(Part 2) What I Wonder When I Wander: Can I Get Healthy on the Road – The Answer is YES!

what i wonder when i wander

Last Updated on February 16, 2021

I was desperately hoping to be able to write this and was terrified I would never get to. This is a follow up, in response to the post I wrote and published on July 15th, 2012 pondering whether I would ever be able to get healthy on the road. Can I lose weight while traveling the world?

The answer is ‘Yes.’


Jess in Tucson, AZ, August 2013

This is the story of how I was able to transform myself in more ways than I even imagined in just over a year.

I have always known that travel could be incredibly transformative, in whatever ways you let it change you. While the changes for me have been more visible, Dani’s mental and spiritual transformation has also been an incredible process to witness and be a part of.

For me, though, it took a while to write this. I was so deep in the process that I didn’t realize most of my goals were accomplished. It first hit home that i had actually gotten fit when we were sitting around with friends in Berlin, and in response to some comment I must have made about my weight, a friend looked me right in the eye and said simply, ‘Jess, you’re thin.’ For her, she was confused at why I would have made whatever comment I made – I can’t remember what it was now. For me, her unwavering matter-of-fact statement sliced through me. I replied that my mind hadn’t caught up with my body yet.

Jess in Tucson July 2012
Jess in Tucson, AZ, July 2012

Then, I was further prompted to write this when we had readers actually pointing out that we should update our photos across the website, since I had ‘slimmed down’.

What pushed me to finally write this, to officially declare that I accomplished this goal, was that Dani sent me an email with five possible ‘Before’ photos if I ever did get around to writing the post.

My jaw dropped and out popped, ‘Holy shit!’

Jess in Thailand, January 2012
Jess in Thailand, January 2012

It made me remember how achy, sad, unfit I felt back then. I remember being upset every time I looked in the mirror because that person looking back at me did not represent who I was inside.

The fact is, that I actually received a serious outpouring of support when I wrote that first post about this last year. Everyone reassured me that what matters is who I am on the inside, not my outward appearance. I am incredibly sensitive, so this support felt amazing at the time. But the truth is, the whole idea that all that matters is what is on the inside, that has never quite sat right with me. I might be sensitive, but I tend to be loud, outspoken and I swear like a sailor. I’m funny (at least I think I’m funny), I’ve got strong opinions and express them, some days, I feel very feminine and other days I feel like I want to hop on a motorcycle and speed away. Other days, I feel like a girly badass.

lose weight while traveling
Jess in Sukothai, Thailand, November 2011

Self-expression is a major part of who you are. and that is expressing the inner you, outwardly. But I was at a weight where I was stuck with whatever clothes fit, not ones that accurately portrayed how I felt inside. I couldn’t find much in the U.S. and almost nothing traveling in Asia or Latin America. The chubby-cheeked girl just wasn’t who I expected to see in the mirror every time I would dare to look.

But it isn’t just about what clothes I was able to wear, and this was never just about my weight.

I now know that when you are fit, mentally and physically, you are able to become your best self, and that is who you translate and project it outward. Not because you wear a size four or eat your spinach, but because you have all cylinders firing at maximum capacity to really make a difference.

Dani and Jess in Las Veges, July 2010
Dani and Jess in Las Vegas, July 2010

Again it wasn’t about the weight. It was to be able to bring my A Game to life. I knew that we were already traveling, which means we doing something remarkable with our lives. And yet I was achy, my bones hurt, my skin took ages to heal from bug bites, I felt older than my age – all of these things were holding me back from truly enjoying the amazing experiences we were having as two girls traveling the globe!

So, you want numbers? Just what did I achieve?

The truth is, I have no idea how much weight I lost while traveling. Here is what I do know:

The pair of black shorts with a drawstring that I bought from Old Navy last July, right before publishing the Part 1 post, were a size 14. This summer in New York, the day we walked the length of Broadway, I bought another pair of black shorts from Old Navy, and these were a size 8 with a button (and therefore much less give).

My best friend drove right by me when picking me up at the airport in Denver this June – she didn’t even recognize me, and not just because of my new bangs.

