I’m Traveling. Why am I Having a Bad Time?

Travel: it’s magical, life-changing, soul shifting, beautiful, fun, and freeing. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be, right? That’s how it looks from the outside. All highlight reel and no struggle. All mountaintops and no sweaty climb. All peaceful sailing trips and no violent puking off the side of the boat.

There are countless lists on why we should “just go”, and it totally makes sense for these things to be inspirational and aspirational. Travel is all of those things. But nobody tells you about the doubt, anxiety, or depression– and loudest of all, guilt– that comes with the amazing stuff.

It’s easier to talk about what’s easy, and it’s more fun to share what’s beautiful. But you have permission to struggle.

On my first big solo trip, I felt like I was failing. I was drowning in doubt, and I felt so guilty about it. It was hard and I was surprised. I didn’t expect it to be hard. I was going down and I was bringing my dreams with me.

I wondered what I was doing wrong. I had it all planned out: a place to live, an internship, cheap flights to neighboring cities on the weekends. But I didn’t factor in my own loneliness and inexperience. It didn’t occur to me that it was at all possible that a wide range of emotions and challenges would still exist in this new, more photogenic setting.

Nothing was wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with you either.

We are human. It’s unfair to assume that all of our challenges will evaporate just because of a change in location. In fact, the stuff we’re working on at home will often get a lot louder for us when we travel. When we’re in a new place, when we’re living in circumstances that are different than what we are used to, all of our self-critique, bad habits, and anxieties are magnified. And travel is the zoom lens. It’s the microscope.

You are not doing anything wrong.

A few places I have had a bad time: Portugal, Spain, Australia, China, New Zealand, Costa Rica. Mountains, beaches, waterfalls. Postcard-worthy locations where my anxiety drowned everything else out. Add in the acute awareness that travel is a massive and wonderful privilege in the first place, and guilt will follow you around like a cartoon raincloud. After all, you chose to be here, so why are you whining? I’ve often asked myself that.

Look. You are allowed to have a bad time. It is normal, and it is most likely temporary. And if it isn’t, you can go home. Going is just as much of a choice as staying is.

For most people, including me, travel is hard. Especially solo travel. There are a lot of logistics. Unknowns. Language barriers. Lost luggage. Questions within yourself that you thought you’d addressed. Feelings you thought you dealt with but surprise, here they are again.

Things will go wrong. You’ll look around like, “daaaang, who is gonna deal with this shit right now?” and realize… oh, it’s me. Yep. I am going to deal with it.

You will stress out about making friends, and you’ll wonder how everyone else in the hostel already knows each other. You will rehearse openers and practice them in your head. And maybe you’ll try convince yourself that you don’t need to make any friends– at least then you wouldn’t have to put yourself out there. You wouldn’t have to take the risk.

Travel is full of risk. And at times, you’ll feel inadequate, you’ll get lost, you’ll wonder why you put yourself in this situation to begin with. So let the guilt go– it’s not serving you. Feel what you’re feeling. There is no shame in admitting that you’re having a bad time. Let the shame go too.

Maybe you’re reading this because your trip isn’t seamless. Know that it’s normal, and perfectly so. It’s part of the process. It’s not supposed to be easy, and there isn’t one quick fix, because these matters are complicated. They are matters of the heart. They are matters of the self. They are woven within our identities and our connection to the world. It’s no surprise– we are just trying to find our place here.

It’s OK to have a bad time. It’s OK to wonder why. Be kind to yourself. See it, own it, and get on with the show.


The Places You Meet Yourself

As a result of seeking an adventurous life through travel, I have met many people.

Amazing people. People who have changed me and the maze of my life forever.

But the really interesting thing– perhaps a simple idea– is that I also met myself.

Being alone in the unknown is never comfortable, and discomfort does things to us that ease and routine cannot. It pushes our buttons, forces us to confront ugly things we’d rather ignore, and teaches us about beauty and truth.

When I replay the montage of all the random and hard and gorgeous fleeting moments of my life, I see all the ways in which I got to know myself. All the scenes where I looked into my heart, and proclaimed that I’d see it for what it was.

