A note to my Readers
Here is my Apology letter...
I meant to be more diligent about posting tales of my travels but as some visits were quicker than others and training schedules intensified, finding adequate time to blog often fell to the wayside. So I AM SORRY for not diligently updating!
But Fear NOT!
I have tons of photos, notes, and a long list of "to blog later ideas" based on my experiences and adventures. So please look forward to me sharing details about Italy, Finland, Norway, and the UK in the coming weeks...and for tales and lessons from this experience to continue to leak out throughout the year.
I appreciate the support, interest, and love. Most recently I appreciate the patience!
yours in adventure
I quit work, packed 2 bags and haven't returned for 4 months (with 2 more to go). Here's HOW I made it happen....so that you can too!
Step 1: Save Up & Budget Wisely
Travel costs money which is often what keeps so many from doing it. Prior to my trip I wanted to ensure we would be able to afford a 6 month jaunt from reality. So I did a lot of research into getting my $$$ in an un-stressful situation prior to taking this leap. My 401k has always been contributed to, my savings account has the recommended 3-6 months of safety bucketed away, my debt was paid off (I will post later about how to achieve this)...so my next step was mapping out what I expected our trip to cost us.
When creating your budget be sure to account for all of the below:
Next, I investigated the best credit cards for travel. I started to use this card for EVERY purchase. For every part of my budget. Then I pay it back with my trip savings every other week. It allows me to rack up rewards for spending money on what I was planning to.
Once you've reached your needed $$$ and have your trip budgeted...its time to start booking...
STEP 2: Booking the Cheapest Options
If you fly at all, be sure to sign up for the airlines frequent flier programs. Even if its only been 1 flight- sign up! You will be amazed how quickly awards can accumulate, how many of these airlines are partners with each-other (and with hotels), and how many options you will have for savings by joining these programs. I made the mistake of not signing up until years after I was travelling and it has costs me a plethora of savings, upgrades, and free flights! Do it. NOW!
When booking flights I either use my Chase cards "award" search so that I can use my rewards to book free (or reduced cost) flights, Kayak, or SkyScanner to find the best choices. Do NOT jump on the lowest number! Often these great deals are with airlines that then kill you on baggage costs- so read the fine line about baggage fines (and pack as lightly/efficiently as you can!). Once you calculate these additional fees, if the cost is still the best...awesome! Also keep in mind that if 2 or 3 flights offer similar costs but one of those airlines is linked with your frequent flier group- book that flight! In the long run, its worth spending $5 more, than on an unaffiliated airline. By doing this exact thing I was able to book a flight from South Africa to USA, typically >$1200, for only $250!
To save cash on eating out, I prefer to stay in a home environment so that I can use a fridge and cook the majority of my meals. There are hotels that offer these amenities but the warmest, most genuine to an area, and cheapest is using AirBnB. By staying with people who live in the area I am provided with suggestions as to the best things to see, avoid, and best ways to get around in that neighborhood. All provided sincerely, verse the often pushy hotel slander. Although I check out search engines for hotels in the area to see if any have specials, AirBNB almost always ends up being the most affordable option. Especially if you are staying for more than a week, because weekly discounts get applied to more residences!!!
STEP 3: Getting Around on the Cheap
Once settled in a new area getting around is critical. Most of the time I google the bus and train options in that town. Google maps literally has a public transit button to push- it couldn't be simpler! Most countries have public trans that is much more reliable, cleaner, and efficient than what you find in America. The trains in Japan tell you how many minutes until the next will arrive and rolls up to the second. The buses in Germany provide frequent options to the same places so your wait time is typically ten minutes.
When public transit is sparse or the distance is further I always rely on UBER to ensure the cheapest fairs. In Europe another good app is TAXIFY. Both options provide locals who are looking for cash on the side but TAXIFY also includes local taxi companies vying for more work. I have found that even during price surges, that UBER tends to cost less than walking up to a taxi on the side of the road.
A great resource to compare costs when you are in Europe and hoping to country hop is the website www.GoEuro.com which compares the costs and time it would take via bus, train, plane to travel between countries. This is an asset that I wish I had used prior to leaving- so you are welcome in advance!
