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Archive for November, 2012

Aromatherapy involves much more than essential oils. Below are a few other important elements in an aromatherapy practice.

More Plant Extracts

While essential oils are probably the most common ingredient in aromatherapy products, there are three other main plant extracts that may be used: CO2s, absolutes, and hydrosols. The primary difference between essential oils and these other plant extracts is the way in which their essences are extracted.

Essential oils are extracted through either a steam distillation process (the steam carries the aromatic molecules to be separated and bottled) or an expression process (a machine presses the plant to release its essential oils).

CO2s are often labeled as essential oils–the main difference here is that the extraction process involves using carbon dioxide rather than water or steam. They are usually thicker than true essential oils, and are said to maintain more of their original components because no heat is used during the distillation process.

Absolutes are made when hot water or steam distillation would either harm the quality of the oil or simply not produce enough oil. They are very concentrated extracts and are produced using a solvent, which is later removed. Because of the possibility of trace solvent remaining in the absolute, they should not be used internally.

Hydrosols are the aromatic waters that remain after distilling essential oils. They are much milder than essential oils, but still contain many healing properties.

Carrier Oils

Also important in aromatherapy are carrier oils, which are fatty oils most commonly made from vegetables and nuts. As the name suggests, help “carry” essential oils (or CO2s, absolutes, or hydrosols) into your body.

One of the wonderful things about most carrier oils is that they have relatively small molecules. This means that these oils are unlikely to clog your pores or leave stains on your clothes. Their small molecules also allow the carrier oils to penetrate your skin and bring essential oils deeper into your body. This is one reason why it’s important to dilute your essential oils with some sort of carrier oil before applying them to the skin–the carrier oil actually helps the essential oil act more efficiently.

Yet carrier oils do much more than act as a means of transport. Each carrier oil also offers unique enhancements to the healing process. Here are just a few of our favorites at Essential Life Aromatherapy (ELA):

  • Sweet Almond Oil: an excellent emollient for chapped and dry skin
  • Apricot Kernel Oil: light and great for the face
  • Evening Primrose Oil: helps with balancing hormones, eczema, arthritis, inflammation, and regulating insulin
  • Jojoba Oil: a wonderful all-purpose oil, good for all skin types, healing for the scalp and hair, with a long shelf-life
  • Olive Oil: a highly nutritious oil, great for making ointments
  • Rose Hip Oil: one of my personal favorites, this oil helps reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging (it’s in our amazing face oil)
  • Sesame Seed Oil: long revered in Ayurvedic medicine, this is a wonderful warming and moisturizing oil
  • Fractionated Coconut Oil: great for moisturizing in general, this oil also has a long shelf life

A few other healing and infused oils we use in our ELA products are arnica (for aching joints and muscles), Calendula (for healing the skin and wounds), and argan oil (which is very nourishing for hair). We’re also experimenting with a few other fun ingredients, including a Saint John’s Wort infusion.

Just for Fun . . .

I thought I’d throw in a picture of a few products I use daily, which involve a variety of aromatherapy ingredients:

bedtime face routine © 2012, Juniper Stokes

On the left is a bottle of our amazing ELA face oil. I massage this into my face each night. It contains a variety of essential and carrier oils that are especially good for the face and skin, including carrot seed, jojoba, and rose hip oil . . . along with many other secret ingredients. (I make this for myself all the time, so the bottle isn’t labeled.) In the center is a rose/sandalwood hydrosol I made to use as a soothing face spritzer. And on the right is a small bottle of concentrated rose hip oil I brought back from a recent trip to Patagonia, where it was surprisingly popular. I massage a few drops of this directly into areas that need a little extra care (spots, wrinkles, all that). I love my all-natural aromatherapy nighttime ritual.

***

Essential oils are only the surface of what aromatherapy can offer. An effective, well-trained aromatherapist will be able to take from the plethora of ingredients available in order to create the most healing products possible. If you have any questions about using these ingredients, please write! And again, if you’re interested in any of our products that use these ingredients, feel free to contact us at elaromatherapy@gmail.com.