I own a bikini now. I even started to wear it.

can i lose weight while traveling
Jess 2011 vs Jess 2013

How I got healthy on the road – Mentally

The biggest changes that had to take place were the mental challenges. I had felt for a long time that no matter what I thought, about almost anything, I was probably wrong. I constantly undercut my own drive and ambition with the idea that I had no real idea what the world was like, and that I was an idiot. It’s hard to explain where that mentality comes from, but that is what a lack of confidence looks like, rotting on the inside of you.

Because we don’t have a solid group of friends around for support I had to look elsewhere and I really meant it when I named that post ‘I think a podcast saved my life‘. The intimate experience of listening to people who expect to live their best life, talking about it right into my earbuds…I know I have talked about this before, but it rewired my brain and my way of thinking. It’s impossible for me not to mention this again. It played a huge role in life.

jess angel valdivia
Slimming down, Jess in Valdivia February 2013

In direct terms of my health, I credit Tara Brach for her witty, intelligent mix of psychology and Buddhism that gave me a dose of desperately needed spirituality and permission not to be so hard on myself. From the uber-intelligent interviews that Sean Croxton holds on his Underground Wellness podcast, I learned how to heal my gut and why I gain weight and feel like crap when I eat sweets and gluten (gluten intolerance/leaky gut/insulin resistance), but Dani can have cake every day and still feel fabulous.

My relationship with food changed not because of my ability to overcome my cravings for Taco Bell, but because I learned from him that food is the best form of preventative medicine, so why stuff myself with junk and then worry?

From Jillian Michaels, I learn how to let go of the past. Jillian’s own goals are lofty and she has a hell of a time achieving them, but she shares openly about her failures and this idea of ‘Why not you?’ Why should other people live their dreams, but not you? Why not me? Why not us? I internalized that thinking and it has lead me to making much loftier goals for the future.

dani and jess torres del paine
Dani in Jess in Torres Del Paine, Chile, March 2013

Because podcasts played such a role in helping me transform, I finally launched our Break Free podcast this year, in order to help women understand they can forget the glass ceiling and break down the walls, instead. I interview women who know way more than we do about how to do this in order to provide a blueprint for breaking free. If I can affect and inspire change for just one woman the way that these podcasters have helped me, then that is more than enough, because I have felt the power and energy behind my own transformation.

How I got healthy on the road – Physically

Being nomadic presented a certain set of challenges in terms of working out. No gym membership, cramped hotel and hostel rooms with dirty floors, plus the challenge of finding the energy to work out after those physically exhausting travel days. Here’s how I got my weight and nutrition under control:

1. I started with Yoga. My joints were very achy and I was recovering after getting rammed by a cow in India, so this was the best way to do something physical everyday.
2. I tricked Dani into committing to do the Insanity Workout for 60 days. Shaun T is another person who played a huge role in my transformation.
3. We continued to do Insanity through two months housesitting in Costa Rica, six weeks in our Buenos Aires apartment (even when we ate all that pizza!) and two months housesitting in Santiago.

can i lose weight while traveling
Working out in Chile

4. Whenever possible, we started making green smoothies in the morning.
5. We started shopping in grocery stores more and eating out less. When we traveled heavily through Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, I traveled with boiled eggs, bananas, avocados and nuts. This kept me full, was healthy and kept me from snacking on cakes and cookies.
6. With no space to do Insanity, I (and sometimes Dani) would do a Deck of Cards workout (here’s an article about it on Lifehacker) in a park or open space.
7. I started choosing a non-bread, non-pasta option whenever possible. I don’t know if I am gluten intolerant, but I think my joints hurt from a constant low level of inflammation and I just know that I feel better when I don’t eat gluten.
8. In New York I did the 21 Day Sugar Detox to regulate insulin levels and learn about how insulin affects hormones, hunger and overall health.
9. In Berlin we cycled everywhere, 20km a day or more.
10. In Tucson, where we are at the moment, WE (Dani and I, together) are doing the 21 Day Sugar Detox for a second time right now – you can pick up a copy of the book, smoothie guide and other supplementary material here.

