One year on the road – and still not enough

I started my dream – a trip around the world – exactly one year ago. Time for some reflections.


So here I am, in a coffee shop in Japan, publishing this blog post while thinking about all the things I’ve seen and experienced in the past 12 months. It’s incredible. I’m probably as surprised as you are that it has been already one year since I started my trip around the world. It feels like I left only a few months ago, yet if I think about all the experiences I made I feel like I must have been on the road for years, so intense and rich has my trip been so far.

So here are a few thoughts about my trip, travelling alone, what’s the best part of a trip around the world – and what the worst.

 

Why a trip around the world?

Some people ask me whether this is a self-finding-trip or even if I am running away from something. The clear answer is: NO. As unspectacular as it sounds, I just love to travel, to explore unknown countries, to learn more about a new culture, to meet strangers and become friends. I am very curious and I learn more by experiencing things on my own than just reading or hearing about them.

I have travelled a lot in Europe during my studies. Because Europe is small and compact, I was able to spend a long weekend every now and then in another country. I had not seen much outside of Europe, so now I wanted to discover the rest of the world. Also, it was the perfect moment to go on this trip: I had finished my studies, gotten some working experience (and saved some money), had no apartment, no kids, no dog.

Streetart in Morocco saying Why not

Why not?! Street art in Morocco. Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What were my favourite countries so far?

This answer is very subjective because I feel it’s mostly due to the people I met during these trips and the experiences we share. Therefore, I’d say Ethiopia and Myanmar because these are the countries where I had the most magical and intense moments on my trip. They were also by far the less touristic ones. Also Nepal, India and China, as well as Senegal and the US (well I’ve just been to New York on this trip) were amazing. But every country I’ve been to so far was a great experience, I don’t regret visiting any of them.

 

What is travelling alone like?

First of all, I’m not alone all the time. Either I am lucky to have friends joining me for a lap, or I visit friends in their home country. I consciously picked most destinations according to where I have friends. But there are a few countries on my way I want to see even if I don’t know anybody there. Also, my local friends can’t spend their whole time with me since they have to work/study, so sometimes I travel on my own.

I am a very sociable person, I love to spend time with people. I’m definitely not a loner. To be honest, I am still in the process of learning how to be alone without feeling lonely – sometimes I manage better, sometimes not. But travelling alone definitely has its advantages too, I am incredibly spontaneous and more careless because I’m only responsible for myself and don’t need to have a bad conscious if something goes wrong or not as planned. Since I have a very optimistic attitude, I try to consider unplanned things and mistakes new adventures.

Graffitti with the words "Make your own luck"

Street art in New York.  Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What did I learn?

Honestly, I feel like I learn something every day. Sometimes it’s just small things like different perceptions about life, little cultural customs, different social behaviours. Sometimes I feel like I add huge pieces to my picture of the world, the global context, for example when I talk to someone about the history or politics of a country. I feel like – even though I studied International Relations – I have learnt more about the world in the past few months than I did in the three years of my Bachelor’s degree. Then again, it’s valuable to have some basic knowledge and theory from university that allows me to put new experiences or findings into perspective and think about them critically.

The answer: The egg came first.

Sometimes you find the answers on the street. Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also, I learnt a lot about myself. That I am able to find my way in a completely different country without knowing the language and without internet access. I learnt trusting strangers, listen to my intuition, be spontaneous and flexible, be open-minded and uncomplicated. I learnt not to take things for granted or consider them to be better at home than in other countries, but to understand different lifestyles, economic orders and social standards.


What is best about a trip around the world?

I love the freedom. I can go wherever I want and do whatever I feel like. I am dependant on much fewer things than back home. I can change plans spontaneously or just go somewhere without any plans. I love meeting new people from different backgrounds and hearing their stories. I love learning and discovering. I love experiencing the local culture and trying to get involved as much as possible. I love facing challenges and adventures, and, to a certain extent, even being vulnerable.

Ticket to anywhere

A bag tag my dear friend Lorène offered me for this trip. Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What is the worst on a trip around the world?