Also, I’d love to hear if any of you have more ideas about how to use all these wonderful ingredients in your own aromatherapy practices. Do you have other ways that you use these carrier oils? A favorite absolute or hydrosol? Ideas for how we will use our new Saint John’s Wort oil? Share your wisdom and let us know!

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Well, it’s the day after Thanksgiving and I am happily stuffed after revisiting some of yesterday’s leftovers for breakfast this morning. I’m at home visiting my parents in Washington State, and I’m happy to say that our Thanksgiving meal was seasonal, local (with pumpkin, squash, carrots, and herbs from our garden), and totally vegetarian!

My family has been pescatarian for years, and I don’t even remember the last time we attempted to have a turkey for Thanksgiving. Though stuffing a turkey for this holiday has become an American tradition, our family has found alternative, more sustainable, turkey-friendly, and equally enjoyable ways to celebrate. We still stick to the classics for our sides–cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and veggie gravy, brussel sprouts or green beans, corn, sweet yams–these are all very easy to make vegetarian. But for the main event, rather than stuffing a turkey, we stuff a pumpkin from our garden. Some years, we use a regular bread crumb stuffing, while other years, we switch to wild rice for a local twist. Either version gives us the satisfaction of the Thanksgiving stuffing tradition, without the added cruelty. And let’s be honest, the more well-known veggie alternative, Tofurkey, is not that satisfying or healthy.

I know it’s a bit late for recipes, but I thought I’d at least share this year’s menu with everyone, with hopes of giving other veggies some inspiration around this time of year. And as a bonus, this menu is almost entirely gluten free.

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu

Appetizer

  • Goat cheese torte with pesto and sun dried tomatoes

Sides

  • Simple green salad with cranberry gorgonzola dressing
  • Organic homemade cranberry sauce with ginger and hot chillies
  • Mashed potatoes with homemade veggie gravy
  • Roasted green beans with red onion
  • Caramelized mushrooms and onion in a rich butter-wine sauce
  • Sweet yams with maple syrup and spices

The Main

  • Individual acorn squash cups stuffed with wild rice and herbs

Dessert

  • Pumpkin pie with bourbon whipped cream

Drinks

  • Local sparking and red wine, as needed ;)

The only dish that wasn’t homemade this year was our appetizer, a goat cheese torte from Trader Joe’s. We served this with rice crackers and sparkling wine from the Mountain Dome Winery, my favorite local winery for the sparkles.

Mountain Dome sparkling wine and Trader Joe’s cheese torte © 2012, Juniper Stokes

A simple side salad with organic baby greens, tomatoes, and green onions, topped with a gorgonzola cranberry dressing from Trader Joe’s, gave the meal a bit of freshness.

simple side salad © 2012, Juniper Stokes

The green beans were supposed to be roasted in bundles with kitchen twine, though we later realized we had the wrong kind of twine and cut if off before actually roasting these beautiful bundles.

green bean bundles © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Homemade gravy with olive oil, flour, and veggie bouillon–delicious and vegan!

vegan gravy © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Dad bought organic cranberries and spiked them with ginger and Thai chili peppers from our garden–amazing. I’ll never serve canned again!

homemade cranberry sauce © 2012, Juniper Stokes

This year, we decided to use acorn squash rather than pumpkin for our main event. After a bit of an odd growing season, my parents ended up with several extra small but still delicious acorn squash from their garden, perfect for individual servings.

tiny acorn squash © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Thanks to their new green house, we were able to season the wild rice stuffing with herbs and carrots from the garden, as well.

stuffed acorn squash with wild rice © 2012, Juniper Stokes

All together, it was a wonderful, healthy, local, vegetarian feast!

Thanksgiving dinner © 2012, Juniper Stokes

I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of the pumpkin pie (made with a garden pumpkin) with bourbon-agave whipped cream! It was delicious, and I must have been a bit too excited to eat it . . .

I hope these menu ideas help, and if anyone is in desperate need of a recipe, let me know! I’m happy to help.

