FOLKS ON THE ROAD: JULIA GEORGE
Folks On The Road No. 2
a blog anthology dedicated to all the fine folks we meet on the road
When I first met Julia, she had hot pink zinc smeared all over her face. Actually every time I saw Julia, she was covered in zinc. We met surfing in Hiriketiya, a small beach on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. It had been more than a year since I’d caught my last wave but paddling out with Julia and Annie (the third member of Sri Lankan Blue Crush) gave me a little boost of confidence. We straddled our boards in the lineup. Out there, looking over your shoulder while talking isn’t rude. Conversation flowed to the rhythm of the waves—they stopped mid-sentence whenever a “good one” came and resumed after we paddled out and caught our breath. We spent a few salty, sun-drenched days together like this. Julia was partway through a year-long trip. Meanwhile, Luke and I were backpacking with no concrete plans beyond India. We belonged to a group of kindred spirits from far-flung corners brought together serendipitously by the goddess of surf.
Six months later, much had changed. Luke and I had settled down in Ljubljana and Julia’s trip met unexpected interruptions. Even so, Julia was the first familiar face to walk through our apartment door. Reunited in Slovenia, we wore normal clothes instead of swimsuits. Julia’s face lacked its usual smudge of hot pink zinc. And instead of waves, we shared home-cooked meals, scenic drives, and blissful moments in the mountains (we also survived bumper-to-bumper traffic in a stick shift—big ups Julia).
Having met on the road, it’s no surprise that many of our conversations oscillated between home and travel. I learned about Julia’s life at home, the lead-up to her year abroad, and all that she overcame along the way. Instead of telling you about the thoughtful, caring, and curious Julia George, I’ll let her words on life and adventure speak for themselves.
Name: Julia George
Hobbies: TRAVELING DUH, yoga, hiking, surfing, reading, dancing,
music, being outside, cooking, writing, working out
You've spent most of 2018 traveling — what spurred this trip?
Ever since my parents took me out of the country when I turned 10 I knew I had to see as much of the world as I could in my lifetime. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve made traveling a priority. When I was 17 I went to Peru for a month and I knew I had to study abroad after that. I studied abroad my junior year in Spain and got to see most of southern Spain (the Andalusian region) and some of Europe.
After that I knew I had to dedicate some of my life to just seeing places once I graduated from college. After graduating I immediately took a 2 month trip to SE Asia and New Zealand/ Australia. Some of it was spent with family and some on my own or with friends. These two months felt like only a fraction of the time I needed to see everything I wanted to see at this point in my life. I knew I was only getting older. My body and mind were able minded now to fly by the seat of my pants but my finances didn’t necessarily match up. In July 2016 I took out a map and came up with a plan. After that I told my self I would work hard and save up to leave to travel around the world for a year in October of 2017.
How did you go about planning your ADVENTURE?
The planning I did for this trip was very touch and go since I gave myself a timeline of over a year to plan and save for it. When I had time in between working multiple jobs I would look up different blogs and notes from previous friends who had traveled to the countries I wanted to go to. I chose SE Asia because of the climate (hot- so I could pack light) and the culture is geared towards backpackers. There are affordable hostels and home-stays everywhere. The food is to die for and so are the views/ adventures. Im a big beach person so the tropical climate was calling my name. I basically asked anyone I knew who had gone to these countries before for tips. I created outlets for me to gain information from and make my own judgment after hearing from their trusted opinions.
I then was invited to join my friend in Vietnam to visit her family so I agreed to start my journey there because that already was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So my plan began in Vietnam and if I could redo anything it would be to spend A LOT more time in that country. In total I probably only was there for 2 weeks which I would like to stay there for at least a month. From there I went to Thailand for a month. You also need to remember that depending on your passport you are only permitted a certain amount of days in one country. Being aware of visas and everything is crucial to research before heading out to your destination. This is not a last minute thing or you will most likely regret it.
The other planning I did was pretty much just google must dos in each town I wanted to go to. I would select 1-3 things I wanted to absolutely do and then just wander around for the rest of the time and let my own desires lead the way. I used mostly booking, agoda, and hostel world to book accommodations. I used sky scanner and google flights to book flights and then would always ask the staff for their tips or any locals I ran into that seemed friendly enough to have a convo on what their favorite thing was of their hometown. Everything else was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants so I could say yes to joining along with great people if that was the case. I also used bandsintown to find out where live shows would be around me. This took me to a music festival in Singapore which was incredible and some other festivals/ live shows in Europe. I don’t have one specific strategic way of planning out my travels. It always changes the more I learn and as my standards change the older I get and depending on if I can afford a more luxurious stay.
