Zanny Merullo Steffgen
I have finally reached the two week mark before my latest travels begin, and with that limited remainder of time comes a whole lot of last-minute stress. Do I have everything I need? How should I spend my free time in these next two weeks? Who do I need to make an effort to say goodbye to? I always forget about this un-glamorous side to travel right up until my next adventure, then it appears out of nowhere and seeps into my mind.
For those of you who don’t know, over the course of the last few months I have set up a work exchange experience for myself in Cambodia bartending in a hostel, then have bought my plane ticket from there to Thailand for a ten day stay, then from Thailand to Malta where I will work in another hostel as a housekeeper. From there, I hope to return to Italy (although I haven’t planned this portion of my trip yet, preferring to leave the plan for the remaining month abroad up to future Zanny) to visit friends up north and in Naples, check out the university where I am considering attending next year, and spend the rest of my time and money exploring parts of Europe I haven’t yet seen, perhaps ending up bartending in another hostel to afford my adventures. This is the first trip of mine that I am funding completely on my own, and the first where I will be working for room and board (and hopefully a meal or two).
In the past six months at home, since returning from my gap year travels and walking the Camino de Santiago, I have worked nearly full time as a waitress at the Hangar Pub and Grill where my gap year started more than a year ago. Although I wasn’t excited at first to be working again rather than going to school, I came to create and enjoy one of the happiest times of my life. I was lucky enough to have the time to dedicate to the friends I had made at the Hangar before and explore those relationships to the point where I now have a very close group of friends in Amherst. Not only that, but I also kept myself busy at the gym shedding the pounds I had gained from my unrestrained eating and boozing during my travels in Europe, audited a Russian literature class at Smith College to exercise my intellectual side, and joined a singing group in Northampton to bring the joy of music back into my life. Perhaps the greatest gift of this time at home, however, has been the realization that I want to be a writer. In fact, I’ve finished 110 pages of my gap year memoir! Although I still have lots of work to do on my book and my writing in general, the opportunity to explore that side of myself has been invaluable.
Because of this newly-admitted passion, I have pursued some travel writing opportunities and am excited to announce that starting January 18th (when I depart for Cambodia), I will officially be a featured blogger for Verge Magazine. Verge focuses on traveling with purpose, and I will be writing about what it’s like to work abroad. You will be able to find my blog posts here. My first post will be about preparing to work abroad and all of the ways in which traveling to Southeast Asia is different from traveling anywhere else, including a checklist of things to accomplish and think about before heading over there.
I like to think of myself as a relaxed person who is not afraid for what life has in store, but I will admit to some fears in anticipation of this trip. Not only have I never traveled solo to anywhere outside of Canada or Europe before, but I have never been anywhere with such an impenetrable language barrier. The customs, culture, and language of Cambodia and Thailand are utterly unfamiliar to me and I am nervous about being a single woman in Asia. Not only that, but the climate of Southeast Asia is unlike anything my body has ever inhabited, and I worry about my Cystic Fibrosis and the health risks that present themselves in such an drastically different, humid and tropical climate. I’ve done what I can by purchasing traveler’s insurance and seeing a travel doctor, and the rest is up to God and the Universe!
Thank you all for your support in my travel endeavors and for following my adventures! Stay tuned for this latest exploration, and always feel free to contact me with questions regarding travel or anything else.
Love from Zanny!