script dominates buildings from British colony days.

Little India in Georgetown, Penang has so far been my favorite place. The closest I’ve ever felt to actually being in India. Along its busy streets are shops full of gorgeous fabrics for sarees, traditional Indian dress. Blaring pop music from 2008 plays into the street next to shops full of copy written movies. As I aways imagined India to look, the streets are full of color. Colorful head coverings of muslim girls, and flowing, vibrant fabrics of traditional sarees flood the streets. Then, there is the food. I don’t think I could ever grow tired of Indian food. Everything from somosas to deserts are cooked by street vendors. The smell of curry and spices wafts into the street from every direction.

Malaysia first impressions. Indian food, colorful textiles, and street scene of Little India

Sight, smells, and colors of Little India in Georgetown.

Malaysia’s state religion is Islam so everyday, five times a day, we hear the call to prayer blaring out of the nearest Masjid (mosques). Contrary to some other Muslim countries, the law promises freedom of religion. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and various other Chinese religions are also widely followed.

Malaysia first impression. Chinese temple in penang

Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang

Contrary to popular belief, while Muslims practice modesty in clothing you don’t have to. As long as you are wearing clothing you should be good. T-shirts and shorts are perfectly fine- especially in cities like Georgetown or KL.  The only restrictions are your comfort zone, and (women) covering your knees and shoulders in Buddhist, Hindu, or Chinese temples. Mosques are a little trickier to visit because for women you must cover to the wrists, ankles, and hair. Men only need to wear slacks. Ug.

Evidence of Malaysia’s colonial past is also preset. The big giveaway is that everyone speaks English. Menus are in English, venders speak English, and you can easily ask for help- which people are usually more than happy to give. There’s nothing like being able to order food easily, and know what you are eating after a long day. The language of Malaysia is Bahasa Melayu, but for many people this isn’t even their first language. Many people speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th language.

Malaysia first impressions. Fruit and English menu

Notice the English menu

Food. Like I said earlier Malaysia has some bangin’ Indian cuisine, but that’s not all. There are also outdoor covered food courts all over the place. I don’t remember seeing anything like it in Thailand. Dozens of vendors set up shop under this huge tarp. All you have to do is walk around, order food, and they vendors bring it to your table. It’s super cheap too, a meal running 3-6rm (.75 – 1.50 USD). No more expensive than Thailand! These food courts are hubs of Chinese food especially, and are very popular with the locals. In KL they feature more diverse food options like Arabic and western food.

Malaysia first impressions. Malay soup and street food

Food!!

Last but not least, the transportation system. Malaysia has invested quite a lot into their transportation system in the recent years and it is very visible. Even the lowest class on long distance trains are very nice. Super clean, Aircon, reclining seats, and pretty good food. We ate on the train to KL (something we avoided at all costs in Thailand) and the food was surprisingly good, comparable to airplane food. It was cheap aswell, just 3 USD each. Penang has an awesome bus system that can take you around the entire island (with aircon) and KL has an amazing light rail system that travels just about anywhere in the city.

Malaysia first impressions. On the train to Kuala Lumpur

Boarding the train to KL

All in all Malaysia is pretty great.  I havn’t found one thing to complain about yet. Can’t wait to explore even more in the next months!

Thanks for reading and happy travels! XX -Iz

 

 

Six Months of Full Time Travel!! – And Lessons Learned on The Road

Oh how the time flies. Six months ago today we left home and here we are now, 13,915 km away from where we started.

That’s 5 countries, 5 planes, 15 trains, 4 boats, a whole lot of buses, a moped, a few tuk-tuks, and 1,287 km on foot.  

Forever thankful for a world full of kind people who have welcomed us into their houses and communities and make everywhere feel like home. 💕🌏 You rock earth.

Six lessons learned in six months:

1.People are kind, and generous, and trustworthy.  Throw aside stereotypes and prejudices and make friends with anyone. If a stranger invites you inside their home for food – go for it.

2.  You can make friends while traveling. I get questions about friendships a lot, the same questions that I often ask myself. How can you possibly make friends while travelling? What about friends? How do you gain social skills if you don’t go to school? Luckily, there are kids all around the world. I get to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and countries. Travelers and locals. I can make friends with anyone despite language barriers, backgrounds, or ages. Travel friendships are short, but intense. You never know when you will meet again.

