I moved to France on December 1st to spend 3 months working on my French. My time here has completely exceeded my expectations! My French is definitely improving, I’ve been able to do some climbing, plus have spent some quality time with friends here. I did have to switch my flight home to an earlier date, cutting a month off of my trip, as I learned I got the job I was hoping for in Cape Town, South Africa. Bummer about cutting my trip short, but excited for this upcoming opportunity in Africa.
I had planned on staying in Le Vaudoue, a small village near Fontainebleau, for the whole trip, but felt like it wasn’t an ideal place for a beginning French speaker. I stayed there for 3 weeks and then moved down to Lyon.
I was living in my friend’s weekend home in Le Vaudoue. I stayed there this past April, when him and his family still used it as their full time home. I didn’t realize the level of isolation until I lived there by myself. The best was one day when the post woman came. I think she said something about the house being hard to find. I quickly explained that I didn’t speak very much French and she looked at me oddly, most likely wondering, ”What the hell is this non-French speaking American girl doing at the end of this road?” Haha.
Looking towards the Le Vaudoue house from my neighbors house. Yep… the house is down that road, all by itself in the forest.
Le Vaudoue “main street”. It consists of a bar, market, pharmacie and a temporarily closed hair dresser. I love the simplicity of this place.
Hiking through the Trois Pignon area with Guillaume and his family.
My mode of transportation. I really liked when I would stop by the market on the way home, carrying fresh baguettes and wine in my bouldering pad.
Guillaume climbing at Cancier Mercier.
David came to visit Fontainebleau. It was his very first time to be in Font… but it had recently snowed. He still was psyched to try at least one problem, trying his luck on this slippery problem at Roche Aux Sabot.
Since I am learning French, I will start writing some French in parenthesis. I wanted to start with this post, but it was going to take me forever. So… I will start to slowly integrate.
These glow-in-the-dark dragons were one of the small “Memories From Home” items I brought to France.
There are a good handful of tips and tidbits that I have picked up along the way. I assume this list will be dynamic over time, but thought I would post of some of the initial thoughts.
Readily Accessible, Safe Car Camping Spots – A really easy to find, safe camping spot if traveling in the US is Walmart. I strongly dislike utilizing Walmart as a consumer; however, I gladly parked there on my road trip when in between destinations. Walmart welcomes car campers and often has security roaming the parking lots to ensure safety.
Rather than Buying Books – Books can be a bear to take on a trip because they take up space and can be heavy. Some good alternatives are…. 1) Used bookstores or co-ops – If you really must own, look for a used bookstore or coop where you can swap out books. 2) The library – Though you most likely can’t get a library card whilst you travel, you can often check out books from your home library and mail them back. 3) Ebooks – If you have a computer, you can download ebooks. Many books are for a fee (but at least you have eliminated the hassle of books in the car / backpack), but some sites (like Project Gutenberg) provide free books. 4) Audiobooks – Some libraries (for instance Salt Lake City library) provide free audio books. The downside is you must remember to register your card before leaving town. (The SLC Library actually makes you come to the library to register. Why they don’t allow online registration, I don’t know.) After registering you can download audiobooks through a wifi connection. To be honest, I feel like the best solution for books is a tablet e-book reader (Kindle, Nook, etc.) because it is nice to read a book, rather than listen to it, but it is nice to put the PC away and not drain its batteries. I don’t have a tablet book reader yet so can’t completely opine if this is the best solution… but I am longing to buy the Nook one day. Once I get one, I will of course give you the update.
Cheap Flicks – One of the easiest ways to watch movies is through Netflix On Demand. You must be a Netflix account owner, but then you can stream through any wifi connection. Note, that you can only watch Netflix in the States. The next best alternative (States only) is the Red Box, costing a mere $1 per night.
