northern thailand by Shelby Robinson

The few weeks leading up to summer break, I researched and planned and sent pictures and links to my traveling crew. I was restless. I was being pulled by this great desire to get out and experience again. I was ready to dive into something I am so drawn to. So passionate about. I was ready to go.  

The night before my flight, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, feeling frustrated that my mind wouldn’t quiet to allow me to get at least a few hours of rest. I’m not sure if it was my mind that was overwhelmed with excitement or if it was the soy latte I had to keep myself awake to pack, regardless, I felt like a first grader again. Too excited to sleep the night before field day or the last day of school.

Fast forward to an early commute to Incheon, a layover in Bangkok and hours and hours, and I’m riding in the backseat of a cab in Chiang Mai, admiring the palm trees and the ornate temples glittered throughout the lively, lit-up city. With Britney at my side. Talking to the cab driver who’s in love with his city and with his country and with his life. It’s so clearly shown in his smile. In his eyes.

I remember the humidity was thick, moving across our skin like a dense fog. But I felt light. Despite little sleep and flights and lines and immigration and airplane food, I felt free.

And it was only going to get better.

Our first few encounters with Thai people was one of the greatest reasons I fell in love with the country. Their smiles and generosity and warmth made my heart sing. I knew I was in a good place. I knew I would be experiencing bliss for week. I knew I had made the right decision to travel here.

Months back, Essa and Johnson came to me with their plans to backpack throughout Thailand. It just so happened that my vacation overlapped with theirs ~ which was such a blessing. They were my first little taste of home in seven months and damn, it was so good to see their faces. So good to experience a beautiful country with people I know and love.

We spent just two days in Chiang Mai, so we made sure to fill them with as many motorbike rides throughout the city as possible. We ventured around temples and along the channels, on the outskirts of town, up through the mountains to waterfalls, on the weaving roads lush with palm trees and banana trees and stray dogs, and even on the highway, just ‘cause. (Actually, I think we were lost.) We learned how to meander through traffic and to get up to the very front with the rest of the locals. I swear I could always feel a big grin on my face as the wind whipped through my hair and the sun caressed my skin. I felt light. Infinitely free.

We made friends with people in our hostel, including a few girls from Canada, who had just finished studying abroad. We instantly clicked with them. I feel as though that happens a lot with other travelers. You all just seem to be on the same wavelength. The same vibe. Conversations flow seamlessly as you talk about the places you’ve seen and the places you have yet to see. The people you’ve met.  The tattoo you got in Berlin. The city that made you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt in your life. Where you fell in love. Why you’ll go back.

We also ate some of the most amazing food I’ve had in my life together. I was in veggie-heaven. The morning glories, the veggie stir-fries, the noodles and soups and salads and Thai iced teas.... all those herbs! Spices! Sauces! I'm telling you, the food is worth a visit to this country alone. After eating, we’d venture back to the hostel with our Chang beers. Some of my favorite moments were staying up late on the roof deck with our friends and good music. Slipping away into the warm, summer evening abyss.... Sitting on bamboo, the sound of the city below us. The clouds and the moon above us. The muggy air. I remember being so full. Of laughter, of conversation, of love, good food, inspiration.

After our adventure in Chiang Mai came to a close, we took a bus up to a smaller city in the mountains called Pai. We had no idea what to expect. We had just heard it would be one of the best places we would visit in Northern Thailand. And boy, were they right.

We stayed at The Countryside Resort, on the outskirts of main town, in these traditional huts surrounded by rice paddies and mountains. There were small ponds and cats that would roam freely. Also, cockroaches and lizards and ants in our room, but hey... that comes with being in a country so rich and lush and full of life. Things are just bigger. And more abundant.

My mornings were some of the most sacred times. Almost always solo, I would wake and ride and explore the land, searching for a good place to enjoy breakfast. And to write. To soak in the bliss. I made FatCat one of my go-to spaces (complete with kombucha and smoothie bowls and veggie breakfasts) thanks to a recommendation from my friend Kaylie. My mornings would lead me around the city, the temple in the mountains, the fruit market, the natural water slide, the coffee shops scattered throughout...

It was good too, together. The four of us all seemed to have our own thing going. We were totally content with separating throughout the day and then meeting back up again at random times.... without phones, it wasn't easy to find each other, so we either had to make plans prior to separating or just rely on chance to meet up again. Which somehow always seemed to happen in the best way.  Some of my favorite memories were our walks on the walking street together, indulging in fruit shakes and street food or Thai massages, a little bit of shopping (which oh my god, it was so beautifully cheap, I loaded UP on Christmas presents for the people in my life).

I can't even begin to describe how grateful I am for the experience I had here. Grateful for being on this side of the world, for the ease in traveling and for the low cost, grateful for the friends I know and love who I got to spend a week with, grateful for the insanely good vegetarian food and the mountains and the hot springs and for the rejuvenating, soul-quenching adventure we experienced. Grateful to feel these content, happy, blissful moments. To break from the mundane. To live freely.

