5 Tips for the 20-something traveler from the Veteran Traveler.


Yesterday was my 30th birthday.   I decided a few weeks ago to spend my 30th birthday in Portugal and Spain. Portugal was country number 35 which blew my goal of  visiting 30 countries by 30 out of the water!

Anyway, I am having a fabulous 30th birthday trip but  I also keep noticing that the other “world travelers” suddenly seem impossibly young.

I watched a shiny new group of travelers at the airport earlier this week.  A few years ago I might have joined in on their political discussion or accompanied them on a adventure to see a kid named Zven jump off a cliff.   However, as I listened and watched I was suddenly and acutely aware that I no longer fall into the category of 20-something hostel going, dreadlock donning, backpack toting traveler.

That was me for a time (minus the dreadlocks).   I did that. I was that. I had the unbelievable fortune of spending a large portion of my 20’s traveling the world. I visited 35 countries, countless cities, numerous landmarks, and have had a lifetime worth of experiences to show for it.

And while I will never stop traveling, my traveling looks different now. I have traded in the hostels for comfortable and cozy Airbnbs. I wear adult clothing, shower regularly, and do not have to worry if a girl named Forest is going to use my toothbrush in the community bathroom. I have traded in my flip flops for professional looking flats and the awkward heavy backpack for sensible rolling luggage.

So, Instead of being the crazy old lady trying to fit in with the cool kids at the airport, I sit back and listen to them with a wise knowing smile.   I let them have their youthful moment. My time has passed.

I smile as I watch them go on their way to learn whatever they are going to learn on this adventure.   I am glad that I got to experience that in my 20’s and thankful for the lessons I have learned now that I am in my 30’s.  

I have learned so much about travel and life and myself in this past decade. I may no longer be a cool youthful traveler, but I now have a new role. I am the wise sagely veteran of the trade and I have some tips for the 20 something Travelers.

My top 5 Tips for the 20-year old traveler.

#1  You don’t have to use a backpack to go “backpacking” through Europe.

Ok. I know that the backpacks with all of the patches look cool. I know that they make you feel like you are a down to earth, granola eating, world loving globetrotter. I know that they differentiate you from the retired couples who are on their 5th Viking Cruise through Europe. But lets face it. Giant backpacks are TERRIBLE. They are big and bulky and painful.  Basically they are THE WORST.  And they make it difficult (nay… sometimes impossible) to move around the tiny little European shops/ hotels/ restaurants.

Not only are they torture devices designed to leave permanent indents on your shoulders, they are also black holes that swallow up your belongings. In fact packing a backpack always has the following stages:

  1. Painstakingly spend 20- 40 minutes Rolling/smashing your belongings inside the backpack and tucking everything into all the little compartments and side pockets to “save space”
  2. Realize you packed something you currently need
  3. Spend the next 10 minutes groping around in search for said item in the unending abyss that is a travel backpack
  4. Empty entire contents of backpack onto the floor around you
  5. Locate said item only to discover that it is irrevocably wrinkled
  6. Repeat Process

And there really is no need for this painful and frustrating luggage system. Unless you are hiking, or camping, or walking El Camino de Santiago, there is not a reason to tote all of your possessions on your back like a pack mule.  All cities and even all little towns have sidewalks or roads that can be used to easily roll your bag to your hostel/ hotel/ airbnb and leave it there.

Use a small carryon sized roller and It stays perfectly controlled at your side the whole time! Long gone are the days where you have to make sure you don’t knock over a display with the 40-pound growth on your back.

Now that I am older and wiser and use rolling luggage I am so much happier and less encumbered with my stuff. Not once since my conversion to the church of the rolling luggage have I thought….Gee….I really wish I could hoist up this bag and carry it on my back right now.  I am certain there are no actual benefits to the travel Backpack. Take it from the old 30 year old traveler-Rolling Luggage is the way to go. It may not be as cool, but it is definitely more liberating and so much better for your back.

