ASK KATE Question #2: "What do you recommend for the solo female traveler in Southeast Asia?"

xAs a solo female traveler, I felt totally safe. I used Tinder and met some questionable fellows. I used the Couchsurfing app to meet some fantastic Russian friends. I had a drunk Balinese man knock on my window and whisper to me in Bahasa Indonesia at midnight, but nothing serious. Unless he was trying to whisper to me that he was having a heart attack, in which case I probably killed him because I was frozen in fear inside of my mosquito net. 

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Stuff I carry on my back around the world - Part I: Tech

Guys, I've been traveling full-time now for 14 months. I carry all of my possessions with me in one bag, so the stuff I choose to carry around is mission critical and makes me a happy traveler. 

I get asked a lot of questions about travel, and while You Might Die Tomorrow isn't necessarily a travel blog, Imma help y'all achieve your travel dreams, if that's your thing. So this is the first in a series of posts about how I logistically travel around the world:

  • How I found a remote job in three days
  • How I get all my international flights for free
  • Which travel necessities I don't leave home without (broken up by categories like technology, beauty, luggage, clothes, and random funsies)
  • I'll also do a Kate the Great AMA, a video conference in which you can ask me questions and I'll try to screw up your life in the sense of helping you to live like you might die tomorrow and do something awesome!

Stuff I carry on my back around the world - PART I: Tech

In some of the remote islands of French Polynesia, the only place to get wifi is on the stoop of the local post office. My new friends and I sang some Edward Sharpe and checked out my photos from New Zealand despite the language barrier. 

In some of the remote islands of French Polynesia, the only place to get wifi is on the stoop of the local post office. My new friends and I sang some Edward Sharpe and checked out my photos from New Zealand despite the language barrier. 

Before I even say one word about the mostly expensive and super first world list of tech items I carry around the world, I have to tell you the ONE THING I learned to never travel without. 

The one thing I never travel without: 

Gifts for strangers and new friends. 

My mom hand-draws cards, and I keep at least 30 on me to gift to special people I meet along the way. I carry about a dozen plush finger puppets to hand out to little kids, and I always buy cheap candy from corner stores around the world to give. 

Gifting is one of the biggest lessons I have learned while traveling around the world. Gift with no expectation. Give for the sheer joy of giving. From what I've experienced, American culture is one that tends to give spontaneous gifts much less than other countries. 

Don't want to buy anything to give? Give what you have. Give a cool t-shirt from your luggage. Gift time - ask the guy shucking coconut on the roadside if you can help. Don't ask "Do you need help?" Ask, "Can I please help you? I'd really enjoy it." (Use Google translate if they don't speak English). The gifts will be gifts to yourself -- I promise. 

Okay, now on to my technology menagerie. 

Dude, don't tell the robbers, but I'm a walking media company. Being a writer and someone with a remote job, I need to be connected. Here's the technology menagerie I've culled to what I need most to be effective on the road. 

Don't leave home without a headlamp, okay? Just don't do it. 

When I bought my first headlamp for $1 at Wal-mart, I had no idea it would change my life. I use it for reading at night, hiking, caving, watching the horizon for oncoming ships during a night watch shift on a sailboat, finding lost shit in hostels at night, and other creative uses. Plus, I feel like a badass when I wear it; official, and like I've got important stuff to do. I've since upgraded to this beauty which includes red filter (for being on night watch on a full moon night sailing) and brightness options. 

Sony RX100 III Digital Camera

I asked my dear friend and professional photographer Daniel which DSLR camera I should get for my big Soul Vacation round the world trip. He said, "ARE YOU CRAZY?!" I'll never forget what he said afterwards: the best camera is the one you have on you.

Instead of a huge DSLR, he recommended this little guy - which he also travels the world with. So I bought this tiny yet incredibly powerful camera, and I’ve never looked back. 

Polaroid-style camera to take pictures of kids in countries who have never had a tangible photo of themselves and their besties throwing up the peace sign. 

Kindle Paper White (but I still carry around too many books)

I’m a spoiled brat and this was a gift from my Dad before I left on the second leg of my trip. I’ve been known to travel with up to a half dozen books, so I suppose he took pity on me. I love this thing and the 3G connection is the most clutch.

My lucky (and free!) BOSE headphones. 