Fueling the TV Addiction - To get your fix on recent television shows, visit Hulu.com. If outside of the U.S. or Canada, you will not be able to access Hulu without an IP blocker of some sort. Sadly, I still have yet to be able to stream video through a tunnel or IP blocker due to connection speeds. (Perhaps you will be more fortunate.) Recently I discovered the site MyFreeGuide (which does seem a little sketchy) listing links to a number of sites, such as DivxDen, where viewing without VPN is possible. Sweet! (An IP blocker site is also ideal if wanting to play Facebook Scrabble outside of the U.S. …. just saying in case any of you readers are fellow addicts like myself.)
Telecommunications – Skype is your friend. Download it, use it, love it. I am currently in France for 3 months and have now bought an online number so friends and business colleagues can actually call me from a landline and it rings my computer. If I am not available or online, it goes to voicemail. Perfect. I can even send SMS texts… I also have a subscription so I can make unlimited calls to US numbers for only $3 per month. And, of course, all calls computer to computer are free.
Don’t Forget to Backup – If you own a computer (if traveling or not), MAKE SURE TO BACK UP! I always have all my information backed up by Mozy.com and on an external hard drive. I did have my computer hard drive go out while I was on my 10-month trip but lost only one day worth of photos and one spreadsheet thanks to back ups. I backed up all my data before I left and then did small backups while on the road. A good solution would be to carry a travel external drive with you.
Receiving Letters While In Between Cities – If you need mail while traveling in the States, you can receive it through General Delivery. Call one of the post offices in your current location and ask for the General Delivery address. To pick up the mail you will have to go to that post office and show your identification.
International Travel Packing List – If city hopping while abroad, this packing list has worked out perfectly for me. If going on a climbing trip, this info might be useful.
First Aid Kit - Always carry ibuprofen, band-aids and antibiotic cream. If heading to very humid areas (China or Thailand) try and take the powder antibiotic cream. If heading to Asia, include medication for an upset stomach.
Avoid the Visa Headache - I have only had to worry about the visa situation once, when I traveled to China. If needing a visa, ensure you plan waaaaaay in advance as it can be a bear to resolve. Blah.
Coin Purses Are Useful – Many other currencies have coins that are worth up to $2 (or pounds, euros, etc.). As an American I am quite careless with my change because the highest coin value (commonly used coins that is) is $.25. Yet in currencies where the value can be a couple dollars it is amazing how quickly you can gather $20+ of change in your pocket. A coin purse is very useful.
Trinkets for International Travel – Take a handful of trinkets and / or postcards of your home town to give to people you meet along the way. (I got this tip from The Usual Suspect. Thanks, Neal.)
Keeping Track of Travelers – The easiest way to keep track of travelers, is through Facebook. Plus it is so much more personal than a simple email address, allowing the continuation of a friendship.
Small Items that Remind You of Home – I like to carry small items that remind me of home. On my 10-month climbing trip I took a boomerang my friend Neal had sent me from Australia and a comic that my friend Bret had left on my door. On this trip, I brought a handful of postcards, a letter my friend Rob gave me, and the above pictured glow-in-the dark dragons that my friend Kathryn gave me during the summer. I notice a couple small items don’t take up much room, but remind me of my dear friends who are elsewhere.
Scotch Tape – I think I will start carrying scotch tape with me in the future. The reason is I always end up with a bag of ticket stubs, maps, etc. at the end of my trip that takes me eons to actually sort after the trip. (I just sorted through my China bag and I went to China in 2005!) On my current France trip I am automatically taping these things into my journal, on the day I actually received that particular stub. It seems to be working really well.
Less is Better than More – The main tidbit I use when traveling is ‘less is better than more’. (I actually live by this motto as well, owning VERY few belongings.) If you are mobile, it means everything you pack is coming with you, to every destination…. which can be a HUGE hassle. Allow yourself enough time to pack your bag (or car), rethink, and then trim down the included items. Repeat these steps at least two times.