I could probably still lose ten or fifteen pounds and might attempt that at some point to get in the best shape of my life. But for right now, I consider myself in maintenance mode, looking to maintain my weight rather than lose. I still have to be active, but I know now that my nutrition is 80 per cent of my success and workouts make up only 20 per cent.

can i lose weight while traveling
Making sugar and dairy free chocolate pie

What I have learned in the last year

1. Having a supportive partner is key.

Dani has been incredibly supportive throughout this entire process. She committed to Insanity even though she didn’t want to, and then made me do it on the days I wanted to stay in bed. She understands if I don’t want to split some meals, because she is eating bread or pasta and I don’t want to eat it that day. She has been cooking throughout this entire 21 Day Sugar Detox – making cauliflower crust pizza, amazing soups, pretty darn good sugar free desserts – even though she just wants to order pizza and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

dani and jess in nyc 2013
Dani and Jess in New York, August 2013

Most importantly, there were some big hiccups this past year. I went a little crazy on the health food for a while. I went from having no confidence to a period of over-adjustment where I was a cocky, arrogant jerk face, and Dani stuck by me until I realized that my bubble had become too inflated. I burst my own bubble and came out to find Dani there, willing to accept the person that I had truly been trying to become. We’re happier now than we ever have been. Some of this has to do with me being in a better place, and most of it has to do with her incredible support.

With our friend Nicky in New York City July 2013

2. Getting healthy on the road is different, but not harder, than getting healthy any other way.


3. The only way to be my best is to do my best.

Over the course of this year and a bit, I have learned that I can only do what I can do, but that I can do more than I thought I could. Let me explain: in Argentina, as a vegetarian, your options are often pizza and pasta. But rather than feel like a victim, I carried nuts, eggs, fruit and veg with me. However, if I was starving and didn’t have the snacks to sustain me, I just ate what was available and didn’t beat myself up over it. I can only do what I can do.

4. Happiness and confidence are not how I imagined them to be.

Looking at successful people who I considered mentors or just plain ‘better than me’, I always thought that they just had everything together, that they were perfect, armored, felt no pain or fear.

On the contrary, I have learned that fear will always be there, bad things will always happen and that every country we visit will have some sort of cheesy doughy dish, and I am powerless to resist, be it empanadas, pierogies, pizza, whatever. My mentality toward food will shape the decisions I make. Are chips really a treat? Is a second empanada worth achy joints?

chips & nuts chiang mai market
Nuts instead of chips!

Do I have a six pack? No. Do I want one. Hell yes and if I set the goal to get one, I now know that I could. But I don’t think that is what would make me the happiest. What I’ve learned is that happiness and confidence come from knowing that I’m doing the best I can do at any given moment to be exactly who I want to be.

Fitting in to clothes in foreign countries is just the cherry on top.

can i lose weight while traveling
Jess in Berlin, July 2013

There are affiliate links in this post. This means that you pay nothing extra if you make a purchase, but we receive a small percentage for recommending you. If you do decide to purchase the 21 Day Sugar Detox, please write us so we can trade stories and recipes and commiserate on the hard days and if you do Insanity you have to get in touch share your progress – we love Shaun T and Insanity and want to share our experiences with you, too!

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  1. Congratulations on your hard work and your progress! I know that getting in shape is a challenge for everyone when living at home and working full-time and is doubly so when your favorite health foods are not available or you don’t have a nice space at home to work out. Very inspiring. I only travel on short trips at a time (2-3 week long trips) and I don’t work out on them since they are short, but I find it very difficult to eat healthy on the road and find myself craving fresh salads when only meat or pasta is on the menu, or only pizzas are available if its late at night. Great tip on the boiled eggs, nuts, etc. I should start doing also 🙂

    Thanks for sharing. P.S. I love Jillian Michaels!!!

    1. Hi Liz! Thanks so much! 🙂 It was hard to get used to not sampling snacks all the time and at some point my head almost exploded when I realized that I basically just eat ingredients, all day. Just an egg here, avocado there. But in the end, it’s about how I feel, not just keeping my tongue happy 🙂

  2. This post makes me so happy. Your before photos really say so much! You have come such a long way. I’m glad I inspired you to have green smoothies! I am without mine today and not happy about it.

    I think you are so right about it not really being about the weight, but about how you feel physically and mentally. I haven’t weighed myself in years. I do know I was at my skinniest a few years ago, and it didn’t work for me. My waist was cinched, but the rest of my body held onto its chubbier shape, making me look like a bobble head. So I gained a tiny bit back, and friends admit that they think I look more natural this way. Also, that body was too ridiculous to maintain, I couldn’t enjoy myself with cheat days or meals. Like most girls, I have days when I feel gross and days when I feel great, but I have a lot more of a latter and that’s a lot more than I could say a few years ago before I started working out regularly and caring about what I put into my body.

