Category Archives: Practical Travel

How Fast Can You Get Fluent in Spanish?

get fluent in spanish

We’ve all been there. After touching down and getting acclimated to your new country, it hits you: while you can say things like, “Where’s the airport?” or “How much is this?,” you have no clue how to order your favorite drink or where to go for a decent haircut.

Where’s your high school language teacher when you need them?

For those of you who are visiting or moving to a Spanish-speaking country, we’ve gathered the best Spanish decks from FactSumo, a newly launched mobile app devoted to making learning painless and easy.

(By the way, decks are these little “learning bursts” beamed to your smartphone in podcast form. You can choose to learn with video, audio, or a combination of both, and you can do it in 5 minute chunks throughout the day so you can get fluent in Spanish FAST.)

Because let’s face it  – you’ll never get fluent in Spanish just by asking for the bathroom all the time.

#1: Get Fluent Outside


Venturing out into the wilderness? So many Spanish-speaking destinations – think Spain, Mexico, Central and South America – offer warm climates with ample opportunities to get back to nature.

Use this camping vocabulary deck to learn BBQ in Spanish and other outdoorsy words and phrases.

#2: Get Fluent At The Doc

Working in healthcare? If you’re moving to a Spanish-speaking country to work or volunteer in the medical field, this medical instructions deck is the perfect way to break down the language barriers with patients.

#3: Get Fluent With Your Realtor

 

Staying for a while? Renting or buying a home is hard enough. Doing it in another language? Fuhgeddaboudit.

#4: Get Fluent At The Bank

Need some cash? FactSumo’s got your back when it comes to banking in your new Spanish-speaking country.

#5: Get Fluent With Your Stylist


Getting a haircut? Whether you need a men’s haircut for that sexy new travel partner, or a women’s haircut for your fab self, FactSumo will give you the words you need to look fab-u-lous.

#6: Get Fluent In The Powder Room


Leaking toilet? Find out why it won’t go down (or how to call the nearest plumber) with this deck all about plumbing. (Another alternative: live in a hotel or guest house so you don’t have to worry about your own plumbing. The pic above looks inviting, don’t you think?).

#7: Get Fluent At Yoga Class


Toning your bod? Catching a yoga class in Spanish was never easier with this deck about yoga poses and positions.

You can get by on a few basic words and phrases when you’re vacationing for a week or two somewhere. But when you’re living abroad, you need to be completely immersed. Knowing how to speak your way through everyday situations will save time and headaches. Happy learning!

To get started on your Spanish language immersion adventure, check out FactSumo.com.

 

The 5 Best Night Markets in Southeast Asia

best night markets in southeast asia

How do you find the best night markets in Southeast Asia? By looking for the perfect balance between street food and dry goods, tourists and locals, popular and off-the-beaten path.

It’s a delicate balance to strike, and some markets in SE Asia don’t quite get it right.

To me, a great night market is loud, noisy, packed with people, and filled with exciting things to see, buy, and – most importantly – taste.

Here are the five most memorable night markets I’ve visited in Southeast Asia (plus one market I recommend you skip completely!).

#1: Shilin Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan

The Shilin Night Market is Taipei’s biggest and most famous market, and for good reason. I visited several markets during my time in Taipei, and this was hands-down my favorite.

The market is packed with locals and tourists, has an endless array of food stalls and open-air restaurants, and there are even movies screening in the courtyard of a temple right in the marketplace.

I made the mistake of eating at a sit down restaurant in the market before I realized how much amazing street food there was to sample.
best night markets in southeast asiaThis was one of the first times I ate alone while traveling, and it was DEFINITELY my first experience with Asian-style seafood:

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It’s a good thing I was too scared to eat shrimp that was staring at me.

By the time I stepped back out into the market, I was still hungry enough to sample a smattering of Taiwanese street food and peruse the curious phallic-shaped paraphernalia that can be found throughout the market.

How to get there

Take the Red Line and get off at the Jiantan station stop. As soon as you exit the train you’ll see crowds walking across the street toward the market. Follow the crowds!

#2: Wui Lai Market (Saturday Night Walking Street), Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are many, many different markets to be explored in Chiang Mai. Some are local, some are touristy. Some are filled with tantalizing food, others are packed with knockoff designer clothing and cheap jewelry.

I spent two months in Chiang Mai and the Saturday Night Walking Market was by far my favorite. Fair warning, it’s totally touristy. But like so many things in Chiang Mai, it’s super popular and overly-touristy for a good reason: it’s awesome!

The market runs over 1km down Wui Lai street, but it also shoots off onto some side streets too. You’ll find the food stalls on both sides of the street, plus more food located in offshoot areas with patio seating and additional stalls. 

While you’re busy munching pad thai and cotton candy, you can listen to blind musicians playing the drums and buy all sorts of clothing, artwork, silverware, carvings – most of it cheap, some of it rare, all of it beautiful. 

How to get there

The market begins right across the street from the Chiang Mai Gate at the southern entrance to the old city (alternatively called the walled city, the old town, the ancient town, you get the idea).

Careful because there are four different gates that “guard” this area – make sure you’re at the southernmost gate to find this market. Also, if you walk allllll the way down to the end of the market, and the market is really busy, you might just want to take a taxi or tuk tuk back instead of fighting the crowds.

#3: Luang Prabang Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos

Best night markets in Southeast Asia

The Luang Prabang night market is beautiful, intimate, and packed with gorgeous clothing, bags, jewelry and souvenirs. Yes, a lot of the stuff is cheap, but a lot of it is just beautiful anyway.

Maybe it’s because the vendors display there wares like artwork, all spread out on brightly colored rugs on the ground.

Maybe it’s because all of the stalls are packed in tightly, so tightly that the tops of each tent converge to create this outdoor forest.

It’s like climbing through a giant closet. You seriously have to weave your way in and out of other people to get anywhere, but for some reason that didn’t bother me during my two weeks in Luang Prabang

At first glance, you might miss the food altogether. Unlike the other best night markets in Southeast Asia, the market in Luang Prabang has a separate area for cheap, delicious street food (see how to find it below).

This covered food market has tons of cheap eats and cold Beer Lao. It’s always packed, there’s not enough seating, and the strangers packed together at picnic tables are forced to make new friends. 

I’ll be totally honest, the street food in Laos had nothing on Thailand or Vietnam, but the ambiance of this little food court more than made up for that. I met another solo female traveler while eating solo here, and we ended up doing a trek together and are still in touch to this day!

How to get there

Luang Prabang is tricky because there are a gazillion wats, two rivers, and it’s super easy to get turned around. The night market is in the “center” of town, but the trick is finding that center!

The market begins at Wat Mai, so find that on a map and get yourself there (it’s south of the Royal Palace on Sisavangvong Road).

From there, walk south along Sisavangvong Road enjoying the market. Just before you get to Kitsalat Road, which is a big intersection, you’ll see a little alley off to your right. Duck inside with your Kip and get ready to nosh!

#4: Bến Thành Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

Best night markets in Southeast Asia

Huge, famous, and smack dab in the center of the biggest tourist district in the biggest city in Vietnam, the Bến Thành Market is at the top of most HCMC must-see lists. 

It has an indoor day market, but at night the streets begin filling with vendors and outdoor pop-up restaurants.

Don’t bother going until after the sun goes down – I was there at dusk and ended up hemming and hawing during that awkward time between the closing of the day market and the opening of the night market stalls. 

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The surrounding area is massive and sprawling, with clear views of enormous skyscrapers and the giant Bitexco Financial Tower.

This market feels bigger than the Shilin Night Market in Taipei, but a bit more spread out. Food, clothing, and other goods are everywhere and nowhere. Instead of one main street, the market wraps around several blocks. 

It’s sort of difficult to get your bearings, but damn if it’s not exciting. DSC_0115

Like everywhere else in Ho Chi Minh City, just make sure you watch out for motorbikes!

How to get there

If you’re staying on or near Phạm Ngũ Lão street in District 1 (which you’ll probably be since it’s the main tourist area), you can walk along east along Phạm Ngũ Lão all the way to the market.

The north side of the street hugs a giant park that is packed with kids doing martial arts, couples taking ballroom dancing classes, and students passing shuttlecocks through the air with just their feet.

It’s well lit and I felt very safe walking through it “alone” (you’re never really alone in a city of 20 million) at night.

#5: Pai Night Market, Pai, Thailand

Pai‘s night market, like the town itself, is small when compared to the other best night markets in Southeast Asia. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in charm and unexpected culinary delights.

I had the best burger of my life at the Burger Queen, an indoor restaurant just off the market (Okay, it’s a few blocks away, but still worth a mention and a visit). And don’t even get me started on these RIDICULOUS pancakes:

How to get there

Go to Pai. You’ll find it.

The Night Market to Skip

I’m a huge traitor because Hoi An, Vietnam is my home away from home, but the night market on the south side of the river across from the main entrance to the Ancient Town SUCKS!

It’s dinky, barely takes up half a block, there’s hardly any street food (mostly just donuts) and the stalls are filled with cheap souvenirs. There are some cool lanterns for sale at the beginning of the market, but you can get them much cheaper from a local vendor anywhere else in town during the day.

In a city that’s so filled with rich history, amazing artisans, great cooks, and neverending tourists, why is there (basically) no night market to speak of? Maybe it’s because there are so many permanent restaurants and shops that line the banks of the river and they’re always packed, so there’s really no need for a night market.

Still, I’m a firm believer that all great Asian cities (and perhaps all cities) should have a killer night market to write home about. Hoi An may have amazing beaches, delicious food, cool history, and breathtaking scenery, but without a great night market, it can’t take it’s rightful place as the best place to visit in Southeast Asia.

Don’t skip Hoi An, but skip the market and go enjoy dinner at Cargo or have hot pot at a local noodle shop instead!

Southeast Asia or Bust

If you’re itching to hop on a plane and sample some authentic street food and night markets for yourself, first thing’s first – you have to figure out how to get there and where you’re staying!

For flights to Asia, I love Skyscanner and can almost always find a one-way ticket from the States to SE Asia for under $600 (usually much less!).

For hotels, I’ve just recently discovered Travel Ticker, which searches 100,000 cheap hotels from a single dashboard (none of those annoying pop up windows). The site’s interface is great because you can easily find your city, select your travel dates, and let their robust search engine do the work for you.

Which cities top your list for having the best night markets in Southeast Asia? Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments below!

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Rebecca Anne Nguyen is a freelance travel writer and the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com. Follow her @Happy_Passport, on Instagram, and on Medium.

7 Ways Women Get Paid to Travel the World

Of course you want to get paid to travel the world. Who doesn’t?

Okay okay, not everyone wants to make money traveling.  Some people actually prefer to work from a more stable home base. As someone who recently came home after 15 years of traveling and moving around the U.S and the world, I definitely get the appeal of having a car, a gym membership, and a regular chiropractor.

But if you’re not quite ready to settle down, or if you’ve been settled down and you’re itching to get out there and explore,  there are some seriously viable (read: lucrative) options for doing so.

No, you don’t need a trust fund. No, you don’t necessarily need to teach English abroad.

In fact, most of the ways to get paid to travel do not involve a “regular” job at all, regular meaning a stationary gig where you report to the same place everyday and are therefore stuck, just like you were stuck back home.

No, these jobs are truly mobile, in that they give you a way to make money and travel pretty much wherever you want, whenever you want.

If you think that sounds too good to be true, think again my friend! I personally did a combination of #2 and #3 for 13 months while backpacking through Asia.

Also, I haven’t included anything on this list unless I actually know someone who has a) done it, or b) is doing it as we speak.

Ready to get paid to travel? Here are 7 ways to do it in 2016:

#1: Coder/Programmer

If you can write code, develop websites, or know the language of CSS, you can work as a freelance web developer from just about anywhere with a Wifi connection.

Now before you protest that you don’t know how to code, relax: you can learn!

Organizations like Girls Who Code are dedicated to teaching the next generation of female engineers. You can also teach yourself to code on Udemy or teach yourself to code in 8 weeks or less.

Once you’ve learned a coding language, you can hop on websites like Upwork or Freelancer.com to find paying gigs as a coder, which you’ll complete from anywhere in the world you happen to be.

#2: Virtual Assistant

This is a GREAT way to get paid to travel while staying totally mobile. Plus, you don’t have to learn any special skills. If you’re organized and a good communicator, you can get a regular gig as someone’s Virtual Assistant (VA) or online business manager.

Here’s what a day in the life of a VA might look like while traveling:

  • Wake up in [insert foreign city of your choice here].
  • Have breakfast while checking emails from your client and making a to-do list for the day.
  • Work for 2-3 hours in your hotel room or guest house. “Work” could include anything from managing social media accounts to scheduling travel, responding to emails, conducting research, or doing data entry.
  • Spend the afternoon site-seeing in your destination!
  • Enjoy dinner out.
  • Return to your hotel for more work.
  • Lather, rinse, and repeat, adding travel days into the mix when you’re ready to move on to your next location.

Find VA gigs on UpworkFreelancer.com, or Virtual Assistant Jobs.

#3 Freelance writer

Get paid to travel by becoming a freelance writer. This could involve travel blogging, copywriting, journalism, creative writing, or a combination of all of the above.

Assuming you have some decent writing skills, the main question that needs answering is “Where do I find writing gigs?”.

For me, the answer was always through Elance, a website that was recently bought by Upwork. Upwork is the place to go if you want to write SEO copy for online businesses, small businesses, and entrepreneurs.

What do I mean by “SEO copy”? That could mean press releases, website copy, bios, blog posts, eBooks, and so on, all of which have been “optimized” for search engines using the right keywords. (If you want to learn how to do this, you can hire me to teach you for cheap).

