The simple farm life / Travel Insights Series #2

Here comes part 2 of my blog series about reflecting on my travel insights from my 14 months in South-America. If you’re curious about part 1, jump here: Accepting myself without make-up.

This week’s reflective post talks about my first experience of working as a volunteer on a farm in Brazil. The farm was a recently created small area by a local who had traveled the world for several years before deciding to take over his ancestor’s land. He had created a space for people to practice meditation and yoga, set up a cafe with live-concerts and a mandala garden for people to handpick vegetables of their choice. I spent about 2 weeks there. The farm was located along a dirt road and we were not able to go anywhere. Food was purchased in town twice a week but we mostly ate what we were able to harvest. It was a very simple and no-frills place filled with people who put their hearts into this kind of work and worked on the mindset of living a simple lifestyle.

I’m going to comment below each of the ‘bullet points’ I had written regarding this place.

Leaving the first farm…

Some reflections on what I experienced and learnt.

Most of them are things I knew but you get new awareness about them when you’re exposed to these situations first-hand:

1. Farming is really hard work and I have lots of respect for people who choose this as a profession. It’s so easy to just grab veggies from a tray at the store. But if you have to grow them from a seed to a seedling to a fully grown plant (and harvest when you need food to cook with) you realize how much work is behind this and how much we take a large choice and beautiful veggies for granted (and how we complain when things aren’t available/look beautiful/change in price due to bad weather/harvest)

This had been my first farm-stay during this trip. I had experienced some in Japan a few years before, so it didn’t feel like a completely new territory. 

It did, however, bring a fresh wave of awareness regarding food production for me. I was reminded that our perfect-looking food often means that it is ‘modified’ or ‘adjusted’ in a way that makes us consumers buy it. The food that we are buying in the supermarket often isn’t 100% natural, even though we might look at a salad and picture it coming right from a small farm’s field, that’s being farmed by hand.

It also sparked the wish for me to have my own place at one point, where I can grow fruit and veggies. I’m still more than far from that, but looking at farmland now, makes me wish that I could just knock on the door and help out for a few hours, digging in the dirt, turning beds, planting seeds, harvesting and feeling that close connection with the land…

2. Living with little can be as rewarding as living in an overflow. You work with what you have and can be totally satisfied with it. This refers to food for example: my cravings for sweets and snacks almost completely vanished as they simply weren’t available or had to be made from scratch. And the little snacks I brought with me became a real treasure ❤️ you definitely appreciate what you have a lot more! (And someone baking a chocolate cake can make your week!)

Well…. Back in Germany, I am totally enjoying eating all the good chocolate that can be bought here (It is chocolate heaven in the supermarket!).

The living with little still applies to my life though. I moved to a new city on the train with a small suitcase and my backpack and have hardly increased my possessions – and thanks to Corona, I’m not tempted much anyway. Joke aside, I don’t think it will change my shopping habits as I have tried to reuse as much as possible, even things I bought 10 years ago for my first flat in the Netherlands and that I’ve kept since then!

3. I tackled my fear of cooking for other people (especially a group of people). I love cooking but mainly for myself (I can take my own judgment about my food :P). At the farm I had to cook for the volunteers sometimes and it was excruciatingly difficult for me in the beginning. I wasn’t familiar with some spices and the limited selection of ingredients that I would have usually used. However, something in my attitude and mindset shifted and after a while, I just didn’t think about my fear anymore but just went on with the cooking! (still don’t think I’m the greatest at cooking but at least I can feed hungry mouths ;)).

This was one aspect I had worked on during the year.  I am quite an introvert and like living by myself. I love cooking but I am not used to cooking for other people much. When I cook for myself and don’t like it, then I just have to take it the way it is. I remember growing up surrounded by people who feared other people’s judgment about their cooking very much. It was always seen as a scary thing to do, almost being sure the other people wouldn’t like it. 

I’m aware that this aspect stands for a much bigger issue – the fear of criticism and of being rejected for the way one is. Again, this is probably something most people struggle with and it might express it for me in my fear of cooking for others. As always, confronting the fear helps and realizing that if being judged, that it would be the meal that would be subject of the criticism and not your own person directly.

4. The biggest obstacle in life is yourself. You’re able to make yourself feel the worst and the best at the same time, depending on your attitude. And yes, that’s a lot easier said than done and a real skill to (continuously) work on in life 😉
Now off to the next farm and new experiences!

Hm, wise-me. I don’t think I can add much more to this other than that I’m hyper-aware of this every single day. I have to watch out, to not beat myself up too much and show compassion towards my own ‘flaws’ and I hope so do all of you. ❤

Back next week! Stay safe, healthy and sane everyone!

Accepting myself without make-up/ Travel Insights Series #1

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am taking the time to go through my old reflections that I had during my trip. They are from my private Facebook or my journal.

Part one will be my reflection on not wearing make-up anymore. I stopped with it about 1.5 weeks into my trip. I had started in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and then moved on to volunteer on a farm.

Below is my old post, followed by my reflection.

Even though I’m not really into make-up, there’s this certain ‘touch-up’ in the morning, just like brushing my hair.

Working on a farm and being covered in mud and dirt daily made it pretty unnecessary 😛

So the first morning when I walked around without make-up, I felt really self-conscious about what my face looked like. It’s so rare for me to be around other people without make-up. I didn’t really like what I saw in the mirror. I thought I looked bland and not pretty.

Almost three weeks later I looked into the mirror this morning and suddenly felt satisfied and happy with what I saw.

I got used to seeing me this way day after day. And I started feeling more confident. So here’s a rare (make-up free) selfie just because I felt like sharing! *(edit: I am going to leave out the picture for now..)