By PUTTING A BUDGET in place, saving to the budget, sticking to it, UTILIZING REWARD CARDS AND FREQUENT FLIER MILES, booking with AirBnB, using the areas PUBLIC TRANSIT and UBER....you are guaranteed to travel without the stress of money burdening you.
In fact, if you do it often enough- you will find yourself flying, sleeping, and riding for free!
So where to? What do you want to see???? What is stopping you...get going!
An Important Travel Lesson
Always walk to the last stall!
Many times in Asia, Africa and Europe the first few stalls in a bathroom house traditional holes in the ground . DO NOT BE FOOLED. Keep walking. Do not admit to yourself that you will have to squat.
80% of the time, the very last stall will be your savior...and will house a toilet.
Obviously you will occasionally visit areas where this is not the case, but it is always worth checking prior to assuming the deep squat position.
Check the last stall before you commit.
A lesson I learned the hard way.
the trip thus far:
Heading to Estonia for a tournament I had little expectation or knowledge about the Nordic country. Much to my surprise as I posted to facebook about heading there, many of my friends sent me notes about what a great place it was and immediately my interest was peaked. The second that we landed in Tallin I was hooked- this is the BEST airport, full of story telling and enchanting scenery, that I have ever seen (designers seeking inspiration- take note - go hang out in this airports lounge for an hour or two)! We stayed in an area of Tallin known as Old Towne, which pretty much meant living within the walls of an old castled village. The air bnb that we stayed in was from the 13th century, whose high ceilings and old walls often made for ghost jokes. The hidden fortresses beneath the castle grounds and dungeon tours added to the creepy allure of the old town. The city was filled with adorable shops and cafes, all of which are lit up by fire at night which is warm and enchanting. Lining the outside of the castle walls are lush greens and areas for weekly staged events. We were lucky to be in town during a Russian festival, marathon race through the city, and multiple musical events. The area is filled with events and activity which is surprising for a country of only 1.5 Million people.
I was completely intrigued with the area and its history. It's still lingering link to Russia hangs overhead. There are many Estonians who have passports aligned with NO country because of the gray area that lies from Estonia's separation from Russia. The Russian festival was extremely interesting to see, as Estonians seems to hold a bit of anger towards the Russian culture.
Additionally intriguing about Estonia is its history of tourism. Starting in the 70's it was decided that sex would sell the city. Because of this you still find nightclubs and sleezy-esqe shops amidst a town that is now focused purely on its historical value and beauty. Most interesting (and not surprising) is that in the 90's when the country decided to shift its tourism pull to the majestry of the area, that the tourism more than doubled. Although some shady men seem to linger in the area, I am sure due to the lust-filled past, the majority of tourists today seemed to be older couples.
On a personal note, my husband's favorite thing about Tallin was learning that someone with his surname- El Idrissi- was praised as the cartographer that put Estonia on the map originally. This fun fact led him to walking the streets exclaiming that he discovered the land. Not embarrassing at all.
What was equally surprising was the great tech advances that the country has, despite the exposure to such an old city. Every citizen has a card that enables them to do just about everything- pay for groceries, sign paperwork online, file taxes... imagine Minority Report where retinal scans are used, this card is one step behind that. It was explained to me how much time and energy is saved because of the great tech used in Estonia. Since the country is so small much of the political bureaucracy works well together, which allows for lots of usual paperwork to be taken care of at home, simply and efficiently. DMV stuff can be done at home- on your computer you log in, and it gives you a time to show up, no waiting in lines! This made me so jealous! More time for what matters for Estonians.
The one thing we wish we had been able to do was take a ferry to Finland...or Russia...as many told us that both trips were thuroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately we didn't have time but would be sure to do it if we ever returned!
If you find yourself in Tallin- be sure to grab some tours in old city, enjoy some mexican at TACOs, grab a ferry ride, attend a free show, grab coffee in the town center, and ask questions to locals about the fabulous cards that citizens use.
The next time you are in a new city pick one day and set your alarm clock for 6:45 am.
Get up, curse me, brush your teeth...then get on a light jacket and get out the door.
Some of the best things that I have seen while traveling have been in the quiet of the morning.