I see the loneliness standing on the roof of my apartment in Portugal, my anxiety loud as sirens. And I remember doubting very much, at 21, that I had any idea of who I was.

I see meeting one of the loves of my life at a campsite in Belgium, and knowing he was important. And I see us two years later in Christchurch, crying in our hotel room, not knowing if we would ever hold each other that way again.

I see myself in the eyes of every ex-lover, the ones I knew for a night in cities I did not know well. The ones I never even touched physically, but who shared a conversation through broken English or Spanish, and in doing that, shared a part of themselves.

I see myself under a beat up old red barn, covered in hay, shoveling bags of sheep shit.

I see myself walking through caves of glow worms and thinking they looked like the whole universe.

I see dusty motorcycle rides and boats that made me seasick. I see the faces of all the people who were and are all on their own grand adventure, and it’s beautiful to me to know that I shared a brief moment in time with them. Just knowing that is so powerful. And it’s naïve. But it’s enough.

I have never been able to afford nice hotels or nice restaurants, and sometimes I think it might be nice to travel that way, but for me it’s never been about the comfort, and it might never be.

It’s about the deep brown in the eyes of the woman you met on the streets of Budapest; the way her hair smelled like jasmine and dust.

It’s about the whiskey you did not need to drink, the moon bright on the jagged peaks and pine trees, the wobble in your steps on the walk back to your cabin on icy roads.

It’s about the loneliness, the beauty, the glow worms– all the places you meet yourself over and over again, deeply, profoundly.

The depth and variety within the flip book of your life is easy to forget about. We get sucked in to our daily mundane. We forget about all of these moments we have lived.

When you remember all the places you met yourself– the places you can put on a map and the places you could never even name– you remember that it is all so, so worth watching. And worth experiencing in the first place.


2016 Gift Guide

I wanted to put together a list of stuff I use and love, not because it’s sponsored by anyone, but because I thought you’d like it. I describe my style as refined grit– and so, this list is for the sophisticated explorer in your life. Someone who gets after it outdoors but enjoys little luxuries too.

This list includes stuff from companies that I work with and companies I have nothing to do with. Whatever you choose to buy this holiday season, remember that you are voting with your dollars.



Burt’s Bees Lip Balm / $9.01 for two at Amazon
Burt’s Bees has been my go-to chapstick for a while now. Lately I’ve been digging the tinted lip balms, but the original is still great too. A solid choice for a stocking stuffer.

Bananagrams / $12 at REI
Bananagrams is like Scrabble but better and you can play it anywhere. A great game to have and bring on trips!

Topo Designs Accessory Bags / $13-17 at Topo Designs
Full disclosure: I modeled for Topo a year ago and got a bunch of swag. My favorite things from them? These bags. I have one for makeup, one for stationary supplies, and one for memory cards & tech. They are also super durable and Colorado made.

Moleskine XLarge Soft Cover Cahier Journals / $14.69-$19.95 for three on Amazon
The only journals I use. I have been writing and sketching in these for ten years– they are durable and slim so they can go anywhere.

SugarSky Bandana / $22 at SugarSky
A few months ago, SugarSky sent me a couple of headbands, and I haven’t come across any bandanas that I like more! Their patterns are awesome– you are sure to find something for every style.



Tarteguard 30 Sunscreen Lotion / $32 at Sephora
Give the gift of SPF! I have been wearing this for months as my daily moisturizer and really dig it– I was surprised to see that it only has 4 stars on Sephora! The packaging is annoying for travel since it’s in a pump bottle, but I have been really happy with the formula. I only buy cruelty-free cosmetics and this product is vegan.

Goal Zero Switch 10 Portable Recharger / $39.95 at REI
I don’t actually own this, but I really want one. I’m always running out of juice. There are plenty of portable rechargers out there, but Goal Zero makes durable stuff so I trust that this is no exception.