Will I stop wearing make-up? No, because I enjoy its look for certain occasions 🙂

Do I think it’s awesome to be ready so much for faster in the morning? Totally 😀

What did I learn: besides accepting myself for what I look like one other important thing:

You can learn to like your look by repeatedly ‘confronting’ yourself with it (look into the mirror). It’s like creating a new habit: at first it feels forced and uncomfortable but over time, it will start becoming natural. ❤️

Reflecting on this status, I can say that I have not worn any make-up since October 2018 and almost forgotten what it feels like applying it every day.

I noticed coming back that in our everyday life, I was coming across a lot more people wearing make-up. When backpacking, many people will eventually ditch their make-up because there is little reason to apply it when you’re at the beach, hiking or turning beds.

In ‘normal life’ I became a little more self-aware of people’s faces and their make-up. I still think that it can look really pretty on people, I definitely understand why people wear it!! And for a minute I thought about going back to my old me, who wouldn’t leave the house without my regular make-up. And then I felt that I wanted to see how I’d feel if I continued the way I had been doing it for the past year.

Every time I met a friend I thought someone would comment on it. Nobody did. Admittedly, I had never worn heavy make-up, so it might not have been that noticeable.

The most challenging time was when I went to job interviews. I actually thought it might be something of a prerequisite to apply make-up, just like the fact that you’re supposed to wear a suit to certain companies to be ‘well-groomed’.

So I was incredibly nervous when I went to job interviews, feeling self-conscious and expecting to be judged. 

Nevertheless, I didn’t feel any different reaction from other people in that setting despite not having applied any make-up except for some concealer to hide a bad night’s sleep due to nervousness 😉

The one time, I still feel self-conscious these days is when I am displayed on video-chat. In a way, I can see why people put a lot of make-up when on camera – it does highlight your facial features and make your face look more engaging. Having said that, I do believe that it is another aspect to get used to and I’m still at the beginning stage of this path of acceptance. 

And this is another reason, why I am sharing this post today: 

Just like the last sentence of my reflection as well as my Facebook post, I have a feeling many of us are (forcibly) creating new habits and routines these days. And many of us will struggle and dislike them. I am hoping though over time, these habits will settle and you will feel less resistance and more acceptance. And when the time comes, maybe the reverse effect will happen, and you’ll go through a reverse ‘habit shock’. Change takes time to get used to, but it’s worth hanging in there!

Long-term travel insights applied back in ‘normal life’- blog series

So I’m having a lot of time writing these days which, I cannot say is a bad thing.

I finally get the chance to do something that’s been on my mind for a while. 

Finishing my 14-month trip through South-America, I had struggled to understand who I was, now that I finished my journey.

In the first two months of this year, I saw myself as a failure and deception. I saw myself, who had spent over a decade realizing the lifestyle of her dreams – living abroad permanently and then suddenly found herself in her home country with no idea where to go. I had planned to move elsewhere in Europe, but I suddenly felt uninspired to do so. I didn’t feel inspired to live the life I had lived. I did not recognize the person I impersonated in Germany. I could not believe that the self-knowledge I had aquired through so much personal work during those 14 months seemed to have stayed behind in South-America. Everyday life seemed to have caught up with me and Germany seemed to bring back the me I had tried leaving behind over a decade ago. I started to think that the way I felt about life and myself while traveling was only because I was set in the backpacking scene, among free-spirited people and little responsiblity. I wondered, whether I would be able to incorporate anything that I had learned into my new and somewhat ‘normal life’ or whether I should dump all of those new beliefs as they felt as if they belonged into a different lifestyle.

It took me a while to overcome my frustration and confusion. Eventually, I decided that I should not ignore these experiences and find out how to reconcile them with my life now.

So, I decided to look at each of my ‘long and reflective’ Facebook posts (that I had published at the time on my private profile) and analyze how I think about those thoughts now and whether I can, will or do apply them to my current life. In a way I want to prove to myself and others that though the backpacker lifestyle might have something of an ‘escape from the real world’, there are ways to reconcile the two.

I’m not sure totally sure what I’m going to find out along this journey, but I hope you will enjoy going on it with me!

Part one will be my reflection on not wearing make-up anymore. I stopped with it about 1.5 weeks into my trip. I had started in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and then moved on to volunteer on a farm.

You can read it here – Accepting myself without make-up

Peru – more than Machu Picchu

Peru – The second I crossed the boarder into this country, I knew that I would like it there.

Very similar to Bolivia in regards to culture and food yet a little more ‘modern’ and easier to get around as a backpacker. Cusco &the Sacred Valley made it to my top destinations of the year. Destination wise Peru has lots to offer, despite being pretty touristy, I found my way to experience the country without tourist overwhelm. 

It wasn’t all about the sights anyway. I just loved hanging out in the villages and cities. The markets, buying fruit, veg and cheese and snacks from the street, chatting to people. The Spanish here was very easy to understand (especially after Argentina and Chile, though I have to admit I caught myself using the ‘sh’ sound for the ‘ll’ at times – I met/talked to too many Argentinians/Uruguyans apparently :P).

Fun fact: females here are often addressed as ‘mami’, which was hilarious to me, as that’s what I used to call my mum (in German) when I was a child. When people called me that I suddenly felt very old. But it created a little connection with the market ladies we’d always shop from when we addressed them that way 

I loved getting my breakfast drink from a small street stall. Lunches for 1.5$ in the market hall or at small restaurants. And then spend 5-10x the amount when in need for some ‘fancy’ western food, which was widely available and came in any varieties, from an American breakfast place, to a vegan cafe, to a Poke bowl restaurant, to an Indian restaurant. Cusco and Lima are excellent places for any sort of food. 