The city workers driving street sweepers to clean up the sidewalks. The morning light glistening over the quiet buildings. This is the best time to really breathe in the architecture, the adorable little shops, and soul of the city. The bakeries just opening have the freshest bread at this time - so treat yourself to a fresh coffee and a hot baked good as a reward for your early adventure. Sit outside and notice if there are birds and squirrels or cats and dogs wandering the streets. Walk along the river. Smile at the shop keepers unlocking their doors. Marvel at the early morning joggers. Admire the dew on the bright grass and dazzling flowers native to the area.
Breathe in the essence of the area. Admire it when its quiet and at peace...
Then (if needed) you can take a nap.
But I guarantee, one morning of exploring is worth the early alarm.
Where are they Now?
After 22 hours of travel from Japan via two flights, a layover, one upgrade, two trains, and a taxi...we are in Saarbrucken, Germany. While here we will be competing in a EU cup and participating in a training camp. Be Sure
It is beyond difficult to put into words the sadness, gratefulness, love and heart-brokenness that I feel about leaving Japan tomorrow. I can say that this has been time spent that I will always cherish.
For me, this time in Japan has been a lifetime coming - and it amazingly lived up to every ounce of anticipation that I had.
My parents were judokas who had been trained by Japanese powerhouse Ishakawa, so the country and its culture was something that I was raised to look up to. I can still remember a report that I wrote in sixth grade about the history of judo and its roots in Japan. Even after I quit judo as a pre-teen, the fascination remained and in college I was blessed to room with an exchange student from Japan. When I was reintroduced to judo as an adult, I found a greater attachment & deeper rooted intrigue for the culture that had been ingrained in my life for so long.
So why my love for judo???
Whats the big deal?
In judo there are some fundamental concepts that I find incredibly ancillary to life:
⦁ The ideal of mutual welfare. Support your partner. Be there for others. Lift them up and they too can lift you.
⦁ Judo means literally the gentle/flexible way. Judo reflects life in that when challenged you often want to fight it, but sometimes being gentle or maintaining a flexible mindset will provide you with the solution.
⦁ Bowing. This signifies respect and thanks to the club, to your partners and sensei's in thanks for them aiding your improvement.
⦁ The idea of Kaizen - or continually improvement, looking for optimization.
If taken to heart each of these can carry over into our day to day and can aid immensely in making you a better person. It has been a huge part of my personal ideology and has made me a more supportive, thoughtful, thankful, respectful person who is always trying to improve myself. I love that this sport is able to so beautifully make me a better human being.
What I found lovely in Japan was that many of Judo's fundamentals were visible in day to day culture here. People were constantly respectful and thankful to each other. I never left a convenience store without feeling a connection and gratefulness for the workers due to their supportive and genuine nature (something I do not miss about america). The subways, city streets, escalators, construction sites, crosswalks all had a kaizen appeal - being run optimally and efficiently. The culture here was like being in a super friendly, overly productive wonderland.
Then there was the fact that Japan, being the birthplace of judo, is still its mecca. To give this some context most dojos that I have been to in the US have 15-40 judo player on the mat on any given night. (Not all clubs...this is an average based on my experiences in various locales....and is not reflective of membership, just normal numbers in attendance.) In japan I never saw less than 70 people at a practice (close to 200 frequently!). This includes at a community center! And keep in mind, there are 100's of clubs here. So the number of judo players is monumental.
I was lucky to train at a variety of facilities- as mentioned above community centers, the Kodokan (where judo started, so that had me startstruck), Toei High School, KEIO Univerity, Waseda University, Nittaidai Univesity, and Tsukuba University (Alaa also got to go to the Tokyo Police training when I was broken). What amazed me was the gentleness that the old men used when beating up everyone, the respect held for the seseis and each other, and the speed of everyone's feet. There was welcoming support from every partner at every dojo, making me feel a universal love and connected-ness to the sport and to humanity. The idea that despite not sharing a language we could connect, help one another, and support eachother's goals was truly lovely to me.
That being said- judo in japan is insane. I got thrown. Alot. I was out of breathe because the randori never ended. My collarbone injury was excruciating. I struggled. I was pinned and couldn't get out. I got dominated in areas that I had thought were strengths. It was truly challenging.