For creative writing gigs and journalism, check out Writer’s Market. They post publishing opportunities from magazines, trade publications, publishing houses, and newspapers all over the world.

Freelance writing is a very in-depth topic, but suffice it to say that copywriting will bring you faster cash, while creative writing/journalism will bring more notoriety (and bigger bucks long-term).

While traveling, I loved being able to log on to Elance, bid for a job, work for a few hours from my hotel, and get paid within a few days.

#4 Professional Gambler

Here’s another online opportunity that allows you to get paid while traveling. I knew a girl who made an obscene amount of money as an online gambler. Obviously it helps to know a thing or two about gambling, playing cards, and the like, and to enjoy playing these kinds of games.

If that’s your bag, it’s an awesome way to make extra money while traveling without ever having to find a “real” job!

#5. Insurance Adjuster

My friend is an insurance claims adjuster and she seriously travels more than anyone else I know. Granted, she doesn’t always get to choose her destinations, but she makes enough money that she’s able to travel regularly throughout the year during her down time.

Besides, most of the places she seems to go for work are vacation destinations to most people: London, Thailand, Switzerland, Bermuda….

6. Day trader

Being a day trader is another skilled trade that can be easily learned so you can get paid to travel.

I used to date a guy who was a day trader by day (duh), and a film director by night. He worked from home and had total flexibility in terms of when, how often, and how much he worked.

Jobs like that make perfect travel jobs – just ask this top travel blogger who funds his adventures with day trading.

I personally know zilch about the stock market, but if I wanted to build real wealth while traveling (as opposed to simply make enough to fund my travels), I’d choose this option.

7. Extreme Athlete (or extreme anything)

Don’t laugh! I’m serious! And I promised I wouldn’t include anything on this list unless I knew someone who was making it work…

Well, our contributing writer Shirine Taylor is cycling around the world. That’s pretty extreme, wouldn’t you say? When Shirine began her trip, she was living on savings. Now, after starting a successful blog to document her adventures, she’s gained sponsors, donations, and global recognition.

Shirine isn’t a professional athlete – she’s just a girl who loves to cycle! If you’re passionate about a sport, dancing, heck, even bagpiping, there are people who will pay to watch you do it.

Another travel blogger I know of is bagpiping her way around the world. People who also love bagpipes sponsor her to do it, just like people who love Wandering Earl sponsor him to keep on a-wandering!

If you choose this option, be sure to go big. Choose a niche sport or hobby that people are fanatical about, then start with a crowdfunding campaign to get the word out about your journey.

Are you ready to get paid to travel? Which option do you think would be the best fit for you?

7 Ways to Get Hotel Discounts in Asia

Do you know how to get hotel discounts and guest house deals in Asia?

I know, saving money on places where you’d like to stay doesn’t sound that sexy – but the more money you save = the more you can travel, and that’s not just sexy, that’s orgasmic! So read on!

Travelling independently in Asia, almost every price is negotiable.

Yes, that’s including the price of your washing powder at the corner shop, and your headache tablets at the pharmacy. So I always negotiate the price of my room.

How do I do that?

I never book through accommodation booking sites.

They operate on commission, so their price will always be higher than booking direct.

Plus, you can’t negotiate price and room type…

And you can’t request a free pick up from the station…

And you can’t ask about other aspects of the guest house…

And you can’t get a feel for the service you might expect when you get there…

And you can’t start to build a relationship with the staff…

So I always negotiate with guest houses directly.

How? If you’ve never done it before, don’t worry one bit. It’s easy. Even if you don’t like bargaining, it’s easy to do over email, and not embarrassing at all:

Step 1 – Research guest houses online and choose a few options

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I tend to use Trip Advisor, and initially search by price. Watch out for a couple of things:

[i] Dates of reviews – Things can change amazingly quickly as staff and seasons come and go – only focus on recent reviews.

[ii] Nationality of reviewers – Travellers from different parts of the world can have really different opinions about everything, including how clean a place is and how far it is from the town centre.

As a Western woman, when I’m researching accommodation in Asia, I look for places with reviews from other Westerners. Especially for India, I look for reviews from other Western women – not those only reviewed by Indian men. [You usually get a quick idea of the reviewer’s nationality from the name and location on their review].

Step 2 – Check prices on accommodation sites

Search the internet for the few guest houses you’re interested in.  If they show up on accommodation booking sites, note the best price they’re offering [Hostelworld, Booking.com and Agoda are good for Asia].

Unless you’re really short of time and really not worried about price, don’t book through them!

Step 3 – Find contact details

Check that internet search again to find an email address or Facebook page for each of your chosen guest houses. If they have web or social media sites they’re often not in English, but you’ll still be able to find contact information on them – or the Trip Advisor forums can often help.

Step 4 – Write to ask for best prices

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I try to communicate some interest and enthusiasm in a place, hoping that’ll encourage the reader to help me [and because I am usually genuinely interested and enthusiastic about a place!] If you’re not sure how to start, you can always look up the weather and refer to that:

Hello WXY guesthouse

I hope you’re really well in X X and not feeling too hot – the internet says it’s going to be 38 degrees today!

I’m an English lady who would love to stay with you next month. I’ve always wanted to visit X X and your guest house sounds great.

What’s the very best price you can offer me for a stay in a single room with fan and balcony, from Monday X November – Sunday Y November [a stay of 6 nights]?

Looking forward to hearing from you soon, and sending very best wishes

Hilary : )

Ms Hilary Mehew hilarymehew@hotmail.com

Step 5 – Agree to the price and book

If you get a price back that’s the same or higher than you’ve seen on a booking site, quote that, asking for a better rate because you can book directly and save them from paying commission.

If you know you want to stay long term, try to get a better price by offering to pay on a weekly basis.

If they really won’t better the price, ask to have free breakfast thrown in with the deal, or a room upgrade, or something else you want.

From the offers you get, and from the “feel” you get for the place [often as important as price!] you’re ready to choose and book.

Step 6 – Ask for free pick up

Fancy a free pick up from the local bus/train station or airport? Ask for one [or failing a free one, a reduced priced one].

Check if they have any guests they’re taking back to the station/airport at the time you arrive – this option often works, especially for airport transfers, when all you have to pay for is the driver’s waiting time and parking charges between someone else’s drop off and your collection.

Step 7 – Re-confirm 3 days before

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I usually do this by forwarding the last email between us, so they can easily see all the agreed arrangements re dates, room type, price, pick up arrangements etc, and tell them how much I’m looking forward to staying with them.

And that’s it!

Honestly, this approach has never failed me. Even when I couldn’t get a better rate, I’ve been able to negotiate a better room, or something else free or discounted, or at the very least got advance notice of when a special promotion will be on.

I also really appreciate arriving at a guest house, having got to know one or more staff members by name over the email, and receiving a very personal welcome.

Welcome to XYZ guesthouse and have a great stay…

hilary-mehew-headshotHilary Mehew is a big smiler and great traveller [it does make her cheeks ache!] She’s travelled extensively, but Asia is her passion – mostly as a backpacker and on business [though not at the same time!]. Years ago she thought she’d go travelling in the region for one year and ended up being away for three and a half. Since then she’s gone back every year for work and holidays. She’s just returned to the UK after backpacking for two years in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Contact her on hilarymehew@hotmail.com

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Research guest houses online and choose a few options

2. Check prices on accommodation sites

3. Find contact details

4. Write to ask for best prices

5. Agree to price and book

6. Ask for a free pick-up

7. Re-confirm 3 days before

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Top Tips for Instagram Travel Photography

 

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to create some seriously amazing travel photography.

Heck, you don’t even need a fancy DSLR camera!

I stumbled upon this infographic and love how it de-mystifies travel photography (and de-snobifies it, too. Yes, that’s a word).

Here are 5 easy ways to shoot like a pro without spending a fortune on gear or glass.

travel-photography

 

How to take amazing travel photos is a graphic produced by DealChecker.co.uk

5 Easy Ways to Make Money Traveling

If you make money traveling, it means that you can travel indefinitely.

Making money while you travel means you don’t have to stick to a strict budget because money is always flowing in.

It also means you’re free to roam the planet at will without being stuck working abroad at a teaching job or other full-time gig.

So how can you make money traveling without signing a teaching contract, becoming an au pair, or searching for one of those elusive private yacht jobs?

By becoming a digital nomad, that’s how.

If you have a laptop and basic computer skills, you can easily make the world your office and travel abroad forever.

Here are 5 websites to help you make money traveling without committing to a “regular” job.

1. Upwork.com

Upwork.com is a website for freelancers.

Companies and small businesses post jobs for everything from copywriting to web design to tutoring services. Freelancers then compete for said jobs by creating and submitting job proposals.

But don’t worry if you’re not a brilliant web programmer and can’t write your way out of a paper bag. There are zillions of jobs posted on Upwork every day, and I know you’ll find something that’s a good fit for your skill set.

When I first started doing online marketing, I got 95% of my clients via Elance (now Upwork). I tell everyone about the site and I’m amazed that more people don’t use it to make money traveling.

2. Fiverr.com

On Fiverr.com, people will pay you $5 to do just about anything.

That could be something that requires technical skills, like web design or social media, OR it could be something completely ridiculous like paying you $5 to break up with their girlfriend.

Check out the site and see who the high rollers are, look at who’s making the most money and how.

Figure out how you can incorporate travel into what you’re offering. For example, can you send people postcards from anywhere in the world for $5? What about writing their wife’s name on a sign and taking a picture with it in front of the Eiffel Tower?

Remember that you’re traveling and people wish they could be you. Work that to your advantage on Fiverr, and don’t forget to offer “upsells” – the postcard is $5, but for $10 they can get rush delivery, and for $25 you’ll send 5 postcards.

Also, don’t forget that if you’re traveling in low-cost countries, $5 goes a lot further than it does back home. (Like, a lot further. Like hotel room-further.)

3. TakeLessons.com

TakeLessons is a site for teachers and students. I use those terms loosely. If you have something to teach, you can connect with someone who wants to learn it.

Teachers teach lessons to students via Skype, Google Hangouts, or in person. Since you’ll be traveling, you’ll probably want to shoot for online lessons, though it could be cool to set up some in-person lessons in the cities you’re visiting abroad.

Popular categories are things like singing lessons, French lessons, WordPress lessons and acting lessons, but don’t let those categories deter you. If you are passionate about World of Warcraft or Flamenco, chances are other people too.

Create a free account, set your hourly rate, and make sure you specify your time zone. Students will sign up for a time slot and you’ll get paid via Paypal.

Voila! Who’da thunk you could make money traveling so easily?

4. Clarity.fm

This site is sort of like Fiverr meets TakeLessons. It’s more business-focused, so if you have a background in online marketing, design, or technology, this is totally your bag.

The way it works is simple: set up a free account, fill out your profile, specify your areas of expertise, and set your “call rate.”

You call rate is the amount of money people pay you per minute to speak with you on the phone (or via Skype) and pick your brain about whatever topic you’re an expert in.

“But I’m not an expert in anything!” I hear you cry.

Oh no? Well, you can read this sentence, can’t you? Which means that a) your English skills are better than billions of other people on the planet, and b) your computer skills, which allowed you to open a web browser and navigate to this page, are equally as impressive.

Clarity also has an “other” section for non-business related skill sets, so now you really have no excuse not to make money traveling.

5. Skype

I will never understand why people moan and groan about the cost of travel when Skype exists.

Using Skype, you can make money traveling anytime and anyplace, as long as you have an Internet connection. You don’t even need a laptop because you can use the Skype app on your smartphone.

Here are just a few of the ways I’ve seen people make money traveling while using Skype:

  • As an online therapist
  • As a life coach
  • As an intuitive healer
  • As an academic tutor
  • As a singing teacher
  • As a business consultant

The benefit of using Skype instead of the above-mentioned websites is that Skype won’t charge a fee when you book a client (the other sites take small to medium cuts of any business you get through them).

On the other hand, if you choose to use Skype you’ll have to do all of the legwork to find and book clients. The other sites make it easy to find prospects and score more business.

The other day I celebrated my 6th full month of long-term travel. Hey, it’s not much compared to rock stars like Wandering Earl who’ve been traveling since 1999, but for me, it’s a huge accomplishment.

And I never could have done it if I’d had to save up a bunch of money first (I suck at saving money), or gotten a job teaching English abroad.

For me, working full time for someone else in a different country is just as constricting as working full time for someone else at home.

I want to be free to travel where I want, when I want, and the only way I can do that is by being a digital nomad.

It’s not all roses and milk tea, though. You have to work hard, and you have to, well, work.

That in and of itself can be challenging when everyone else around you is on holiday and you’re cooped up in your hotel room strapped to your laptop.

But you know what? On days I’m stuck instead working for 8 or 10 or 14 hours, I still get to take a break, have lunch, and walk outside and see this:

make-money-traveling

And I still get to marvel at thoughts like “holy CRAP I’m in [insert crazy destination here] right now!” And thoughts like that make the long hours more than worth it.

If I were you and I wanted to see the world, but I didn’t know how I could afford it, I’d look into any of these websites.

If I had to choose one, it’d be Odesk, especially if you are a native English speaker because you will crush the competition.

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Elance.com

2. Fiverr.com

3. TakeLessons.com

4. Clarity.fm

5. Skype!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

10 Best Travel Books You’ve Never Read

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that most of my favorite books just so happen to be some of the best travel books in the world.

I was in love with travel before I traveled. I was a nomad in the womb, inspired to roam before I could walk.

In creating this list and thinking of the best travel books I’ve ever read, I found that these stories are less about the destinations visited by the characters and writers, and more about the inner journeys undertaken by those doing the globe trotting.