I discuss this topic too because I feel like I only showed the shiny side of a trip around the world until now. Of course, not every day is a crazy adventure and I’m not happy and smiling every minute of this trip (even though I am maybe 90% of the time) – which is totally normal. The worst is being sick, as it is much more stressful in a foreign country than back home. The worst is not seeing my godson growing up. The worst is not being able to be fully there for my friends and family, not to be able to help or support them, and to see them taking big steps in their life without me participating. I sometimes feel like I miss out a lot.

A compass in the world

Only the compass always points in one direction… Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also professionally by the way: I miss many interesting events, conferences, networking occasions, working experiences, job offers. And there is this uncertainty about how potential employers will consider my long trip around the world, even though I manage to work part time at the same time.

Oh and one thing I consider really annoying meanwhile: small talks! Really. I feel like I explained to about a thousand people where I am from, what I do, to which countries I’ve been and where I go next. Of course, these are totally normal questions to ask someone who’s on a trip around the world, but I almost want to print the answers on a sheet and give it to new people to read so I don’t have to repeat them every few days…

 

Do I miss home?

No. Not home. Nor Switzerland. I feel comfortable wherever I am, I can adapt easily and I realised that I don’t need any material things to be happy. Already as a kid, I was never homesick so I guess I have the wanderlust in my blood. What I do miss incredibly: My family and my friends. Not that much in the beginning to be honest, but now I miss them more every day.

At the same time, I’m incredibly lucky that some of my closest people are joining me for parts of my trip. My brother came to Canada, my two best friends joined me in Morocco, Senegal and South Africa respectively in Nepal, and my mother will visit me in Australia in two months. And I believe my late father is accompanying me as my personal guardian angel.

My friends

Mes cheris joining me wherever I am…! <3

But also all my other friends back home do a great job staying in touch with me, integrating me as far as possible in their daily life by sending me messages, pictures, videos, calling me regularly and making me feel still being a part of their life, even though I am so far away. You don’t know how important this is for someone on such a long trip. Small shout out: Guys, I love you!

Postcard into the world

The sweetest digital but actually non digital message ever! From a Dutch girl I was travelling with in China and who saw me writing a bunch of postcards… Thank you so much, Floortje!

 

When will I go back to Switzerland?

Honest answer: I don’t know. I don’t have a ticket back home (yet). I used to say «when I’m fed up with travelling». But then I met this Japanese guy in Myanmar who wanted to become a monk, and when he asked me the same question and I answered «I don’t know», he added: «so when you’re satisfied.» And this is so much of a better answer.

 

Trip around the world

Trying to conquer the world… Photo: Eva Hirschi

How a beauty contest aims to change the caste system in Nepal

Even though legally banned, the caste system is still a social reality in Nepal. Several projects try to fight this social stratification. Surprisingly, this challenge is also the aim of a beauty contest. I met the winner of the first beauty contest for the «untouchables».


On my trip in Nepal, I met Chet, a young woman studying health sciences in Kathmandu. With a friend, we stayed at her apartment which she shares with her sister for a couple of nights and spent a lot of time with these two smart, funny and kind ladies, walking in the city, having coffee or cooking traditional momos together. We learned more about Nepal and its society, and that the two belonged to the «dolits», also known as the «untouchables», the lowest caste.

The lowest caste of Nepal are called the Dolits.

Cooking momos with Nari and Chet.

The caste system structures society and determines the professions and social classes of Nepal. The four main groups are Brahman (priests and scholars), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaisya (merchants), and Sudra (labourers), which are divided into subgroups.

It is not possible to tell to which caste a person belongs just by their appearance. But in situations where Nepali need to present themselves to someone, they must tell their full name – not only the first name but also the family name – which reveals the caste they are belonging to. Chet’s full name is Chet Kumari Bishwokarma.

Castes still matter

Even though Nepal’s society, especially in big cities like Kathmandu, became more liberal and open these last decades, there are still many situations in which the caste matters.

My friend Lorène, Chet and me in Kathmandu.

With Chet and my Swiss friend Lorène in Kathmandu.

Chet gave us one example. At university, she has friends from different castes. But if she gets invited to a birthday party of a friend from a higher caste, she usually tries to avoid it. «I know that the family will not be happy to see me. Even if they might not tell me directly, I can still feel them stare and know they will talk about me behind my back. So I prefer to stay at home», Chet says.