Happy Thanksgiving! © 2012, Juniper Stokes

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With all the pumpkin and squash dishes I’ve been cooking lately, I’ve ended up with a lot of seeds. Pumpkin and squash seeds are not only delicious, but rich in magnesium, zinc, and protein. The secret is to prepare them to be perfectly crispy–neither too chewy nor too burnt. I’ve had plenty of seeds to experiment with this season, and I think I’ve finally figured out how to make perfectly cooked pumpkin (or squash) seeds.

Perfectly Cooked Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients

  • pumpkin and/or squash seeds
  • olive oil
  • salt

I haven’t included any specific measurements for this recipe because I’ve found that I never really know how many seeds I’ll have to work with. I tend to buy a lot of small, organic squash and continually save the seeds from each one until I have enough to fill a single layer in a 9″x12″ glass baking dish or a large baking sheet. I use enough olive oil to generously coat the seeds, and I add salt to taste.

Directions

First, you’ll want to clean the seeds. Depending on the type of pumpkin or squash you use, this could be fairly easy, or could require enough effort that you might as well sit down with a bowl of seeds in front of your favorite half hour sitcom. I’ve been cooking a lot of acorn squash recently, and I’ve found that these seeds are fairly easy to squeeze away from the pulp. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the process will be easy for you, too. And if you don’t clean the seeds perfectly, don’t worry! A bit of orange goop really won’t ruin them, and I think it sometimes adds a bit of flavor.

Once the seeds are about clean, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the seeds in a baking dish or on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt to coat. I generously coat the seeds to prevent burning and sticking (and because I love the taste of olive oil). I feel like it’s better to add a bit too much oil at the beginning and then use a paper towel to remove excess oil later, rather than to add too little up front and end up with dry, sticky seeds.

Next, bake the seeds for 40-45 minutes, stirring once to prevent sticking.

perfectly cooked pumpkin seeds © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Next time, I plan on making flavored seeds–curry, thyme, cardamom . . . who knows! I’d love to hear about all of your favorite versions, so please share :)

Enjoy!

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I was doing a bit of shopping at Whole Foods the other day when I noticed that radicchio was half off the regular price. Now, I’ve never cooked with radicchio before, nor have I thought much about what it actually is . . . . It’s always just been one of those fancy ingredients casually referenced in gourmet foodie magazines that sounds somehow familiar yet also unidentifiable. But on this particular trip to the store, the bright yellow half off tag caught my attention, and though I had absolutely no idea what to do with the vegetable, I decided it would be a good time to learn.

In case you’re wondering, radicchio looks a bit like small purple cabbage:

Česky: červená čekanka

radicchio, from Wikipedia’s creative commons

I did a bit of research on different ways to cook radicchio, and I found several interesting recipes. In the end, I decided to keep the ingredients as simple as possible. After all, it was my first time actually tasting radicchio, so I really wanted to taste it! As it turns out, radicchio has a very bitter taste. While nutritional medicine and Ayurveda remind us that we need all types of flavors in our palate, I found the bitterness of this vegetable alone to be a bit much. In order to balance the bitterness, I roasted the radicchio until it was almost caramelized and topped it with a bit of lemon juice and parmesan. The result made a subtly bitter and balanced dish that works perfectly as a small side.

Roasted Radicchio

Ingredients

  • 1 head radicchio
  • 1 small white onion
  • juice of 1/4 large lemon
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the onion and radicchio (many people also prepare the radicchio as wedges), and place them in a glass baking dish. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and toss to coat. Bake covered for about 15 minutes. Uncover, and gently stir and turn the vegetables. Cook uncovered for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir the vegetables again, top with parmesan, and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and serve.

Roasted Radicchio © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Enjoy!

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I eat salad all summer long, and I don’t always like to give up my daily salads as summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter. But I do like to eat seasonally, and now that it’s November, what’s more seasonal than pumpkin and squash? Adding a bit of curried pumpkin and feta cheese to an otherwise basic salad makes this easy staple suddenly seasonal and gourmet . . . and surprisingly easy to prepare!