With that in mind, here are the 10 best travel books to get you inspired, keep you moving (and moved!), and show you how travel really can change your life.

10. THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist is the story of Santiago, a poor shepherd boy on a quest to find his Personal Legend. In the book he journeys throughout Spain, to Morocco, and to Egypt, but it is in reaching his final destination that he finally finds himself (plus there’s a super romantic love story woven into this little parable – I’ve probably read this book a dozen times and never tire of it!)

9. THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS by Elizabeth Gilbert

I am a huge, huge, HUGE fan of Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) – to the point where I pre-ordered this novel months before it came out because I was so excited to devour it.

Needless to say, my favorite writer did not disappoint! The novel tells the life story of Alma, a brilliant 19th-century scientist who lives on a Pennsylvania estate and spends her life studying mosses.

Sounds kind of boring, right? That’s where Gilbert’s brilliance comes in – she sends Alma on a round-the-world journey to Tahiti, where she meets a man who may very well be the sexiest person in literature (his name is Tomorrow Morning. And he’s a 6-foot tall Tahitian Adonis. And sometimes I re-read the book just so I can be close to him.)

8. WHAT I WAS DOING WHILE YOU WERE BREEDING by Kristin Newman

I was first drawn to this travel memoir by the hilarious title, but what made me decide to buy it was the fact that Kristin Newman is a TV writer.

Having spent 5+ years working in entertainment in Los Angeles, I’ve seen firsthand how cutthroat and challenging TV writing can be, especially sitcom writing. You have to think on the fly and be brilliant while surrounded by 12+ executives and fellow writers, who are all throwing out ideas a mile a minute.

Given the time and solitude to craft her own travel tales, Newman crushes it. Her own book summary is better than any I could write, so here it is:

“Kristin introduces readers to the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests who helped her transform into “Kristin-Adjacent” on the road–a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier version of herself at home. Equal parts laugh-out-loud storytelling, candid reflection, and wanderlust-inspiring travel tales, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a compelling debut that will have readers rushing to renew their passports.”

7.  ALEPH by Paulo Coehlo

We’re sticking with the Hollywood theme but heading to Cannes, France, for the annual international film festival.

Coehlo stays in one place in Aleph, but leads you deep into the belly of the beast in Cannes, where murder, greed and deception can’t be escaped, no matter where you turn.

This book is dark, juicy, and disturbing, with Coehlo’s usual spiritual reverence nowhere to be found.

6. THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES by Ernesto Che Guevara

Confession: I definitely watched the movie (starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal….siiiiiigh) before I read the book.

But the film inspired me to go to the source, and I’m so glad I did!

While reading Che’s memoirs of his journeys throughout South America, you can actually see the evolution of spirit on each page. His excitement and youth deepen the more he travels, the more people he meets, the more injustices he sees.

This book is the perfect example of how travel forces you outside yourself, how it strips you of selfishness and helps you see the interconnectivity of all things.

5. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac

On the Road is a beatnik classic that’s raw and real, surprisingly funny, and totally freeing. Kerouac’s prose makes me want to be a complete vagrant and train-hop my way around the world.

He had no money, absolutely nothing, and still managed to not only travel all over the U.S., to Denver and California and New York, but managed to write a book while he was doing it.

On the Road shows the creative power of travel to inspire, even when you’re on a budget so low it’s inside out.

4. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY by James Redfield

Reading this book was my very first spiritual awakening (of course it’s about a journey into the rain forests of Peru!)

Traveling to Peru through this book opened my mind to incredible spiritual ideas I had never before considered – ideas about energy, about things unseen, and about my growth as a human being and a spirit on a quest for enlightenment.

This book is pure magic for the soul-seeking traveler.

3. 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY by Rebekah Voss

I’m including my own book here as a gentle reminder to READ it after you download it from this site! (And make sure you’ve opted in to our email list so you can get your free copy!)

It’s packed with ways to see the world for cheap, to make money traveling, and to stay abroad for free.

Here’s what Daisy from Amazon had to say about it (and Daisy should know – she’s one of the Top 10 reviewers on Amazon!):

“This book is the BEST and MOST PLANNED OUT book that I have ever read regarding HOW TO TRAVEL WITH NO EXCUSES!

Rebekah has a passion for traveling and she found ways to make that happen for herself. In this book, she shares with the reader how she did this herself and in laid out list of preparations BEFORE attempting to travel.

Things like: Sell the house, sub leasing the apartment, selling car, selling furniture and SO MUCH MORE! She even explains that you can sell a tablet, phone or a laptop and the money you will receive will pay for food in India for ONE MONTH! Then she even goes on to suggest more tips on how to save money to prepare for this trip.”

Enter your email address below to get your free PDF copy, or go to Amazon if you prefer to read on your Kindle or get a hard copy version.

2. LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE by Laura Esquivel

Travel to 17th century Mexico and bring your appetite – this book is a dramatic, erotic love story told through actual recipes passed down from the author’s great grandmother.

War, love triangles, forbidden sex and familial chaos is set against the backdrop of rural Mexico in the late 1700s. This is another book I’ve read about 20 times because the love triangle between Tita, Rosaura and Pedro is so delicious!!!

1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I avoided reading this book for years because the marketing made me think it was super fluffy chick lit.

Imagine my surprise when one of my smartest, sophisticated, well-read friends insisted I pick it up.

I have yet to put it down, and it’s currently serving as a source of inspiration for my forthcoming travel memoir and for my life in general.

After a miserable, soul-crushing divorce, Gilbert plans a year-long RTW journey to Italy, India and Indonesia. Her hilarious writing makes her poignant spiritual realizations all the more profound when they pop up unexpectedly throughout the book.

If you only read one book from this list, make it Eat, Pray, Love.

What are the best travel books on your bookshelf (or in your Kindle?)

What travel book has completely changed your life? 

Ye Olde Disclaimer: If you buy one of these books on Amazon after clicking a link from this site, I’ll get a small commission. (Please and thank you, I need to pay for my pho!)

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Traveling Alone Vs. Traveling With a Partner

Traveling alone is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world, an experience I believe every traveler should take advantage of at some point during his or her life.

Traveling alone enables you the freedom to do what you want, when you want, while showing you more about yourself than you ever thought possible.

As a solo traveler you are normally more social as well, going out of your way to meet locals and travelers alike because you don’t constantly have someone by your side. You end up creating long lasting friendships that defy distance and time.

But what happens when you meet your partner and you begin to travel as two instead of one?

Travel as a couple is supposed to be perfect, right? Visiting romantic, exotic places together, sharing new dishes at sunset, and visiting the world’s tallest peaks or most serene lakes hand in hand.

It’s impossible not to romanticize. After traveling alone for nearly two years, I have recently begun traveling with my partner, and though I wouldn’t exchange the experience for the world, I have realized that each type of travel – traveling as a couple and traveling alone – has its perks and disadvantages.

Our trip together started out rough.

Within a week of my partner joining me in Nepal he fell ill with everything from giardia to typhoid fever. His illness prevented us from cycling (a bummer when you have set out to cycle around the world) and completing a trek I had been waiting six months to do.

I was distraught. How was it that life was no longer going my way, that I was suddenly unable to do the things I wanted to do because of someone else?

But that’s the thing with traveling as two –  you learn to compromise. You learn to put the other person first even when it’s the last thing you truly want to do, and you learn to work around problems together rather than separately, just like you would need to in a successful relationship back home.

Just because we are on the road doesn’t mean that all of our troubles have disappeared, it just means we are faced with different ones than we would be back home.

Now that we have settled into more of a routine, a give and take that I have realized is extremely important while traveling with someone else, I love traveling with my guy.

For the first time, I have someone to share my adventures and stories with, someone who understands how hard the last pass was to cycle over or how great our last camping spot in the mountains was.

Traveling with someone is also a great way to strengthen and improve your relationship as it enables you both to work together through stressful or unusual situations.

Traveling with somebody shows you who that person truly is because you’re with them constantly, and enables them to see you clearly as well. It’s a learning experience, once that requires time and patience to perfect, but one that also provides both of you with an enormous reward, the beauty of traveling as two.

So which is right for you? If you are alone, take advantage of this time to explore the world for yourself in your own way, unhindered by anything but your own imagination.

And if you have already found that special person you want to travel with, then go for it instead, because travel as two is an adventure all its own.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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12-City Southeast Asia Travel Itinerary

Planning Southeast Asia travel can be really daunting.

There are a million places to see and things to do, and if your time and budget are limited it can be tough to pick and choose where to go and when.

That’s why I’ve laid out this year’s Southeast Asia circle tour in detail.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed while planning your trip, you can simply follow in my footsteps!

Below I’ve listed

  • Which city/country I visited
  • What hotel/hostel/guest house I stayed at
  • The best thing I did/saw in that city
  • How much time I spent there
  • What to watch out for
  • How I traveled between each city (bus/train/plane)

Let’s go!

1. Vientiane, Laos

southeast-asia-travel-vientiane

Where I stayed: The Funky Monkey Hostel – private room for $12/night. This place definitely had a hostel vibe, but the private rooms are on a different floor from the dorms so they’re pretty quiet.

The best thing I did: Visited Buddha Park

How long I stayed: 6 days – if you’re not working as you travel, you can easily see all there is to see in Vientiane in 1 or 2 days.

Watch out for: The Lonely Planet Guide to Laos, which says you can take a bus to Buddha Park. In fact, you can only take a bus to the Friendship Bridge. From there you have to take a 50,000 kip tuk tuk to Buddha Park.

Also, don’t buy electronics (ear buds, cell phone chargers) at the “Apple Store” in the Talat Sao mall. They’re shit quality and will break as soon as you buy them.

How I got out: 12+ hour bus ride to Luang Prabang.

2. Luang Prabang, Laos

southeast-asia-travel-luang-prabang

Where I stayed: Central Backpackers Hostel – very hostely, private rooms from $12+/night, thin walls, noisy, friendly staff, slow WiFi, free breakfast but it’s pretty gross (and I’ve had a LOT of free hotel breakfasts on my journey).

The best thing I did: It’s a toss up between a trek with Tiger Trail and teaching English to the monks at Big Brother Mouse.

How long I stayed: 2 weeks.

Watch out for: Flies at food stalls in the day market, scammy tuk tuk drivers, women on the street who ask you to “come talk to my daughter, she just happens to be leaving for college in the town you happen to be from, won’t you come have dinner at our house?” (SCAM! RUN!)

How I got out: Mini-bus to Nong Khiaw (3-4+ hours)

3. Nong Khiaw, Laos (and Muang Ngoi Neua)

southeast-asia-travel-nong-khiaw

Where I stayed: The Sunrise Bungalows ($10/night for a private riverside bungalow. Beautiful, bare bones but your own bathroom and balcony. Pray your neighbors are quiet because you’re basically sleeping outside and can hear everything).

The best thing I did: Hiked to “the Lookout Point” – it’s a tough hike up the main mountain in town and may take you a good 90 minutes to reach the summit, but the stunning views are more than worth it.

How long I stayed: 6 days. There’s not much to do here but relax. I could’ve stayed longer.

Watch out for: Noise. The set up couldn’t be more peaceful (picture yourself lounging in a hammock on a balcony that overlooks a sweeping river gorge below), but there is constant thumping music coming from the boat dock and noisy boats passing by all day.

How I got out: Mini-bus back to Luang Prabang followed by a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.

southeast-asia-travel-muang-ngoi-neua

A note about Muang Ngoi Neua:  This is a tiny river village about an hour’s boat ride north of Nong Khiaw. I stayed here for one night at a bungalow owned by a Swiss guy named Gabriel. (He’ll be the only white guy waiting at the boat landing and he’ll walk you to the bungalow himself). It’s definitely worth a visit but keep in mind that it’s off the grid completely – Lonely Planet says there is WiFi but THERE IS NOT. There is barely cell reception. 

4. Hanoi, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-hanoi

Where I stayed: Lakeside Hostel and Hanoi Hostel on several different occasions. Both were around $12/night for a private room. Lakeside has smelly rooms without windows and unfriendly staff. Hanoi Hostel has friendlier staff, good free breakfast, and large (if a bit dusty) private rooms.

The best thing I did: Walked around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake area. There is so much to see in Hanoi simply walking around – the colors, the people, the sites and smells are simply brilliant. Seeing Tet fireworks over the lake on Vietnamese New Year’s Eve was stunning too.

How long I stayed: 5 days, then two weeks, then on and off again for a day or two here and there. Hanoi is a travel hub so if you’re journeying to Cat Ba, Sa Pa or southern cities you’ll probably have to stay here and depart from here.

Watch out for: Scammy taxi drivers, scammy street vendors. Do your research on what things should cost before you go, and don’t be afraid to bargain and/or walk away if the price is too high.

How I got out: Bus/boat/bus combo to Cat Ba Island.

5. Cat Ba, Vietnam

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Where I stayed: Ali Baba’s Hotel and Restaurant

The best thing I did: Boat tour of Ha Long Bay and the floating villages surrounding Cat Ba

How long I stayed: 6 days initially, then I went back later for 6 weeks

Watch out for: Slow WiFi, no computer shops, nowhere to get a bikini wax.

How I got out: Bus/boat/bus back to Hanoi, followed by a 16-hour bus ride to Da Nang.

6. Da Nang, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-danang

Where I stayed: Sea Wonder Hotel near the beach – $14/night, semi-private balcony, walking distance to the beach. Friendly staff, the food in the downstairs restaurant is decent but overpriced.

The best thing I did: Hiked to the big Buddha statue at the base of Monkey Mountain – the views of Da Nang from here are simply stunning. The Cham Museum in town is also worth a visit. There are also beautiful bridges lining the river that leads to the ocean – at night they are lit up in stunning electric.