Did you save up for the trip or work on the road? What was your estimated budget & Was it accurate?
When I decided to take this trip I was lucky enough to have the support of my parents so I could save money faster. I basically told them how I wanted to save and how much I wanted to save and they agreed with that. I originally hated the idea of living with them so in August 2016 I went to live with my friend in Washington State for free and worked on their pot farm. I did this until mid October. This put me around 4,000 USD (2,000 was from graduation money and from a job I had while in college) which put me about 16,000 away from where I wanted to be. That’s obviously an intimidating amount of money to save up for in a short amount of time when I had honestly never seen more than 4 figures in my bank account before that. I started babysitting, house sitting, pet sitting, and clearing out all things I didn’t need in order to save money.
This wasn’t bringing me income fast enough so I started working an office job M-F, 8-5 for my dads company. I am very fortunate to have this set up since he was more understanding of me leaving to travel and leave occasionally to go babysit in the afternoons. I also worked at my uncles pasta shop on the weekends. I started working around 70 hours a week. This drove me a bit mad so I printed off pictures of places I wanted to go to motivate me that this was the reason I was busting my ass off. It kinda helped. My estimated budget I’d say was just right for my circumstances. I also did work-away in Israel which I highly recommend to anyone traveling for a long period of time. It gives you a sense of purpose and an immediate in to connections to the community around you. I stayed within my budget by keeping very close tabs on exactly how much money I would spend each day. I did the math like this:
20,000 divided by 365 days of the year:
About 54 USD to spend per day
54 X 7 days per week : $378 USD to spend per week
378 X 4 weeks: about $1,500 USD to spend per month
I tried not to get too stressed about these numbers. I just had an idea of how to look at money while spending money without any income. Some days I would spend more so I could go see Angkor Wat or do a day excursion or book a concert ticket or a boat cruise. This just meant some days I had to live more frugally and it was a great lesson in dealing with money.
If I did anything differently I would’ve traveled with more debit cards (since they tend to get hacked you definitely need a back up one). I traveled for 5 months with only one debit card and it finally got hacked in Sri Lanka so I had to cancel it and order a new one from my bank in the states to get shipped to me when I would be at one place for a longer period of time in Israel. I suggest getting a credit card that doesn’t charge extra for international fees so do your research on which banks can provide this. A debit card that pays you back for ATM withdrawal fees and if you’re lucky enough to be form the states Charles Schwabb is the best travel card for that. Make sure you always let your bank know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone so you don’t have to deal with that while abroad its a pain in the fucking ass let me tell you.
TRAVELLING solo for A YEAR, how much time did you spend alone? How do you strike a balance?
Balance is a constant thing I’m learning to incorporate more in my life. The majority of my time traveling is spent with people I either just met, met a few days ago, or weeks ago. I literally learned one has to ask for alone time and become aware of the signals your body is giving you when you need your space. There’s nothing wrong with that its important for your emotional well being so you don’t react as quickly and can think things through logically when situations become stressful and you have multiple opinions to account for. Meditation, yoga, working out, journaling, and reading helped me gain patience for these situations that would arise daily with new groups.
Respect for myself and others is why I would make sure to do these things. I would notice a lack of patience and tolerance for putting up with people in certain situations that would become more common when I would not make a priority for my mental health. Its really hard to create a balance when you don’t even have a normal routine in your life. I found it best to dedicate at least one or two days a week to myself (if possible if you’re traveling for more than a few weeks at a time). It’s always best to do whatever it is you need to do for yourself first thing in the morning. Go to that yoga class the hostel provides. DRINK YOUR WATER. Move your body. Explore and get to know your surroundings on your own. I would always try and find the closest market, ATM, and cute local restaurant whenever I made a new place my home. This at least gave me my bearings. I normally was by the ocean so ocean walks by myself were a priority for me. Seeing the sunrise or sunset at least once in every place I would go.
How did you deal with THE unexpected?
Nothing ever goes as planned. I try to stick with the “no plan plan.” Sometimes things go smoothly but usually there are a few bumps in the road. Its part of the fun of traveling so I just expect it now. I learned big time from this trip that we, as humans, whether you believe it or not, are not in control of the future. Like, at all whatsoever. So accepting your circumstances and making the best of them is always the best route. When flights are delayed I try to breath and be grateful for my time to move slowly. Read a book, journal, or catch up with a friend if we are lucky enough to be free at the same time. Somethings definitely did go as planned and some did not, all of which I am grateful.