And social skills? I was a pretty introverted kid before traveling. I had my close group of friends who I felt comfortable being myself with and I didn’t make many other close friends outside that group. Now I have to be outgoing and independent. I’ve learned to talk to strangers, which was a huge challenge for me, in any language.

IMG_20160510_122502228-COLLAGE.jpg

Just a few of our friends so far 🙂

3. Keeping in touch is important. Contacts are so valuable and in todays world its only getting easier to keep in touch. I have amazing friends back home who I love to pieces. While it’s not ideal to talk through a screen you can still have a lot of laughs over skype.

4. The best experiences are hidden away from where the tourists go. A secluded waterfall in Thailand, lunch on a rocky ocean cliff  in Norway, a quaint off-season town in Croatia, a hidden temple in the mountains of northern Thailand. What all these places have in common is that we only could have found out about them with the help of locals like our new friends or airbnb hosts.

 

IMG_20160507_115232224

In Croatia

 

5. Experiences are 100 times better than possessions.  Cliche I know, but it’s true. I live out of a six kg backpack. After all the necessities are inside there is very little room for possessions. The few things that I do have, like my camera and notebooks, I take very good care of. Pictures and experiences are so much more valuable than a cheap t-shirt that says “I Heart Thailand”.

6. School is not the only education  you can have. For a while I worried that I was falling behind my peers by not going to school. And maybe I have in some ways. I’ve completely forgotten what an asymptote is and if someone asked me to find the distance between two points on a 3D plane… well I don’t like to think about that kind of situation. And don’t get me started on moles and stoichiometry. But… If you want to have an in depth conversation on the history of the world, culture, geography, or poverty I’m your girl. Lets be friends. World schooling gives me the freedom to learn whatever I am passionate about in the moment. I can stand up in front of a classroom of fifty kids and teach them what I know (by myself). I can go to the market, barter, and order a meal for myself without uttering a word of English. I try to stay informed to the best of my ability about what’s going in the world. I know how people live outside of the States and I appreciate the diversity of the real world – which my 98% all white high school would never have taught me. Is this education? Its debatable- but I think so.

2016_0218_02182500

Thanks for reading and happy travels as always XX-Iz

The Traveler, the Tourist and Finding Purpose

The Traveler, The Tourist and Finding Purpose

I believe that there is a fine line between the “tourist” and the “traveler” , but despite their differences, all travelers must start out as tourists.

The tourist has a plan, they wish to see attractions, go to the beach, stay in hotels, take photos for social media, and are perfectly content with returning home after a week or two. While traveling, the tourist still seek the comforts they are used to. Mind you, this lifestyle isn’t better or worse than nomadic travel or working a 9-5. It’s just different. I seek solely to compare, not criticize.

For a while the traveler is still a tourist. We are afraid to give up our old life.  Everything is

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

A local Thai Market

new and strange. But then there is this one moment when the tourist becomes the traveler. It’s a magical eureka moment when you realize that this is your life and you are not going home. I’m not sure how else to describe it… You just feel welcome anywhere, traveling doesn’t seem foreign anymore. Artifacts become less meaningful but people and experiences become a 100 times more so. I go with the flow, living for spontaneous adventures even if they are not “Instagram worthy”. Sometimes a great adventure is turning a corner and finding a new food stall not seen before.  I can not stay in one place for too long.   I don’t have a comfort zone, I talk to locals, stray from the path, and learn. The life of a traveler is simple, but rewarding.

Don’t get me wrong, this lifestyle isn’t perfect. Travelers yearn to travel for something, which the tourists have, a reason to go. Finding ourselves? Inspiring others? We are searching endlessly for a reason that what we are doing has a purpose. We long to be apart of something bigger than ourselves. Finding what this is is that eureka moment.

When it comes to the birth lottery I do think I lucked out on being a native English speaker. In our increasingly global world it gives me endless opportunities, for which I am thankful. It also gives me the opportunity to teach others what I know, which is a way of giving back to say thank you. For many kids, knowing English is the difference between living below the poverty line and far above it. And that is what I have been doing for the past few weeks. It feels empowering to be able to share knowledge, or at least inspire kids to want to learn. Teaching is that thing that gives purpose to my travels. It is what I feel has switched my mindset from tourist to traveler after being on the road for six months now.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

ABC’S !!