BioLite Powerlight Mini Light / $44.95 at REI or Amazon
BioLite gave me one of these to try over the summer, and it’s pretty darn handy. It keeps me visible on the trail and it’s a great light to have for reading or hanging out inside a tent. It has multiple modes and is super slim so you can pack it anywhere.

Ethnotek Chiburi Travel Organizer / $50 at Ethnotek
My friend Tiffiny works for Ethnotek and gave me this to try. I have never been one for travel organizers– they just always seemed uncool and over-the-top. I was shocked that I not only continued to use this, but I liked it a lot! This is like a bigass wallet that fits your phone, passport, cards and money. Plus it has a zip pouch for coins.



America The Beautiful National Parks Pass / $80 at REI
Access to every National Park in the USA for a year. Pretty sweet.

Ubuntu Made Canvas Shopper / $149.99 at Ubuntu Made
I first found out about Ubuntu Made at a Kammok event this fall. I love their product line– canvas and leather is a combination I will always rock, and this bag is classic. Ubuntu Made celebrates the artisan work of makers in the Maai Mahiu community in Kenya. They have recently partnered with (RED), the global fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Blundstone Boots / $169.95 on Amazon
I got these boots as part of a collaboration with Zappos and fell in love. These are comfortable, durable, and stylish and I wear them every day. Adventure ready for sure.

Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber Jacket / $189.95 at Cotopaxi
So that “refined grit” style I was talking about above? This is that. It’s made from sustainably sourced llama fiber insulation and I could not make that up if I tried. I love that this jacket looks seriously good but also works. Fashion meeting function: yes please. For 15% off, use discount code “ERINOUTDOORS15”.


Donate to an organization that can use the funds for something you believe in. Here’s where I am giving:

I hope this post gave you some ideas! What is on your list?



This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something using the a link above, I may receive a commission at no cost to you. That’s not the point of the post. Just wanted to let you know.


Why You Shouldn’t Travel

I have compared myself to other people for as long as I can remember.

Social media gives us everything we need to create a highlight reel of our lives– something colorful. Only the interesting parts. Only the latte art and the view at the top of the mountain on a sunny day. It’s not normal to broadcast heartbreak or the twenty minutes you spent in the bathroom stall on your phone at the job you don’t care about, killing time.

I have been inspired by travel bloggers. So much, in fact, that a year and half ago, I started this blog. But what I admire most is people who are telling their truth, who are real, who are explaining that it isn’t always fun and it isn’t always easy.

It is easy to glorify travel and adventure, but it’s not really fair to those experiences to end it at just that. In life and in travel, the times that challenged you are the same experiences that helped you grow– the ones that helped you move on into your next stage with as much grace as possible.

There are endless lists on why you should travel. Why it’s a good idea. Why it’s formative. Why it helps you find yourself. I’m not going to give you that list.

Don’t travel to get the pretty pictures for Instagram. You will get much more than you bargained for– not just pictures, but stories to go with them. Some of them will be painful. Some will be scary. All will be loaded.

I have traveled for the wrong reasons. I have traveled because I felt like it was what I should have done or who I should have been. But the trips I went on for the wrong reasons didn’t suddenly change me into the person I wanted to be. They helped, yes, but it was always a delayed reaction– a slow growth I could only see months afterward.

Do not travel to be like someone else. You will only ever be like yourself. Travel to explore who you are and to learn to love that person.

Do not travel because you are looking for something, or for someone. Understand that the world might see you and tell you that actually, you don’t need anything extra. Maybe you are already carrying too much. Understand that your experience might allow you to leave something behind instead, and that this can be more powerful, more valuable.

Do not travel to escape your world or your situation. It will be waiting for you when you get back. Travel to dig in, instead.

Do not travel because you think you “should.” Should is a word that governs our lives but only places limits and judgments on us. Who you should be is exactly who you are right now.

But most importantly, do not travel because someone told you to– including me. You don’t have to do it the way anyone else suggests. No one person’s advice is going to fit you and your situation, and there isn’t going to be a perfect fit the first time around.