Where to Visit – Crags to Visit as a Solo Traveler (Perhaps I will later make a post of all climbing destinations)
Tips and Tidbits
I don’t plan very much when I travel. I usually pack up the bag and car and simply take off, figuring my path along the way. I usually will have a couple destinations in mind, but fill in the majority of the trip along the way (this goes for backpacking trips through foreign countries and rock climbing road trips).
I realize this spontaneity isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I have created a map of climbing destinations that are good stops for a solo traveler (meaning ability to find climbing partners). This map is public and editable, allowing anyone to add markers and information. (If you can not edit for some reason, please leave a comment and I will add your suggestions to the map). It is definitely missing information as I can opine only on places where i have visited. For instance, the only place I have climbed in Colorado is Rifle, meaning this really is the only destination I have added.
Map legend: The markers are colored for the type of climbing for which the area is known. Green = trad. Blue = Bouldering Red = Sport. Yellow = All.
If you are fortunate and have a traveling mate, your options are definitely wider. I came across a google map of rockclimbing the world. When I first came across it I thought it was fab, but now I realize it is incomplete. Still a good resource and should be included on this post, but also means that perhaps I will make my own map of world destinations.
Rock Climb the World Map. Author unknown. He/she states it is open to public edit, but I don’t see how I can edit when I am logged into my account.
Do you have any suggestions or thoughts? If so, please comment or reach out to me.
Last of the three questions Lydia sent in was concerning safety.
Did you ever feel unsafe? (I’m getting a lot of “You’re a woman? Traveling alone?! That far? Are you crazy?!” from various people, especially my family.)
I personally feel that traveling in the States is completely safe.I have gone on solo adventures to China, Europe and Ireland.China especially was a little interesting, but completely safe as well.
If in real rural areas, I would often sleep in parking lots rather than alone in the woods.I am a scaredy-cat by nature and so not gutsy enough just to pull over in the woods.One real good tip, that I used A LOT, was actually Wal-mart parking lots.I absolutely attest Wal-Mart; however, all car campers are welcome to sleep in the lot and security usually patrols the area.
I was traveling in a Honda Civic.On occasion I did wish it had tinted windows as I truly had zero personal space (anyone could look in at any time).I slept in the backseat of my car and would often sleep with my boulder pad jammed between the top of the front seats and the back window to kind-of provide an extra covering.(Ha ha!Writing this now sounds a little crazy, but life on the road truly is a different experience.)
I noticed I also felt safer because I was traveling with a dog.There was no way my little dog was really going to protect me, yet she would bark at anything that came near our car.
I was often asked how I planned on protecting myself.I didn’t carry anything in terms of protection (guns, knives, mace, etc).Perhaps I should have, but I just tried to be smart of where I went and where I slept.I have used this tactic in all of my travels and have been just fine.
Picture from my solo adventure to China. Within hours of landing in Hong Kong, I met two British guys who became dear friends, traveling with them for 3 out of 4 weeks of my trip. This day we rode camels through the Gobi desert and might be my all time favorite travel memory yet.
I get asked these safety questions a lot when I travel and I will admit that my mother got emotional when I told her I booked my solo flight to China. But I guess I have the viewpoint that I would rather risk it and see what happens than stay at home living in fear that something could have happened.
Lydia, just be smart about where you go and you should be just fine.
I’m not quite sure why I have been slow to post lately as I have had content just waiting in the coffers. Oh well… better late than never.
Picture by Patrick Lionais.
As mentioned in my previous post, blog reader Lydia had sent in an email with 3 questions regarding travel. Here is question #2 with response.
What do you think was the biggest challenge on your trip?
As a preface to this question, please note that the trip was fantastic and I would highly, highly suggest everyone take some time off in their life to do a climbing trip or an extended travel (non-climbing trip) as the experience is invaluable (I am still hoping to do an around the world trip at some point). However, there will definitely be a handful of challenges that present themselves. These challenges will vary for each individual, but these were the three largest that I faced.