It was also nice being able to ‘splurge’ on a private room and ditching the constant hostel life for a bit as prices are rather affordable and you can find a private room under 10$ a night).

One thing I didn’t expect to enjoy that much was traveling by bus. Peru put this backpacker necessity at a whole other level. 

It starts with the fact that many bus companies have their own terminal. It feels like taking a plane actually. You have to drop off your luggage at a certain counter, then head to a check-in desk, go through security and then hop onto the bus. There you get a safety video instruction (i.e. drivers in Peru are only allowed to drive 90km/h and many busses have alarms that beep when they drive over that speed limit). And you get the same ‘quality’ food as on an airplane as well 😂

my meal on the ITTSA bus

Some buses have blankets and pillows for you. And you’re always being ‘entertained’ by movies, so you can practice some Spanish 😛 (funny seeing American movies dubbed)

Overall I can say that buses in Peru for me were the nicest. It pays off to take the bigger companies, such as Oltursa, ITTSA, …

Note that there are two companies that promise ‘safe trips’ and advertise that other companies shouldn’t be trusted. I’m referring to ‘Peru Hop’ and ‘Bolivia Hop’. I haven’t taken those busses but I don’t think you have to pay more for such a service as at least in Peru, the major bus companies left nothing to complain about. If you do prefer to have a more ‘tour-guided’ way of transportation, meaning that you travel with other travelers and have a guide who gives you some information on the bus, then it definitely is an option!

Ok, so transportation… that should be a topic on its own in South-America in general as it’s so different to what I’m used to in the Western World.

Let’s take the small vans that take you around, like mini-buses, ‘collectivos’/van/combi or whatever else they call the. Those are always good for an adventure. I’ve seen roosters on the bus, bags full of crops that are seemingly bigger than their owners and I was stunned by the number of people one can squeeze in such a tiny vehicle. It’s kinda awesome though, that compared to the west, where you have to walk to a designated bus stop and might wait up to half an hour for a bus to arrive, here you simply wave down the van when you see it approaching (which is all the time) and yell ‘baja/me quedo etc.’  when you want to get off. 

Another interesting mode of transportation is the so-called ‘moto-taxis’ or simply ‘motos’. If you’ve ever been to Thailand then you know what I’m talking about – Tuk Tuks. I’ll never forget how at my last workaway we’d squeeze in 2 people with two baskets of kale and two big backpacks. It always seemed impossible but we always managed (not saying it was comfortable). 

Fun fact number two regarding transportation: In the Cusco area, pretty much every car is either a taxi, a can or a car that will offer to take you to your destination. Hitchhiking here means you still got to pay for the ride though. (always negotiate beforehand! ;))

With transportation not being the main selling point, let’s hop onto something else. No, not Machu Picchu that I didn’t visit but another important reason people travel: FOOD!!

Peru is actually South-America’s food paradise to most backpackers. I would say that is due to the influence of Asian cuisine as well as ‘ceviche’ the raw seafood dish that’s very popular (and yummy). 

ceviche won’t be for everyone but if you don’t mind trying raw fish (marinated in lemon sauce), then I can only recommend it!!

I found the Peruvian cuisine to be pretty diverse in its ingredients and flavors. 

Also, you’ll probably never see a bigger variety of kinds of potatoes. Even if you’re not a potato lover, please give Peruvian potatoes a chance. I had some incredibly interesting ones that did not fall into what I usually consider a slightly ‘bland-flavoured food on its own’. You’ll for example find ‘chuno’ – a freeze-dried potato from the Andean region, purple and black potatoes. Sometimes people sell some sweet-potatoes and others ready to eat – give them a try, they are delicious!

From potatoes to grains. I was super happy to find some nice healthy ‘Andean grains’ in the country. Quinoa is the one that most of you would know but there are many more and their usage is much more varied than we know it. Quinoa is sold as a drink (in the morning by street vendors), puffed on cereal bars and as flakes in your oatmeal. The same thing for the other grains. All of them are tremendously rich in protein and I really wished they were easy to come by outside of the country.

Fruit in Peru is amazing as well. The variety is huge and the prices pretty affordable. I  ate so many new fruits and some that I mainly knew from Asia. Also, there are always fresh fruit juices that are sold at the markets. You sit on a small stool in front of the ‘juice ladies’ who are usually up for a little chat. They fill up your glass and then wait until you’re finished to refill it again and again until their blender is empty.  

Also, this is the time I would recommend going on a tour that goes on a market and explains all the different types of fruit to you. You can also just buy and try them all as I did! Grenadilla was one of my favorites, it’s a sort of passion fruit and supposedly good for your stomach. Beware that there is always a lot of fruit that you’d only use for making juice, so I’d always ask the market mami’s whether it’s just for making ‘jugo’ or whether you can eat it as it is. – As a rule of thumb, any small ‘apricot’-sized fruit, that seems rather hard will probably be for making juice. Make sure to order a juice of a fruit you’ve never heard of before – you’ll be in for a treat for sure!

Last but not least, I loved the fact that culture was celebrated every place I went to. Compared to other countries in South-America I found that culture was demonstrated a little more. Now, you might argue that it’s all for the tourists (and I can’t totally disagree) but I found it made the country very colorful and interesting to see. I loved hearing about the different groups of people and the different languages that are still spoken to this day. 

There were also always parades in traditional costumes, dances, and stories that were told in the cities. Cusco in the month of June is insane when it comes to parades!