How long I stayed: 8 days. You may not stay as long if you want something more touristy. Da Nang has beautiful beaches, great coffee culture, and amazing seafood, but it is very much a ‘local’s town’ – not many tourists, simply a shining, modern city where regular Vietnamese people live and work. I loved it here.

Watch out for: No menus in English depending on where you go, less English spoken here than in Hanoi or HCMC. Also, if you stay by the beach you should rent a motorbike b/c it gets pricey taking a taxi to and from the ‘downtown’ part of the city (where you’ll want to go for dinner, museums, etc).

How I got out: Motorbiked down to Hoi An, returned by motorbike then flew to HCMC.

7. Hoi An, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-hoian

Where I stayed: Jolie Homestay – $16/night for a huge private room in a house with a very kind Vietnamese family.

The best thing I did: Hard to choose – I loved taking the Hoi An Photography Tour almost as much as I loved swimming with the locals at An Bang Beach.

How long I stayed: 4 days initially. I’m actually back in Hoi An for the summer because I loved it so much (at the time of writing I’ve now been here for 5 weeks).

Watch out for: Scammy food vendors (a baguette should NOT cost 15,000 dong, it should be 10,000 or less!) My friend got pick pocketed here by way of a very common ‘coin scam’. If someone wants to show you their coins or see your coins, run.

How I got out: Motorbike back up to Da Nang then flew to HCMC.

8. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-hcmc

Where I stayed: The Spring House Hotel in District 1. $17+/night. Very much a hotel. Nice enough room, no free breakfast, good location across from the park and a block away from some seriously astounding nightlife.

The best thing I did: Visited the War Remnants Museum. I can’t begin to express how moved and shaken I was by this experience.

How long I stayed: 5 days. You could easily go higher or lower, the city is positively massive and I didn’t begin to explore all it has to offer.

Watch out for: Motorbike pick pockets. Hang on to your stuff and make sure to utilize zippers.

How I got out: Bus to Sa Dec booked through the hotel.

9. Sa Dec, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-sadec

Where I stayed: Thao Ngan Hotel. $11/night. Pure hotel, windows that looked out onto a brick wall. Close to the market and the bus station.

The best thing I did: Enjoyed the best pho I had in Vietnam. The restaurant is called Pho Hien. From the hotel, walk across the bridge back toward the bus station and it will be on your left, set back away from the street.

How long I stayed: 4 days. The only thing “to do” here is to see the The Lover house – a local one-story abode made famous because it used to be owned by the nameless lover featured in Marguerite Duras’ novel.

Watch out for: Scammy cab drivers and scammy transpo in general. The taxi driver that took me from the bus station to the hotel tried to charge me about 10x what it should have cost. The hotel also massively overcharged for a bus ticket out of town.

How I got out: Local bus to Chau Doc.

10. Chau Doc, Vietnam

southeast-asia-travel-chaudoc

Where I stayed: Trung Nguyen Hotel across from the main market in town. $15/night. Balcony. Free breakfast and transpo to the boat to Cambodia (which is why you stay in Chau Doc – to catch the fast boat to Phnom Penh).  

The best thing I did: Walked along the riverfront. It’s amazing to watch people living their lives on the water – eating dinner on their tiny wooden boats, paddling across the wide waters standing upright, living their lives on floating structures.

How long I stayed: 1 night

Watch out for: Not much English spoken here – if you need help ask at your hotel before leaving the building. Tuk tuk drivers will ask for tips for taking you 100 yards.

How I got out: The fast boat to Cambodia arranged through my hotel.

11. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

southeast-asia-travel-pp

Where I stayed: The Mad Monkey Hostel. Friendly staff. Privates from $13/night. Overpriced Western food in the downstairs restaurant. The first floor is a bar and the music pumps all day and night and can be heard in the upstairs rooms.

I was so irritated with this I changed to the Salita Hotel in the central part of the city. Three times the price but much, much nicer (and quieter!).

The best thing I did: Feasted in the night market near the river. There are a lot of different markets to see in Phnom Penh and lots to do. By the time I got here I was beat and could only manage to gorge myself on street food.

How long I stayed: 6 days.

Watch out for: Oppressive heat, pollution/car exhaust, pick pockets, traffic, diarrhea, and – say it with me now – scammy tuk tuk drivers.

How I got out: Mini-bus to Siem Reap.

12. Siem Reap, Cambodia

southeast-asia-travel-siemreap

Where I stayed: Sam So Guest House. Best free breakfast of them all, incredibly friendly staff, $12/night for a private ($17/night if you want air-con).

The best thing I did: Angkor Wat was incredible, but I really loved taking a private motorbike tour with my friend Ratha who showed me the surrounding villages and countryside outside the city. (If you’re in Siem Reap and want to see “the real Cambodia,” email me and I’ll put you in touch with Ratha).

How long I stayed: 3 weeks. You can do Angkor Wat in a day, or in 3 days, or in a week. The area is enormous and the ruins seem to never end. But Siem Reap is a lovely river town, a great place to live and work. I found it to be a fantastic resting place to relax at the end of 3 months of hectic Southeast Asia travel.

Watch out for: Theft. I never had anything stolen but have heard countless stories of people getting their phones jacked. Also, watch out for “the milk scam” – if a kid comes up to you begging for you to buy her milk (for “her baby” or “her sister”), don’t do it.

She has a deal with whatever store she takes you to where she can sell the milk back to the store for cash. Cash that she then gives to her “keeper” (like a pimp for begging kids) so the child you think you’re helping does not benefit in any way.

How I got out: Flew to Hanoi because one month was not enough time in Vietnam!

Where will you go on your Southeast Asia travel itinerary? 

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Why Vietnamese Women Don’t Get Fat

Before I came to Vietnam, I was under the impression that Vietnamese women, and Asian women in general, were simply genetically gifted.

That is to say, I thought they just came out of the womb tiny and beautiful, and naturally stayed that way their entire lives without having to exude any sort of extra effort to do so.

After all, the  typical Vietnamese woman or Thai woman is all of the things Western women strive to be – thin, petite, with gorgeous straight hair and creamy, chestnut-colored skin (skin they spend their lives trying to whiten, but that’s another post).

They don’t get fat. They don’t age. They seem to be walking miracles of beauty, earthly Goddesses who can get away with wearing pajamas in public and somehow still manage to look fantastic.

Imagine my surprise when, after nearly four months in Vietnam, I began to realize that Vietnamese women put in a monstrous effort in order to remain tiny and thin and beautiful.

Sure, a small part of their good looks can be traced to genetic good fortune, but a larger part has to do with cultural habits that are woven into the fabric of their day.

Here are 7 things Vietnamese women do (and don’t do) in order to keep looking and feeling their best.

Warning: This post is filled with gross generalizations. 

1. They don’t eat wheat

vietnamese-women-fresh-food

Notice I didn’t say carbs, I said wheat. There is a whole lot of rice being consumed here on the daily, but hardly any wheat or other grains. Noodles, dumplings, it’s all made out of rice.

A typical meal at my guesthouse consists of rice with a small serving of fish or meat (typically pork) plus vegetables and soup. No bread, no pasta, nothing fried, nothing microwaved.

It’s interesting to note that it’s most definitely white rice too, not supposedly-healthier brown rice we’ve always heard is better for you.

2. Their desserts aren’t sweet

You’d be hard-pressed to see a Vietnamese woman mowing down on some cake – heck, you’d be hard-pressed to find cake. One day at the beach I decided to treat myself to an ice cream cone, and I was given some sort of cross between sorbet and gelato – definitely not the creamy, fatty goodness I was looking for.

Traditional desserts are naturally sweet and include things like coconut, coconut milk, peanuts, fruit, and even beans. The other night I tried some kind of green tea gelatin thing, which was light years away from the Western idea of a dessert.

It’s brilliant thinking – make desserts kind of gross and no one will want them.

vietnamese-women-old-lady

Vietnamese women (and men, and kids!) also eat a lot of fruit. Fruit is incorporated into one’s daily diet – sometimes as dessert, sometimes as a snack.

But even the fruits aren’t as sweet as ours are – many are sour, bitter. People’s palettes are different, trained to enjoy foods that are healthy and dislike foods that are heavy, sugary, fatty.

My friend Tina took me for “dessert” one day and we had large glasses filled with all different types of fruit.

“Do you want sugar in yours?” she asked.

“Does the rain in Spain stay mainly in the plain?” I replied.

After we’d finished, I asked her if she had also gotten her dessert “with sugar.”

“Of course not” was her reply.

3. They don’t drink beer

After 3 months in Vietnam I have seen exactly two Vietnamese women drink beer. The first was this terribly obnoxious person who I think was on drugs, the second was my guest owner who indulged in half a glass of beer while out to dinner for a special occasion.

Beer, alcohol, and cigarettes are considered “men’s business” in Vietnam. It’s not ladylike to walk around sloshed, but it’s also not practical – women need to be stone cold sober so the house stays clean and the kids stay fed.

Thanks to these cultural roles and beliefs, the women also don’t develop beer bellies.

4. They LOVE to exercise

vietnamese-women-exercise

The Vietnamese love to go to the beach and play in the water (though many don’t/can’t swim). They also love to exercise every day!

Whether it’s outdoor aerobics in the park or Tai Chi in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, they are out there, working it, in the early mornings or late afternoons.

vietnamese-women-beach

It also helps that in many cities across Asia there are outdoor exercise parks – imagine your health club, except outside, and free. Fitness is not only a cultural priority, it’s government-sanctioned.

5. They play with their kids

My current guest house owner is the general manager of a hotel and works up to 60 hours a week. But the second she comes home, she’s down on the floor, rolling around with her 9-year old daughter and 18-month old son.

They play, they dance, they sing, they laugh. Family time is a top priority, and I swear the calories she burns from chasing the baby around are a big part of what keeps her so slim.

6. Their food is labor-intensive

The Vietnamese make it really difficult to eat, which means they eat less, which in turn keeps them thin.

You can’t simply shovel food into your mouth, because that food first has to be unshelled, de-boned, pitted, separated, or defrocked in some way.

Nothing is packaged, most foods come straight from the source. So if you’re having shrimp, you first need to remove the shell and the head and the legs. And that takes time.

vietnamese-women-featured

At the end of your meal, you’ve spent about 50% of your time preparing to eat, and 50% actually eating. The end result is less food ends up in your stomach (and on your hips).

I think this technique in particular would be great for Americans. Make it harder for us to get at the pie – like, put it behind a locked glass door or at the end of a complicated maze – and we’re much less likely to eat it. Too much effort.

7. They’re constantly on the move

Vietnamese women are always on the move. My guest house owner is back and forth from work to home a half dozen times per day. She’s taking the kids to school, picking them up, going back to work, running to the market, and on and on and on, all day every day.

You might be saying “But Rebekah, I’m a stressed out mess and I’m constantly on the move too, how come I don’t weight 90 pounds?”

vietnamese-women-manual-labor

The difference between our running around and the running around of Vietnamese women is that they do it joyfully.

If I have 87 places to go in a single day, I’m stressed out and grumbling. If Phuong has 87 places to go, she thinks nothing of it.

Why?

Because she has no sense of entitlement. We have this secret belief that we shouldn’t have to do all these errands – that someone else should be doing them for us.

We resent hard work, which is the main factor that leads to our increased stress levels (and we all watch Dr. Oz – stress is the #1 cause of weight gain!)

Vietnamese women, on the other hand, have no inkling that they shouldn’t have to work hard – they expect it. They accept it.

And because of that, life flows through them in a way that keeps them healthy and content with just enough.

Which of these habits could you see yourself adopting into your own life?

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. They don't eat wheat

2. Their desserts aren't sweet

3. They don't drink beer

4. They LOVE to exercise

5. They play with their kids

6. Their food is labor-intensive

7. They're constantly on the move

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Solo Travel Challenge: How to eat alone without feeling awkward

What is the biggest thing stopping you from indulging your fantasies of solo travel?

For many women, it’s not money, time, safety issues, or feeling overwhelmed with the details of planning your trip.

If you’re like a lot of people out there, you’re afraid of solo travel because you’re afraid of feeling lonely, and because you’re afraid of feeling awkward.

If you travel solo, you’ll have to do things like go out to dinner alone, go to museums alone, and engage in all sorts of activities that you’d normally do with a partner.

Solo travel is awesome for so many reasons, but namely because when you travel solo, you end up getting know a really incredible travel partner that you’ve probably been ignoring for years – you.

But you won’t realize that until you’re on the road, and my job is to help you get on the road already.

If you’re like Karen, one of my VIP coaching clients, the fear of eating alone is enough to make you scrap the whole trip altogether.

It’s sort of like not writing a novel because you’re a bad speller.

With that in mind, here is your handy dandy “spell checker”  for eating alone in restaurants when you travel solo.

1. Use your phone or bring a book

Your smartphone can serve as your dinner companion if you’re terrified of simply sitting at a table with no one to talk to. A book serves the same purpose.

In those awkward moments before your meal arrives, you can connect with friends and family on Facebook or dive into your favorite novel. This will keep you feeling connected and less lonely while eating alone.

2. Chat with the waitstaff

Almost every single one of my friendships with locals has begun in a restaurant.

Chat with your waiter or waitress – they’re friendly and they’ll have fantastic stories for you about where they come from and what life is like for them.

Then, go back to that same restaurant or café every day. Before long they’ll remember your name, and each time you return you’ll feel like you’re going to visit friends (which you are.)

Awkwardness = crushed.

3. People-watch

I hate to break it to you, but no one is looking at you and thinking “Oh how sad and pathetic, that woman is all alone, it must be because no one loves her and she tried really hard but just couldn’t get someone to join her for dinner.”