Feeling Lost – It is easy to feel “lost” while living on the road. I am a very goal oriented person and I noticed I felt lost for the first 6 weeks, not understanding why exactly I hit the road. (Yes, that sounds silly.. but I definitely met other people who felt the same way.)The key was for me to make goals.Sure climbing goals were good, but I made other goals of things I wanted to accomplish. I had to look at it from the perspective that I had a 10-month break from real life and decide what I wanted to do with this time.I ended up with a list of goals that included a number of books I wanted to read, a daily time frame to try and learn French, learning to become more comfortable with the terminal window (um, I like geeky things like that), and I focused on journaling, trying to understand patterns in my life that I perhaps wanted to change upon getting home.
Loneliness Sets In – I was surprised at how loneliness could just creep up out of nowhere.I was traveling solo, how I usually travel, but I had yet to do such an extended trip by myself.There were definitely time periods of loneliness.Not loneliness for a significant other, but loneliness for a friend who already knew my story: someone who already knew my job, my family situation, my travels, just me.Upon meeting people there was always a “data dump” where people asked the usual questions and sometimes I just missed the familiarity of a good friend.And even though a good friend at home should have been just a phone call away, I noticed they really weren’t for the sole reason that we were living completely different lives. Interestingly, I made new SLC friends (a couple who I had met right before my trip and a couple that just reached out to me through my blog) that had lived on the road and new the highs and lows… and these people became dear friends. (A great example of this being my friend, Melissa.)
Finding Your Groove Upon Arriving Home – I think the hardest challenge for me was finding my place upon arriving home. I have been home 3 months and have yet to find this groove. I think it is because I was coming home to yet another time of transition of finding a new home, finishing one job, finding a new job, hoping to make a move to a new destination, etc. I have had a surprisingly rough time …. but I think the takeaway is for me to learn patience and just believe that things will work out how they are supposed to when the timing is right.
Hope this helps you out, Lydia. Thanks again for writing in.
One of my favorite blog results is reader emails. Sometimes they are a simple thank you for some trip beta I have posted or for helping motivate them to quit their job and hit the road. =) And sometimes they include travel and climbing related questions. These emails are greatly appreciated and make me feel that perhaps these ramblings of mine might be useful.
This week I received an email from Lydia, a girl I briefly met in the Red River Gorge, as she had some travel questions. In the past I have directly emailed a response to any questions, but have decided to start responding online in case these questions and answers might help additional readers.
Lydia had 3 questions, which I will answer in 3 different posts. The first question was concerning traveling with a dog.
How was it traveling with CB? I’ll be traveling with my dog and doing a bit of freelance work as well, so I guess I’m wondering how everything went with you working in coffee shops and other places CB could not go. Did CB do a lot of car napping? Were you ever worried?
Traveling with CB was fabulous. I definitely had to do a bit of planning because of her, but it was definitely worth it to have her along. Not only is she my best friend, but it was great to have a protector of the car, even if all she could really do was warn me that something or somebody was approaching.
The Joshua Tree Office.
As far as work, I would try to work outside as much as possible so that CB didn’t have to stay in the car. Sometimes this wasn’t possible (for instance if there wasn’t an outdoor power outlet) and so I would park my car in a shady spot (providing a lot of blankets for CB as she actually rarely gets too warm, rather too cold) and let her nap in the car. Even though the car was a nice large space for CB, I would stop working every two hours to let her run around and go to the bathroom. (Also, in reference to the power outlets mentioned above, there are car laptop chargers. I didn’t own one, but will for the next trip. A charger is approximately $30 and allows you to charge your laptop from your car, meaning the ability to drive into a wifi hot-spot and never leave your little abode. There were numerous nights I had to stop working because the store providing wifi was closed and I was out of battery juice.)
Beau and CB hanging out in Indian Creek.
As far as climbing, certain places do not allow dogs (Little Rock City, HorsePens40, and Hueco Tanks and definitely more). I went to a handful of these destinations, but had to plan ahead due to my little one. I mentioned the dog issue in each of these trip betas, linked to the destination names above.
