South East Asia: New adventures! by Jessica Lee

Biking around Koh Chang, Thailand

Biking around Koh Chang, Thailand

They say with every closed door, a new one opens. And to be honest, I couldn't wait for this aforementioned door to shut fast enough. I've been wanting to do this South East Asia trip since 2012 and each time, something was in the way. But now it's finally happening. I've been in Thailand for the last couple of days and can't wait to see more of the world and take some photos too.

I've been updating Instagram the most often, and you can follow along on my adventures from there.

Lund, Sweden: minimalist designs and progressive views by Jessica Lee

Lund, Sweden, was one of the first places I visited in Europe.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see a lot of it in the daytime because I was still recovering from jet lag and Sweden only gets about 3 hours of sunlight a day in Winter. The mood of walking around at night is dark and sombre- exactly like a Swedish film I saw a couple of years ago, Let the Right One In (2008). That's okay though, because the city centre was inviting and warm.

I think my favourite part about Lund was its small size. There aren't many tourist attractions so I didn't feel the pressure to rush from place to place. I took my time, went window shopping and sat in cafes.

One of the things I noticed about Lund (and I suppose Sweden in general) was its minimalistic design in everything from architecture to interiors.

The simple, practical design of the buildings in Sweden are quite different from say, the fancy Haussmann style of Paris.

I liked the design of this bathroom in their community centre. It was non-gendered, with just one big room and a communal sink but different stalls. It's utilitarian and gender-friendly. It allows women to use the men's stalls if there is a huge line-up of women and no men's line-up, because usually that's what happens. It also puts less pressure on transgendered people.

I think it's really cool Sweden's progressive views are reflected in their designs. Swedes are known around the world for being tolerant and having great social policies such as long parental leaves (480 days, 390 of them paid), a good welfare program, and fairly equal gender equality.

As much as I liked the aesthetics and generous amount of cafes in Sweden however, I think my favourite memory of Lund was taking part in an elaborate dinner with my friend's Swedish buddies.

It's always nice to have locals explain delicacies to you while showing you how to cook in their homes. It feels much more authentic than going to a restaurant. It's also really cool to know they play the same games we do in North America. We played a sweet game of charades after dinner. But of course, the pop culture references are different. For example, I didn't know some of the Swedish politicians the group brought up. Also, because I'm Canadian, whenever I play a guessing-type game with people of other nationalities, "Justin Bieber" always gets thrown into the hat (lucky me).

By the way, Swedes really love their cheese. Here is a photo of me with an "ordinary" sized block of cheese in a grocery store, which is HUGE even by North American standards:

I hope I get to visit Lund again a few years down the road. Of course, everything will be different because I won't know anyone there anymore (everyone I do know there is a temporary student), but I love to revisit places, retrace steps and relive memories.

Malmo, Sweden by Jessica Lee

Malmo, Sweden, is not where my trip to Europe began, but it is pretty close.

After a brief two days in Copenhagen, Denmark, I went to stay with my friend Myra in Lund.

I remember having trouble adjusting to the new timezones in Europe. I would sleep until noon, not make it out of the house until 1 pm, then find that the sun set in Sweden at around 3 pm. I never really got to see Sweden in the daylight as much as I would have liked to.

Then one day, we took a day trip to Malmo, to see one of her friends for dinner.

A train ride from Lund to Malmo is around 12 minutes. It was amazing to see another fully formed city with a square and established businesses within such a short distance.

In other big cities such as Berlin, it takes much longer to get to another suburb by train. Why are some cities bigger geographically? I am not an expert in urban sprawl, but I liked seeing the differences myself firsthand.

Anyway, here is what Malmo looks like:

One thing that stuck out to me the most was the design and the architecture.

We went into this furniture store which was full of fresh and inspiring ideas.

Usually, travellers don't like "consumerism" because buying more things means more things to carry around with them. Most hardcore travellers I know/ read about don't usually hang around the urban shopping centres, but I find this tragic because when a store is artfully done, it's like going to a design museum- for free!

This Swedish store we were in even offered free tea and coffee.

While we were in Malmo, they also had some sort of festival. Candles were being lit in the streets.

And there was a market of vintage/ handmade things in the square.

We settled down for a coffee break, went grocery shopping and then night set in.

Here is a photo of our dinner: salad, lasagna, ginger cookies and Swedish tea.

Homeward Bound by Jessica Lee

It's been a long journey, but I'm finally on my way home. I went to 14 countries in a little less than three months. I bathed in a geothermal spring with mountains in the background and also travelled by camel in the Sahara Desert. It's been a great three months of meeting new and interesting people, learning from them and expanding my viewpoints. I've also been extremely blessed to see so many beautiful sights and experience so many new things. On the flipside, I realized I also miss home a lot. I miss things usually taken for granted like a home-cooked meal or being able to sleep in your own bed without having to pack everything up again the next day.