I promise no one is thinking that. (And if they are thinking that, they’re dicks and you wouldn’t want them in your life anyway.)

Why?

Because people aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.

If they are thinking about you, they’re most likely wondering what that confident, independent woman eating alone thinks about them as they sit with their significant other, envying you your freedom.

4. Have a cocktail

There’s nothing more romantic than a mysterious woman sitting by herself in an exotic location sipping a cocktail and watching the world go by. It’s pure sex on a stick. You must try it.

(Wine works too, but so does some kind of delectable coffee or tea concoction. Anything that comes in a fun glass. Milkshakes count.)

5. Don’t

As in, don’t eat alone.

During solo travel you never really have to eat alone unless you choose too.

I enjoy eating alone because I like to actually taste my food and enjoy the sensory experience of eating, but also because I’ve come to enjoy my own company.

I don’t have to be involved in a conversation every second of the day because I’m not trying to cover up some uncomfortable pain that I haven’t yet dealt with.

When you travel solo, you’ll get to that point to, but until you do, try eating with strangers.

I’ve already written about this phenomenon, but when you dine alone in a foreign country, people tend to invite you to eat with them. It’s happened to me countless times, and it will happen to you too.

In addition to invitations to join someone’s table, I’ve had countless people approach and ask to sit with me.  And I’ve always said yes.

Which means that you can feel free to approach people and ask to join them.

You might say “Hi, I’m so-and-so, I’m from XYZ country, do you mind if I join you?”

People will say yes because people are terrified of appearing rude. Then you’ll charm them with your sparkling personality and everyone will be glad you were brave enough to break the ice.

Bon Appetit!

The fear of solo travel is all the more reason to choose solo travel.

If you’re uncomfortable eating alone, going to the movies alone, or traveling alone, know that you’re not alone.

Most people are scared of the same things, which is why it’s rare to see people eating in restaurants alone, which is why you think you should feel awkward about it.

But here’s what’s actually going on – if you’re scared to eat alone, it’s means you’re either

a) terrified of what others think of you, or

b) terrified to be alone with yourself and your thoughts

In  either case, the remedy is to launch yourself into solo travel headfirst, watch the discomfort as it arises, and begin to ask yourself questions like “Why on earth do I care if a couple from Germany who I’ll never see again thinks it’s sad I’m eating alone?”

When you choose solo travel and eat alone, you make a statement to the world and to yourself that says “I am enough.”

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Use your phone or bring a book.

2. Chat with the waitstaff.

3. People-watch

4. Have a cocktail and be mysterious.

5. Don't eat alone - ask to join someone's else's table or say "yes" when someone asks to join your table.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

5 Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock

"What do MEAN this won't be my backyard anymore?"

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Though almost every long-term traveler experiences reverse culture shock to some degree after returning home, this rarely-discussed condition often takes travelers by surprise, which makes the transition from the road to home all the more difficult.

At seventeen I returned from a year-long exchange in Belgium, an amazing year filled with friends, school, and festivals in a place I learned to call home.

Within a week of returning to Oregon I was no longer the happy carefree girl I had been. I was depressed, angry, and disconnected from the world around me.

I gradually lost all of my friends, spent much of my time wandering aimlessly alone, and, in retrospect, wasted a perfectly good eight or nine months of my life as I struggled to deal with reverse culture shock.

I had no idea that returning could be so hard, and part of what makes the transition so difficult is that it is impossible for non-travelers to understand what you’re experiencing. Your friends back home won’t be able to do much to help you transition.

At nineteen I returned from another year abroad, a year backpacking through South America, and luckily this time I was prepared to deal with the shock. I made new friends, explored my own country, and was able to transition smoothly into “normal life.”

Here are a few tips about what reverse culture shock can feel like and how to deal with it when it strikes:

1. No one understands you.

This may very well be the most difficult aspect to deal with, especially if you aren’t prepared for the shock of returning home.

You have amazing stories to tell, yet no one wants to hear them.

In fact, people will probably get annoyed when you start every sentence with “When I was in…”. It is hard to realize that most people haven’t undergone the same changes you have, and you will probably feel lost and possible even angry for a while.

Find a way to share your experiences with those who are willing to listen. Start a blog or do a presentation at a local school or community event, or even an informal dinner presentation for a few of your friends or parent’s friends.

Though it is hard, try not to impose your stories on friends who aren’t interested. Instead, find something you and your friends share in common and focus on that.

2. Nothing has changed.

Your friends are still exactly the same, but that’s the problem. You have changed, you have new ideas about the world, your life path, and about who you are, and you may find it hard to fit in with your old group of friends.

Understand that you have changed, accept it, and love your new self while working with your friends to strengthen their friendships with the new you.

Since they haven’t experienced what you have, realize it may be hard for them to understand why you are suddenly different.

Feel free to share your ideas acquired on the road, but don’t impose or force your friends to change as well.

To supplement your old friendships, try meeting new people, maybe like-minded travelers who, like you, have recently returned home.

3. Home is…well….kind of boring.

After traveling, especially across multiple countries or continents, you have probably encountered amazing history, culture, and traditions.

Every day on the road seems like an adventure, with new sights and sounds around every corner.

Once you get home, shopping in a store is nowhere near as exciting as the chaotic markets filled with foods you have never seen. Everything seems so mundane and boring.

Travel, if done right, is more about how you see and experience life than how you see and experience a physical place.

Apply what you have leaned on the road to your life back home. Try cooking new dishes  that you tasted during your travels, pick up a new sport or hobby, and explore your own country.

Chances are there are some amazing things to see close to home, so go out and explore as if it was a foreign land.

After returning from South America I made sure to plan weekend getaways almost every week. I went backcountry skiing, snow camping, and hunting and fishing for my first time.

When I got itchy feet a few months in, I took a week off to hitchhike up to Vancouver where I was able to get my fill of traveling and travelers.

4. Your friends suddenly seem shallow. 

As you travel, you become accustomed to meeting amazing and inspiring people around ever corner, people who have climbed the tallest mountains, started their own orphanages, or dedicated their lives to discovering our world.

With these international-minded friends, you have grown used to debating world issues, and in your own way, discussing how we can make our world a better place.

Once you arrive home, you may feel like your friends only talk about superficial things. Who’s dating who, shopping, consumerism, etc.

You will probably start to crave the intellectual debates that had become part of your normal life on the road.

Try discussing a few of these issues with your friends back home, find friends who read the news or who are up-to-date on current events.

Also, go out of your way to meet new people. Though it may seem impossible at first, there are sure to be at least a few like-minded people living in your town.

Watching documentaries, reading the news, and attending cultural presentations or events are also great ways to keep expanding your international mind.

5. “Everything was so much better in _____________.”

Upon returning home, travelers have the tendency to think that everything was “better in [insert favorite country here],” which makes it hard for them to be content at home.

It is typical for travelers to hold the countries they traveled through in higher esteem than may be deserved. If you really think about it, you weren’t so crazy about Vietnam that day the motorbike broke down, and you were definitely ready to leave Nepal the day you got food poisoning.

This feeling will fade over time, and eventually you will be able to look back at those places and experiences with an unbiased view.

When I returned from Belgium I thought that “everything was better there,” yet now, in retrospect, I realize that I would much rather spend my life in Oregon.

Just because you are at home doesn’t mean life has to stop being fun.

Create new friendships, go on small trips, and embrace every opportunity.

The change in you is permanent. Learn how to deal with the new you back in your old home, and you will begin to see life, even at home, as an adventure.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Symptoms of reverse culture shock may include:

1. Feeling like no one understands you.

2. Feeling like nothing has changed.

3. Thinking that home is really boring.

4. Thinking all of your friends and family are really shallow.

5. Believing that "everything was SO much better in _________"

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

5 Must-have’s for your Digital Nomad Toolkit

The benefits of working as a digital nomad are obvious – the freedom to travel, the ability to make money anywhere, and the gloriousness of being your own boss.

I’m quick to say that all you need to be a digital nomad is a laptop and a strong WiFi signal, but that’s not exactly the whole story.

To perpetuate the digital nomad lifestyle, you need to have a variety of tools in your toolkit.

Some of these tools are tangible things like apps and helpful websites, while others are a bit more esoteric.

Here are 5 ways to pimp out your digital nomad toolkit and make sure your long-term travel lifestyle keeps on keepin’ on.

5. Infusionsoft

Monday's office

Monday’s office

Infusionsoft has saved my life (and my as$!) time and time again.

It’s the application I use to send you all those snazzy emails, manage my contacts, and run my entire marketing department (which consists of, well, me.).

Recently I got really sick while traveling in Vietnam.  I mean really sick, like maybe-my-mom-should-fly-here-to-say-goodbye-sick.

And during the entire month when I was in and out of hospitals, my marketing kept churning as if I was still in my digital office.

Infusionsoft lets you automate everything, and I mean everything.

So when I was lying in the hospital with tubes sticking out of my arms, you were reading an email from me as if I’d just sent it.

It’s truly bomb. If you’re a digital nomad, you have clients and other human-types who send you money when you do work for them.

Infusionsoft lets you keep track of said clients, keep in touch with them, and make sure their money keeps landing in your pocket.

Watch a free demo of Infusionsoft when you click here.

4. WordLens

digital-nomad-tuesday-office

Tuesday’s office

i just discovered this app when the developer shot me an email and was like “Rebs, why aren’t you using my app?”

And I was like “Menno, why should I?”

And Menno was like, “Because it’s awesome!”

I downloaded WordLens for iOS and have been hooked ever since.

Here’s how it works: open the app, hold your phone up to a sign or other text in a foreign language, and click “start.”

The app reads and translates the sign right on your phone.

After having some serious miscommunications thanks to Google Translate (which might as well be called Google Transcrap), this app came as a life saver.

It’s great for a digital nomad who is traveling between “offices,” is on the hunt for a new guest house, or simply needs to know whether they’re walking into the men’s or the ladies room.

Right now the app works with signs that are in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian. I’ve begged Menno to add Chinese and Vietnamese, so hopefully that’s in the works too.

3. Hustle-aciousness

digital-nomad-wed-office

Wednesday’s office

You can’t be a successful digital nomad without hustle-aciousness (n. the ability to consistently hustle). 

Digital nomads can’t sit around waiting for work to come to them, and they can’t travel the world like they’re on perpetual vacation.

Make sure you’re spending some time every day working, following up with clients, and taking care of your bidness – especially on days when you’re out seeing the sights in whatever city you happen to be in.

It can be really, really easy to get sucked into the non-working mentality other travelers have, and to let your laptop start collecting dust.

But if you do that for too long, you’ll have to go home. And that’s the last thing you want to do, right?

2. Shoeboxed

digital-nomad-thurs-office

Thursday’s office

You’ve got to, got to, got to get and keep yourself organized as a digital nomad.

Shoeboxed is a great way to do it. Shoeboxed is what I use to scan all of my receipts and do my taxes while I’m traveling abroad.

If you’re a digital nomad, just about everything you buy is a tax write-off. It’s tough to keep track of zillions of hotel receipts and flights, especially when you’re constantly changing hotel rooms and cities.

With Shoeboxed, I snap a photo of a receipt the second I get it, then recycle it. All of the info I need for my taxes is magically beamed to a cloud-based account, and my backpack stays nice and light without the added burden of paper piles.

Shoeboxed lets you do a free 30-day trial too, which is rad because you can scan a lot of receipts in 30 days – check it out here.

1. Extreme flexibility and mind-boggling patience

Friday's office

Friday’s office

A digital nomad is defined by his or her ability to be flexible and patient in less-than-ideal work circumstances. [CLICK TO TWEET]

  • The WiFi goes out, or is painfully slow, or won’t let you log on to Facebook.
  • Monday you’re in a quiet guest house, but by Wednesday you’re forced to work from a coffee shop.
  • The power goes out so you have to write/design/brainstorm/research using – gasp!  – pen and paper.

Never knowing where you’ll be working (or if you’ll be working) is half the fun of being a digital nomad.

If you’re an aspiring digital nomad, cultivate patience and flexibility within yourself before you get on the road – believe you me, you’re gonna need it.

YE OLDE DISCLAIMER: I’m a proud-as-punch affiliate of some of the services I’ve listed above, like Infusionsoft, Shoeboxed, and some other secret linkedy-links you’ll have to click to find out about! What this means is if you end up taking my advice and signing up for a service through this site, the fine folks at Infusionsoft and Shoeboxed might find it in their hearts to throw a little scratch my way. Scratch that I’ll use to continue being a digital nomad!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Mighty Digital Nomad,

Make sure your toolkit contains the following 5 essentials:

1. Infusionsoft for email marketing and CRM

2. WordLens to you can magically read signs in foreign languages

3. Hustle-aciousness so the dough keeps flowing and you can keep traveling

4. Shoeboxed so you can track your travel expenses and scan your receipts

5. Flexibility and patience so you don't lose your s$%! every time the power goes out, the WiFi is slow, or your guest house owner decides to throw a party with 67 of his closest friends during your regular work hours.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

A Morning at Marble Mountain – Part 1

The second I hear Dan’s voice I know I know him.

“California!” I shout, pointing at him in the middle of a hotel lobby in Da Nang, Vietnam.

“Wrong” he says. “Weak guess,” he says, and I instantly like him.

How ironic that I guessed he’s from my home-away-from-home, when it turns out he’s from my home-home, the great state of Wisconsin.

After having a very typical “Oh-my-God-you’re-from-Wisconsin-too?!” discussion, which inevitably includes phrases like “Miller Park!” and “Don’t you miss cheese?” and “Isn’t it funny how PBR is now a hipster thing?,” I learn that Dan is in Asia to teach English.