Actually my biggest CB concerns were worries a large dog owner would never experience. (Lydia, I am assuming you have a large dog but could be assuming incorrectly.)
Keepig CB Warm Enough – My dog weighs 6 pounds and has minimal body fat. Climbing temps are perfect in the 50 – 60 range, which is WAY too cold for CB. Besides layering on her little sweaters, I started to bring my down sleeping bag to the crag in order to keep her warm.
CB Becoming Prey – I constantly worried (and continue to worry) about CB being preyed upon. One snake bite could kill her. A big bird could easily think she was a rat and swoop down to get her. (And yes, I truly have had both these problems.)
Other People’s Dogs – Upon seeing other dogs at a crag, I inquire if they are friendly to which everyone ALWAYS says yes. The problem is my dog just wants to be left alone because other dogs don’t quite know what she is. Other dogs want to keep coming to investigate or will try to play with her, usually entailing them trying to stomp on her little head. The first introduction can be a little rough, but everything usually goes smoothly after the first minute.
CB wrapped in her down sleeping bag in Rock Town and meeting Balsam for the first time. This is a usual introduction for CB … basically showing her teeth to say , “Leave me the f@$% alone.” Even though we crashed at Eric and Will’s house, Balsam and CB never became great friends, I think mostly because Balsam was still a pup and wanting to play and CB is anti-social.
Thanks for your question, Lydia. I will address your other questions shortly. Please feel free to email or comment with any other thoughts or questions.
One of my favorite aspects of my trip was the dichotomy of my life. I was living a completely dirt-bag life, literally living out of my Honda Civic, while also working with a venture capital firm, raising millions of dollars for their current fund. All I needed to work was a wi-fi connection, which was quite ubiquitous in the United States. I usually worked in my climbing clothes, covered in dust, usually with dirt still under my fingernails…. but completely capable of still doing my job. =)
I started to capture shots of my different office locations, with my favorite being the “office” in Joshua Tree, not for comfort but for pure humor.
My Hueco Tanks office. I was staying in a house in El Paso, living with 4 guys, 3 of which worked remotely making it really easy to motivate on climbing rest days. Photo Credit: Frank Wu.
The only wi-fi I could find in Joshua Tree was at this little store (the name is slipping my mind right now). They allowed access to their wifi, with the caveat that you had to sit outside. One day I had to work on a project for 4+ hours, resulting in a nice sunburn on my back when the work day was complete.
I had a great setup in Fontainebleau. I was staying with my friend Guillaume and my “office” included a beautiful view of the Bleau forest.
One of my Salt Lake “offices”, Alchemy Coffee. The coffee is quite good, the regulars entertaining, and a couple times of the week there is local music. Photo Credit: Pang.
I must admit that I love my current, flexible lifestyle, hoping that perhaps I can get this setup to extend. =)
I finished my 10-month climbing trip approximately 2 months ago, but I have been so incredibly busy getting back into the groove of life (finding a home, finishing my job, looking for a new job, re-adjusting to normal-day-life, sorting through all my belongings, while still trying to squeeze in climbing, etc.) that I have yet to write the concluding write-ups, though they are definitely still en route.
One of my favorite photos from the trip. Photo credit: Frank Wu.
CB. Photo Credit: Elliot Warden.
On this solo adventure (well, solo except for the inclusion of my chihuahua, CB, during the US portion) I explored the following destinations:
Fontainebleau, France – This was hands-down my favorite destination. Everything about this place was ideal: quantity and quality of rock, ability to meet someone from a new culture daily, cheap and delicious wine, hour proximity from Paris, etc. =)
Bishop, California - mmmmm…. Buttermilks!
Chattanooga Area – Chattanooga allows easy access to Little Rock City, RockTown, and HorsePens40, each place providing a unique climbing experience.
If you are planning a trip to visit any of these areas and need additional beta, please feel free to reach out to me. Or, if you have additional information excluded from these posts, please comment and / or email.