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main)

  • 1/4 acorn squash (okay, I used squash in my salad, but I’m sure any winter variety, including pumpkin, would work)
  • 1/4 c crumbled feta
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 4 radishes, sliced
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 2 c lettuce, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 2 Tbs flax oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

First, steam the acorn squash (or pumpkin) for about 20 min. While the squash is steaming, sprinkle a bit of curry powder on top. I won’t lie–there are probably more professional ways to create delicious curried squash. But when I cook for myself, I like quick and easy, and this method is the quickest and easiest I’ve found. Once the squash is fully steamed, use a vegetable peeler to take off the skin, and then chop the squash into bite-sized pieces.

While the squash is steaming, you can prepare the rest of the salad. Chop or slice all the veggies and put them a bowl. Then add the feta. It’s as easy as that.

Once the salad is prepared and the steamed squash is on top, you can dress the salad. Following the easy=good method, I put the dressing ingredients directly on the salad, rather than premixing them. I think curry and basil make a great combo, so I first sprinkle a bit of dried basil on top, followed a bit of salt and pepper. Next, add the flax oil. I like the nutty flavor flax adds to this dish, and flax is rich in those ever-important omega 3s. Finally, top the salad with the balsamic vinegar, toss, and enjoy.

curried pumpkin and feta salad © 2012, Juniper Stokes

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During the past year, I have had some “issues” with yoga. After years of regular practice and deep immersion in the yoga world, I began to realize that the yoga community can be a little too extreme, as well as how a yoga practice can easily be taken in what I feel are unhealthy directions–physically, mentally, and spiritually. These feelings and changes in my relationship with yoga came about from a variety of experiences, and in order to fully process them, I found myself needing to take a complete break from my yoga practice, and eventually, from any type of spiritual practice at all.

Though losing what I thought had been a solid foundation in my life was difficult at the time, I now realize what a gift this past year has been. By gaining distance from the yoga world, from spiritual extremism on one hand to pop culture fads on the other, I gained the perspective needed to reintroduce various practices and ideas into my life with greater discernment. As a result, I am now creating a more sustainable practice (physically and spiritually), rooted in experience, balance, and a deeper understanding of myself and my subject matter.

During my years of practice and trainings in the yoga world, I studied many techniques and philosophies related to coming into balance and finding optimal health in mind, body, and spirit. As I begin to reintroduce the practices that I find most healing into my own life, I would like to begin sharing them here, with all of you. Take what works for you, forget what doesn’t (or come back to it later). Ultimately, the greatest way for any of us to reach wellness is to follow our own intuition.

Pink Lotus © 2007, Juniper Stokes

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Happy photo friday! You’ve heard the rumors, and they’re true: Tokyo is crazy-crowded. Here is a shot of Shibuya Crossing . . . on a quiet afternoon.

Shibuya Crossing © 2006, Juniper Stokes

During my first three months living in Tokyo, knowing I would have to face crowds like this was often enough to prevent me from venturing outside my apartment. By the time I left, this was nothing, and I can still “crowd walk” like a pro. It’s amazing what we can get used to as humans.

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As I discussed in Travel Buddies Part 1, traveling with a buddy can be a wonderful way to travel. But you really need to have the right travel partner. Your travel partner is someone you will be spending a lot of time with, as well as enduring many unnaturally stressful events with, all potentially exacerbated by culture shock and new environments. The person you are with during your travels will greatly influence your trip for better or worse, so it’s important to end up with the right travel buddy for you. A bit of awareness, about both yourself and your potential travel partner, will go a long way toward making your trip (and your relationship) a success.

To help you decide if you and your potential travel buddy are good match, I’ve created a list of my top 10 areas for both of you to consider. I highly recommend that you examine each of these areas before jumping into any new travel relationship.

1. Comfort Level

What’s your comfort level? Do you prefer luxury, or do you like to rough it? Or are you somewhere in the middle? For me, location, cleanliness, and safety are my comfort priorities. I like to spend as little as possible without sacrificing these basic needs. Still, I’m more than willing to splurge on a bit of luxury now and then. I like to discuss this with potential travel buddies early on in the planning process. If a luxury splurge is on the menu, I find it’s best for both parties to agree to it in advance.