So, I was lucky enough to find a pair of these in the return vault of one of those Best Buy kiosks at 3am, with no one around in the entire terminal. They are the best headphones ever. So comfortable and beautiful sound. Thank you, universe, for my free headphones! May they bring you luck as well. 

Apple Macbook 12"

So, I have a love/hate relationship with the very device I type on at this moment. I love the portability, the display, the general Mac-ness of it. I can carry it around in my purse!

I hate the USB-C only port. I hate that it has a small hard drive. But if I had to buy a new computer for travel, I'd probably buy this one again. 

World adapter with USB plugs (my dear, my darling)

THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER. Just buy it. I could write a love letter to this beautiful device. And every time I use it I think of my dear friend Margeaux, who gave it to me as a bon voyage gift.  

There are a few other tech odds and ends I travel with, like my iPhone (one got stolen and ransomed back to me in Nepal and one I threw off a balcony in India), my GoPro (I don't use it as much as I thought I would), and my LaCie 1TB hard drive (It's just okay but gets the job done). 

Back soon with the next installment of Travel Tips by Kate the Great. 

Mandarins and wildflowers: My Japanese mother

She and her husband both accompanied me to the train station and we were mostly quiet as we snaked around the mountain. The mist was thick and the drizzle matched the way we felt, I think: a little sad to say goodbye. 

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My brain-eating amoeba

For the past week I’ve been convinced that I’m about to die as a result of a brain-eating amoeba with a 99% fatality rate.

See, if you contract this amoeba, you end up with meningitis, and there are only about three cases of people surviving this thing. Ever. The amoeba lives in warm water and gets into your brain through your nose. My sister and I did this epic two-day trek in New Zealand and at the top of the trek, there were these super hot geothermal pools. It felt incredible to soak in the water after a day of uphill hiking, and it felt like the natural waters were melting away the tension in my muscles. Soaking flat on our bellies in less then twelve inches of water, we rooted down in the silt to immerse our bodies in the shallow water. It was pitch black out and near freezing, and all we could see through the beam of the flashlight were the thick, wafting, spirit-like sheets of steam in the night sky. We closed our eyes and breathed it in. 

The geothermal pool by day

The geothermal pool by day

Anyway, since then I’ve been about to die. The Department of Conservation warning sign outside of the pool said not to dunk your head under water to avoid contracting the amoebic meningitis. And I didn’t. But the next day I started feeling a sore throat, and a headache, and possibly a tingling in the top of my spine, and was that also a frontal lobe headache? I worried that I contracted it when I may have scratched my nose and that’s how I was going to die, from a nose scratch. Apparently the only way you can contract it is if the infected water is insufflated (good word) deep into your nasal passages where the amoeba can attach itself to your olfactory nerves in your brain, and start having dinner up there on your brain I guess and no more than eighteen days later, you’re dead, with doctors having less than a 1% chance of saving you. 

I don’t know why I was being such a ridiculous hypochondriac about this. But that’s not the point. What I want to tell you about is how this (imaginary) brush with death affected me. 

When I read the list of symptoms and identified with the majority of them, the realization that I could have this deadly disease hit me. I could die in less than eighteen days, I thought. I looked up from my Google search results.  

“I cannot die. I’m not finished with my book.”

Just like that, in the face of death I found clarity. And it was that one thought that helped me realize that this book, You Might Die Tomorrow, is part of my life’s work. See, I believe that thinking about death, or the possibility of dying, or remembering that life is short or whatever you want to call it, strips away everything to reveal what is truly important in one’s life. There’s something about being faced with one’s own mortality which provides perspective like few other things can. In a life or death situation your brain quiets and your intuition screams out. Steve Jobs said, “Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death.”


Last week when I was convinced I had only a few days left to live as a result of amoebic meningitis, every day that I woke up I was thrilled. I had made it another day. My coffee tasted more delicious. I worried less about money. I bought less stuff. I had another piece of chocolate. Traveling with my sister, I realized I would be content to die doing something so special and meaningful. But most importantly, I realized I’ve got to finish this book. Even in my imaginary near-death experience, my lessons were life-changing. 

I’m still not in the clear from my hopefully imaginary disease. It can take up to fifteen days for the serious symptoms to present. I’ve realized I’m most likely just getting a cold, but I wouldn’t trade my imaginary brain-eating amoeba for anything. In the face of a fatal disease - imaginary or not - I found out what’s truly important to me. 