Just be aware of the ladies and the kids wearing traditional costumes dragging a llama or alpaca around with them in the cities (or even in the countryside). They’ll most likely ask you for some money if you want to take a picture with them. 

the ladies with the baby llamas in Cusco

I know this is not the time when people are making travel plans but I hope you were able to travel a little bit vicariously and this post has sparked some interest, especially as Peru is so much more than Machu-Picchu!!

I did not touch on even half of what the country has to offer, however I decied not to write about travel hotspots, because those you can easily figure out for yourself 😉

Instead I wanted to give you a little insights from what I experienced and saw.

I also wrote an extensive post on the hikes that I did in the Sacred Valley close to Cusco. That area was what made me fall in love with the country! I really recommend not only visiting Machu Pichu but some of the hundreds of smaller ruins that are scattered in the area and throughout the country. 

still one of the more famous ruins but so worth visiting! Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley

Welcome back to Germany!

Omg, you have to find a job. What if you don’t find one? Teaching at a language school? You’re better than that!

“Where are you going to live? Germany has become so expensive and it’s impossible to find affordable living space.“

What about your pension? You have to make sure you won’t die poor. Lots of people are affected by this, especially single women of your generation. You will have such a hard time when you’re old.

Ok, in order to get your health insurance, we will send you a document by snail-mail (which will take between 3 days to 1 week). Then you have to fill it out and send it back to us. And then we’ll process it. Three weeks later: Yes, we received your application, but it hasn’t been processed yet. We’ll send you the confirmation by snail-mail (good-bye digitalization!)

Welcome back to Germany.

People often write about culture shock. Arriving in a new country, not knowing how society works, how to speak the language properly, feeling lonely among all the novelty. 

But what about ‘the return’? It’s less glamorous, that’s for sure. 

You’re going back to ‘your own country’ so ‘you’re going back to normal life’ is what I can imagine people thinking and what I’ve heard people say.

For me, that couldn’t be further off the truth.

I’ve been in Germany for several months already and this whole new reverse culture shock has hit me. 

Mind you, I have never really lived in Germany as an adult. I had always only returned for visits, transitioning periods…

This time I’m here to stay. At least for a while.

  • I feel like a foreigner. Because my job involves me speaking English to 98% of the time. Because I don’t know how everyday-life things work here (anything regarding bureaucracy, how to rent an apartment,…) . Because I am not aware of any current issues specific to Germany and I don’t understand what’s going on in the country.
  • I feel like an outsider. Because people cannot really comprehend the lifestyle I’ve been living (then again no surprise, I get that everywhere…)
  • I feel naïve. Because somehow, I thought I’d feel more at ease in Germany this time, because I was so tired from traveling around, always having new impressions, speaking different languages… so that everything would be easier in the country I was born. 
  • I feel confused. Because here I am, always having proudly proclaimed that I had no plans of returning to Germany…
  • I feel as if I’m betraying everyone by my actions. Because everyone seems ‘shocked’ by my decision to be here for now
  • And I also feel alright. Because after all this is just another ‘let’s move to a new country phase’ and I have started finding like-minded people in this corner of the world as well. I’ve found what matters a lot to me – gorgeous nature and people that I really care about.

I have indeed seen many people return. People I thought would stay abroad forever. And I was so surprised. But now that I am back I can also see reasons why they would. 

I used to cringe going back to Germany and hearing German. Not the one spoken by my family or friends but the one from everyone else around me. It confused me and I always felt desperate to speak English.

This time though, it hasn’t been bothering me. I have hardly been noticing it. I notice it more when I struggle to come up with the right German word or I would say something that makes others laugh. It doesn’t occur that much, luckily. Writing job applications in German, however was very hard (which is why I’ll always keep this blog in English ;))

In a way it’s easy when you actually understand everything for once. It makes certain things go much smoother. I don’t fret anymore when I have to make phone calls because I dislike making those in any language other than German or English. 

Having said that, bureaucracy is a pain here in Germany and I’d rather not discover more of it. …very few things are done electronically. Instead, you still have to do everything on paper and the post it in the mail which makes everything take forever. 

As you can see, digitalization is a word people don’t seem to know much here. There are still heaps of places that don’t accept cards to pay and the mobile internet connection is a disgrace. I’m not kidding, but there are actually places in the city where you will have no connection or the lowest signal possible. People are very scared about radiation and health concerns and rather seem to make some sacrifices than being ‘connected’ everywhere. 

On the other hand, I’ve also come across some aspects I highly appreciate here. I love how quite a few people care about the environment, such as using little plastic, supporting reusable materials, organic products and local businesses.

I like how there are good public transport links around the country, so that you don’t have to rely on having a car.

Distances here are rather small and you can head from one big city to the next in 1h or be in the middle of nature within a short amount of time.

Also, having grown up here, a lot of memories have been resurfacing. I’m rediscovering places that I used to spend lots of time at as a child.

This was my primary motivation to move to the Lake Constance area (as well as the fact that the lake carries my name – only in the English version though, in German, it’s called ‘Bodensee’ ).

I would spend every summer at the lake when I was younger. We used to go on bicycle tours around the lake, which would take several days and we’d sleep in ‘hay or straw – hotels’, dumping a sleeping bag on a pile of hay or straw. I have fond memories of those times and this area was what I used to call ‘my second home’.

So somehow I ended up here. As if it was meant to be. Close to the lake and the mountains. Rural area, no big city nearby. For now, that’s where I’ll be.

Will I stay here forever?