2. Budget

Related to comfort level, budget issues are perhaps the biggest challenge travel partners encounter. To start with, it’s just not possible for some people to pay for certain comfort/convenience levels, no matter how much they would like to upgrade their travel styles. No amount of negotiation is going to make more money appear. On the other hand, many travelers seem to believe that traveling is some sort of a budget game–their goal is to do as much as possible for the least amount of money possible, and if you’re not interested in playing this game, this style of travel will drive you insane. (I would much rather pay $10 for a taxi than walk for an hour in 100 degree weather . . . not everyone agrees!)

Working out budget issues ahead of time is key–you both need to know not only your total budget, but also your budgetary priorities. You don’t want to feel like you have to miss out on an experience because your partner doesn’t want to pay for it. And if one partner wants to spend more on accommodation and other more on experiences, there might be uncomfortable conflicts if agreements aren’t worked out in advance.

3. Goals

Why are you taking this trip? Do you want to do a lot of sightseeing? If so, what type? Do you want to focus on learning something, such as a language, how to make local cuisine, or more about the history of the country you’re visiting? Or are you more interested in nature, ecotourism, or adding more animal sightings to your life list? Some people want to do as much as possible in a well-planned, action-packed trip, while others will be more interested in relaxing on a beach and enjoying cocktails and spa treatments. Or for some, travel is part of their spiritual practice, and travel priorities may involve deepening a practice through retreat. If you’re anything like me, you are open to a combination of these activities. Clarifying how much time you’d like to spend on each goal, and how much both of you are willing to compromise on these activities is key!

Conflicting travel goals is one of the most important areas to reflect on ahead of time, and probably the number 2 area (after budget) for distress between travel partners. One person wants to go, go, go and make the most of the travel destination, while the other needs time to not do anything but relaxing and soak up the vibes of the place. This doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, so long as both partners are willing to compromise. Set aside part of the trip for active tourism and part for relaxation, and stick to the plan.

4. Food

How often do you like/need to eat, and how much? Do you prefer street food, or do you live for high-end dining experiences in different countries?  Do you count on splitting meals for the sake of your budget or for tasting a variety of dishes? Or do you like to order what you want and know it’s all yours? What about dietary needs? If you’re vegetarian and your buddy wants to eat every animal the country offers, you need to know ahead of time if this is something you’re okay with. Try to eat out a few times with your travel buddy before the trip begins–then multiply that meal times 20. Can you handle it?

5. Activity/Fitness Levels

You need to be honest about your activity levels before committing to a trip with any travel partner. Most travel involves a lot of walking at the most basic level, and sometimes simply mismatched walking speeds can drive travel partners crazy. And this isn’t even touching on differences in hiking styles or interests in extreme sports. Checking in with how active you’d both like to be before the trip begins is another helpful aspect of a healthy travel partnership.

6. Planning and Organization

This can be another make it or break it area to question. Many travelers like to leave themselves with maximum flexibility and see what the trip brings. Amazing experiences are allowed to sneak into your trip when there is extra room for them, and a bit of flexibility can lead to some great last-minute deals. However, too little planning can leave you stranded and needing to spend even more money, or can make you miss out on important experiences because of timing, crowds, or other unforeseen circumstances. If you’re the free spirit, your parter’s need to plan ahead may drive you crazy. But if you’re the planner, there’s a good chance you’ll feel the burden of the travel workload on your shoulders. In reality, a combination of these preferences can work well, provided that both people enter the relationship with open eyes.

7. Photography

It might seem a bit strange to see “photography” as its own section here, but I swear, picture-taking can be a huge issue when you travel with other people! People who like to take pictures often really like to take pictures. If you are on a hike together, be prepared to stop and wait and stop and wait and stop and wait while your buddy gets the perfect shot. Ideally, both of you will have the same photographic needs, but if not, the one who takes less pictures needs to prepare to be patient, and the photographer might want to have some awareness of the other person’s time expenditures.

The other issue with photography relates to taking pictures of each other. In the age of Facebook, great travel photos can be a must. And you want to prove you were actually at the location, right? If you are the photographer and constantly taking pictures of landscapes, of your friend, and of landscapes that your friend happens to be in, you’ll probably be pretty disappointed when you go through your photos and count one . . . two . . . only three photos of yourself!? Of course, you also don’t want to have your travel buddy constantly interrupting you to take his or her photo again and again until the shot is profile-worthy. I’ve been on both sides of this coin, and neither one is fun. Try to be fair.