#2: Leave the fancy camera at home

Unless you are Ansel Adams, leave the fancy cameras at home. They are big. They are bulky.   And they are expensive.   Therefore they make you paranoid, encumbered and nervous. They are also literally a giant “I’m a tourist Sign” you wear around your neck.  

Also, because you have to actually download the pictures onto a computer before you can share them, they often stay on the camera during and oftentimes even after the trip. I have discovered that I never end up doing anything with my “Fancy pictures” and I often regret not having the photos on my phone. No one wants to wait until they get home to post photos. It is more fun to post as you go.

And honestly most of us are not trained to use the manual cameras properly anyway.   So, unless you really know what you are doing and are in fact going to do something with the fancy pictures, leave the big bulky cameras at home. Blend in with the locals and just use your phone.

#3 Don’t get an international phone plan. Be present!


Use your phone to take your pictures, but that is it!   Instead keep your head up, your eyes open and your heart ready to learn and grow.   I have never gotten international phone services. Wifi is so available and prevalent there really isn’t a need to pay for an international plan.  And really, as long as you can find Wifi at least once a day- that is all you need.  The rest of the time just live in the moment!

There are times international data would be helpful, but honestly, it is much more fun and novel to be unplugged. Perhaps one of the reasons I love traveling internationally is due to the fact that when I travel I am completely unconnected. I’m not constantly checking my phone for emails or updates or likes or new posts. I am truly and completely present in the moment.   I am only concerned with the here and now.

Plus going “unplugged” has forced me to become skilled at map reading and navigation. I am not typically the most observant person. I don’t often notice the mundane and I don’t pay attention to my surroundings unless forced. When I travel without a phone or GPS to guide me I have to notice everything or I would be lost.   And sometimes I do get lost….and that is ok too! Some of the best things on my travels have come from being lost!

You don’t have to have all of the answers. Sometimes the struggle and the wondering and the figuring it out on your own is part of the journey.  So, keep your eyes up off your phone.  Stay unplugged and learn to rely on your own intellect, not Siri’s.

#4 Talk to Strangers


Everyone is put in your path for a reason. The best thing you can do while traveling is talk to those around you. You never know what friendships may be forged, what advice may be given or what help may be offered.   I can’t tell you how many blessings have come from talking to random strangers on my travels.

Years of traveling alone had done much to improve my deftness of making a certain type of acquaintance I categorize as “stranger friends”.   These are random people I have met on my travels. These friendships are sometimes fleeting in length but essential and no less true than the ones formed in more traditional settings and with more natural tenures.   And sometimes these friendships have foraged into lasting real life friendships.

I am so thankful for the friends God has sent me during my many journeys. These friends provided me comfort and companionship when I needed them most.  And sometimes they provided just the assistance and guidance I desperately needed at just the right moment.

For example, Last night I was alone on my 30th birthday.  Yet, in line for drinks on a rooftop bar in Madrid I met another solo traveler.  She and I started talking and roaming the city together.   We shared a meal and even later on a birthday churro!  We had a lovely time. It all started because I turned around and started talking to her.  Even if you travel alone, you never have to be alone if you don’t want to. 

You travel to learn about the world, and meeting random people is the best way to learn and grow!  You never know what truths they can speak into your life-or what truth you are meant to speak into theirs.  God sends them to you for a reason.   

I have had many stranger friends show up in my life right when I needed them most.  You just have to have the courage to look around and talk to people.  And while the names of many of these stranger friends escape my memory, their phantom faces often flash across my mind.   I wish them well, I thank them for the kindness they showed this random traveler and I thank God for sending them to me.


#5 Go for it!  Don’t be afraid to spend your money.  

Let me preface this with saying that you should NEVER go into debt to travel. I have never been in debt because of my travel purchases or decisions. I have lived frugally and have learned how to creatively travel on a teachers salary. In fact out check out my blog on how to travel extensively on a teacher salary.   I save fiercely for travel, but once I’m abroad I have learned to not be afraid of spending it.