I don’t believe in forever, so we shall see when the big world will call me again 😉

For now, being here is a big enough adventure as I feel like being abroad every day 😉

Finding steady ground in unsteady times

Moving back in with your parents. Trying to create a new life for yourself. Being in a country you never wanted to go back to yet somehow at this point this is where you feel you should be. 

The last months have been a roller-coaster of emotions. From the initial joy of not having seen my family and friends in years to the dooming question of ‘what next?’ 

What do you do, when everything around you is a blur. When nothing feels ‘stable’, when you’re ‘back home’, yet it still feels like a transitory stage and your backpack is ready to be packed again. 

What do you do when you know that, though a new day will start and you’ll walk through it, the path you’re taking might be an aimless wander, heading into yet another maze, an obstacle race, a dead end.

What do you do when that voice that had been guiding you over the past months, the one that told you that you’re on the right path, that you have a walk to walk suddenly quiets down.

It’s interesting, how some things come back when you least expect them.

As some of you might know, I’m a big fan of meditation. However, over the last months of my travels, I had been finding it increasingly difficult to meditate (crowded Amazon cruise ship with people staring at you from all sides didn’t help – I’m not that ‘zen’ yet). 

Somehow though during that difficult phase at home, meditation ‘found me again’.

I was contacted by a friend to take part in an online 21-day abundance meditation challenge. I had actually done this exact challenge a few months before. However the message came at the right moment in time. I was craving ‘routine’, the one thing that always makes me feel some stability and some peace within my racing mind, so I decided to give the challenge a second go.

Even if it was just for the 20 minutes a day and I sat there restlessly or frustrated – I always felt a little better afterwards, some days more, some days less 😉

The struggle of meditation felt a much better struggle to fight than my own ones at times, even though the two were obviously related.

The daily reflection exercises, someday, made me want to throw my journal against the wall, then later presented themselves as real opportunities for self-reflection and a perspective from another angle.

Thanks to this challenge, I started getting back into meditation and searching for moments of stillness. It helped me create compassion for myself in moments I didn’t want to accept my struggles. 

I eventually started leading my own online 21-day meditation group and it motivated me to get up in the morning, because I’d post a daily meditation and message to my group first thing when I woke up. 

I wanted to write this for you if you’re going through a similar process or you feel like standing at a crossroad.

It won’t solve your problems magically or make them go away. It’s not a guide to being carefree and happy instantly.
But it can bring you closer to yourself and the feeling of being grounded, that will then help you finding a little bit of stability again.

Also, honestly, I tried meditation at 4 stages in life over the course of 6 years before I found it to be of help to myself.

So if this is not the moment for you, maybe there is another small daily routine act that gives you guidance and motivation to tackle yet another day. Meditation comes in many different ways.

If, however, there is a small spark of hope that you might benefit from it, I hope you will listen to that inner voice!

What do you do?

So what do you do? What are you going to do?
The two questions that have made me avoid talking to some people over the past weeks.

I have finished my 14-month long trip through South-America just 2 months ago. Shockingly, or maybe not shockingly enough, that was something everyone just nodded at, when I mentioned it. No additional question, not much of a comment. Instead: So what are you doing now? What are you going to do now?

Doing. Working. Achieving. Acting. This seems to be the definition of ourselves.
When you are asked ‘What do you do?’ ‘What’s your job?’, you will most likely answer ‘I AM a teacher, an engineer, a baker…’. You are your job. At least that’s what it sounds like.
I can’t help but notice how that puts pressure on me. On many people I know. Time is all about ‘doing’. Howelse would you talk about yourself? What other easy way do you have to somehow categorize a person?
As a parent, howelse do you make sure that your child is OK? Having a job can mean ‘my child is doing ok. It does what one should do in society’. At least that’s how I was raised.

I am not saying that I think it’s bad to strive to find something useful to do.
The problem I see with that question is that it tries to define us too much within one category.
What happens if you happily answer ‘I am a teacher and the day after you lose your job?
Who are you now? Before you were a teacher, now you are….?
What if you described yourself through your hobbies or talents?
I used to say ‘I am a polyglot and language lover’. What if by whatever reason one day I wouldn’t be able to speak those languages anymore?
I would feel as if I wasn’t myself. I would say ‘this isn’t me. Without languages I am nothing.’ And I hear this phrase a lot. We cling onto titles, roles and practices that give us purpose. That define us for who we are.

I struggled with this question a lot over the last months. I always defined myself by saying. ‘I’m a globetrotter. I’m traveling and moving around the world.‘ That’s what I DID. Now that I live in Germany (which is another story), I suddenly felt a lot of emptiness. People around me wanted to know about my next step, my job etc. My actions were questioned all the time and not DOING anything or the RIGHT thing was the prevalent concern people expressed towards me.

I can’t blame them. What we do is the first thing that defines us. It’s a question we ask automatically and the easiest way to somehow describe someone with one word, like ‘ my friend who’s a psychologist/programmer/yoga teacher’…

What other way could there be talk about ourselves then?

Some people actually asked me, how I was feeling. How being back in Germany felt to me. They told me how they were inspired by how I go through the world. They felt confident, that despite not being on an active path of ‘doing’, I would again make my way through this world. I can only thank these people because they made me feel valued at a time when I wasn’t sure how to put down my value on paper…..

I’m writing this because I want to assure you that your job or your role isn’t what defines you. Who are you when these ‘attributes’ are stripped away from you?

I think it’s a valuable point to think about.

Think about your personal characteristics. What you mean to people by being YOU.

You can certainly inspire through actions but what’s more important than your actions are your own motivations that got you to do these actions.