The biggest change for me on this journey was actually having to go home in May. I was just half way through my trip (7 months in, 5 more to go) and I ended up popping my knee (previously torn and fixed ACL four years prior) while doing yoga of all things. This lead me to going back to the states to do physical therapy so I wouldn’t further damage my leg while carrying around a bag and doing hikes, skydiving, etc. I flew home from Israel after only being there for 2 out of 6 weeks and missed out on seeing friends, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Jordan, and a yoga teacher training already half paid for in Greece. This was obviously devastating for my said plans I had anticipated. Also a huge punch to my ego. I had to let all of that go and do what was the best decision of my physical well being.
I strengthened my leg at home and became much more confident in my ability to transport myself on my own two feet. I came up with a new itinerary for Europe and I even worked a little bit and saved more money for the next three months of my trip. I then was able to afford to go to places like New York, London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Norway, Stockholm, Ibiza and then to Croatia twice. If I hadn’t chosen to go home I wouldn’t have been able to go to all these other cities to see my new friends I had made while traveling. In the end I am grateful for what happened. I even got to see all my friends and family in that short time I was home as well and this refuelled my energies to go back out and travel alone for a bit longer, especially since I would be seeing all the great people I’d met along the way.
Tell me about your biggest mishapS on the road.
I love this question because its honestly hard to narrow it down to one. There are so many mishaps that happen and something I love about traveling is that all the lessons you learn from it are in correlation to how you handle things in life. It teaches you so much in such a short amount of time. It can be extremely hard and frustrating and break you to the point of asking “what the fuck am I doing here and why am I doing this?” Then you just have to laugh, breath, and take the next step forward. So lets see biggest mishap…. either getting tonsillitis in Thailand, not having my Australian visa before checking into my flight, getting food poisoning and a crazy skin rash in Laos, food poisoning in Bali, too many mushrooms in Bali, accidentally buying a flight to the wrong island and arriving past the time the last ferry left for the “correct” island I was going to, not being able to buy a flight out of the Philippines, renting a shitty motor-scooter that broke down 45 minutes away from where I rented it, only having one debit card that got shut off when I first entered Sri Lanka without any local currency prior to arriving, having that debit card hacked in Sri Lanka, or popping my knee is Israel….hmmmmm Im gonna chose getting tonsillitis.
So after a week and a half of traveling in SE Asia I had made it to the islands in Thailand which are well known for their crazy parties. The partying legitimately doesn’t stop day or night. This led me to not just the worlds worst hangover but also having an infection from being on the go too much, not drinking enough water, staying up too late drinking and smoking like my body didn’t have a limit (sorry mom and dad). I woke up to the worst sore throat in the world. Ya know the kind where it hurts to even swallow. I was too nervous to look at my tonsils in the mirror and then I realized that was the worst mistake not to. Sure enough I could CLEARLY see my tonsils swollen with white bumps all over them. Great, not even a month into my year long travels and I’m severely sick already… so I went to the doctor which I thought was going to be a nightmare.
Turns out this was a clean and legitimate doctor (or so I thought). He looks at me and gives me an antibiotic. I think ok so this means I cant drink while taking these for the next 10 days. My doctors response: “no, I am a bad doctor, you are on vacation, don’t sacrifice your vacation for a little infection. You can drink, but only two hours after having taken your medicine.” I think… what the fuck? But he must be right because I have the half moon party in three days and obviously I am going to party (ignorant backpackers mentality thinking you can’t have fun without alcohol- I’ve learned this is not true just socially challenging). Anyways, I go on drinking and my tonsillitis goes away.
Well, here I am about 8 months later and I have a whole new health problem (candida yeast overgrowth, a common issue for people who have taken many antibiotics in the past especially if you drink a lot of beer too—hello that was my life. It causes many gut issues) so this probably could’ve been all avoided if I had just slowed down my pace a little bit and drank more water. Now I’m on this whole new path for a healthier lifestyle which I am totally grateful for, but its a completely separate story in itself that I’ve learned a lot from too. In general STAY HYDRATED.
What's the biggest difference between your pre-trip and post-trip selves?