If you find yourself drawn to this country, go, go, go. It's life-changing.

it's like love by Shelby Robinson

I've been trying to find the right words to describe the way traveling makes me feel. And honestly, it's not an easy thing to do because it's not just a feeling, it's a combination of small transformations and layers of feelings. It's eye-opening, it's magical, liberating, and freeing. I listened to this podcast with Pico Iyer recently and found his words to describe the feeling well:

“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

Currently editing loads of photos from our recent adventure in Northern Thailand. I can't wait to relive these small, precious moments and to share all the bliss with you.

And seriously, get out there. Even if it's just an hour away. Go see. Experience it all.

blue tones by Shelby Robinson

I've spent the majority of my life disliking (and often times) suppressing the sensitive, emotional part of myself. I thought it was a flaw, something that I should to change, something I had to fix. Why can't I be stronger? Why do things have to affect me so deeply? Why am I such a people pleaser? Why do others' moods and energies affect me so much? Why is there not a real reason or root for the way I feel? Why can't I just be happy and content all the time? And my favorite: why can't I just get over it?

It wasn't until recently that I not only began to accept ~ but to embrace ~ this part of me. To welcome it with open arms. Because it is nothing that I need to change or fix. This is who I am. A very sensitive person. And I love this part of me. Yes, often times it makes me feel deep sadness in life ~~ but it also allows me to experience a lot of deep, beautiful moments in life. It allows me to feel more connected to art, people, nature, to myself. It allows my feelings and my intuition to guide me. It allows me to feel large amounts of empathy and therefore connect deeply with others. It allows me to feel all emotions in such a way that makes life more real, raw, meaningful.

After learning more about myself, and accepting each and every little piece of who I am, none of these things sound like something I'd ever want to change. In fact, I've come to understand that this flaw is one of the most beautiful parts of me. And for that, and for this new-ish understanding, I am grateful.

good things lately by Shelby Robinson

A collection of iPhone photos from April ~ June. The yoga retreat at Jirisan (Jiri Mountain), the rice paddies along the East Sea, random moments in my neighborhood. And some things I've been grateful for lately:

+ It's good to have quiet moments to myself. To have Friday evenings with no plans, to do whatever my soul needs. And last Friday I needed to skim through a gardening book in a cafe, observe the energy around me and sip an iced Americano. And so I did.

+ It's good to build others up. To notice the good in them. To pour love and light into them. To comment when they do something beautiful. To be compassionate. To look past flaws. To never talk badly about them. To remember that gossiping and negativity are no bueno.

+ It's good to make friends over the Internet...! This world is so big and so full of love and joy and goodness and like-minded and lovely people are everywhere. I am thankful for my new friends and connections over email and Instagram and Facebook. You are all so beautiful and inspire my life in more ways than you know.

+ It's good to meet people in-person, too. The people I've met over the past few months have made Korea my home. And for that, I am forever grateful.

+ It's good to be as present as possible. Especially at school, with my kids, when I am stressed and frustrated at what page we are supposed to be on in our books. C'mon, Shelby, it's a PAGE. A page. Relax, breathe. These kids are love. They are light. They are beautiful, genuine, unique little beings. Always, always, always take a step back. Be present for them. Love them every day. (A work in progress.)

+ It's good to have spontaneous Sundays with new faces and people I love. Even if that means long Mondays.

Hope you have lots and lots of good things to be grateful for too...!

on teaching by Shelby Robinson

The Kindergarten I teach at on Fridays. These little ones are Korean age 6, meaning they are four year olds!

Two of my fourth graders.

Before I came to Korea, I had a lot of expectations and thoughts about what my experience would be like. I thought I would teach casually, just here and there, and that I would be going on these big, grand adventures throughout Southeast Asia. I thought that teaching wouldn't really be a big part of my life. Or maybe, just too excited to make the leap, I didn't think about the teaching aspect at all. But like most expectations, I was wrong.

Teaching here is a big part of my life. I spend hours and hours Monday through Friday with my students. Laughing with them, being silly with them, teaching them how to correctly pronounce things like "change" and "finish" and "strange" because all of these words seem to have a magical 'y' on the end of them, but also getting really frustrated. Being a teacher takes loads of patience and energy. Especially being a teacher in a foreign country where your values and beliefs and working style differ drastically.

Often times, garnering the patience to teach young children exhausts every ounce of my energy. At first I would just speak as slowly as possible, and use a lot of hand motions, and some days with my little-little ones, I'd whip out the little Korean I know just to get them to turn their page. I even tried use the "you'll be so excited you learned another language" card to get them to pay attention, but I just got a lot of blank stares and "mulayos" (I don't know).