PS: I have noticed that when asked the question ‘What do you do?’ I am now saying ‘I’m working as a teacher’ or ‘I am teaching English at X school’ instead. I don’t want this job to define me. I am passionate about languages. The activity in it is that I teach them. If I stop doing that, then I’ll still be passionate about languages, even if I was working at a job that wouldn’t include that at all.

I don’t have anyone to practice speaking with!

I don’t have anyone to practice speaking with!

Yes, you study your vocab, you crammed in the grammar, but let’s be honest ‘that doesn’t mean you know how to speak it.‘ Conversing and practicing how to speak a language is one of the most crucial parts of language learning. If you’ve ever been to a language school, you might have heard your teacher only use your target language. The reason behind that is that you are supposed to ‘pick up the language as a child would do.’ Children learn without even understanding the concept of grammar. They don’t realize that they are fed new words and are fearlessly soaking in one word after the other. Once we are over that phase, once we grasp that there are ‘words and expressions our brain should remember,’ we stop simply absorbing those words. Once we become aware of ‘making mistakes,’ we put an end to throwing around with funny words that aren’t quite correct. We obediently study vocab from the books and try to get the grammar right.

What we often realize too late is that we aren’t actively using our vocabulary by speaking the foreign language. This goes so far that we go on vacation, only to stand in front of a barista, trying to get these words out, these sentences that we ‘should know’ and ‘learned at some point.’ That is the moment when most of us wish they had practiced speaking with someone. But ‘I don’t have anyone to practice with!!!’.

This is the easy way out of this dilemma. It is what it is, right?

Well, if you want to stay where you’re at with your skills, yes.  On the other hand, there are so many ways to find native or anyone who knows the language a little (I’ll explain why this makes sense later on).

Anyway, I don’t want you to get stuck at this point of ‘not having anyone to practice with.’ 

Globalization and technology have made it so much easier to find a so-called language exchange partner and I’d like to show you how.

First, you should think of whether you’d like to pay for finding a tutor, class, or teacher. I’m assuming that’s not why you’re reading this, even though they can be great ways to practice your speaking and I use them regularly!

What is another way?

How about finding a tandem partner or a language exchange partner? What does that mean anyway? Basically, those are people who want to learn and practice a language themselves. You could offer your native language (or a language you’re highly skilled at speaking) in exchange for practicing with that person in their mother tongue.

I have had such exchange partners and you can meet them in person and offline.

The idea behind this would be that when you meet in person at a café to practice, you speak in each respective language for the same amount of time, e.g. 30 minutes in English and 30 min in Portuguese. That way, both parties benefit from practicing a language and help someone out at the same time by offering your own skills.

Where would you find a person to meet in person?

I would search for them in Facebook groups. Those could be student groups or maybe your city even has a tandem or language exchange group. You could also google ‘French speakers in Barcelona’ or something like that, then join that group and post about wanting to find a language partner.

Another option would be people on Couchsurfing. As I’ve said repeatedly, there are so many more ways to use the site than just staying at someone’s place or hosting a traveler. I have made many friends through the website. Many people on there speak several languages and you could try and find someone who’s either staying in your hometown or passing through to meet up and practice language exchange.

The easiest would be if you are studying or working in an international circle, so you could simply ask one of your fellow students or coworkers. Those are your options for meeting people face-to-face.

Another way to find language exchange partners is through apps or websites that specifically cater to that (seriously, isn’t there an app for everything these days?). This means you don’t have to meet up in person to carry out a language exchange but can connect with someone from the comfort of your home. 

One of the apps that works with this concept is HelloTalk. You will create a profile, stating the languages you speak and can then chose which ones you would like to practice. The app will then show you possible ‘matches,’ and you can contact the people. Don’t hesitate to start texting in a foreign language. The app comes with translation and transcription features of the chat messages so that you will be able to communicate smoothly. You will be able to correct each other’s’ chat messages so that you get feedback right away (and the correction you wish people would give you when you actually do speak to a native speaker). 

Another app that works that way is called Tandem. It works in a similar way as HelloTalk and is rated just as high. I always think you should check for yourself to see whether you like the design of the app and of course, whether you can find a language partner, so I cannot tell you which one is ‘better’.

Both apps have pretty large communities, so you should be able to find a language partner.

Lastly, I can give you one other piece of advice: When I was in high school, my best friend was really gifted with languages. We’d often chat in whichever language we felt like speaking/practicing. It can really lower your fear of making mistakes as the other person isn’t necessarily a native speaker either, so both of you are practicing/learning. You will still learn and it’s especially helpful to start using specific phrases that you are currently studying and by noticing each other’s mistakes. You might be able to get a lot corrected between the levels of the two of you!

Again, I also did that when I was traveling, especially in Australia. I was determined to become fully fluent in English, so whenever I met another German, I told them that I was only going to speak English to them. Many of them went with it and we spoke English 100% of the time. I wouldn’t mix the languages as that would be weird. With some of these friends, I speak English to this day as I’m so used to hearing them speak English and when they speak German, they seem like a different person.

And when all else fails – you can always talk to your cat or dog or even your favorite plant! (yes, I’m serious!!!). They won’t respond back to you, but you will feel at ease talking to them.  (They might even learn to respond to your commands – I once had an American student who started speaking German to his cat!)

You can also think in the language that you want to practice. It is an option that I have used a lot. Having said that, I still believe that speaking words out loud works a lot better than leaving them traveling through your brain in silence😊 It can help you to get more used to having the language around you and in your life and you are actually producing it. 

There are a ton more apps and websites to help you find your language exchange partner. From personal experience, I believe no one will fit all and you’d have to do a little Google research to find the app/website that fits your needs.