I learned my lesson early on in my travels that it is better to spend your money on the experiences in front of you than to hoard your money and leave with regrets. I call this the Gondola mistake.

The first country I traveled to independently was Italy. Venice was the first city I visited and I didn’t take a gondola ride. The ride would have cost me 40 Euros. I had 40 Euros. I just thought that was too expensive and I didn’t want to waste the money. Looking back now, this seems laughable to me.  I was in Venice and I didn’t go on a gondola ride! Really?!  For what?  Something as common as money?

40 Euros? I’m sad to admit that I have spent that much on a big brunch before.   I would not have missed those 40 Euros for one second. Money has come and gone since then. What has stayed was the regret of missing out on a lifetime experience for fear of spending too much money. I now have a desire to revisit Venice in order to have a gondola ride in Venice Italy.   And it will most certainly cost me more than 40 Euros to revisit the city.

You see, this experience taught me that sometimes things are expensive when you travel. But if you are there you might as well do and experience what you came there to do. (Within reason).

I often ask myself if my decision to buy or not buy passes the gondola test.  First I make sure I have the money.  Remember- Never go into debt for travel.   Then I ask myself, will I get home and regret that I didn’t spend the money. Will I feel the need to return to do this experience in the future? Will I spend more money on a return trip than just doing said activity now?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions I go for it. I spend the money, because money can be regained. Experiences, once lost, are lost forever. I will never again be able to feel the joy of taking a gondola ride in Venice on my fist day in Italy on my first international trip.   So, my advice to the 20 something traveler- Just go for it!  You have my permission.   Open your heart and eyes for any new or interesting experience and live your life as fully as possible. 

The world is so full and so interesting!  Take it from the seasoned traveler- The world is an amazing place if you just have the courage to step out your door and look!






Nothing But Love! My First Impressions of Rio de Janeiro.  

Use bug spray, don’t go out at night alone, don’t drink the water, don’t use your phone in public, don’t get stabbed. These are just some of the warnings I was given before I left for my solo journey to Rio de Janeiro.   Overall my friends and family seemed to be under the impression that Rio is an extremely dangerous place to visit, especially for a solo traveler.

This collective fear has been cultivated by the media who has spent so much time telling only part of the Rio story.  Everyone has been so focused on the problems and wondering if Rio will be ready for the Olympics, that they’ve completely missed the good.    Yes, there are scary parts of Rio. Yes, there are dirty parts of the city.   Yes, there are parts of Brazil that have contaminated water. But the same is true of almost any major city in the world.   And that is not the main story. When I arrived in Rio and really looked around I did not see fear. I did not see danger. I did not see corruption.   I saw love.

I saw love in the families eating picnics in the park and along the beach. I saw it in the old men standing outside their local botecos, passionately rehashing decade old debates over cervejas. I saw it in couples holding hands as they walk along the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. I saw it in all of the helpful and friendly and welcoming Brazilians I have had the privilege to meet. I felt love with every taste of the homemade Feijodad and Pudim made especially to welcome me to the country.

I saw the overflowing love at the birthday parties I attended. Yes, plural…..I have been here three days and have already attended two birthday parties!   These parties gave me a glimpse of the real Rio. This is where families and friends get together and laugh and eat and enjoy being together celebrating life and each other.

At these birthday parties I saw love in the graciousness of the Brazilian people.   Everyone at the party made me feel welcomed and included. And Even though we couldn’t always understand each other, the language of love and kindness spoke for itself.   And through a strange combination of smiles, gestures, and a mix of broken Portuguese, Spanish and English, we were able to share stories, laughs and love.  The desire to communicate with me  even though it was difficult felt so dear and inviting.   I would have been content just being a quiet observer of their festivities, but their attention and hospitality gave me a glimpse at the heart of this city.
And the soul of this heart can be best described by the city’s cultural icon. Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue stands as a beacon and symbol of hope, peace and love for its city.   Deemed one of the new 7 wonders of the world, this massive 124 ft statue is majestically situated at the top of the mountain peaks overlooking this unique city nestled between ocean and hills.   The statue of Christ, with his outstretched arms, expresses a sense of reverence, majesty, openness and love. Just like the accepting and open people of Brazil, Jesus’ open arms extend acceptance and grace to the city below. It is awe inspiring when you look up to the mountains and you see him there standing, loving, and redeeming his city and his people.