On a break between teaching gigs in South Korea and China, he has exactly 2 weeks to see Vietnam. And in true Sconie style, Dan is determined to use those 2 weeks to see all of Vietnam.

The next day I find myself renting a motorbike for the first time in my life and hoping to God Dan knows what he’s talking about when he says it’s “really easy” to ride.

7:23am China Beach, Da Nang

Swimming "spectacle" at China Beach

Swimming “spectacle” at China Beach

We start at China Beach in Da Nang because our hotel owner says that each day just after sunrise, hundreds of Vietnamese take to the sea for their morning swim. “A spectacle!” he says.

Our reward for waking up at this ungodly hour is half a dozen swimmers and a couple of dudes kicking around a soccer ball on the beach.

So there weren't hundreds of swimmers, but we DID see a few guys playing soccer!

So there weren’t hundreds of swimmers, but we DID see a few guys playing soccer!

“Fail” says Dan. “I’m in charge now.”

It’s all I can do to keep up with his speeding motorbike as it soars down the highway that hugs the coastline between Da Nang and Hoi An.

8:40am Marble Museum and outdoor showroom 

marble-mountain

Before we arrive at Marble Mountain, the next stop on our list, we’re distracted by an outdoor museum filled with enormous marble statues of all shapes and sizes.

There are many such places lining the road to Hoi An, which boasts 5-star resorts on the ocean-side of the road, and marble shop after marble shop on the mountain-side of the road.

It’s free to walk around and check out the statues, and we get the idea that purchasing one would easily cost billions of dong.

Before leaving we see a group of women polishing the marble, and one who even seems to be making adjustments to the size and shape of one of the statues with a power tool of some sort.

marble-mountain

I fancy her an exquisite artiste, though from looking at how the women are dressed and seeing their lack of a proper workspace, I assume the brilliant artistes are getting paid less than artiste wages.

9:01am On to Marble Mountain!

marble-mountain-rebs-on-bike

Not to be confused with Monkey Mountain, home to the biggest Buddha statue in all of Vietnam, Marble Mountain is south of Da Nang and is exactly what it sounds like – a giant mountain made of marble.

The hill juts out of the earth suddenly, as if someone had been slowly carving away at her foothills for centuries (and people have – where do you think all the marble statues come from?)

Dan’s stuff is back at the hotel in Da Nang, but I’m staying in Hoi An this week and have all of my worldly possessions balanced precariously on the motorbike.

We park and find that there are no lockers, so I stash my backpack with the parking attendant and opt to carry my laptop case – filled with computer, chargers, my DSLR camera, and anything else remotely valuable – up the mountain with me.

marble-mountain

Marble Mountain is filled with labyrinths and caves and temples built into the slippery rock. You can see and feel the marble beneath your feet, and have to be careful so as not to slip and slide all the way down to the ground!

Dan leads me into a cave and through a narrow opening in the rock that may or may not be an official climbing area.

This guy is from Wisconsin, which means I’ll never hear the end of it if I punk out, so I squeeze through the narrow rock tunnel, shoving my giant bag in front of me and pushing it upwards with my hands.

It's Dan!

It’s Dan!

Next thing I know, we’re climbing upwards at an incredibly steep incline, and the entirety of Central Vietnam  suddenly sparkles into view. A large, flat rock juts out above all the others, and Dan is quick to leap upon it.

“Get up here!” he says, do-see-do-ing with me since the rock is only large enough for one person.

Alright, it’s no Nepal, but I do sort of feel on top of the world.

Until I have to get back down.

Climbing up was easy, but in order to get back down I must leap from one rock to another. The problem? Said rocks are a good 5 feet apart, the space between revealing a 500-meter drop to a cartoonish-looking receptacle of sharp marble spikes below.

I picture myself splayed across those spikes, each one stabbed through various major arteries. I imagine Dan attending my funeral in Wisconsin and trying to explain to my mother how I perished on top of Marble Mountain.

“No big deal” says Dan.

“C’mon, we’re wasting time!” says Dan.

I dance back and forth, about to make the leap, then thinking better of it, then working up my courage again.

It takes a good five minutes, but I finally get a running start and shoot my legs in front of me, landing hard on the rock face and scraping my legs up in the process.

“Was that so hard?” says Dan, shaking his head.

Yes. Yes it was.

I’m antsy to get back on the road, knowing we have a lot left to see.

“Five more minutes” says Dan, turning the corner to enter yet another cave. He disappears briefly then reappears, waving for me to follow him.

And I’m so glad I did.

Check out the guard in the lower left corner of the photo to get a sense of the scale

Check out the guard in the lower left corner of the photo to get a sense of the scale

Huyen Khong Cave is easily the largest cave I’ve ever been in, and the most beautiful. It is positively massive, with an enormous Buddha statue carved into the rock face, floating high upon the cave wall above our heads.

Candles illuminate the din, the face of the Buddha in shadow except for a few rays of sunlight that stream in from cracks in the cave ceiling.

We are afforded a solid two minutes of solitude here before a mass of tourists break the silence, but in those two minutes neither of us speaks. The energy is palpable – a sacred place.

marble-mountain-7

For some reason, Chinese characters have been carved into the rock face just to the right of the Buddha.

Dan is studying Chinese for his upcoming work assignment, and is eager to look up the meaning.

We throw out guesses, expecting no less than the profound, wise words of the Buddha or some poetry from Lao Tzu.

"Big dark cave."

“Big dark cave.”

“I found the translation” says Dan.

“What does it mean?” I ask.

“It means, ‘big, dark cave’” says Dan.

God, I love Vietnam.

Check back for part 2 of this series where Dan and I head to Hoi An and My Son on our 1-day lightning fast tour of Central Vietnam.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Marble Mountain is definitely worth seeing - it's about halfway between Hoi An and Da Nang and is filled with beautiful temples, statues, and incredible caves.

2. Make SURE you wear slip-resistant shoes - the marble is incredibly slippery!

3. If you park "for free" at one of the many marble shops, you will be pressured heavily to buy something. If you don't, you'll probably be charged for parking. (luckily the parking and entrance fees are only a few dollars.)

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Top 10 Travel Photography Tips for Aspiring Shutterbugs

Your visa is secured, the flight is booked, and you’ve been willingly injected with a cocktail of vaccinations to protect you from diseases you can’t even pronounce.

In short, you’re finally off to see the world!

In addition to scribbling wildly in a wine-stained journal and blogging about your adventures, you’re probably going to want to take some photos of your trip.

The problem? You have no clue how to take a great photo, and the last thing you want is to have your pictures of such a life-changing period in your life turn out like a fourth grade art project.

Before you resign yourself to applying 37 Instagram filters to each and every lackluster snapshot, check out these top 10 travel photography tips from professional travel photographer Etienne Bossot.

Based in Hoi An, Vietnam, Etienne spends his days helping newbie and established photographers capture the beauty of their travel dreams on camera and in living color.

Travel photography tips from an actual travel photographer

1. Get some gear

travel-photography-tips-2

And by gear I don’t mean big, expensive gear. I mean something from this century. Technology is evolving so quickly that just about any kind of camera you buy today is going to be light years better than a used camera from five years ago.

Look at the latest trends, like the new lightweight DSLR cameras. They’re as small and compact as a cheap digital camera but take photos comparable to their bulkier counterparts.

2. Learn about settings

travel-photography-tips-3

Spend a little time learning about your camera’s settings.  Nowadays the auto mode of most cameras is more intelligent than ever, but why let your camera have all the fun?

Adjusting your settings as you shoot gives you far more control over your photos than simply leaving your camera in auto mode. Besides, there are only 3 things you need to know to be in total control of your camera, anyway.

3. Do your homework

travel-photography-tips-4

If you only want to capture tourist snapshots for Grandma to see, then stop reading this instant.

We’ll wait for you to leave.

Phew, not that she’s gone, let’s dive in to the juicy stuff – creative inspiration. I want you to do some research on the place you’re traveling to by searching for relevant photographs. You can use Google search, Flickr or 500px to find high quality images.

Find photographs that inspire you and save them somewhere you can see them. These will serve as a jumping off point for the photographs you’ll be taking in the very near future!

4. Stalk someone you like

travel-photograph-tips-5

…on social media, that is.

In step #3 above, you probably found at least a few photographers whose work you love. Connect with them via social and check out their blogs.

In addition to examples of great photography, you will most likely find a huge amount of information on the craft of photography.

If you’re following a travel photographer, you’ll score travel photography tips in the form of top secret shooting locations, cultural idiosyncrasies, and so on.

5. pho·tog·ra·phy (or, the immense importance of light)

travel-photography-tips-6

How can you begin to master a craft if you don’t even know what it means?

In case you skipped out on all of your Ancient Greek classes at school, the word “photography” literally means “writing with light.”

Yes, it is that simple. You camera is your pen. The light is…well, the light!

Once you understand that, you’ll understand that beautiful light gives you beautiful photos.

And when is the light most beautiful?

Before 8am and after 4pm, so don’t forget to pack your alarm clock!

6. Get to know your subject

travel-photography-tips-7

If you are keen on landscape photography, go back and re-read tip #5, because it’s all about the right lighting.

travel-photography-tips-11

If you want to photograph people, learn about the customs of the place you’re visiting. For example, you will probably have a much easier time approaching people in SE Asia than you would in, say, Saudi Arabia.

7. Get lost

travel-photography-tips-8

I’ll go ahead and assume that since you’re a solo female traveler you’re not traveling in a country that’s particularly dangerous.

If that’s the case, I give you permission to get lost!

If you stay where all the other tourists are, and only visit sites all the other tourists are visiting, chances are you’ll be taking the exact same photos Aunt Jane took when she visited Thailand 10 years ago.

Get lost, get away from the tourist areas, find some local villages and walk through them. People will be surprised and happy to see you there, and that will make your experience – and your photos – that much more captivating.

8. Get close

travel-photography-tips-8

If I could only give you one tip it would be this one – get close to your subject.

There are many reasons why this is important, but getting close will greatly improve the overall quality of your photos (not to mention help you immerse yourself in the culture and make friends with locals).

Disclaimer: this tip does not apply to African safaris!

9. Lose the badittude

travel-photography-tips-9

Remember that you are a guest visiting another country and culture – smile! Your attitude and approach will have a huge impact on both your subjects and the photos you take of them.

10. Shoot!

travel-photography-tips-10

You’ll most likely be using a digital camera, so start shooting! Don’t be shy, and remember that the best shots almost never happen within the first few clicks. Work your subject and shoot as much as you can.

What questions do you have for Etienne about his travel photography tips? Post them below!

Etienne Bossot is a French photographer who’s been based in Hoi An, Vietnam for the past 7 years. In addition to shooting commercial and travel assignments for local publications and huge corporations, Etienne runs a variety of photography tours and workshops throughout Southeast Asia. For more information on his photography and photo tours, visit http://www.picsofasia.com/photo-tours/

All photos © 2014 Etienne Bossot

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5 Travel Apps for Staying Organized and Saving Money

I’m not really an “app person” (those people exist, right?) but for some reason when I started traveling abroad, I became addicted to travel apps.

This is probably because I actually need and use the apps I have, most of them on a daily basis.

These travel apps turn my iPhone into a compass, a receipt scanner, a translator, a currency converter, and a travel agent – and every single one of them was free.

1. GlobeConvert Free (my currency converter)

I still use this app all the time, even though I’ve been back in Vietnam for over 6 weeks and have a pretty solid handle on the conversion rate.

If a taxi driver quotes you 2 million dong for  a 3-km cab ride, you can whip out your phone and remind yourself that 2 million dong is about $100, and inform him that you’ll be using another taxi driver thankyouverymuch.

This app has just about every currency imaginable, and it’s easy to toggle back and forth between them.

2. Shoeboxed (my receipt scanner)

Here’s how my lazy butt “manages my finances” back home: I swipe my debit card, then I check my bank account online. That’s pretty much it.

The problem with traveling abroad in Asia is that the entire continent seems to operate on a cash-only basis, which means I need to get receipts, which means I need to keep those receipts organized.

I stay at a lot of different hotels, so I’m constantly collecting scraps of paper. The problem is that my backpack is already stuffed to the brim without adding an ever-growing pile of paper receipts into the mix!

Shoeboxed has been the answer to my prayers. With this travel app I simply snap a picture of the receipt in question, then toss said receipt in the recycling bin. All of the info from the receipt – including the date, amount spent, the vendor, and the location – is magically beamed to my Shoeboxed account.

Shoeboxed can even detect which tax category my receipt falls under. If I scan a receipt from a hotel I stayed at, it will be automatically labeled as a “travel and transport” write off.

This made doing my taxes so easy this year, that when I was finished, I had a big “I finished my taxes really fast!” party in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

If you like the sound of Shoeboxed, you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking here.

3. Compass by Tim O’s Studios (my – duh – compass)

This app has saved me a ton of money and has saved me from getting lost time and time again.

For some reason the Google maps app on my phone doesn’t always come through. Also, sometimes I don’t buy a local SIM card if I’m not going to be in a country for a long period of time.

In those moments – no cellular data and/or cranky Google gods – I’m flying blind and rely on this app to get me where I’m going. You may not know exactly how to find a place, but you can at least get yourself in the general vicinity.

It’s also great when you’re riding in taxis.

Make sure you know which direction you’re supposed to be headed by checking a map before you get in the cab. Then, whip out your compass app and make sure you’re heading the right way.

If your driver is happily soaring due east when the temple you want to see is most definitely to the west, you can speak up (before the meter runs up!)

4. Skyscanner (my airfare agent)

This is one of my favorite travel apps for booking airfare and checking airline prices, especially in SE Asia. Skyscanner shows you all of the available flights for your desired dates and makes it simple to filter by price.