I did not want to give you a complete list or your digital options but rather showcase that you can indeed find people to practice a foreign language with. Don’t let that point stand in your way!

Happy language learning 😊

Which place would you recommend? Not such an easy question

Oh, you’ve been to South-America? Which was your favorite country? Where would you recommend visiting?

Those were questions I’ve been hearing constantly. And true, there’s nothing wrong about asking this question. What I want to highlight is rather how you take and evaluate the answer you receive.

I’m talking about giving and receiving travel advice. Many people have asked me about my advice, and though I am sharing it (as you’re reading this blog), I would like to look at the topic of taking advice too seriously word by word.

The issue is that we don’t all think and act the same way. Neither in daily life nor whilst traveling. One might like coffee for breakfast, another person couldn’t live without their tea. The person who loves coffee will always rave about how coffee is the one thing that makes their morning, how it gives them the energy to get out of being groggy. And the person who loves tea, will not understand. Of course, if you share your favorite coffee brand with a coffee lover, they might like it as well (or not, because coffee isn’t just coffee 😉)

Let’s look at this regarding traveling. Someone just tells you how they loved their trip to Cuba. Cuba! You exclaim! That sounds like a great place. Strolling through old cafes in Havana, practicing Spanish with the locals…. You ask your friend about what they actually did and you get a ‘oh we had a really nice hotel. All inclusive! I love Cuba.’

In a way, you’re talking cross purposes. The person who went to Cuba might have had an amazing holiday. However, your idea of a holiday might look differently so this would not be of any help in your decision making.

Let’s make it less drastic and talk to someone who has backpacked and you were going to go backpacking as well. You’d asked them the questions I started this blog with. And the answers could be – Colombia is amazing! It’s the best country of South-America ❤ (and I know many backpackers who’d say that). Once you did deeper though you hear about all the super nice people that they met on their way. And how much they danced salsa. That does sound fun. To most people. What if salsa is not your thing. What if you really don’t enjoy being chatted up by strangers all the time anywhere? Maybe you’d prefer countries, where people are less upfront in talking to you, where salsa isn’t such a big thing but hiking is. This might be why your friend who loves Colombia wouldn’t recommend the country you’re thinking of.

What I’m trying to say is that everyone will have slightly different preferences in what they like to see, how they like to spend their day and also by how much budget they have. Some countries can be much more fun when you have a big budget (let’s take the Galapagos islands for example). Some countries can be more fun, if you like the adventure of the tourism infrastructure not all being laid out for you yet (Bolivia, Paraguay…). Maybe what’s expensive to you is cheap to the other person? Maybe what’s ‘authentic’ means something completely different to you than to your friend.

I still think you should ask people. That’s pretty much how I organized my whole trip. Every country I went to I asked people for recommendations. But afterwards I’d ask myself whether

a) they’d fall into the category of things I wanted to do/places I wanted to visit
b) whether the time and effort would be worth traveling there,
c) whether it was within my budget and
d) whether I actually felt like visiting a place like that at that very moment.

I am including d) because I have experienced it many times that I had wanted to go to a place for ages and when the change eventually came up the urge had died down and didn’t come back.

B is all about how long it would take you to get to a place. If you have a small budget and wouldn’t be able to fly to a place that was a 20-h bus ride away, would you still go? I had cases where I answered this question with yes, and others where I told myself ‘no’. It really depends on whether you have the energy and think you will love the place that much that the journey to get there won’t bother you or whether you tell yourself that you might be able to see ‘old Inca ruins’ or a ‘jungle’ at another point of your journey.

No, you don’t have to see them all. That would make you very tired and travel-fatigued. Every waterfall, every cultural city would start looking the same. You’d forget the names of all the places you’ve been to. Yes, you would be able to tick off all the boxes but that wouldn’t give you any more to satisfaction.

Do what you really want to do.

Take the advice, check online for yourself whether it’s for you personally. Go out and explore, head to places you just found on the map, follow the trail that opens up spontaneously in front of you. Maybe next time someone asks you about advice those will be the pointers you’ll give them.

Ushuaia – at the end of the world

Of all the places that I have seen over the last year one area, I had my eyes especially set on:


While doing research, I started to realise
a) how big the area was and
b) that I better catch a flight from Buenos Aires.
The question was where to?

From what I had heard, the top areas where the Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean side and the mountains, especially Mt. Fitzroy at El Chaltén. Bariloche, another hotspot was in the North and as I was definitely going to travel South-North it wasn’t the smartest to fly in there.

However, another area to visit came up. Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. That reason alone already sparked my interest; however, I hadn’t heard much about the city, other than it being the starting point for many cruises to Antarctica (which as a backpacker you can only dream about).

I started looking into information online and talked to friends I knew who had been.

Eventually, I googled ‘Is it worth visiting Ushuaia’

Why did I do that? Because traveling that far south meant that you would have to travel up north quite a bit and busses in Argentina are not exactly the cheapest, especially not in remote areas.

Not getting to any conclusion (really, why would I form an opinion from other people?), I decided to go.

And I did not regret it.

I’m going to tell you a little about the areas I visited. I’ll tell you the areas I skipped and what my reasons were. I’m not telling you to go, but I want to give you an idea, what this area can offer.

Let me start by saying that the area in ‘Tierra del Fuego’ is very different from Central Patagonia and Northern Patagonia. The climate is rather fresh and even in summer, you have to prepare for temperatures that rather feel like winter.

The area is all about nature and hiking, so if you’re not into that, then maybe look into other places 😉 Ushuaia itself as a city isn’t what I’d call a ‘highlight’ yet the surroundings make the place.