When I first arrived the city was having an unusually foggy day. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer was hidden behind the clouds. My friends took me to a vantage point of this amazingly beautiful city. I was in awe of the beauty of the city itself. It is perfectly situated. Not only does this city have incredible beaches along its entire coast, it is also amazingly sprinkled with impressive and beautiful mountains. I was looking to the hills and suddenly the clouds moved and he was there. The statue appeared in the sky from behind the clouds and I was struck with a since of wonder and awe. As a Christian, I was brought to tears as I thought about the promise of Jesus’ return and I had chills. I know that this is just a statue and my savior is real and alive and not made of stone. But this symbol stood as a reminder to me of God’s promises and love. When you look at the statue in person you can’t help but stand in wonder and awe of God’s love for his people and his promise of redemption for those who accept his open embrace.

So, Rio is not scary. It is beautiful and warm and accepting. It really is one of the world’s hidden gems. It has its problems, but don’t we all. That is why we are in need of a Redeemer. I have really enjoyed my time here so far and I highly recommend a visit to this incredible and interesting city that is bursting with so much heart!  To sum it all up,  I have nothing but Love for Rio de Janeiro.

Check out my blog fillingmymap.com to see more.   Also check out to WIBC.com to see other Olympic updates.

Will They be Ready?

maxresdefault.jpgMy fascination with the Olympics begins with the dramatic selection of the host city. There are so many questions, so many big promises and so many people riding on the success of this anointed city that has suddenly been crowned with the mighty and terrifying honor of playing hostess to the entire world.

There is always that suspenseful question hanging in the air…Will they be ready?   Everyone always waits with baited breath to see if the city will be able to pull off the impossible and fulfill all of its lofty promises. It is part of the Olympic drama and charm. There are always many critics and skeptics, yet in the end it usually comes together.

Rio has had its fair share of critics. There are many who prophesy failure.   There are many who are waiting to point out the weak points and predict disaster. And right now those weak points seem to be stacking higher and higher for the large city in Brazil.   The Olympic Village has plumbing issues (Why is it always the Plumbing?!) and there are reports that the sewers can’t hold all of the extra waste. They are also saying that the already bulging infrastructure won’t be able to keep up with the added traffic, there isn’t enough security (Is there ever enough?), the water is dirty, and the mosquitoes will most assuredly give you Zika. Oh and don’t forget that there are dead bodies in the Beach Volleyball pits.

We have heard this all before…. (Well maybe not the corpse infested sand pits.) Yet Sochi, who had a very similar list of problems a few weeks before the Olympics, was able to pull together some spectacular and relatively flawless games two years ago. (Insert cheeky nod to the defective 5th ring at the Sochi Ceremony….oh and I am sure we all still cringe when we think about Bob Costas’s Pink eye).   Ok, nothing is ever perfect. However nothing is ever as bad as it is made out to be either.  The pictures of the polluted water are miles away from where the sailors and swimmers will be competing. And unless you’re a pregnant, the Zika virus isn’t the life threatening disease the media would have you believe.

The world likes the “Sky is Falling” reports. The truth is nothing of this magnitude will ever be flawless, but this city is going to do its best. People will be able to cope and make do with what they have.   I think Rio will rise to the occasion and exceed everyone’s expectations.

I predict the Olympic Games will have a personality very similar to its host city.   I think these games may not be perfect, they may be a little scruffy around the edges, but will be remembered for being the most fun, vibrant and laid back Olympics in the history of the games.   So, will they be ready? I don’t know. However, the people of the world, myself included, are on our way. So, “Ready or Not, here we come!”

Find out how it turns out when I arrive in Rio. Follow me at fillingmymap.com and WIBC.com