It also shows you every airline that flies between your destinations, and lets you book airfare right from your phone.

5. Hostelworld (my accommodation agent)

Hostelworld’s app is a great research tool, even if you don’t end up booking through their site. A lot of the time, I only prebook a single night at a hotel or guest house in case I end up hating the place.

This travel app lets you see how much you can expect to pay for a private room at various hostels in various parts of the city.

Let’s say you look up hostel prices in Hanoi and see that a private room in the Old Quarter is around $12/night, while a private room in the West Lake area of town is closer to $30/night.

Armed with this information, you’re ready to negotiate a great deal on a room (and ready to laugh out loud when a $12 hotel tries to charge $30, knowing that you can walk next door and find a much better price).

Conclusion (starring Ryan Gosling)

I’ve heard some people recommend leaving the smartphone at home and buying a cheap cell once you arrive in country.

For me, having a smartphone and using awesome travel apps saves me money, keeps me safe, and even makes me feel a lot more organized than I typically do at home. I really couldn’t survive without it.

I also couldn’t survive without the hope that someday, somehow, Ryan Gosling will realize that we were destined to be together, will dump whichever gorgeous actress he’s married to at the moment, and will fly to Paris to sweep me up and start making a baker’s dozen of Little Goslings. (see how I’m in Paris in this fantasy? That’s what separates the dreamers from the deranged. I might even add a pet monkey into the scenario if the mood strikes.)

Yep, just struck.

travel-apps-2

Which travel apps can’t you live without?

YE OLDE DISCLAIMER: If you sign up for a Shoeboxed account (which you should totally do, btw), the good people at Shoeboxed just might find it in their hearts to throw some scratch my way. But don’t get the wrong idea – I am a loyal Shoeboxed customer and would never recommend the service to you if it sucked. It sucketh not! Go get your free trial already!

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

I can't live without....

1. GlobeConvert Free for currency conversion

2. Shoeboxed for receipt scanning

3. Compass by Tim O for my compass

4. Skyscanner for checking and booking airfare

5. Hostelworld for researching accommodation prices

6. Eating great spring rolls with Ryan Gosling in Paris while my pet monkey sits on my shoulder and Ryan and I discuss whether or not we'll have to get rid of the monkey when the twins are born.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

5 Ways to be a Total A*!hole when you Travel Abroad

Are you interested in coming across as a complete asshole when you travel abroad? If so, you’re in luck!

There are currently thousands, even millions of douchebag travelers who’ve perfected the fine art of offending everyone they meet when they travel abroad.

Don’t let those numbers discourage you – if you play your cards right and are diligent in your pursuits, you too can rise to top of the asshole traveler list, setting the bar for all the jerks who’ll follow in your footsteps.

But with an endless array of options to choose from, where does the aspiring asshole start? Which tactics are most effective when it comes to achieving the coveted title of Traveling Asshole?

1. Speak as loudly as possible at all times

Remember that while people may speak softly in other countries, that’s none of your concern. It’s much more important to be a cultural ambassador and impress upon those quiet locals how much better it feels to let loose and SHOUT REALLY LOUD BECAUSE YOU CAN.

Also, don’t forget to share the intimate details of what (and who) you did last night, which is obviously of genuine interest to anyone within ear shot.

2. Complain…about everything

It’s not enough to complain about the food, send it back, and indicate that your local chef is “doing it wrong.” That kind of half-assed move is for junior assholes.

To be a true asshole when you travel abroad, it’s important to complain about everything.

First, complain about the weather. Forget the fact that you were the one who decided to visit Cambodia in the middle of April – someone should seriously do something about this heat.

Next, complain about things like the lack of infrastructure, the price of your hotel room, and the lack of English spoken. Bonus points for making fun of locals attempting to speak English but failing.

By complaining, you’ll be demonstrating that your home country is superior to the country you’re visiting, and inspiring locals to make changes to their country based on your savvy recommendations.

3. Claim to be an English teacher

The fact that you’re a native English speaker means you’re perfectly suited to teach English to everyone you meet, whether they want your help or not.

When a non-native speaker can’t understand what you’re saying, simply increase your volume. This will help them understand what you’ve just said. If it doesn’t, get frustrated and be rude to them. This will motivate them to learn English faster.

If you’re in close contact with non-native speakers for long periods of time, be sure to speak to them in broken English, using only nouns and verbs.

In this way, you will reinforce bad habits they’ve already learned, ensuring they will keep speaking incorrectly. This in turn will give you something to make fun of when you return home – after all, just because you’ve stopped traveling abroad doesn’t mean you have to stop being a douche.

Finally, teach English to your non-native English speaking friends by demonstrating the proper use of the word “like.” Include like at least four times per sentence, more if possible.

A strong example of this would be:

“Is there, like, a safe in our room? Because we like, don’t want the room if, like, there’s no like, safe.”

Not only will this make your speech easier for locals to understand; it will make you appear very intelligent.

4. Travel in packs

It’s much easier to achieve asshole status if you travel abroad in a large pack. Grab at least 10-12 of your closest newfound friends from your hostel, and proceed to walk around town like you own the place.

Keep in mind that everyone – from restaurant staff to tour guides to pedestrians – should stop what they’re doing to cater to the needs of your group.

Don’t forget to utilize volume – particularly loud, high-pitched, maniacal laughter – to remind everyone that you guys rule.

5. Make it like spring break

Take your wildest nights during spring break in college and experience them again – but in another country. This is a delicate art form, but ideally you want to act like you never left home in the first place.

Don’t become distracted by things like cultural experiences and the local way of living. That stuff is stupid and boring.

Instead, make sure everyone you meet knows that this is your vacation, and they all should be working hard to make sure your vacation is awesome.

Bonus points for screaming “SPRING BREEEEEEAK” at 3am, especially in neighborhoods with lots of families with young children. Double bonus points for working in “Dude, I was so fucking wasted last night” into the conversation. Triple points if you’re still drunk from the night before.

 

Phew! Sounds like a lot of work, right? Don’t worry. Even if you’re only able to achieve one of the items on the list, you’ll still come across as a jerk, which is a good start.

Above all, keep in mind that when you travel abroad, it’s all about you. The world (and everyone in it) is simply there to make sure you have a great time, so treat it (and everyone you meet) accordingly.

  • Whatever you do, don’t cater your behavior to the norms of the culture you’re in – that would be admitting that their way of doing things is better than yours.
  • Don’t open yourself up to any experiences even remotely different from what you’d experience at home – eat Western food, drink in tourist bars, and hang out with people from your home country.

And whatever you do, never treat travel as a way to open your mind, examine your beliefs, or experience something infinitely different than your life back home.

If you do that, you’ll never win the travel asshole award.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Speak as loudly as possible at all times.

2. Complain about everything.

3. Teach English to everyone you meet, whether they like it or not.

4. Travel in an enormous pack of 12 of your closest friends.

5. Treat every day you travel abroad like it's spring break in your home country.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

How I Live Abroad on $662 a Month

Um. That's the view from my room.

Right now I live abroad on a tiny island off the coast of Northern Vietnam, and my monthly expenditures total about $662 – for everything.

After spending 4 months straight traveling nonstop throughout Asia (while working full time, mind you!) I needed to recover, recoup, and stay put for a hot second.

That also meant I needed to choose a place where it was easy to get a visa, easy to find affordable accommodation, and easy to save money for future travels later this year.

Vietnam was the 3rd country I’d visited in as many months, but by the time I crossed over into Cambodia from Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta region, I was not ready to leave.

The country was so vast, so varied, so rich and diverse that one month wasn’t enough to begin to scratch the surface of all Vietnam had to offer.

A room with a view

A room with a view

My original plan had been to move on to Thailand as soon as my Cambodian visa expired, but as my days in Siem Reap came to a close, I felt called back to Cat Ba.

Cat Ba is an island off the Northern Coast of Vietnam. Its craggly limestone cliffs are perhaps the most photographed natural phenomenon in the world – I’m actually looking at them out my window as I write this sentence.

Cat Ba Town is a small fishing village on the southern side of the island. In the past decade, it’s been built up ferociously to cater to hordes of Vietnamese tourists who descend upon the island in massive droves each year beginning in June.

I mean, it's just stupid.

I mean, it’s just stupid.

But the town itself is anything but touristy. There’s not much to do here, besides take a boat tour of Ha Long Bay, rent a motorbike and explore the surrounding hillsides, or hike up to Canon Fort for breathtaking views of the East China Sea (sorry to my Vietnamese friends – the East Sea.)

Saigon was more exciting, Da Nang had better beaches, and Hoi An positively dripped with charm. Besides, there were so many places I hadn’t yet been to in Vietnam – Da Lat, Sa Pa, Hue, Nah Trang…the list of “don’t miss” places I had missed the first time around was extensive.

So why return to a place I’d already been?

A fisherman rowing his boat with his feet

A fisherman rowing his boat with his feet

Because in addition to being beautiful in a dark, romantic, even tragic kind of way, and in addition to great weather, and in addition to being home to some of the friendliest locals I’ve encountered on my journey, Cat Ba is friggin’ CHEAP.

And this is coming from someone who just spent a month in Nepal, one of the cheapest countries in the world for budget travelers.

I don’t consider myself a backpacker, and I don’t go out of my way to spend as little as possible. I work as I travel, so I’m not on a fixed income and I can always make more money if need be.

That's me, out on the boat.

That’s me, out on the boat.

I get private rooms instead of dorm rooms, I mix street food with restaurant fare, and if I can afford it and it’ll save me time, I’m quick to opt for a plane over a bus ticket.

But Cat Ba is so cheap, you automatically become a budget traveler without even trying.

The first time I stayed here, I rented a room at the Alibaba Hotel, which is on the main road facing the harbor. My high-rise, ocean-view room with en suite bathroom and two double beds cost $5/night.

I wondered if I could get it for cheaper. Not because I can’t afford $5/night, but because ever since I met some professional budget travelers in Nepal, I realized what a fun game budget travel can be.

My friends would one up each other constantly, asking “How much is your guest house?” And then, “Oh yeah? Well my guest house is only $2 a night, and I have hot water!

Kayaking, anyone?

Kayaking, anyone?

I knew I planned to stay in Cat Ba long-term (which, in travel terms, is anything longer than a few days’ stay). I wrote to the guest house owner and asked what he could do for me.

Here was his offer:

$3/night during the month of April

$9/night during the “high season” of May and June

He actually apologized to me for tripling the price, explaining that it was very busy during that time, and that “regular” customers would be charged $40/night.

Wowza!

That makes my monthly rent average out to $216/month.

Did I mention there are 3 beaches within walking distance of my hotel?

Did I mention there are 3 beaches within walking distance of my hotel?

As if that weren’t awesome enough, everything else on Cat Ba is cheap too.

I spend about $12/day on food and drink, and could easily spend less if I chose cheaper restaurants. (alas, I’m a sucker for ambiance. And dynamite spring rolls.)

That brings us to $588 for rent and food. So what other expenses do I have?

  • I pay nothing for utilities since those are included in the hotel room (hot water, electricity, WiFi, etc.).
  • I pay nothing for transportation because the town is small enough to walk anywhere, or I can hop on a motortaxi for a few thousand dong.
  • I spend about $10/month on things like shampoo, soap, and other toiletries.
  • I spend 100,000 dong (about $5) per month on a prepaid data plan for my cell phone. This comes in handy when the power goes out and there is no WiFi.
  • Visa fees: I paid $130 for a three-month Vietnam visa, which averages out to about $43/month.
  • I spend roughly $6/month on laundry

Grand Total: $662

i-live-abroad-6

Now, if I had no debt or other bills to pay back home, I could truly live a backpacker lifestyle in Cat Ba.

Unfortunately I have a big fat student loan payment that’s due each month, plus credit card debt and other expenses related to running this site.

But only having to spend $662 to live allows me to focus on writing my book and running this website.

If you’re looking to pay off debt while living a great quality of life in one of the most beautiful places on earth, I can’t recommend Cat Ba enough.

But if you do decide to come here, don’t tell anyone else, ok? I don’t want this place to lose its small town charm and become another Luang Prabang.

If you’re coming to Cat Ba, hit me up! Write to me and let me know if you want to stay at Alibaba’s too. I will speak with Mr. Ba and see what kind of discount I can get you!

Would you live abroad if it meant your could save hundreds, even thousands of dollars per month?

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. When looking to live cheap abroad, it's all about location.

2. There are cheap places just about everywhere - Vietnam isn't considered the cheapest place in SE Asia by any means, and yet it's been even cheaper to stay here than in Nepal.

3. Make friends with locals! Many people will give you a discount if you return to their hotel a second time, or if you're staying long-term.

4. Places that are slightly less touristy and difficult to get to will always be cheaper (but not less beautiful!)

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

16 Reasons to Travel Solo

Travel solo and enjoy all sorts of benefits that people with travel partners miss out on. You know, like having impromptu love affairs with people who don’t speak English, and taking naps whenever you want.

Here are just a few of the zillions of reasons to travel solo when you travel abroad:

1. You can be selfish

How often do you get to go wherever you want, eat whatever you want, spend your money however you want and sleep until you wake up?

My guess is not very often. When you travel solo, the only person you have to answer to is you.

You can choose the restaurant, the activities, and the people you interact with based solely on how you feel. This allows you to be completely spontaneous, which in turn will lead you to the incredible, unexpected experiences that will come to define your travels.

The freedom that comes with taking no one else’s feelings or opinions or preferences into account is mind-blowing, empowering, totally addicting, and only available when you travel solo.