We have been living in a small province in northern Thailand called Uttaradit. Many of the kids here have never even seen foreigners before. Our experience in the small community was amazing. Teaching gave us a place in the community which made our experience so much more memorable. Everyone was extremely welcoming. We discovered places far off the tourist track. Strangers said hello. The security guard at the supermarket became our friend. People invited us to their houses and gave us food. Countless people stopped on the side of the road to ask if we were lost and needed help. Locals took our photos everywhere from the grocery store to waking down the street. The kindness of complete strangers was unbelievable – and after a little while they no longer seemed like strangers but like friends.

I may have only taught the kids a little English, but in return they taught me kindness, confidence, determination and respect for everyone. In the future, I do hope to make teaching English a part of my life. We leave in a few days for some new adventures but our experiences in Uttaradit will not be forgotten.

Get out there, find your eureka moment, and as always happy travels. 🙂 xx  -Iz

 

Wandering Through Bangkok

Recently I wrote another article for Wanderingeducators.com about Bangkok, Thailand. It encompasses the sites, smells, and tastes that make the city one of a kind. Here is the beginning of the article.  (Read the full article here)

Wandering Through Bangkok, Thailand

To my left, tuk-tuks and moped drivers zoom by faster than I can say sawatdee ka (hello). To my right, the street is lined with hundreds of stalls of delicious smelling Thai food and handcrafted goods. Towering above my head are metal giants – skyscrapers. There is only one place I could be: Bangkok.

Nestled above the Bay of Thailand is Bangkok, the modern and vibrant, yet still traditional, capital city of Thailand. The city is a unique place where western influences and traditional Thai culture intertwine to create the tastes, sounds, smells, and sights that can only be found here.

2016_0527_15222800

Read the rest here on wanderingeducators.com 

What’s in My Backpack – After 6 months of full time travel

If you are a traveler I’m sure that you relate to the nightmare that is packing. What to take? what to leave? What if I forget something?? Over six months of travel I have gained a little experience on what is absolutly necessary to bring and what I’m able to live without. I hope you find these tips helpful when packing for your own adventure.

IMG_20160526_064442585_HDR.jpg

In reality you really only need about half of the gear you think you need. Really, and this is coming from a 16-year-old girl. My backpack weighs a whopping  6-8 kilos, sometimes less depending on the airline carry on restrictions of the month. Right now we are traveling by train so it weighs a solid 8 kilos (17 pounds).

Generally for packing clothing I try to follow the rule of 3’s. Three types of each clothing. Wear one, wash one, dry one. The pros are that my backpack is super light and I never have to do much laundry. The cons are I need to wear things more than once and fashion is not of top priority.

Remember that travelling light is a process of elimination that takes a while. Six months ago I had around 40% more stuff than I do now. I originally had around twice as much clothing. I later discovered that I wear nearly the same thing everyday. And if necessary nearly all of this can be found abroad.

Here is all the stuff I carry:

4 shirts: 1 tank top, 2 short sleeve, 1 long sleeve.

4 pairs of pants: 1 athletic short, 1 pair of jeans, 1 lightweight pants (picked a pair of these up in Thailand for 2 bucks to go into temples. I highly recommend getting a pair on site), 1 pair of warm leggings

3 pairs of socks, some undies, two bras

1 zip up sweat shirt

2 pairs of shoes: one teva sandles, one pair of running shoes

1 swimsuit

1 small towel: can be used as a pillow or blanket

1 enu nest hammock: Awesome for south/central America where hammock hanging hooks are built into many houses. 

1 inflatable sleeping pad

1 extra sheet and pillow case

Notebook and pens

toiletries: chapstick, toothbrush, toothpaste, sunblock, deodorant, small multipurpose soap (works as soap, detergent, shampoo…ect.), comb, razors, emergency tampons (an essential to carry in SE Asia where they are nearly impossible to find).