    Congratulations! You are amazing.

    1. Hi Rease! Yay! Thanks. I know what you mean about being the ‘right’ weight. I could really still lose ten pounds or more, but I feel great and I’m in a size under 10 for the first time in years. That’s enough right now. If we ever live somewhere for longer, have a stable lifestyle and access to healthy food for long periods, I’ll try to get in amazing shape, but I’m actually just….wait for it…happy! 🙂

  3. Wow, those before and after are amazing. You’ve worked so hard and it really shows.

    I’m currently on my own, get healthy before travelling. I’m trying to eat well and exercise more but I was worried about how I’d keep this up when we hit the road. Its good to know that it is possible.

    Great tips on the Deck of Cards Workout and what to carry on travelling days. Thanks.

    1. Wow, thanks Kellie! I did work really hard – Dani and I would end up laying in pools of our own sweat after Insanity…it really is insane. The deck of cards thing is great, though I’d really recommend doing something like Insanity, T-25, a Jillian Michaels DVD and/or doing Cross Fit a bit before you do so that you have a full arsenal of moves to set up your Deck of Cards workout each time. Because of Insanity, I had loads of different activities to do, so that each time I did the deck, it was four totally different exercises, if that makes sense? Definitely stay in touch and keep us informed about your travels and fitness!! I love hearing about it all!

  4. Jess,

    you’ve got an impressive result to show, congrats!
    When travelling, I like sight jogging, so I always take my jogging gear with me.

    My hometown Vienna is probably the hardest place to stay healthy, with its deluge of cakes, sausages, and dumplings. However, it’s very bike friendly. Travellers can borrow city bikes or join a guided bike tour. Highly recommendable to work off those extra calories.

    1. Barbara thanks! It feels great to read when you say ‘impressive’. I love to run, but unfortunately I had two big injuries in 2012, then while healing those I messed up my gait (how I walk/workout) and ending up really busting up my ankle and now it’s sort of constantly inflamed. I don’t want to push it with running, but I would love to just run and run wherever we are – that’s a real dream for me! Dani just throws on her shoes and goes for a 10-12km run no problemo, and I’d love to join her! Also – biking is one of the best and most fun ways to stay fit while on the road, totally agree with that 🙂 One day, maybe next summer, we’ll make it to Vienna! See you there? 😉

    1. Ooooh, Andi thanks!! Seriously, the hardest part was the starting. It was a huge mental step to just get OVER myself. Just commit and say Jess, your body is normal, you’re fine (in fact, you’re friggin fantastic after getting rammed by a cow, for christ’s sake you can WALK at least!). I just made a promise to see how far I could push it. It turned out, I could push it way further than I thought. I know you can too, and if you want an accountability buddy on any level, I’m always down for that!

  5. You look great Jess! Well done. I myself feel so much better when we are renting or housesitting and we can cook every day, because ultimately we eat healthier. Then when we are travelling fast, I can feel our health and weight slipping and it annoys me. I think we need to do better with preparation (like you did with snacks) rather than choosing the easy option. You look great and have proved that girls don’t have to gain weight while travelling, like everyone always spouts on about before you leave!

    1. Totally! I did gain weight, but only because I wasn’t doing my best. That’s all. All the walking in the world isn’t going to help me lose weight or even stay at my own weight when I’m scarfing down a Thai Curry, pizza and a piece of cake everyday. I had to just accept that my diet is 80 per cent and exercise is 20, so unless I commit to healthy eating – eating food that makes me FULL, too, that’s important, I was never going to cut the weight. In the end, the healthy food helped my head more than my bod, too! Thanks for the compliments, Julia 🙂

  6. Well done! You look fantastic – just a shadow of your former self. So glad you persisted and got to write the article. I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Aw, thanks Jenne! I started running for the first time in a long time when we were at your house. I would run around the ‘hood for 30 minutes and then we would work out in front of the movie screen there, too. I felt tremendous when we were at your place – but then we did that massive US road trip through the food desert that is the South, and I lost it. It took an entire year for me to really commit to success after that. Anyway,thanks so much – glad you enjoyed reading the piece. We need to check in with you guys over email and get an update from you two, too!! J.