8. Competitiveness vs. Cooperation

This is an area I never would have thought would be an issue before I experienced it myself. I’m a natural cooperator, and I find that this is one area where I really need my partner to be on the same page. For example, if I get first choice bed at one location, my partner gets first choice the next time. If my partner has the window seat on one bus ride, I get it the next time. It still shocks me, but not everyone thinks this way. I’ve had travel partners who would rush ahead of me into every hotel room in order to grab the prime bed, would naturally end up stepping onto every bus ahead of me and therefore with the window seat. This area relates to choices, too. One person chooses the restaurant the first night, the other chooses where to eat next time. At the least, a discussion takes place. If you’re both naturally competitive and like to make a game out of getting what you want, then the trip might work out. If only one person is the taker, however, the trip is destined for disaster. I believe cooperation is key and simply can’t travel with people who have no interest in fairness. The important thing is that I know this about myself, so I can clarify this issue with partners before conflicts arise.

9. Togetherness vs. Solo Time

If you set off to travel with a partner, do you expect to do everything together, compromising and communicating as necessary in order to make sure both of you have a positive, joint experience? Or do you have travel priorities that go beyond what your partner can accommodate? Are you willing to spend a day (or more) doing different activities, or would this symbolize a breakdown in the relationship to you? This is a hugely important area to consider before taking off with a partner. In my experience, communication is key. If you know you need alone time, communicate this openly and honestly to your travel partner. Let your partner know that you  simply want time to yourself.  And if you prefer doing everything together, it’s important to accept that your partner might not feel the same, and that it has nothing to do with you personally. If you feel like you would be lost if your partner takes off without you, this is something to discuss before you ever take off together. Again, communication is key here!

10. A Sense of Humor

You could have the perfectly meshed partner in all of the above areas–you have the same budget, eat the same food, and both want to do the same activities. But if you can’t laugh together, what’s the point? This is soooo key. Laughter is the magic ingredient for any successful trip. No matter how difficult the situation, or even the day, if you can go back to your hotel room, open a bottle of wine (of course), and laugh at life and each other and yourselves, then all is right with your travel world.

***

When reflecting on all of these areas, perhaps the most important thing is to know how important each category is for you, and how much you can compromise. Maybe the food category won’t make a big impact on your ability to enjoy the trip, but you need to know that your partner wants to spend the entire time together. Or, maybe you’re a complete foodie and having someone to split fancy meals with is a must. The important thing is to be aware of where you’re willing and able to compromise, and where you simply can’t. It’s okay if you have travel deal breakers, just acknowledge and accept them.

It’s also important to talk to your partner openly and honestly about these topics. What are your partners’ priorities? What can they compromise on, and what are their deal breakers? You both need to know what you’re getting into. And it’s important not to force a partnership that has too many differences and red flags from the beginning. If there are serious differences in your travel styles, you might both be better off doing solo trips than forcing something that just doesn’t want to happen.

Again, in all cases, communication is key. Add a bit of flexibility, acceptance, and cooperation to the mix, and you’ll find yourself reaping the rewards of partner travel. Enjoy your travel buddies!

I’d love to hear from all of you about your experiences with travel buddies. Have you had a good one, or one that broke a friendship? Please share!

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I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica and covered ground in 39 countries. I did much of this travel solo, joined some tour groups in a few locations, and met up with groups of friends for other trips. I could go into the pros and cons of all these types of travel, but for now, I want to focus on one specific type of trip–that done with a “travel buddy”.

Solo travel offers freedom and independence, and it has been widely romanticized in travel literature. There are countless articles and guides expounding the benefits of traveling alone. And while solo travel truly is wonderful and should probably be on all travelers’ bucket lists, I don’t think we should overlook the perks of traveling with a partner. I’ll admit it, traveling with a partner can totally suck. But a bit of awareness in choosing the right person to travel with can lead to a wonderful travel partnership.