Seek grit in your life, not because you feel you should, but because you feel a need. Replace “should” with what you truly require, what will improve you, and what reminds you of your heart’s capacity. Exchange walls for boundaries so you can lovingly require what brings out the best in you, while letting the light in.

It’s not fair to compare yourself to an idea you had about the person you once wanted to be, or the person you think you should be. It’s not fair to compare yourself to something you haven’t given yourself the chance to become yet.

Travel– or don’t– because it resonates with you, because you want to or need to. Travel because you have reasons, or because you don’t. Remember that you, and only you, are always the person who determines the right reasons.


Feature photo by Ali V.


Don’t Know Your Next Step? Do This.

After graduating college, I got a fun summer job, fell in love with a guy and moved with him to Australia. As fun and carefree as that sounds, it was actually one of the most stressful, unsure times in my life.

The summer was fun. I was leading adventure trips, something I was comfortable doing. When the summer was over, I had no plans, so I took a job with my new boyfriend in China. His plan after China was to move to Australia for a year– the exchange rate was great and he saw it as a good opportunity to save money.

He was right. We saved a ton of money. But for a lot of my time in Australia, I felt totally lost.

I had a full-time job in a camping supply store, complete with petty co-worker gossip and work stress. Meanwhile, all the friends I graduated with in New York were getting their first jobs at creative agencies, magazines and trendy startups. I questioned constantly if I was doing the “right” thing for myself. What career was I building? Was I being true to myself? What did I really want to do with my life? I didn’t have answers to any of those questions.

When I look back on that time now, I see something truly formative. I asked myself those questions at age 23, and I only have the answers three years later because I pushed myself through all the times when I didn’t know and had to tell myself it was okay. There were a lot of those times.

If you feel like I did, here is my advice for you.

Stop overthinking everything. Stop thinking that the next decision you make is going to determine the rest of your life– it’s not. The decisions you make in your lifetime are building blocks, small steps that help you turn pages in a book. You don’t know how long the book is going to be.

So do something. Do anything. And keep going, because you will find the answers you are looking for eventually– probably in a place you never, ever thought to look.

Work in a restaurant at least once. You will meet people who surprise you. You will learn skills that you’ll carry with you everywhere. It will surprise you.

Volunteer your time and your heart. To someone who can use it. Someone who needs it. Work in a soup kitchen. Work in an animal shelter. Don’t do it because it feels good or because you can say you did, but because it’s necessary.

Work on a farm. Learn to get your hands dirty. Learn and appreciate where your food comes from. Get sunburned. Get full on food you grew yourself. Learn how to slaughter a chicken and how to plant strawberries.

Do yoga. Go hiking. Go to a part of town you haven’t been to before.

Journal often.

Talk to people who are much older than you. Learn their stories. Talk to children. Learn their stories, too.

Buy a plane ticket with no return plans. If you are limited by money, learn about money. Sell the stuff you aren’t using and the clothes you no longer wear. Work hard.

Seek out people you want to be like. Take them out for coffee. Ask them meaningful questions. Never stop asking.

Read. If you don’t like to read, download audiobooks and listen.

Stop acting like you live twice. You get one life to live one time. It’s not worth it to think about the times you fucked up. We all fuck up and we will all make mistakes every single day. You will figure it out.

Go live. Go live now. Even if you don’t know where to start, just start. The starting, the doing, the living– that’s the important part.

Photos by Ali V. Find her on Instagram at @alisonvagnini.


How to Find Adventure in Every Day

I’m not writing this from a tricked out Sprinter van, or sitting in a hammock. I’m writing this from my kitchen table in Colorado. It’s 4pm, and I haven’t left the house yet today.

If you offered me a plane ticket to Mexico for later tonight, I’d probably take it. But it would be a hard choice. Because as much as I love to travel, to explore, to be waist-deep in water in some cave in New Zealand, to be somewhere that isn’t “home,” I also love sitting in my kitchen drinking coffee all day, writing, working.

I love my home life, my life with a routine, with brunch, just as much as I love my more adventurous pursuits. And it’s a completely different love, but an important one.