Don't get me wrong, I loved seeing new towns and cities these past couple of months but it's also taught me the simple joys of knowing you have a place to sleep at night and it's definitely made me appreciate small things like being able to walk around my bathroom with bare feet because my bathroom at home has clean floors, unlike some of the hostels I stayed at. Another thing I used to take for granted was being able to make tea at home and at work so easily. Hot water is not always available at hostels because sometimes the kitchen is closed.

Maybe in the next few weeks I will get wanderlust again but for now I'm quite happy to be somewhere familiar, as cold as Toronto is. I have all my friends around and I know the city better than the back of my hand. I am relieved to be back home because it means I can rest and recuperate, and get ready for the next chapter of my life, wherever it may lead.

Thank you for following my adventures here and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I will be updating with more photos in the next few weeks!

Photos: Tangier, Morocco by Jessica Lee

I spent the morning wandering around Tangier, Morocco, with my new friend from the hostel.

Here are a few photographs:

Below is the terrace of the hostel, which was a stunning view. We were in the old part of town, which gave the hostel some character.

As we walked along, there was some construction. I really like this photo because you can sense the man in the tan shirt is deciding what he's going to do about me, the photographer, taking a photo of him.

Street life in Tangier

The bird this man was carrying around was still alive while the photo was taken

We stopped off at the market at this point and got strawberries to eat while sitting at the fountain in the square. We were still hungry afterwards, so here we are going to vendors. As you can see, the vendors are all really aggressive in fighting for the client (us). In this manner, my friend, Joo, was able to bargain with the vendor and ask for a lower price for the food than indicated on the menu (which was genius, I didn't know you could do that).

As we were waiting for our meal, we saw the delivery of bread from this truck.

This is what we had. It was delicious, for 20 dirhams each! That's around $3.

After our meal, we decided to wander a bit more before splitting ways. Him going to Asilah, and me going to Chefchaouen.

More photos:

Backpacking in Europe: what I'm bringing by Jessica Lee

I'm heading to Europe for a classic backpacking trip and this is what my life is going to look like for the next two or so months.

I tried to keep it as simple as possible, following with the theme of minimalism

Of course, travelling to Europe during the winter is going to be a little more difficult than in the summer because now I'll have to bring heavy jackets, boots, scarves and heavy sweaters. In the summer, I wouldn't need all of that, which would cut my packing essential list to about half the size.

For my trip, I'm bringing a 30 L backpack and a small day purse. At weighing time, the pack came to just over 12 kilos, which isn't terrible, but not as light as I would have liked my pack to be.

The point of packing light is so I can hop out of each airport/bus station/train station and just get on with exploring the city without ordering a taxi or first dropping off my things at the place I'm staying at. I want to be mobile and efficient.

Here's what I'm bringing:

1 pair of pants, dark blue and quite functional- matches with everything 
(I plan to do laundry frequently throughout the trip)
1 grey hoodie
2 cardigans
3 dresses (all very versatile, can be work to a professional environment or a casual environment, or even worn to go out to nice places)
2 pairs of wool socks (necessary!)
2 pairs of tights
1 t-shirt for sleeping in
3 casual tops
1 pair of combat boots (my main choice of footwear, as it will be snowing)
1 pair of flats (in case it's warm. The flats I chose are black and match with everything. They are also two years old (purchased in Australia!), and somewhat worn in. If I need to make space in my pack, these will be the first to go)
1 pair of lounge pants (for sleeping in)
1 scarf
1 pair of gloves
1 swimsuit
1 microfiber towel and one face cloth
1 pair of flip flops (for walking around hostels or hotels)
1 winter hat
1 rainjacket

Professional gear:
Besides, experiencing European culture, and visiting friends, the purpose for this trip is to take photos and develop my portfolio. I do plan to travel light however. My photography kit is minimal, which will force me to be creative. 
I am only bringing:
1 Mark 5D SLR (and charger)
1 24-70mm lens
1 tripod (which was purchased specifically for this trip)

I have a nice, quality tripod which I use in Toronto on professional shoots and for events. I can't bring that one though because unfortunately, it's built well and quite heavy.

This Polaroid tripod I bought for the trip was only $20 on Amazon and made of really light materials. It's broken on me twice already just while I was packing it in my backpack. I don't mind though as it still works and because of the cheap price, it means I can throw it away at any point during my trip if it becomes too heavy. It was mainly purchased so I can get good Northern Lights photos.

Personal care:
I packed essentials such as shampoo, face wash, lotion, body wash, toothpaste, etc.
An item some may find strange is a 100ml container of tea tree oil beauty mask.

The story behind the beauty mask dates back to 2012, on my study exchange to Sydney, Australia, where I met my housemate Myra. We started doing these masks together as a girly way to bond and now since I'm visiting her (she's doing a study exchange in Sweden), I had to keep up the tradition.