2. You’ll never get sick of anyone

I see it all the time. It happens between couples, family members, friends and roommates. It even happens between backpackers who’ve just met.

When you spend 24/7 with someone – even with someone you really like – you’re bound to become completely sick of them at some point.

The problem is that there’s no escape from each other – if don’t travel solo, you’ll have to face the irritating party much sooner than you normally would if you were back time. You don’t have enough time to cool off, which leads to travel tension and a soured trip.

It takes a very special interpersonal dynamic to be able to navigate this kind of travel tension. If you decide not to travel solo, make sure you’ve spent a lot of time with your travel partner in the past and know what you’re signing up for.

Travel can bring out the worst in people  because you end up in highly stressful situations about every 5 minutes.

Just make sure you can handle Danny’s dark side or Karen’s sneaky drinking habits without losing your shit.

If it’s annoying at home, it’ll be 10x worse on the road.

Travel solo and take copious amounts of selfies

Travel solo and take copious amounts of selfies

3. You can change your mind

Last night you planned to wake up early and go to the museum. This morning, you’re in more of a lazy beach mood.

Because you chose to travel solo, that’s no problemo! Let the wind blow you where it may, and start to understand the meaning of the phrase “go with the flow.”

4. You can plan ahead

When you choose to travel solo, you can start planning your trip today.

The only person’s schedule that matters is yours. The only preferences that matter are yours. You don’t have to wait and see if your man can get off work or consult with Stephanie to see if she’d rather do Paris in July or October.

This makes it infinitely easier to plan your trip. It’s also a bit scary, really empowering, and really exciting!

While you may not be able to get on a plane today, the choice to travel solo frees you to book the ticket today. Do it and don’t tell anybody. Walk around with a little travel secret in your pocket for a few days, and bask in the glow of your upcoming journey.

5. You’ll never be “that couple”

They’ve been sitting there for 27 solid minutes without saying a word to each other. In fact, they’ve barely looked at each other. She’s on her phone, he’s looking anywhere but at her. They both breathe a sigh of relief whenever the waitress comes to refill their drinks or take their order.

It’s the dreaded Fighting Travel Couple.

An FTC is easy to spot. If they’re not ignoring each other over some fine dining, she’s storming 6 feet ahead of him down the street, or trying to hold back tears as he yells at her in front of a crowd of baffled locals.

It’s a scene I see even more often than the fighting friends or sisters or roomies featured in reason #2. And it’s terrifying.

Whenever I’m sitting in a restaurant alone, sipping a glass of wine and listening to my waiter weave fascinating tales about his family’s village, I always thank my lucky stars that I chose to travel solo. I’d rather spend 30 years alone that experience one night as an FTC.

These two haven't spoken since they left Chiang Mai.

These two haven’t spoken since they left Chiang Mai.

6. You can save money

When you’re traveling with others, whether it’s your partner or your parent or a group, there is this pressure to do stuff, and see stuff, and spend all sorts of cash.

The group wants to do a full day motorbike tour, so you’ll do the full day motorbike tour. Your friend wants to try the fancy restaurant, and before you know it you’ve blown half your budget on a single bottle of wine.

When you travel solo, it’s a lot easier to find financial balance.

You can stay in cheap guest houses for a few weeks, then treat yourself to a night in a five star resort. You can opt to take the bus instead of fly, or vice versa, depending on how much you’re willing or able to spend at the time.

7. You can work abroad

Speaking of saving money, when you travel solo it’s a snap to work abroad. This is especially true for digital nomads, who may have to spend 40+ hours a week working even though they’re traveling at the same time.

But this sort of set up is not conducive to group or partner travel, especially if no one else in the group is working.

While everyone else is headed out to sight-see, you’re stuck in the hotel room finishing a project. You’ll be pissed you’re missing out, and your friends won’t understand why you’re in friggin’ Laos but are spending 12 hours a day cooped up in your guest house.

When you travel solo, you can make your own schedule, work when you need to, then go out and see stuff when you’re finished (and no one will give you any crap about it!).

8. Your budget can fluctuate

When you travel solo, it doesn’t matter if you’re flush with cash or are living on a backpacker’s budget. You stay where you can afford to stay, you eat what you can afford to eat, and you make decisions based on your own income and budget constraints.

Not so when you’re with someone else. It’s super awkward to be flash-packing with a bunch of backpackers, or to be broke when everyone else wants to do the $3,000 cycling tour.

You may also find that your budget fluctuates over time, making it even more important to travel solo. If you’re suddenly broke or suddenly rich, you can change plans accordingly without creating an uncomfortable situation between travel buddies.

9. You can take naps whenever you want

And no one will wake you up. Or give you shit for taking a nap in the middle of the day.

10. You’ll meet people in restaurants

When I eat with friends, I eat with friends and that’s that. We go to the restaurant together, we talk to each other, and we leave together.

When I eat alone, I make friends with the restaurant staff, I get invited to sit at stranger’s tables, strangers plop themselves down and sit at my table, and I begin to collect what always end up being my favorite travel experiences.

It's much easier to meet locals when you travel solo.

It’s much easier to meet locals when you travel solo.

11. You can fall in love

Travel solo and you just might have the chance to fall in love. Sometimes it will be with a handsome stranger. Sometimes it will be with that special someone waiting for you at home. And in the best of circumstances, it will be with yourself.

  • Your relationship back home will be put into perspective when you travel solo, and you’ll know whether it’s a good fit for you or not. If it’s not, it will be easy to let go. If it is, you’ll be more appreciative and more in love than ever when you return home.
  • You’ll learn to enjoy your own company when you travel solo. You’ll begin to feel as fabulous as your new friends think you are. You’ll see how little you need, how much you have to offer, and how whole you are, exactly as you are. It’s just a corny line until it actually happens – you’ll fall in love with yourself.
  • You are going to meet so many wonderful people when you travel solo that you heart might explode. You will meet men who change everything you’ve ever believed about “how men are.” You will meet men so wonderful that instead of trying to change them, you’ll want to be more like them. Falling for a handsome foreigner is a deceptive cliche – it’s not about the accent or the cultural differences. It’s about meeting the love of your life. You know, the soul mate kind.

12. You can leave when you fall out of love

And then, when it doesn’t work out and your heart is broken to pieces and it’s super awkward seeing him with his new girlfriend, you can peace out and move on to the next country.

13. No one will see you at your worst

Travel solo and don’t be surprised when it brings out the worst in you before it brings out the best. You’re lonely, the menus aren’t in English, and the diarrhea medication the doctor gave you is not working.

At times like these, it’s nice to be alone and regroup without having the added stress of your irritated lover or your judgey sister watching you vomit or cry or have a major freak out.

Travel solo and wear ridiculous hats.

Travel solo and wear ridiculous hats.

14. You’ll work through all your shit

You’ll return from a group trip remembering how much fun you had. You’ll return from a solo trip as a more evolved human being.

15. You’ll realize you’re never alone

When you look back on the time you chose to travel solo, you’re not going to picture all those nights alone in bed or all those meals taken alone in basement restaurants.

You’ll remember the lovely woman you befriended in Laos, or the welcoming restaurant staff at that hotel in Cambodia, or the couple you ended up traveling with for two weeks straight in Vietnam.

You’ll see that wherever you are in the world, you’re never really alone – it just takes going alone to make you realize it.

16. You’ll find God

If God speaks to us in the silent spaces of ours hearts, our only job is to listen. When you travel solo, spend time with yourself, and spend time in silence, that job becomes easier and easier.

If God exists right now, and not in the past or the future, then travel is one surefire way to connect with the divine.

When you travel, you are shocked into the present moment again and again. Every sight, every sound, every smell is new. You’re a child looking at the world with wonder and awe, and from this headspace, God is everywhere.

Would you travel solo to see the world?

What are you most afraid of?

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

When you travel solo...

1. You can be selfish

2. You’ll never get sick of anyone

3. You can change your mind

4. You can plan ahead

5. You’ll never be “that couple” (AKA a "FTC" or "Fighting Travel Couple")

6. You can save money

7. You can work abroad

8. Your budget can fluctuate

9. You can take naps whenever you want

10. You’ll meet people in restaurants

11. You can fall in love

12. You can leave when you fall out of love

13. No one will see you at your worst

14. You’ll work through all your shit

15. You’ll realize you’re never alone

16. You'll find God

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

How to get a SIM card in Kathmandu

The card that launched a thousand questions.

Don’t freak out – it’s actually really, really easy to get a SIM card in Kathmandu, or pretty much anywhere in Nepal.

That’s because in other parts of the world, people seem to deal almost exclusively in cards – SIM cards for their phones, memory cards for their laptops, and all manner of removable sticks that, at least in America, having rarely been seen since the advent of the “thumb drive.”

If you haven’t spent much time abroad, you’ve probably never had to worry about getting a  SIM card. You bought your smartphone, signed up for a plan with a popular carrier like AT&T or Verizon, and that was that.

Little did you know that there was SIM card lurking inside your phone the entire time, just begging to be swapped for its foreign counterpart in France! Or Italy! Or Qatar!

WHY YOU NEED A SIM CARD

If you’re thinking of long-term travel, it’s a great idea to buy a local SIM card in whatever country you’re in.

A SIM card is just a little (very little) card that pops right into the side of your phone. Don’t worry if you have no idea how to get your SIM card in or out – when you buy a new SIM card, the vendor will pop out your old card and put a new one in for you.

With a local SIM card, you can buy a pre-paid phone plan and save a TON of money on calls, texts, and data.

My carrier in the States was Verizon, and when I heard what the international roaming charges would be if I made a call in Nepal, I nearly fell off my chair. It was something insane like $17/minute. That’s when I knew I’d need to get a SIM card if I wanted to use my phone while I was abroad.

It’s a good idea to have a local SIM card and phone plan for safety. You may not think you’ll need to call or text anyone, and you very well may not.

But if you have a prepaid plan that includes data, you’ll be able to check Google maps when you get lost, make an emergency phone call if need be, and contact your guest house to come pick you up when the cab driver leaves you stranded. You’ll also be able to easily keep in touch with new friends you meet while traveling.

Since the power goes out often in Nepal – and along with it, the WiFi – having a prepaid SIM is a life saver. If you’re relying on WiFi alone, you’re shit out of luck when the power’s out. But if you have a prepaid plan, you can still makes calls, send texts, and get online by using your smartphone as a WiFi hotspot.

Just make sure your smartphone is unlocked before you leave the country.

  • iPhone 4 and later come automatically unlocked.
  • If you have an older model, call your service provider to see if they’ll unlock it for you.
  • If you’re unsure about whether your phone is locked or not, try popping out the SIM card (use the end of a paperclip or a bobby pin) and inserting the SIM card of a friend who uses a different carrier. See if you can make a call or send a text. If you can, your phone is unlocked.
  • Don’t pay hundreds of dollars to have a third party service unlock your phone for you. I almost fell for this, but then I called Verizon. They would’ve been happy to unlock my phone for me for free (it turned out my phone was already unlocked).

HOW TO GET A SIM CARD IN KATHMANDU

Everything I read online about getting a SIM card in Kathmandu made it sound like you’d need to promise your first born child to a man clad in black who’d emerge from the shadows and offer your SIM card wrapped in goat hair and the blood of orphans.

According to these travel blogs, the government of Nepal wants to keep track of every single foreigner who plans on taking advantage of the golden NCELL network, the pride and joy of the nation.

First of all, the government of Nepal  doesn’t seem to be that strict about tracking anything, let alone who’s making cell phone calls.

Second, I was not required to give blood samples, sexual history, my passport, or fingerprints in order to get a SIM card abroad.

You can get a SIM card in Kathmandu at one of the zillions of convenience stores or phone shops that line the streets of Thamel. I’d recommend hitting up an official NCELL phone shop if you can find one, because they’ll have a big paper cutter-looking thing that can cut their giant SIM cards down to iPhone-size.

I wish I could tell you exactly which shop I went to, but even if it had a name, the street it’s on does not. Thamel is small, the streets wind endlessly, and a casual saunter will reward you with at least 12 options to buy a SIM card – promise. Just look for the giant signs that say “SIM CARD” outside every door.

Here is what I needed to make the purchase:

  • A photocopy of my passport (I’d brought an actual photocopy with me, not the passport itself, and the clerk photocopied my photocopy and returned the photocopy to me.)
  • The address of my guest house in Kathmandu
  • 1,000 rupees for the card itself (about $10)
  • 2,000 rupees for a 2GB data plan, which included a bunch of bonus minutes and texts ($20)

The clerk popped the Verizon SIM out of my phone using a pin, cut the NCELL SIM card down to size, and popped it into my iPhone.

Voila! I now had a phone number in Nepal and could check my Facebook page from the middle of nowhere in the mountains using my data plan.

When WiFi was spotty and/or the power was out, I’d use my phone as a WiFi hotspot and be able to continue working.

What questions do you have about getting a SIM card in Kathmandu?

Does it still seem as scary as it first seemed to me?

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. The Thamel district in Kathmandu is packed with NCELL shops and convenience stores that sell SIM cards.

2. Look for the giant "SIM CARD" signs that are posted outside shop windows and doors.

3. I did not need to give my passport or fingerprints (or anything else!) to get my SIM card. I provided a photocopy of my passport and the address of my guest house, and that was it.

4. A 2GB data plan cost about $30 - $10 for the SIM card itself, and $20 for the data plan, which included bonus minutes and texting.

5. You can always "top up" your plan by buying a prepaid scratch-off card at any convenience store in Nepal. The lowest denomination is 100 rupees ($1), which gives you about 100 minutes OR 100 texts. You can combine talk and text and you'll receive a text message when you're running low on minutes.

6. Make sure your smartphone is unlocked before you leave the country.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

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