Officially, the discrimination between different social classes is forbidden according to Nepal’s constitution. But the caste system is still a reality. Several projects aim to raise awareness of these problems and try to open Nepal’s society. Not only NGOs with educational projects, but even a beauty contest. Such an event was organised last year for the first time, with the aim to find the most beautiful «Miss Dolit».

Beauty and politics

This is not just a beauty contest where girls need to trip on the catwalk and throw smiles at the cameras. This contest was accompanied by a month-long preparation session where the participants would not only attend beauty classes about make-up or styling, but also learn how to speak in public, or how to become more self-confident.

The first beauty contest for the lowest caste, the dolits, in Nepal

The idea is to foster the self-esteem of the lowest caste in Nepal’s society. Therefore, famous people like Min Bahadur Bishwakarma were invited to speak to the girls during the preparation sessions. He is a member of the Dolit community himself, but also a famous politician representing the Dolit on a national level. With his speech about his own struggles but also the success he achieved even though belonging to the lowest caste he wanted to encourage the participants.

«He is a role model for our community. It was very inspiring and motivating, and an honour, to hear him talking to us», says Chet. He also talked about the origins of this societal system. «Most of us didn’t know much about this, it was very interesting – and important.»

Sister’s support

Chet actually never wanted to participate in this contest: «I was convinced I was too short anyway.» But her older sister Nari motivated her: «Height doesn’t matter, you should at least give it a try», Nari said. So Chet participated.

Me with Chet and her sister and traditional Nepali clothes

Talking about height… In Switzerland I’m average, in Nepal I’m a giant. Me with Nari and Chet.

One of the hardest parts for Chet was learning how to walk in high heels – it was her first time, and since she was shorter than the other girls, her heels were even higher. «I felt so much pain, it was very tiring!», Chet remembers. But being a very determined person, she wanted to go through the whole contest.

Smartness counts

During the finals, every girl got to wear a traditional dress and a modern dress. But the show was not only about presenting the clothes, they also had to answer questions. Chet’s question was «What would you do to unite Dolit people?» Not an easy task. Chet talked about the important role of information.

«First, I would inform the people, talk about the background, create awareness about the system. If we are not united, everyone looks down on us, so we need a strong bound to fight together.» But this alone would not be sufficient, she supports programmes like the beauty contest to raise awareness but also to foster the self-esteem.

This traditional dress is made out of dhak, a Nepali fabric

Chet wearing one of the traditional dresses made out of the Nepali fabric dhak.

Before crowning the winner, awards were given for different categories, for example for the most beautiful smile or the best walk. Chet received the award for «best discipline» – which made her even more proud. «This means a lot to me because for me working hard and having a good discipline are very important values.»

Then the coronation ceremony took place. Chet thought she would stand no chance against the other participants – so it was a big surprise when she heard her name when the winner was announced. «It was an incredible feeling, I have never been so happy and proud in my whole life», she says. It was the first time she had won something – and something she had worked hard for.

Confidence building

This experience had a big impact on her. «My sister and my friends told me that I’ve become much more confident», she says. «I want to use this for encouraging other girls. Everybody should believe in themselves.»

Chet wins the beauty contest for dolits

She hopes that this title might open new opportunities. She wants to become a social worker, and do volunteering for people of her community who have a difficult life. «Dolits are not given education because, according to their caste, they are going to be shoemakers anyway», she explains.

Even though society is slowly changing, there is a lot of progress to be made: «We, the Dolits, build temples, but we are not allowed to get inside because we are considered impure. This needs to be changed.»

#EvaMeetsWorld – Jesse: Combining travelling, blogging and finance

A 31-year-old senior associate in business finance quits his job, his country and finds himself on an eight months trip through Oceania and Asia. To keep a foot in his field, he produces podcasts with entrepreneurs.


I met Jesse in Bali at the backpacker hostel where I was staying. It was my first day in Indonesia, Jesse had already been travelling for a few days in this country and arrived in Bali two days ago. The two of us, a beer in our hand, started to talk and share our stories. Quickly, he attracted my attention with his interesting thoughts, his joyful attitude and his funny stories.