I honestly haven’t even thought about this yet, sadly, so I’m glad you asked. Pre-trip I remember I was on a pretty big high anticipating what was to come. They always say it’s the journey not the destination and I think my entire journey from when I bought my ticket to leave the states until returning to the states I was on a pretty big high. That high of course went up and down but the anticipation that comes with being excited for the unknown is indescribable. Before my trip I was anxious, excited, nervous, elated, happy, restless… I was beyond ready to dive into seeing as much of the world as possible and making all new friends/ connections, try new foods, go to parties, experience different cultures, religions, ways of life. The idea of having a daily routine made me wanna vomit.
Now after 10 months of fully diving into that life I dreamed of I am honestly content, newly inspired, calm, grateful for a lifetime of memories to reminisce on and honestly a bit exhausted from the restless movement. My goal was to tire my self of traveling so I could come home ready to dive into the career I know I want for myself. Now I know my situation is extremely rare and fortunate. Most people travel because they have no idea what they want to do and I highly respect going out of your comfort zone to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the world through long periods of travel without an end goal. In life there really is no end goal. You have to keep creating new goals and reaching for them “because the day you stop dreaming is the day you start dying” and I just know I’m not ready to die.
Im ready to keep fully living my life but in a new direction. Im ready for normalcy (my old self would literally have punched me for saying that haha) but I’ve realized the importance and benefit of having healthy habits in our life. Habits create who we are, believe it or not, and becoming more aware of yourself internally and externally I think helps you achieve a better understanding of what success means for you. I am grateful to feel like I have reached a bit closer to my own definition of success.
Has this trip changed your perception of your life at home?
Absofreakinlutely! In so many ways. First of all I am much more appreciative of it. Sort of something called “vuja de” its the opposite of Deja vu. So instead of feeling like a new place is familiar it’s like a familiar place feels new. I can look at my home now with a fresh perspective. I know I have changed and a lot and my home has not but I can indulge in different ways here instead of mindlessly doing a routine I used to, I do things more in moderation now and I’m diving into other parts of my town I just ignored before. Sort of like being a tourist in my own town. Also creating new routines and habits here. I also realize how wasteful I have been at home without thinking about it. Its a pretty common problem all over the place but Im lucky to be from a place in the world where the infrastructure is good enough to sort of hide from you the mess we create. It’s a blessing and a curse because we feel we are living healthy and sustainable lives but we don’t really see the literal damage we do to the planet like in other places where the sanitary system isn’t put into place as well. If it weren’t for garbage truck drivers, janitors, etc. we would be getting sick from way more issues than we are today.
I have realized I can make small changes at home to create less of a footprint. Also that I want to live a life and work for purpose that is bigger than myself not only in the terms of money but something that impacts the planet in a positive way. Something that I feel good working towards. Something that I don’t want to run away from because the routine of it makes me sick but something that constantly challenges and inspires me and that I am ok with having a routine in my life that will push me in the direction of continuing to get out of my comfort zone and spread my own knowledge in other places that need it as well rather than just where I am in the world.
Is it possible to travel sustainably? What can we do?
I’d say this questions haunts me the most as an avid addict traveler. The honest answer is yes and no. Yes because through traveling you realize how wasteful we can be especially while “on the go” because you’re in a rush so you grab the quick fruit in a cup, plastic water bottle, take it in a plastic bag so you can eat it on the go but if you realize how often you do that and then go to places and see how much you hate the trash you create & it makes you want to change something about yourself. Bring reusable bags, ESPECIALLY A WATER BOTTLE, start purchasing bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones that get discarded in a month, if you’re a girl use a diva-cup instead of disposing over 20 plastic tampons into the earth every month. Take your own reusable silverware, tupperware, research the companies you do excursions with to make sure they use environmentally friendly consumption and are conscious of how they treat the earth instead of adding to the mess we are trying to fix. The other part being NO, is that air travel is one of the most pollutive things in the world. So if you really want to be a sustainable traveler don’t fly so much. Now that is the hardest one to kick….
Your travel philosophy?
My rule is to always say yes, to any invite, a thought you have of “hmm should I do that?” Most of the time the answer is yes! Unless its putting yourself in serious risk (sometimes that’s even more of a reason to say YES).
Most essential item for travel: WATER BOTTLE
If you could teleport anywhere for a meal: Siargao, Philippines for kinilaw and lumpia (fried veggie rolls)
Best surf: Cemetery, Siargao, Philippines
Place that resonated the most: The Philippines
Best book for the road: Factfullness by Hans Rosling or The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle