Taking Sabbatical

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Some of you may wonder how I could manage to travel for over a year without a stable source of income. In fact, to live on savings was one of the major mental preparations I had to myself once I have decided to take a sabbatical. It has been stressful, but it has also been relatively easy for me to live beneath my means, because I never like shopping and am totally fine wearing the same clothes again and again. My skill set and interests also allow me to take up some freelance projects online, which certainly helped on my expenses.

Still, I have to say I am tired of seeing my savings dwindling =(

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Using Couchsurfing

My oldest sister is going to try Couchsurfing for the first time next month in Germany (Yay!), and we have had a brief chat about it. Since some friends have asked me how CS is like and what do I do to ensure safety, I guess I will share my approach here.

The kind of experience depends on what you want. I have been hosted for 12 times: one couch and 11 private rooms, have hung out with CSers three other times and have never done sexsurfing. All in all it has been a great experience, making friends with local people and learning about their cultures. I am still in touch with a few of them and their friends.

As for safety, I think it comes down to using your common sense. Being a single female traveler, these are things I pay attention to when looking for a host:
– Read thoroughly the user’s profile in order to get a sense of what kind of person he/she is.
– You may want to choose someone with compatible interests, but this is not one of my criteria. I had only 2 hosts who I found boring thus far =P
– Read as much references as I can so that I know what kind of experience to expect: just hang out for a few drinks, cooking together at home, outdoor activities, day trip etc. etc.
– There is an unwritten rule that when users didn’t have a good experience, they would rather not leave any reference than a negative one, unless it’s something very serious like violations. So, I’d select a host with more than four to five positive references.
– I avoid any host who any real negative comment. I said “real” because sometimes people left good comments while saying they would not stay with this host again. I suppose they took the question literally?
– I avoid male hosts who mention that they can offer massage.
– I avoid male hosts who share bed.
– I avoid male hosts with positive references from only/almost only females users.
– I avoid male hosts with positive references from only/almost only males users (and usually one or two negatives from females).

After sending request and getting an approval from the host, I would not confirm right away. Talk to the host about logistic or something, and you’d get a sense of how it’s interacting with this person. Is he/she very warm and welcoming, or a little more air-head?

I had two not-so-good experiences to date, but both times I sensed something when I was making arrangements with the hosts before my arrival. I chose not to think of the negatives; now I have learned to trust my instincts.

In short, I would recommend Couchsurfing if you like meeting new people, especially locals, and are not picky about the location and cleanliness of the accommodation.

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Where are you from?

_MG_5960retouched.jpg“Where are you from?” my high school classmate from eighteen years ago suddenly asked me when we were chilling at her apartment in Paris.


“Don’t think! Answer right off the top of your head!” my friend insisted.

“Well, it depends. If I want to get engaged in a conversation to the person who asked me the question, I would say ‘I was born in Hong Kong, but I have lived in the states for half of my life.’ And if I don’t feel like talking, I’d say ‘New York.'” I explained.

This has been my approach during my traveling the past year. Usually Europeans are more fascinated by the far East, with one exception: when I was on the bus from Paris to Rennes, I thought the guy sitting next to me – now a friend of mine – was weird, and so I told him I was from New York. He actually got intrigued as he is a musician, and it’s his dream to play music there XD

“Where are you from” used to be a tricky question for me, when I couldn’t relate to Hong Kong nor the states. And within the U.S., I found that most Americans refer to the previous city they stayed instead of their hometown, so in New York City, I used to tell people I was from San Francisco.

In the photo were Alberto and his brother in A Coruña, Spain, last October. It was taken after Alberto tried to photobomb. He chose the wrong day since I was very moody and was trying to get zen taking photos with my SLR camera. First, he tried to use broken English to get to know me, but I insisted in talking in Spanish. He asked me where I was from. Trusting my intuition, I played my New York card. Sure enough, he said “Oh, I thought you’d say something like Japan, Korea, China!” Then, he asked me for my name. I was tempted to say “Ching Chan Cheng” =P but indeed I answered “MARTA.” It’s tiring to deal with stereotypes, especially when I wanted to be alone. (And yes, he was more satisfied finding out that I was born in Hong Kong and I have a Cantonese name.)

I still like giving a long answer to the question “where are you from.” Oh, and when I was in Morocco, I found it more pleasant being asked “where are you from” instead of being yelled at “Japan!? China!?”

More on my name later…

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IMG_5627I got interviewed by three high schoolers for their project on “love” in the street in Fez one day. They asked me about the love from my parents, and here is a recap of what I told them:
My parents love me a lot and give me a lot of freedom. They respect my choice and let me follow my dream. For instance, I have been traveling alone for over a year, and they allow me to do so because of love, trust and respect. In return, I will be responsible and not do anything stupid.

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Norwegian Food

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First Anniversary of my “Sabbatical” Year

IMG_7166A year ago today, I took off from Toronto, Canada, and started my so-called sabbatical year. It has been a very rewarding experience full of ups and downs, and I am grateful for everyone of you who has motivated me along the way. This trip would not have been possible without your support.

I used to question myself if I was wasting time but not anymore. My experiences living abroad has enriched my perspectives and understandings of the world. I have learned a lot more about myself and have become much happier about who I am. The people I met have also shown me how to be a better being.


In numbers, I have:
Taken 28 long and short bus trips;
Taken 26 long and short train rides;
Taken 18 legs of flight;
Taken 12 Blablacar trips;
Taken 4 ferry rides;
Stayed in 23 Airbnb;
Couchsurfed 12 times;
Joined 6 free and paid tours;
Finished 19 freelance projects.

This is not the end yet… Is it bad if I am already thinking about the next sabbatical year when this first one hasn’t finished? =P

P.S. The photo was taken at Les Galeries de la Tour in Lyon after the staff heard that it was my first anniversary traveling. The amazing sculptures are artworks by Armenian artist, Ashot Gevorgyan.


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A Little Unwitting in Marrakech

IMG_5917This photo was taken at around 1:15 a.m. when we were waiting for pizza on the way home from a hookah lounge in Marrakech. Apparently we were having fun. Little did I know that our (my?) safety was at risk. My Couchsurfing host, Noureddine, got grounded by his parents when we got home by 2 a.m. We thought his parents got mad because it was late, but later Nour told me that it was because he sent his younger brother to bring me home with his motorbike, while Nour should of looked for a taxi instead. He added that in his neighborhood (3 miles away from the city center), there are gangsters who keep an eye on who is coming in and out and foreigners are highly targeted. Later on, I found out that they always have someone at home for safety sake.

So, thank god we/I didn’t get robbed, and thanks to Nour’s parents for their concerns. I feel bad about spending three days at theirs; it must have added stress to his parents…

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