Me trekking back down the track, simultaneously contemplating the pain in my back and purpose in life.

Me trekking back down the track, simultaneously contemplating the pain in my back and purpose in life.

Reasons I'm Traveling the World


I've recently embarked on a round the world trip - my Soul Vacation, as I call it. Here's why I'm quitting my job and leaving everything to go explore a bunch of places I've never been to.



To Break the Habit of Buying Stuff I Don’t Need

I’ve gotten into the habit of, ‘I like it, I buy it.’ I even stopped paying attention to prices, which led to the fateful day in which I got home and realized I had purchased tortillas at Whole Foods for $9.99. Tortillas. For ten dollars. On the road, I’m forced to schlep everything I’ve got on my back, so I only buy things I really, really like and for which I’m willing to potentially get a backache. But it’s bigger than the backache: I’m conditioning myself to spend my money on experiences instead of things. That’s the stuff I’ll gladly schlep with me everywhere until I die.


To Learn New Things

To learn that people are mostly good. To give surfing a try. To do stuff I’ve never done that puts me outside my comfort zone. The collective experiences will either age the shit out of me or keep me forever young. Either way, I get to keep ‘em forever. I’ll gamble.


To Be Young Before I Look Old

I’m turning thirty-one in a month, guys. Lucky for me, people usually estimate 27...but that ain’t going to last forever. I've spoken with more than one older-than-I traveler who said it's lonely on the road for them, because they are often avoided by wary and likely immature young fellow travelers, and found it difficult to make friends.  I like to think I can still pass as one of the ‘them’ in a group of drunk 25-year olds for a night just enough so they treat me as one of their own. Most of all, I don’t want to waste my youth and put off for my retirement what I want to do now.


To Fall in Love

What would a round the world journey be without a few broken hearts along the way? Falling in love is crazy fun, and I intend to feel heartbreak more than once when I have to push off for the next city and leave someone awesome behind.


To Be Alone

The other night I walked by a bar with a super fun live band playing and people dancing. So I went in, and after a few minutes of awkward internal debate, I started dancing. By myself. And I had the best freaking time.

Doing something solo is a huge confidence booster for me. It reminds me that I like me, and I’m a badass. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely worth it. Want to give it a try? I believe there are three levels to solo dining badassery:

Level one: sit in the back and bury your face in your phone. It’s okay - this is your first time and you’ve got to ease into it. Level two: dine al fresco on the front patio, but bring a book and be fabulous. Level three - and this one isn’t for the weak, but will pay confidence dividends: Dine al fresco on the front patio, solo - no book, no touching your phone - just watching the world go by. Good posture is a key piece of the badass energy you’ll be projecting, so no slouching. Now go take over the world.


To Learn About People

And improve my empathy and understanding in the process. I’m one of the first generations to grow up in the Information Age and the 24-hour news cycle. Images, videos, news - they’re everywhere All. The. Time. I’m afraid I’ve become desensitized to the stuff I see on TV. I’m desperate for the real world. So I’m going out to see it for myself. I believe that people with difficulties appreciate sympathy but really value understanding. They want to be treated as people. So instead of eating everything on my plate to save the starving children of Africa (mom), I’m going to go say what up to people who have less and live differently than I do, and get to know them and their story.


To Do the Thing Now I’ll Regret Forever If I Don’t

You might die tomorrow. You never know. I had it in my head that I’d travel around the world when I retire. But what if I don’t make it? I decided to take control of my life, align with what I feel in my soul, and do this thing now that I’d regret forever if I didn’t. It feels incredible.


What’s the thing you’ll regret if you don’t do? Do that thing.




Alone, alone, alone.

I arrived to Sydney on a cloud of optimism. I chatted with my taxi driver, telling him excitedly that this was my first experience driving on the left side of the road. He listened with as much excitement as a photographer being asked to do some free work “for your portfolio.” I arrived to my Airbnb and chose to ignore the fact that the room was not the one depicted in the glossy photos. In any case, it still had a lovely view overlooking the private, flower-filled courtyard. I texted photos of said lovely courtyard to everyone in my contact list with the caption ‘The view from my room!’ I might have more accurately captioned, “I am fabulous!”

View from the window of my Airbnb room. I'm walking on sunshine! For now. 

View from the window of my Airbnb room. I'm walking on sunshine! For now. 