The main natural highlights to visit (except for Antarctica) are glaciers, mountains, lakes and the Beagle channel.

Compared to Central Patagonia, the area will feel a little more ‘barren’ and the glaciers won’t be as sparkling white as, say ‘Perito Moreno’ close to El Calafate (which you absolutely should visit, no matter how touristy. It’s the most beautiful glacier I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few). However, there is a certain mystical feeling to it, being at this place so far from everywhere else. I felt like exploring places that weren’t overrun by tourists (yet) and very close to nature. It had a basic and ‘barebones’ feeling to it, making you connect with yourself and nature at its basic level.

Staying at hostels was very comfy, like staying in mountain huts, despite being in the city. Everyone goes out for hot chocolate or to stock up on hiking gear. The stores cater snacks and food for hikers and the general atmosphere reflects that. It is for outdoor people (in case you haven’t gotten that by now ;)).

I stayed in Ushuaia for 4 days. I had planned in 1 or 2 rest days as I hadn’t properly hiked in about 2 years and wanted to make sure my body could adapt.

When deciding upon the places to visit, I chose according to a) price and b) exposure to tourism.

That left out a few popular places. The Beagle channel, for example, offers boat tours to a nearby small island with birds. I wasn’t particularly interested and it was a little pricy, so I skipped it. I heard from other people though, that they were happy with the tour. There are many little stands at the port, each advertising for different tours, so just shop around. Apparently, if you arrive right before the tour leaves you might be able to get one of the last spots at a discounted rate (that’s how a friend of mine did it).

The other place I didn’t visit was the National Park. The mini-shuttle bus to reach the park seemed expensive and from what I felt, it was probably one of the most touristy places as it was easy to reach and tours would go and visit. Pictures looked quite nice to me, but nothing I had never seen.

Which places did I actually end up visiting?

My favorite place was probably the least known: Glacier Vinciguerra and Laguna de Los Témpanos

I don’t want to spoil the whole experience for you, but here’s a little idea of what you’ll get to see 😉

When I enquired about the hike at my hostel, they told me, it was a little tricky to find and that just the day before four people had gotten lost on the trail and had to be rescued by helicopter. They did recommend a tour which we declined. Eventually, they said that we would be ok as long as we had the offline map of the trail on and made sure to stay on the trail (this was the moment that I finally downloaded this amazing app!!!)

Seeing that it wasn’t one of the main tourist attractions, there was no direct bus to the start of the hike, so we’d have to reach it by a combination of bus+walking an extra 7km or catching a taxi.

A friend and I opted for the cheaper version (of course). We had no trouble finding the start of the hike, which was located next to a café. First, you walk through an (extremely muddy) valley and then you ascend the mountain which is marked by a clear sign. Up to this point, it was very easy but after a while of hiking on the mountain, we realized why we needed the GPS. There was hardly any clear ‘trail’, yet rather colorful markers on the trees that you had to look out for and follow. This was sometimes easy, sometimes a little tricky. We did end up going off trail a little but with the help of and the GPS got back on track. The hike finally ends up at the gorgeous ice-blue Laguna de Los Témpanos with the glacier as its backdrop. Note, that despite it being sunny and warm in the valley it was very windy and cold on top. You can approach the glacier and I saw some people walking on it, yet we didn’t go too far as it started raining. The view was fantastic though, somewhat surreal or from a sci-fi movie, not a ‘saturated’ colorful view but rather a stark contrast between the ice-blue lake and the white and black glacier. Personally, I absolutely loved it and found it pretty unique.

On the way back, we went off trail a little half-way through to go to another smaller laguna that we found on That was a nice cute resting point until we decided to head back down the mountain. By that time, we realized that even though the mountain wasn’t overrun by people, the valley now was. It was a gorgeous day and pretty warm, so many local families were hanging out by the river. It would have been a great picnic spot, hadn’t we already devoured all of our food on the way 😉

We managed to share a ride with someone back into town, otherwise, we would have taken taxis that were waiting around.

This is definitely a full-day hike of about 7h, so make sure you start early!

Grab a friend and and discover this beauty!

Among the other places I visited was the Glaciar Martial right above the city. This one you can easily reach by taxi and walking (if you share the taxi with friends it’s really affordable as the ride isn’t far and it saves you walking up the asphalt road towards the start of the hike). It is probably one of the most-visited areas in Ushuaia and the glacier is very small and not particularly spectacular, however, the view over the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia are extraordinary. Top tip: There will be a trail leading to your left when you descend the mountain. Take it and walk for 10-20 minutes. You’ll be rewarded with a much more panoramic view than from the glacier. Return the way you came and then descend the mountain.

The third place I visited was ‘Laguna Esmeralda’. Again, a rather popular spot but not too overrun. It was easy to reach by shuttle bus (400 pesos return from the bus station next to the harbor). In hindsight, it would probably have been possible to hitch-hike as the road out of town led right next to it.

This hike was about 4h and you walk through marshland towards a blue lagoon. The lagoon itself was unfortunately quite busy with tourists hanging around, listening to music when I was there, however, the walk was very scenic, with an ice-blue gulping river running through the area and majestic mountains as a backdrop.

A final piece of advice: No matter where you go hiking, it will be extremely muddy, so don’t take shoes that can’t get dirty and best, wear water-proof shoes. Always take a raincoat and a wind-proof jacket, as well as a hat and gloves, you might need it, no matter what the weather looks like in town!!

These were my experiences in Ushuaia. I’m really glad I got to visit this little corner of the world and I hope it helped you decide whether it is for you or not. Happy travels!