To love the adventure in your every day, you have to eat well. Stop eating fast food if you feel like crap the next day. Drink a lot of water. Limit the amount of alcohol you consume and how late you stay out partying. If that doesn’t speak to you, do whatever you want, but the message is that you have to stop treating your body like shit, it’s the only one you get. What you put in it affects how well you’re able to go out into the world and get stuff done.

Do something that raises your heart rate every day. Move your body. You don’t need to bend yourself into a pretzel, or be the most fit person in the gym. You don’t even have to go to a gym. Just move. Be gentle with yourself if you learn that you aren’t as strong or as flexible as you’d like to be– it just means you have a goal.

Read books, watch films, listen to interviews and learn about influential people (influential, that is, to you). Make it part of your routine, something you just do. Pick things you actually want to learn about. If you are having trouble getting through a book, read a different one. Stop judging yourself for not wanting to watch that documentary or for staring at that book you’ve been meaning to read, and fill your head with stuff you truly want to learn about instead.

Being in one place with a routine is an incredible opportunity to treat yourself really well. Recognize that opportunity and use it.

Stop being satisfied with circumstantial friends.

Pursue ambitious, insightful people who are seeking their own path to self-fulfillment and a purposeful life. Nobody with a mindset like that will think you are weird for wanting to grab a coffee with them. Surround yourself with people you are proud to know. Cherish the relationships you have with people who leave you feeling great about yourself after a phone conversation. Make them feel appreciated in return.

Find a community that likes what you like, whether it’s chess or mountain biking. There’s something for everyone, even if the community is based online.

Anyone who judges you, who makes you feel small and like you’re not enough, is someone who is not improving you. Re-allocate that person’s role in your life. Create space for what empowers you instead.

Make a list of things that scare you and a list of things you’ve been meaning to do for a while. Pick one thing from each list and do them. Maybe they are even the same. If something seems huge and far off, create steps and hold yourself accountable to do them.

Pick a project that doesn’t have to do with work. Your project can be writing. It can be building a shelf for your living room. It can be running a mile, or fifteen. It can be learning how to cook one recipe really, really well.

Make it fun, but make it challenging.

And yes, make plans for when you’re not at home. Make plans for when you want to travel, to get outside of your routine in a big way. Get excited for the things you’ll see, the people you’ll meet, the food you’ll taste and the moments that will seem to ring in your ears for years afterward. But don’t live in those moments right now. Plan them so that you can live in them fully, once you have arrived there.

Don’t give yourself the reason, “it was convenient.” Just because it fell into your lap does not mean it was ever right.

And if you are ever bored in this life, you have a huge opportunity to do something differently. Do not be satisfied with boredom, or with circumstance. Determine purpose. Determine happiness.

Nobody is happy all the time, but you are the only person who can decide what happiness means to you. Your path may not always take you there. There are times when you will feel so damn fulfilled, and times when you wish you could sleep through the pain of life. But this thing we get to experience– is incredibly short. It could be over tomorrow.

Show up for yourself, and make it worth living.


On Fear: The Time I Almost Died in Idaho

One of my worst fears when camping is unexpected company showing up when I’m in the woods, at night, by myself with no phone service. I’m way more afraid of other people than I am of animals. I’m afraid of pretty much everything you would expect me to be afraid of in a situation where I’m alone in the woods… and that fear is not only natural, but important.

I’ve been in lots of less-than-ideal situations when traveling. I’ve gotten the flu in the middle of the jungle, gotten off at wrong bus stops in the middle of nowhere, been on sketchy buses and motorbikes that looked like they were put together with paper clips. I’ve gotten myself into messy relationships and fights outside of bars in Rome (ok, that was once). I’ve had food poisoning more times than I can remember and I’ve probably, at some point, eaten dog. You get the idea. I do not recommend that you try to do any of that.

Of all of my travel experiences, the ones that have invoked fear are not few and far between. Taking taxis by myself at dawn, waiting alone in empty bus stations, walking to bars alone, and even walking by myself in broad daylight in some places has scared the shit out of me. But I’ve never been as downright afraid as I was on this one particular night in Idaho.