But at the end of the day, I was able to get up after every fall. I found myself succeeding more and more. Despite struggles, the time here really stretched me mentally and physically - causing me to leave Japan feeling more confident, dominant, and inspired to continue to improve than I ever thought possible.
So here I am, six weeks in the country that I always dreamed of seeing has somehow flown by. I feel like no amount of time here would be satiating enough. We stayed in the city and countryside and both built big sweetspots in my heart.
I think the biggest lesson Japan has taught me, is the importance of breathing in and really FULLY appreciating the NOW. I tried hard to really soak in and appreciate as much as I could while was here. I am not excited for Germany tomorrow, despite the tons of reasons I should be. I am not comparing my lovely experience here with my beautiful time in France. I am just breathing in the fresh air, happy that the typhoon stopped so that I could hear the crickets lull me to sleep.... I am appreciating the moment around me. I tried to do this at each and every practice and it made all of the kindness, connectedness, learnings, and lessons sink in deeply. Thinking ahead and looking back will only deflect from the amazingness that life is offering me in this very moment. And I am so loving it.
A guide to visiting Japan
Tokyo is a magical place. Here are my most memorable thoughts:
Tokyo is one of the most enjoyable cities that I have visited- highly recommend!
Because SIGNAGE deserves its own photo gallery....
It is hard to believe that two months ago I was having panic attacks. I was dreading having to quit my career of 9 years and leave behind all that my adult life had known. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do and the fear nearly broke me.
Two days later I was on a plane heading to France with 2 bags, a bookbag, my husband, and a stomach full of worry.
The second I landed in Paris all of my fears vanished and I can say that this has honestly been the best two months of my life. It is true what they say- the hardest part is facing your fears. That following your heart will never be regretted. It is true that things are always hardest before the best things come.
Since embarking out of the work world my adventure has led me to the most beautiful town in France where I got a plethora of physical training and incredible partners who were willing to work 1-on-1 for my improvement. I had the pleasure of experiencing Ramadan in an Islamic country during a time where the west is so fearful of Muslims- I got to see and feel the love everywhere, all the while training with the best that Africa had to offer. Then I flew to Spain where I embarked on the most physically challenging two weeks of my life- banging heads with past and future Olympians, the best in the world - leaving camp performing better than when I arrived and with a new level of motivation and appreciation for judo.
So here I sit, two months into my adventure, in the birthplace of Judo in the lovely Tokyo. I am surrounded by a culturally rich environment, clean city, and more judokas than imaginable. It is literally a dream come true.
Some things that I didn't expect was the challenge of learning how to fill my days. A few weeks in, I felt guilty for not "doing more" - so I was fervently looking online for "work from home work" and signing up for tons of classes. But I woke up feeling stressed and then was losing sleep, and suddenly I realized there was no need.
I have since stepped back and instead am filling my time with whatever I find fulfilling.
To my surprise this has meant morning yoga practice, reading ALOT, exploring the top rated places to see in each city we visit (never thought I'd enjoy a soccer stadium...but it was surreal), day dreaming about potential future jobs/paths, writing, contacting loved ones at home, learning a language (slowly), watching movies before bed, playing MAGIC (thanks hasbro), joking with the hubby, learning to cook quick/easy/cheap, taking an online class, and of course lots of training! Not having the demand of working on my plate it's been incredible remembering what it is I actually enjoy doing. Many are the same things I loved as a kid...but just forgot about as 'life' took over.
When is the last time you acted like a kid- and just spent the day filled with activities that made you smile? No "must-do" lists...'Obligations" ignored...but just spending the day doing what makes you happy in life?
If you have not done so recently - DO IT.
You only live once. Fill your days with things that make YOU happiest.
Spend time learning what those things are.
Spend time remembering what they are.
Two months in and here are my big takeaways:
I can't wait to see what these next 4 months have in store for us!
What do they have in store for you? Hopefully some scary and happiness filled days....
Things that are super awesome sauce about Morocco that you likely did not know:
In addition to the random need to knows above- the culture is rich, the beaches are lovely, the people are warm, the food is delectable, and the history is awe-inspiring.
Believer that everyone is special.