Make-up for this trip is also minimal. Everything fits into a small pouch. I have basics such as lip balm, foundation, black and brown eyeliner, mascara, lip stain... and for those days I'm feeling wild, shimmery violet eyeliner (purchased in Korea) and gold eyeshadow.
I also brought lots of bobby pins and hair ties.

I packed all liquids in a plastic bag for easy airport security access.

Odds and ends:

2 notebooks (one journal, and one travel planner)
2 language guides (French and German)
1 small London guidebook
1 tea tumbler
1 day purse
Lock and keys

This section started off with three books, but I couldn't close my backpack initally, so I took out two. I plan to exchange books with people I meet or buy a new one and drop off the finished one during my trip now. I have a E-reader, but I'm still not comfortable with it and it would be another thing that I would worry about getting stolen.

1 mp3
1 book (Richard Florida's Who's Your City, which I find fitting since I will be travelling to so many)
1 laptop (for blogging, work and keeping in touch with friends)
1 harmonica, which I plan to get really good at playing during my trip

What do you think? Would you take any items out? Put anything in?

Minimalist packing for my road-trip by Jessica Lee

I'm heading out on a Jack Kerouac-styled road trip very very soon!

I wanted to show you how my packing-style has changed since this fiasco:

Above is the crazy amount of stuff I thought I could carry with me throughout Australia and East Asia. It was a lesson well-learned as I had to rely on cabs and the kindness of strangers to get me and my stuff to places.

You would be surprised to know that I could carry all of the above by myself though. I just moved like a tortoise.

Eventually I realized it was stupid and shipped everything home. Here is a photo of me in Yogyakarta, Indonesia with less stuff (I eventually shipped the large blue backpack on my back home too).

My new packing regiment is more stream-lined. I would be able to walk to and from the bus station to my residences with my gear on my back.

For a month and a half's worth of travel, I am only bringing:
1 pair of pants
2 sweaters
1 hoodie
1 rain jacket
1 pair of sneakers
1 pair of flip-flops
1 pair of flats
2 pairs of shorts
5 t-shirts (two are discardable, i.e. I don't care about them and they will be thrown away to make room for other things I may pick up)
5 summer dresses (what I plan to wear daily)
a week's worth of underwear
2 pairs of PJ shorts
1 pair of lounge pants
3 pairs of socks
one towel
discardable cheap sunglasses

Toiletries (again, this is very minimal)

-Sunscreen (both for the face and for the body)
-body butter (pretty much empty and the case will be discarded once everything is used)
-shampoo and conditioner, body wash, face wash freebies I picked up once and never put to use (see above photo)

-a facial travel kit from The Body Shop. According to the sales associate, the amount of product in there will last for a month. If she is correct, then great! If not, then I can easily buy more face stuff where I'm headed. The kit has face wash, toner, and a day and night cream. (see below)

I'm also going to be bringing along a small bottle of Pantene shampoo I picked up for $1 at the supermarket in Indonesia. It has Indonesian writing on it as you can see, so I'm a bit hesitant to part with it.

The blue Reef sunscreen was bought in Australia, so I'm a little hesitant to part with it as well. It's an Australian brand not sold here in North America.

I'm also bringing hair gel because I'm currently in that awkward short-hair growing-out phase. (see below)

I feel like this huge tube of hair gel is too big for back-packing travel but at the same time I don't want to go out and buy a smaller one since when I have long hair again, I won't need to use hair gel ever again! Thus I am throwing it in and hoping my back doesn't break from the extra weight (it all adds up).

Here is my make-up kit:

It all fits into that silver mesh bag on the left!

It contains:
a small tube of BB cream picked up in Hong Kong
under-eye concealer
regular concealer
black eyeliner
dark brown eyeliner
brow brush
liquid eyeliner (for those Audrey Hepburn days)
lip stain

Then for fun I threw in purple glitter, gold eyeliner, white eyeliner and shiny violet eyeliner.

If I need anything else, it can be easily picked up for CHEAP at Target as I am going through the States.

I also plan to bring about a month's worth of tea and some honey so I won't be tempted to pop into a coffee shop. They're all tea bags as loose leaf would mean bringing along a steeper too. And since these are all consumables, they will make extra room in my pack when I'm done all my tea!

I'm packing a tea tumbler and Nalgene bottle as well to be nice to the environment. Before I leave, I plan to fill the Nalgene bottle with my favourite drink, cranberry juice- just in case cranberry juice is ridiculously expensive in the states. Cranberry juice is more expensive in Australia than Canada- something I didn't account for in my budget when I went over to study-abroad.

Other items I am packing include my notebook, my laptop and charger, a day purse, my camera, laundry detergent, a novel... and possibly my rock climbing gear and ukulele...

Check out how thin I was able to condense my wallet!

Readers: How much luggage do you travel with?