My idea of international travel (meaning travel where a flight is necessary) is on a shoe-string budget with a backpack on my back. This type of travel is fun and adventureous, but it also means you get into some crazy situations and you must lug that backpack everywhere you go.
The key for this type of travel is to pack light!
in 2007 I posted up the ideal international packing list that my friend Simon and I had derived in China. I won’t re-post this information, but instead will cover the necessary climbing items to take along.
The necessary climbing gear is, of course, dependent on the type of climbing you are hoping to do. I have climbed overseas on 4 trips (China, Ireland, Thailand, and in a joint France and England trip) but only two of these trips were solely climbing focused. I will write up the necessary gear for the trips I have done: Bouldering, Sport, and Hoping to Climb.
Boulder pad – I did take a pad. Yes, it was a hassle, but it gave me freedom to boulder sans partner. Fontainebleau is popular enough place that you could easily find a fellow climber with a pad, or, if worst came to worst, you could rent one from one of the gites.
Two pairs of shoes – I always take 2 pairs of shoes and know some people who take more. The only time I have wanted a different shoe than the Anasazi was in Hueco Tanks, so I usually just stick with a couple pairs of Anasazis.
Chalk bag with spare chalk – I could have easily bought chalk in France and England, but it seems easiest just to pack extra.
Tape – I only packed one roll of tape on this trp. At the time of this trip, I was suffering from a sprained ankle and should have packed more tape. I was still able to purchase tape overseas, but it was definitely more expensive. (For instance being $15 in England! WOW!)
Steve on “The Flying Arete” in England.
Sport climbing trip – Tonsai, Thailand (2007)
Note that certain areas can be harsh on gear. That is the case with Tonsai. Since many of the climbs are on the beach, the rope continually has sand being ground into it and the draws (especially if left hanging on a project) get splashed with salt water, quickly affecting the metal of the draws. In places such as Tonsai, take the time to wash your gear often.
Rope – I purposely took a rope that was in climb-able condition, but I wouldn’t mind retiring. For some odd reason I brought it home with me, when I should have just donated it to the locals.
Draws – I can’t remember the number of draws I took because I believe that my travel mate had a handful as well. Basically take enough to cover the longest climb, but perhaps split the weight amongst your climbing partner.
2 Belay Devices – I always pack two belay devices because they don’t take up a lot of room and it never hurts to have a spare.
Two pairs of climbing shoes
Chalk bag, spare chalk – I went through A LOT of chalk in Thailand. I was there on a bit of the off season and it was definitely humid.
Tape – If climbing on a very regular basis, it never hurts to pre-emptively tape to avoid injury.
Hoping to Climb – Yangshuo, China & Ireland (2005 & 2006)
On two occasions I knew there was climbing in the area I was traveling and hoped to climb while there. In Yangshuo I only got out one day and had to use a guide service. In Ireland I got out 3 days, able to secure fabulous partners through the Irish climbing website.
The Burren in Ireland. Some friends are pictured climbing in the background.
2 Belay Devices
One pair of shoes
Chalk bag filled with chalk
Have you traveled abroad before on a climbing adventure? If so, what did you pack?
A couple other highlights I would like to include from the England portion of my trip.
I was so incredibly excited to catch up with my friends Simon and James while in London. I had met these two boys in China in 2005 and had not seen them since. Simon graciously came and picked me up from my hostel, took me to James’s house, and cooked James and I a great stir-fry accompanied by Asian beer (how thoughtful!). We sat and reminiscenced about our time in China, then Si gave me the printed out directions to my next destination, and they both dropped me off at the bus stop. What incredible friends! It honestly was one of the top moments of my 10 month trip….
But even better was the fact that Si got us lost in London on the way to James’s house. =) You have to understand that Si was the one who kept J and I in order while in China. He always knew the itinerary, always knew where we were going. I must admit that this moment was fabulous. Oh Si… I adore you.
Ha ha… and I must share one of the rain videos. Ah, the “perfect gritstone weather”.