  7. I needed to find this post today. I have been struggling with motivation to lose weight for a very long time. I have gained about 15 kg from all the traveling and eating anything I want but have maintained healthy options. However I found my weight increasing by 1kg a week. I could not understand it. A few weeks back I took myself off my bc pill. The insatiable hunger suddenly disappeared. I started to attempt training but I’m just not getting to the regularity and the intensity I need to shed these pounds. Like you , it saddens me that I cannot buy clothing that I want to wear. I’m tired of looking frumpy – I discovered Natalie gill – she’s gluten intolerant – I’m going to try her program – maybe this is what you need to get that ripped look – look her up on Facebook.
    I too feel I may have a gluten sensitivity as I have a slight constant inflammatory sensation in my joints daily. I really needed to find your post today . You may have found that one person you have impacted ! Thank you so much Jess! And congratulations on your efforts to date ! You look stunning !

    1. Natasha, you’re awesome – thanks so much for your comment today. I really appreciate it and I’m so so so happy that I could help at all. I’m going to write you an email with a bit of info I think you might find really helpful regarding bc pill / hormone related health stuff. I’ll check out Natalie Gill, too. All I have to say is that I totally get it, especially the frumpy feeling. We should start a group or something called F*CK FRUMPY! 😉 Anyway, I’ve said this to others today, too, but if you want to share, have an accountability partner, or anything, you can check in with me anytime. I did this whole thing kind of alone, in a way, but like I said I had Dani to lean on and the podcasts, but I know that if I could just whine, share tips, and get motivated with someone else going through it, it would have helped. ps to get ripped, you have to get super serious, cut out not just grains and soy, but also exercise like a beast – it’s all possible, it’s just about commitment! Kick ass and thanks for your really kind words, I’ve taken them to heart.

  8. Wow Jess, you look amazing! I’d noticed you looking slimmer in photos but those before and after photos really bring it home. Congratulations on achieving your goal! I’m very impressed and inspired to do better myself.

    I know how hard it is to keep to an exercise routine on the road. This year I’ve started running most days and although it was (relatively) easy to do when we were settled in Mexico, I was worried I couldn’t keep it up when we started moving around more. I have mostly been managing though (not so well the last few weeks as it’s been hectic in Europe) and I am finding it the perfect travel fitness activity. Running around Lake Bled in Slovenia yesterday did not feel like work!

    1. Erin! Awesome comment, thanks! Yes, it’s changed just about every aspect of my life really and all that underachiever crappy crap that you and Simon may have witnessed in Chiang Mai (wink wink) is out the window now. That was probably the best result of all for me. I saw on Instagram you were running around Lake Bled and was super impressed. I’d love to run, I’m still recovering from an annoying injury that came from over-compensating after my cow incident so I can’t quite run yet. But man, I’d love to just throw on a podcast and run for an hour. Have fun in Italy and run off all that pizza 🙂

  9. You look insanely amazing! I’m so proud of you and I’m inspired by this post. I’ve gained so much weight on the road and I realize I’ve begun to use it as an excuse, “oh, it’s so much harder to stay fit on the road.” But, you’re right, it isn’t. Such an inspiration 🙂

    1. Aw, thanks Kim! I wouldn’t say insanely amazing, but I dropped the weight I felt was holding me back. You’re going about it the right way, it seems, with the Camino de Santiago and cycling in Asia, etc. As long as you eat right with all that activity, you’ll be fine. But I know what you mean about the excuse. I played the victim about it for ages and now I don’t even recognize that person any more!!

  10. Those photos side by side show just how much work you have put in over the past year — really huge congrats on getting yourself mentally and physically to this place Jess! You look gorgeous throughout, but happier overall in the recent photos! 🙂

    1. I don’t think I looked gorgeous back then. I don’t really think the word ‘gorgeous’ describes me now, either 🙂 but it was the mental shift that made the physical stuff possible. I’m actually gearing up for round 2 now, I feel like that was level one, shed the massive weight. Now I’d like to get more fit, especially mentally, to shed the stuff that’s still holding me back. Let’s see where we are in a year! 🙂

  11. I didn’t say anything when we met, but at first I was like “who is this person?” because looking back now I realise I’d got this image of you in my head from pictures back from when I first started reading the blog around the time you were in Central America (maybe Nicaragua?) and you looked physically quite different when we met in Chile.