But now that I've reached the four-month mark, I've learned a few tricks to make my job easier. I've created competitions and games to gather (and keep) their attention. And most importantly, I've learned to not take teaching so seriously. I've learned that if we don't make it through 3-4 pages in our books today, that the world isn't going to end. I've learned that even if they learn just one word or phrase that day, my work is helping them. I've learned that if they enjoy coming into class and they have fun learning English, I have done my job. Because at the end of the day, being interested and excited to learn is the only way they will learn.

I am excited to see where the remaining eight months in my teaching journey takes me. It's comforting to know that with a little patience and acceptance, the hard and frustrating things gradually reach a place of ease and grace.

*Special shout-out to all of my past teachers~I have so much respect for you and think of you constantly.

*Roll over the images for captions. xx



week 08 by Shelby Robinson

"To make living itself an art, that is the goal." // Henry Miller

Week eight. I spent the morning with a big cup of coffee and my old journals from July - March and just read. Soaked up the pages' goodness and the tears and frustration and the bliss. I noticed patterns and small, gradual shifts and the ups and downs of the past few seasons. I remembered and cherished and I swear my heart expanded tenfold with the reminder of the people I love and all the small things I'm grateful for.

I'm holding onto these memories extra close this week.

good things lately by Shelby Robinson

+ It's good to be outside, with the sun shining on your face and the wind in your hair. No coat. No plan. No route.

+ It's good to set aside time for self-reflection~to get in touch with they way you're really feeling and know yourself better. It's good to be good to yourself.

+ It's good to have days that revolve around the yummy food you're going to eat. To eat grilled cheese and drink green juice and wander.

+ It's good to breathe. To close your eyes. You're here, right now, in this moment. This moment is all you have. Isn't it beautiful?

Noticing the small things so they eventually become the big things....

week 07 by Shelby Robinson

"Passion and purpose and full-fledged living feel right to me. However ~ passion and purpose and full-fledged living are never tidy or tame, tepid or perfect. They demand a bit of mess and wildness and surrender. They want your rushing river, your spills, your drive, and your need. They want your aliveness. They don't care about your logic. They need your heartbeat." // Victoria Erickson

Week seven. Lots of examining and questions and growth. Silence and learning. I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful for sunny days and students who write me love notes and connecting deeper with my co-workers. I'm grateful for good, real food. Grateful for slow days and documentaries and endless cups of tea.

bali, indonesia by Shelby Robinson

A good trip should leave a lasting impression on you. It should put a small mark on your heart. Stay forever in your mind. If you're lucky, it will stay in the forefront of your mind ~ and allow you to implement its beauty into your current life and daily routines.

For me, that is my trip to Bali. For me, Bali was much more than a trip. It was a small reminder to take care of myself, from the food I eat to the products I use to the things I consume. A reminder to get away from it all for a little while. A reminder to take care of myself mentally, physically and spiritually.

Now let me tell you how ~

Bali is a place where you live by the sun and the tides and the moments and the moods, not by the hours of the day. A place so abundant in fresh juices and smoothies and bananas and coconuts that you can't help but feel lighter. A place where your hair is always salty and sun-soaked and your skin is always warm. A place where light and airy clothes are not just a fashion statement, but a must. A place where the sound of waves crashing below lull you to sleep each night. A place where you wake to the sun peaking through your mosquito net each morning. A place where you feel infinitely free.

The slow-living and mindful moments are what stuck with me the most ~ we swam when we wanted to swim, explored when we wanted to explore, ate when our bellies were hungry. I haven't felt that nourished and rejuvenated in months. Maybe it was the sunshine or the sea or the real foods or the company of amazing gals, or maybe it was a combination of all of these things, but it was a wonderful feeling. For the first time in awhile I felt like I was totally in tune with both my body and my mind. Like they were completely in-sync.

One of the best things was that although I was sad to leave, I wasn't dreading coming home to Korea. I was actually excited to debrief and start making a plan to implement all of the lovely things I had experienced into my everyday life. And I was also really excited to relive the moments in the photos above. It has made the transition back to the cold a bit easier.

So if you ever find yourself in Bali, be sure to rent scooters (for less than 10 rupiah a day), eat loads of fresh coconuts, buy a sarong or two from the ladies on the beach, avoid the corrupt police at all costs, and lather on sunscreen often. More often than you think you need to. For real.

I'll be going back to Indonesia for sure.

week 06 by Shelby Robinson

It's hard to believe that week six was spent in Bali. And it was pure bliss, let me tell you. I am so inspired by the slow and nourishing way of life we had there and the fresh fish and fresh fruit on the beach and the simplicity of the days. But I'll get more into that in my next post ~ I have way too much to share.

On our second day, Lindsey and Jackie and I wandered the Bingin Beach next to our hut to take a few beachy, mermaid-inspired photos. We collected shells and kelp and found the prettiest pools during low tide. I broke the rules a bit this week ~ these shots aren't technically self-portraits as they were shot by my lovely friends, but hey, rigidity is boring.

And yes, I know... I missed week five. I promised myself I'd tack on an extra week at at the end of the 52 weeks (just this once).