After a quick shower, I set off to explore the neighborhood. I marveled at all the tanned, blonde and absurdly good looking Australians I walked among. They were so…smooth. I was for some reason surprised by how well-dressed these Sydneysiders are. Like J. Crew, but better. The fabrics are light and the hems are of short enough length to show off tanned limbs, yet remain tasteful and chic. The first glimmer of discomfiture flashed in my chest. My fabrics weren’t right, I was mid-winter pale, and the weeks of goodbye toasts and dinners in Austin had caught up to my thighs. I tried to wave off the feeling.

I wrapped up my first day in paradise with a yin yoga class mostly to keep myself awake until my self-imposed anti-jetlag bedtime of 9pm. More lithe Australians poured into the yoga studio around me, men and women alike. My head was buzzing with exhaustion at this point, having only been asleep for a few jaunty hours in an Economy Plus seat 30,000 feet up.  I’m certain I dozed off during the class at one point. I woke up a crumple of American body who was probably moments ago lightly snoring among the Aussie yoga gods stretching and flexing. I stumbled home afterward and fell immediately asleep.

Around 5am, I became conscious to a high-pitched buzzing in both of my ears. I swatted and dozed off. Minutes later, more buzzing, and then more…I alternately dozed and swatted until the sun came up. Good morning! I remembered, I’m in Australia! I stretched out lazily and began to notice red marks all over my legs. A rash? Chicken pox? I remembered the constant buzzing the previous night: mosquito bites. At least thirty just on my legs. In the mirror I marveled in horror: I was covered in bites. My arms, legs, back...even my ass. As if I hadn’t felt enough like a leper already.

At work, I worked on both US and Brazil time zones, which meant 6am meetings with California and 11pm meetings with Brazil. In between, I played hour-plus long games of Lord of the Rings and Batman pinball at the office, and found cubbies to nap in (thank you, Google).  The women at the office were more of the well-tanned, well-tailored and toned Aussies I was now annoyed to see. I realized I’ve enjoyed being a blonde who stands out. Here in Australia, I’m a slightly fatter, much paler blonde with clothes that don’t fit in and what probably looks like a highly concerning contagious skin disease. I felt like I did when I started sixth grade in a new school in Iowa: grossly out of place, and wanting desperately to fit in. I was mad I didn’t fit in and madder I even cared about it.

Tigrona was the best! Until he shunned me when I needed him most. Ah, cats. 

Tigrona was the best! Until he shunned me when I needed him most. Ah, cats. 

Two weeks in, I realized that the first leg of my Soul Vacation world tour so far was a bit…sucky. Work is work, even when you lunch overlooking Sydney Harbor. I hadn’t seen much of the city due to long days at work. I spent more than a couple sad evenings trapped in my hot, AC-less bedroom eating packaged snack food and hoping my hosts didn’t think think I was as much of a loser as I felt. My only Australian friend so far was a stray cat who, in true cat form, ran away from me when I tried to greet him the day after he’d laid out with me on my bed. I was lonely.

When friends and family inquired about my (nonexistent) social life here, I lied and told them I was using this time to recharge after a crazy busy last few weeks in Austin saying goodbye and moving. I wasn’t alone for a lack of friends, gosh, I was choosing to be alone.

The weird thing is, I started to believe that white lie, and that attitude shift changed everything. Maybe being alone was exactly what I needed. After those two weeks of feeling foul, I actually did begin to recharge. I took advantage of my Classpass subscription and tried everything from HIIT training to aerial yoga. I owned my solo dinners and ate alone right on the front patio of restaurants like a badass. I set up a few coffees with Googlers.

A few days later, I met my first friend. Then I went on my first Tinder date ever with a nice guy I spent an hour researching before our date. He took me on his motorcycle and as the wind whipped my hair and I held on, I finally felt like I thought I’d feel as a woman traveling the world. Free. And awesome.

A few weeks ago I read something online that said, “Be patient with yourself. Nothing in nature blooms all year.” Dude, I gotta give myself a break. Beating myself up for, essentially, not being Australian? And for not having a social calendar immediately upon arrival in a country I knew literally no one? I think I just learned my Travel Lesson #1: Be patient. And cat friends are more than okay.



On a boat in Tahiti my life changed course.

In May, I traveled to French Polynesia to shack up on my dear friends Melissa and Scott's boat, Kaimana. When I arrived, I had no idea what was to come: my life was going to change course. 

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