This past fall, I went on a big solo road trip around the western US, and I was passing through Idaho on my way back to Colorado. I had heard there were some pretty epic hot springs in Idaho, so I googled a few and planned to stop by… only I realized that it would be dark by the time I got there.

I had been sleeping in my converted car for the past six weeks and was pretty comfortable with the set-up, and with finding camping last minute. I figured there would be somewhere to camp. I was wrong. There was nowhere. It was early November, and all the campgrounds I could find were blocked off for winter.

I though to myself, “I’ve been doing this whole sleep-in-the-car thing for six weeks. I can pull over and sleep on the side of the road, no problem. People do it all the time!”

So it was 9pm, and I pulled over. I was on this woodsy windy road– not quite a highway but not a backroad either. I had avoided doing this so far on the trip, always sleeping in campgrounds, rest stops, or Wal-marts (yup). For some reason, side-of-the-road naps just freak me out, and there I was on this pull-off in some random-ass woods in Idaho getting my bed all set up for the night as my heart proceeded to beat so hard it was painful.

It was a cold, wet and misty night. Lots of horror-movie style fog. No stars, no moon, just the lights from the occasional car.

I got my curtains set up, got into bed, and locked myself in. I closed my eyes and told myself to fall asleep.

Obviously, I couldn’t. I just kept seeing bits of light creep in from passing cars, hearing them as they sped by. And I couldn’t stop thinking about how I didn’t have phone service, and how literally at any moment some creep could pull over right next to me.

And then, that’s what happened.

I peeked out of my back window to find a guy parked right behind me. He got out of his truck wearing a headlamp, and began fumbling around with something in his backseat.

My brain said, “He’s probably just getting something out of his car.”

My gut responded, “He’s going to kill you.”

All I could think was: It’s happening. My worst fear. Is. Happening.

From the inside of my car, I pulled off all the curtains I could grab, tried to flip back the hinge on my platform bed, and squeezed myself into the front seat. If you’ve ever seen my set-up in person, you know this would be logistically difficult for anyone over four feet tall. I started my car and, in the process, set off the alarm. Really smooth, Erin.

I put the seat back and peeled out of there, heart pounding, hands shaking. And because I was so curious, and also now moving at 50mph, I turned around to see what the truck man was actually doing.

When I drove by him from the comfort of my moving vehicle, I saw that he was just a normal guy with a headlamp and a towel, walking on the side of the road to the trailhead that I had parked across from. The trailhead to a hot spring.

womp womp.

womp womp.

At this point, I let out a sigh of relief that this guy was apparently not trying to kill me. But I was still on this huge adrenaline high, and so, goodbye hot spring, see you never.

I drove for two hours until I felt okay again. I pulled into a rest stop and parked in between camper trailers, which I always imagine are full of really nice old people. I stayed in bed until noon the next day.

As silly as the actual situation was, and as much as I laughed at myself when it was over, feeling like I was running for my life in a sense really knocked the wind out of me. When I did finally hit the road again the next day, it was with great regard and a sense of respect for my own intuition.

This is not about how unsafe my decisions may or may not have been. This is about trusting your gut. This is about knowing when to listen to fear, when it is very real. This is about following your intuition even though your brain might be telling you to quiet it.

I’ve probably been way closer to death crossing the street than parked on the side of that road in Idaho. I didn’t “almost die,” like the title of this piece suggests. But fear spoke to me and suggested that as a real possibility. And I listened to it.

Whenever fear speaks to you, listen to it. Identify if the fear is rational– what kind of fear is it? Good Fear is the voice that tells you something is right or it isn’t. It alerts you to danger, wants to protect you, and gives you superhuman strength when you really need it. Bad Fear is the voice that tells you to not take risks in your life, relationships, and career. It’s always asking you “what if something bad happens?” Bad Fear sucks and should be told to get out ASAP.

The hot spring would have been nice– I probably would have been fine that night. But I’m glad I listened to fear. Fear has an important place in life, and I’m thankful for the reminder.

Photos by Nate Luebbe & Austin Presas