Other: headphones, passport, earplugs, emergency toilet paper (essential), poncho, nalgene water bottle, sunglasses, fan, assorted plastic bags (for laundry,camera protection in a rainstorm, trash, ect.)

basic first aid kit: ibuprofen, Benadryl, band aids, iodine, deet, wrap, gauze, aloe, super glue

electronics: chromebook laptop, Nikon DSLR (and case), fujifilm waterproof camera (and case), phone (no service so just works as an iPod), assorted chargers and cords, lens cleaner.

My packing list is in no way perfect… there are somethings that I wish I had brought including…

a rain jacket: or any lightweight jacket.

a scarf: to cover the shoulders in more conservative countries.

a sarong: this one has sooo many uses

a skirt/ dress: It would have been nice to have something that is remotely fancier than say jeans or athletic shorts.

Happy travels XX -Iz

 

 

Thailand: Visiting a Buddist temple

Thailand Adventures – Bangkok

 Today we visited a beautiful Buddhist temple near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Since it was out of the tourist zone, the temple was very quiet. Upon entry we were happily greeted by smiling faces and iced tea drinks. The kindness and smiling is something I love about the culture in Thailand. Most people who we pass on the street look up and smile at us, which is very different from the custom in America to mind your own business. Thailand is known as the “land of smiles”.

Right as I entered the temple, a kind old woman motioned for me to come over. She invited me to walk inside and to explore the temple at will – which I took advantage of. Unique decorations, huge golden Buddhas, and monks where a common sight. I listened to a monk, dressed in flowery orange fabric, lead a chant along with many other people, surrounded by colorful flowers and decorations.

Taking part of the temple experience felt very spiritual, and very different from the western church experience.

The woman who I mentioned earlier was very eager to talk to my family as she knew a little English. She asked us where we were from and told us she was 83 years old. After, she wished us happiness forever. Her blessing was so kind and genuine, my favorite memory from Bangkok.

 

Adventures in Croatia: Zadar

The wonderful city of Zadar

The Airbnb that my family stayed at was just a twenty-minute walk from downtown Zadar and the sea. We spent wonderful two weeks exploring the area.

Downtown Zadar is beautiful fortified city in Croatia. It is the oldest city in the country with evidence of human life since the late stone age. Walking down its smooth cobble stone streets you can see religious ruins from Roman times and gates from Venetian times. In the center of the Old City there is a lovely open area to have lunch, people watch, and relax by the sea.

2016_0426_17401100-COLLAGE.jpg

You can find lots of cafes, ice cream shops, and bakeries around every corner. They all have delicious food for a very inexpensive price. There are also nice restaurant serving dalmatian cuisine, but we did not go to any to save money. During the summer the streets get really busy with tourists, but during the off-season it is very tranquil.

2016-04-30 01.34.38 1.jpg

At night the city lights up. Near the harbor there is a giant circle in the pavement that is covered in 300 layered glass plates. It is over 20 meters wide. During the day it collects energy from the sun and at night it lights up for a gorgeous color show. Near it are the famous steps of the Zadar Sea Organ which plays music from the waves via tubes under the steps.
Zadar is a very interesting place. It is beautiful, historical, and has some delicious food. If you ever make a trip to Croatia during any season, I recommend you visit Zadar.

Thanks for reading! -Iz

Gringos in Cancun City

Breaking News: Six gringos ventured out of the hotel zone into “dangerous” Cancun city and survived! Nah, we didn’t make it into the news… but I think we should have as so few people who visit Cancun stay in the city. We were warned by countless people of the dangers of the city, and countless more people were perplexed by why we would ever dream to stay outside the hotel zone.

People seem to think of Cancun as swarming with drug activity and violence. In reality, teenagers walk alone after dark, kids play soccer and climb on play play structures after sunset; at midnight, families and friends are still happily eating tacos from roadside stops. None of them seem at all concerned about all “danger” that they have to live with everyday. You are so much more likely to get your wallet stolen on the hotel strip while under the influence, than you ever would just walking through Mexican neighborhoods.  A shop owner who we talked to agreed that there are areas where drug activity and crime is greater, no different than Denver, LA, New York or any big city. If you end up somewhere that feels unsafe, trust your instincts and leave.