    Also that chocolate pie looks AMAZING! Do I spot avocado in the blender? Yum.

    One of my best friends is gluten intolerant, and she had a similar experience with it as you describe (joint pain, feeling crappy) and is soooo much better without it. So, could be that you’re coeliac.

    Anyway, congratulfuckinglations. You look smokin’ hot.

    1. Thanks Sam! that’s funny that you write that – I remind myself of that sometimes, that people actually met me looking like that and only know me as that person. The problem with that is that I never felt that that was who I was, chunky, drab, no style, etc. So you met me when I was already down quite a bit and I’m touched that you noticed – it’s hard to ever actually say anything to a girl about her weight, though, I know 🙂 I don’t know if I am coeliac, but I think there are many levels of intolerance with gluten and possibly soy. My skin was the worst in Asia where I was eating a lot of both. So who knows. The joint pain was killer, as was the brain fog! Anyway, thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Tom, thanks! The green smoothies are great, we both feel much healthier when we can have them for breakfast or a snack in the afternoon. If it made any logistical sense at all, we’d carry a blender around with us 🙂

  12. An idea for the new “Wonder when I Wander” header … same pose but a current photo of you, chin in hand, wondering. I bet you’ll be surprised how it looks.

    Or crop the photo by the harbor to show just you leaning against the rail. That one kind of says, ‘I may wonder, but I’m HERE!”

    A topic for wondering would be something about how we can have an idea of how we look and not update it in our minds, when we change. No full-length mirrors in hostels? Something mental or habitual that keeps us from noticing ourselves reflected in shop windows, etc.? Interesting question.

    And an idea for getting the mental image in sync with the reality … Stand in front of a full length mirror any time possible and let the sight sink in … turn to the side, turn to the back, look at yourself moving, let the old view fade away.

    Congratulations! It really is quite a difference!

    1. Hi Carolyn, thanks for the ideas and the compliments. I suppose we could update that – I just love that picture because it was from a great stay we had in Singapore at a fab hotel and we just had such a nice time while we were there. I think the reason that I, and posisbly others, don’t see the changes is because we focus on the small things that we still want to change rather than seeing the big picture of what did change. So I still see remaining love handles or jiggly thighs, for example, rather than the fact that I’m down three or four sizes!

  13. Oh wow. Mega inspiration! Thanks so much for your honesty and openness. This is a post that I really needed to read! Congrats on the hard work, you look rad, and thanks for writing this x

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it! I need to get these things off my chest, but also I want to share that it’s not impossible to actually get fit while you travel. So many people run themselves ragged, but when this is your lifestyle, not just a two-month escape, for example, getting and staying fit is a struggle and I just wanted to add my voice to the positive possibilities…

  14. Well done! I know it’s no mean feat to stay healthy when static, let alone while on the road. I’m currently trying to work out the best diet for me and it is quite a challenge. I’m cutting out gluten, dairy and sugar for a month to see how I feel when I go back on them — it sometimes feels on a par with giving up smoking (not that I ever had to do that but I imagine). I’m in Ubud right now, which is the perfect place for it — full of healthy food – but even here it can be a struggle. I crave cakes so much! I’ve been trying lots of different therapies while here, and have had loads of dietary advice from ayurverdic and Chinese medicine doctors, naturopaths, kinesiologists and more. The variety of info is pretty mind-boggling, but ayurveda is my favourite so far. I’m writing about it all on the blog for a ‘Dont knock it til you’ve tried it’ series. Anyways, Congratulations!

    1. I really like that – don’t knock it til you try it. That’s the kind of simple advice that nowhere near enough people actually follow! Good on you. I’m not a sugar person, so for me on the 21 day sugar detox, I was actually content. Gluten is what I’d love to be able to just delete, but I’m not always in control of my food. I have had skin issues before and I have always secretly thought it might be dairy. But cutting out dairy as a veggie means going vegan and I just hate that thought. I eat a lot cheese, eggs, yogurt and butter and love a high full fat diet which is what ironically helped me lose weight. Anyway, I’d love to do the elimination, too, though, and who knows, maybe we’ll be in Bali next year and we can try it there too 🙂

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