In Part 1 of my article on travel buddies, I’ll discuss the often overlooked benefits of traveling with a friend. In Part 2, I’ll go into more detail about how to make sure you end up with the right travel buddy for you.

The Perks of Travel Buddies

Cost

Traveling costs money. No, you shouldn’t let financial concerns alone stop you from traveling, but in most places, gone are the days of living on $10 a day and the kindness of strangers. So buddy up. Split some costs and extend your adventures!

Sharing a room with a friend is almost always cheaper than doing it on your own. I’m at the point now where I want to stay in hotels and private rooms rather than hostels (I paid my hosteling dues and them some in my early twenties), and often the cost of a room is the same whether one or two people stay there. Even if you do prefer hostel travel, sharing a private room with a friend is often only slightly more expensive than both of you paying for beds in a larger room. You’ll still have the social benefits offered by common areas, yet you’ll also have the security of being able to lock your own door while you’re out.

Beyond accommodation expenses, it’s also great to be able to split the cost of renting vehicles. While I tend to go with public transportation whenever possible, there are certain places where renting a vehicle opens up a new world of freedom and possibility. In Greece, for example, my travel buddy and I rented the cutest little yellow car on the island of Ikaria (the only public transportation on this island was the school bus–I guess that could have been interesting . . .). By renting our car together, we were able to drive to hidden beaches and ancient ruins that we never would have had access to otherwise.

our little yellow car, the only automatic on the island © 2012, Juniper Stokes

I also recently returned from South America, where two friends and I rented a car for a three-week road trip through Chilean Patagonia–no way could I have afforded a trip like that without sharing the cost. Not to mention, I’m a much better navigator than driver :)

you can’t get a shot like this without your own vehicle © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Often a big part of traveling is needing to eat meals in restaurants. This can add up quickly. Sometimes portion sizes are big enough to feed more than one person.  At other times, too many things on the menu look too delicious to choose just one. In both cases, a buddy helps. Splitting meals cuts costs, and being able to taste a variety of dishes is an integral part of travel. And even if you go to the store to buy and prepare food yourself, you’ll save money doing so with a partner.

Argentine parilla is much better split between two–salad, proveleta (grilled provolone deliciousness), and assorted grilled veggies © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Safety and Health

Safety is another huge benefit of traveling with a partner. When you’re out at night, having a buddy to walk or even cab home with can be crucial. Also, as a young, blond, smallish, American woman, I feel much more comfortable having a companion with me in many parts of the world. I have a feeling Egypt would have been a very different trip if I wouldn’t have had a great guy to travel with.

Best photo-bomb ever, plus a fantastic travel partner (thanks Russell)! 

And on any trip, weird, difficult things happen. Your credit card might suddenly stop working (and, as I’ve learned from experience, if you don’t tell the bank that your plans have changed and you’ve added another country to the list, the card really will stop working), or worse, your important documents could get lost or stolen. In these cases, a trusted friend to help out is invaluable.

I also have made expeditions to pharmacies for friends in need, and have sent buddies out for supplies when local bacteria decided to take over my body, as well. Traveling in so many different countries has given me a pretty strong stomach, but on my last trip to Indonesia, something in the Gili Islands made me ridiculously ill. Nothing would stay in my body, and I would have become dangerously dehydrated if my wonderful travel buddy wouldn’t have trekked out to buy sports drinks and crackers for me.

Gili island fun before the amazing Hanni brought me life-saving hydration

Skill Sets

Another great perk to traveling with a partner is taking advantage of differing skill sets. I don’t relish the idea of driving in other countries, but I’m an excellent navigator in a car. But I’m a terrible navigator by foot–I always think I’m following the map perfectly, only to look up and have no idea where I am 10 minutes later. My travel partners who have been willing to take the wheel and get me from place to place with minimum distress have been huge assets on my trips.

For my part, I am crazy-organized. There have been times when my less organized partner has introduced me to new adventures and possibilities that I would have missed out on otherwise, but an equal number of times where my organization and preparation have saved our booties. I’m also great at communicating with non-native English speakers, probably from years of teaching English as a foreign language. While I may need my braver friend to be the one to initiate a conversation, I will always be the one to see where communication breakdowns are happening, and what type of linguistic strategies are needed to restore clarity in communication.