Upon arrival, my family got of the bus at the station in central Cancun. We had to walk for hours and by the time we arrived to our Airbnb in south Cancun it was almost eleven o’clock. We did not feel unsafe at all walking in the dark, or unsafe fitting six people in a tiny taxi while chatting with our seventy year old driver who thought we were hilarious. We did not feel unsafe getting hamburguesas, tortas,  and tacos from a family business on the side of the road. We did not feel unsafe after getting on the wrong bus home from the beach, and arriving in a neighborhood miles away from where we needed to be. After getting off the bus lost, confused, and unsure of how we would get home, we were greeted by a happy group of locals who were talking, laughing,making and eating empanadas (which were amazing by the way and only a 50 cents). It felt like we were a part of the community.

The hotel zone is great for some people. Its easy, all inclusive, and very American. If you are coming to Mexico primarily for the beach and margaritas, it’s perfect for you. Have a blast! The beach is wonderful. On the other hand, if you came to Mexico to experience the beach and culture, don’t stay in the hotel zone. Rent an airbnb casa or couch surf! You will save a ton of money, learn some Spanish, and stay away from all of the crowds and tourist traps of the hotel strip. However you choose to travel, have fun and stay safe.

IMG_20160414_201826578

Getting sandwiches while walking home from this family business

Unschool for High School

Unconventional learning while traveling

When my family started traveling my sisters (middle and elementary school) and I (high school) had to stop going to public schools. We tried to do online schooling with our district for a week or so; however, the time commitment and in-flexibility of this type of education proved to be almost as impossible to keep up with while traveling as regular school. Prior to leaving home we had already looked into a couple of methods of unconventional education and decided to switch to unschooling.

What is unschooling?

In short, unschooling can be described as the opposite of the public school system. There is no set curriculum, no deadlines, dates, or grades, and no teachers. The student is completely in control of his/her own education. In a public school, I would go to seven classes, five core classes and two electives, for fifty minutes each. Then, five hours of homework every night, tests, quizzes, finals, projects, required reading… you know the drill. Five days a week, for the entire year with exceptions of week long holidays and summer break. Now as an unschooler, I learn anything and everything I want. I can spend endless hours researching the origins of human civilization, or anatomy, or reading classics simply because I think they are interesting, and not because they are required for me to learn.

Transitioning:

For myself, the transition from conventional to unschooling was challenging. This transition is informally known as deschooling.  My sisters and I took a break from school completely after our last semester of regular school ended. I worried for a long time about how I would go to college, or get a job, or stay on the same level as my peers. I also worried about how I would be motivated to learn and what I would learn. I was unsure of how I would grow up to become the educated adult that society expects me to be without the constant guidance of the educational system.

It turn out that humans are actually a very naturally curious species. Without the restrictions of the school system, I have read, written, and been more excited about learning than I ever was while going to school.  Ironic, right?

Why unschooling is great

I don’t feel exhausted and mentally drained after spending countless hours in a classroom, and hours more at home doing as much work as possible to keep up with my 4.0 GPA and the hundreds of thousands of other 4.0s in this world all racing each other to the top of a ladder built not from excitement about learning, but from playing the system.

Instead, I feel empowered, independent, and smart. I feel grateful for an opportunity I was afraid of at first and took for granted, an opportunity to learn about the world in a way that the classroom cannot teach. As kids, we learn to play the piano, or paint, or cook, because it is what is interesting to us. Why is it that everything else we get to learn is closely controlled starting from five years old? For most of human history, learning was fluid and self motivated. This is how scholars such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Leo Tolstoy, Mozart, Einstein and Benjamin Franklin learned. I am excited to keep traveling and learning about the world, and I hope you feel inspired to do the same.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment if ya like 🙂 -Izzy

Some cool resources: 

Khanacademy.org — lessons that teach pretty much everything and lots of cool partner content

Alison.com  and Coursera.org — offer free college level courses  from prealgebra  to buisness to neuroscience

Ed.ted.com — Talks and lessons to getcha thinking

freerice.com — learn a bunch of subjects while helping end world hunger too

Goodreads.com — If you are looking for some interesting books

Overdrive downloadable library — hundreds of free ebooks and audio books to rent. All you have to do is put in your library card number.

Selfmadescholar.com — even more online classes that arn’t college level

Shmoop.com — a good resource for history, language arts, and test prep