Financial guys don’t travel in suits

Jesse is that type of person who easily starts conversations – about everything possible; be it travelling in Indonesia, Kafka’s books, or the second presidential debate between Clinton and Trump. Jesse quits the topics of small talk pleasantly quickly.

His favourite subject, though, is finance. With his beard, his curly hair and his sleeveless shirt, I must admit he looked somewhat like a hipster surfer boy to me, so I was surprised to learn that he had been working in finance for eight years before.

 

#EvaMeetsWorld Jesse in Vietnam

Jesse in Vietnam

Jesse had worked for a private venture capital company in Washington D.C., meaning he’d evaluate investment opportunities, execute transactions and help companies to perform better. A good job, sure, but he quit: «I enjoyed my work, but I felt I wanted to do something which has a meaning. And I want to create», says Jesse.

Creating not necessarily in a purely artistic way, but if you have a look at his blog and Instagram profile, you quickly realise that Jesse doesn’t just want to analyse numbers but express himself.

Looking for inspiration

Before going on this trip, he had applied for another interesting job and taken it as a game-changer: Either he would find himself in a completely new job, or – in case he wouldn’t get it – he would go travelling for eight months.

In the end, the company decided to employ someone else but Jesse wasn’t disappointed – travelling for a few months had been on his bucket list for quite a while.

A few pictures of Jesse's Instagram profile

A glimpse of Jesse’s Instagram profile

He felt like a trip far away from home might help him to find out what kind of job he would like to do and how he could add meaning to it. «I want to learn about the world and to inspire myself to think outside my former perspective», says Jesse about his travel motivation.

Quitting a job without cutting ties

To keep a record of his trip, Jesse has his own travel blog. Very organised, as he is in his daily life, too, each blog post is composed of the same three categories: surprising discoveries, the brief history of the place and things he did there. It gives an interesting glimpse of his travels.

A very interesting feature of his blog are the KPIs, Key Performance Indicators (no surprise he uses such a technical name, right?). Here, Jesse writes down in a very transparent way how much he’s been spending during his travels.

There are different categories, such as lodging, food, alcohol, entertainment and transport. In simple but pretty graphics, he shows the average cost of a day in a specific country. «I enjoy having a quantitative look at something», he says.

Jesse Budget Metrics on his travel blog

Check out his blog for more detailed graphics

It also helps him keep track of his travel budget. But moreover, he wants to help people who travel in providing them with a transparent view on travel expenses in different countries.

Indeed, it is a helpful and fun tool to get an idea of the «price» of a country, even though Jesse admits that sometimes, this precise tracking makes him too mindful about his spending

Another very interesting feature on his blog are the so-called «startup journeys». Jesse produces podcasts in which he interviews people who are investors in start-ups or small businesses, or entrepreneurs themselves. «The aim is to get in contact with people in the same field career-wise and the podcasts offer a good ‘excuse’ to meet interesting people.»

Jesse during an interview in Indonesia for his podcast.

Jesse during an interview in Indonesia for his podcast.

The podcasts are not only a clever way of networking, they also show that Jesse keeps connected with his work during the travels. «I want to have something to show when I come back, so it doesn’t look like if I’ve been travelling and partying for eight months», he explains.

Solo-travelling in Oceania and South East Asia

Jesse started his trip in Australia and New Zealand and is now exploring whole South East Asia. He has got eight months because he wants to go back to the US for the wedding of a very good friend.

«Travelling alone has its advantages and disadvantages», he says. He enjoys the freedom of doing whatever he likes, of going wherever he wants. «But being alone sometimes means being lonely», says Jesse. It pushes him to get out of his comfort zone.

Travelling alone, he gets to meet a lot of new people. «There is actually something bittersweet about making new friends while travelling because you know after a few days, your paths will separate.» And what advice would he give to other travellers? «Be open minded, don’t over-prepare and get outside your comfort zone!»


On my trip around the world, I meet many different people and some of them leave an inspiring mark on my heart. In this series #EvaMeetsWorld, I aim to give a small glimpse into someone’s life in another part of the world, may it be travellers, locals or expats.