I know my strengths and weaknesses as a traveler, and I am forever indebted to those buddies who have balanced out my traveling skill sets.

enjoying a private Vietnamese boat ride with Kay and Lea–each of us definitely contributed something different

Companionship

Companionship is also an obvious yet often overlooked benefit to traveling with a partner. There is something to be said for being able to share new experiences with an old friend. As amazing as an experience in a foreign country may be, sharing it only with your travel journal isn’t quite the same as sharing it with another human being. You will always have that time together, and your relationship with always be at least slightly enriched by your new shared experiences.

Also, as any experienced traveler knows, sometimes traveling is just hard. You miss your train. A local treats you like sh*t and you don’t know what you did to deserve it. You get lost . . . for hours. You end up in a hotel room that looks like a murder scene, and you’re pretty sure the guy at the front desk is responsible.

Or, you find yourself in one of those many difficult situations that can only be resolved by spending half of your travel budget. (Like trying to save money by spending the night in the most uncomfortable airport ever, only to realize the next morning that you’re at the wrong airport, only to realize that busses aren’t running because of the snow storm, only to realize that this will make you miss your flight, and then to realize that you’ll have to pay a million dollars on a taxi and new flight  . . . and yes, this did happen to me during one of my first trips overseas.)

These things happen. And you know what makes them easier to handle? A friend. Going through difficult situations together offers you both the chance to be each other’s strength, to take turns shouldering the pain and lightening the mood. And just as with positive experiences, negative experiences also give you shared memories that I have found tend to evolve into comedies with time. It is much easier to laugh about taking a train for eight hours in the wrong direction with a friend than by yourself!

Greece might have been one of my favorite trips, but only because my travel buddy Katrina made the tough times easier 
*twin outfits were totally accidental*

You’ll Still Meet New People!

One of the most common responses I hear to the travel with a buddy or travel alone question is, “But you meet so many more people when you travel solo!” This is simply not true. The only way you’re going to not meet people while traveling is if you really just don’t want to meet people. In fact, I tend to meet more people when I travel with a partner than when I travel solo. We can take turns being the friendly one who initiates conversations, and since we still tend to meet people individually, we end up having twice as many new connections as when traveling solo. Also, it’s often easier to befriend other people who are already traveling together when both parties are groups of people, rather than individuals. Of course you will meet people traveling on your own, too, but really, it’s just as easy, if not easier, with a buddy.

friends are fun for stateside trips, too . . . in Washington State’s Hoh Rainforest, with Ginger and Katrina (photo credit)

There are many perks to traveling with a buddy. But, it really does need to be the right buddy. Ending up with a travel partner that you don’t quite mesh with can absolutely ruin an otherwise wonderful trip. So how do you find the right travel partner? Read Travel Buddies Part 2!!!

By the way, I’d love to hear your feedback about this subject. What types of experiences have you had with travel buddies? Good and bad! Please share! Do you enjoy traveling with a buddy or prefer solo travel? I’d love to hear from you.

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One of my favorite aspects of Japanese culture is the attention it places on all things seasonal. Spring’s cherry blossom season may be one of the most famous examples of seasonal Japanese celebrations, and I was never one to miss out on the noon–midnight parties that celebrate this short but wonderful time of year. Still, the fall was always my favorite season in Japan. Summer’s humidity had finally relented, winter’s chill had not yet taken hold, and red maples and golden ginkgos decorated every street and park, celebrating the rare and perfect weather gifted by the autumn months.

Every fall, along with many of my Japanese cohorts, I had my camera out in full force. I made special trips to various parks after work and mountains on the weekends. I would go on long bike rides in search of perfect fall beauty. And my efforts were rewarded. In honor of the season, and a bit of “natsukashii” (kind of like nostalgia), I am dedicating this “Photo Friday” to fall in Japan.*

*I know you know this, but these are totally and completely all mine and copyrighted. Yes, they’re beautiful, but please don’t use them without my permission and giving me credit. Arigatou!

 

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