Traveling to a new place can be scary. Especially if it's to a region of the world you have never visited. Coming to Puerto Rico is no different. Since Hurricane's Maria and Irma things have changed just a little bit, not much, but you need to be prepared for your visit! The following is a quick list of things you need to know before you visit Puerto Rico.
I have been an accident prone person aka a klutz my entire life. There have been many hours where I ended up in the emergency room with: a broken foot, sprained ankles, broken arms, head lacerations... well you get the point. You would think, as someone gets older their balance and depth perception would get better. This is certainly not the case for me. Let me tell you a tale of about breaking a bone in Rome and how it was handled.
While traveling the world in 2017 I found myself in Rome, Italy. A place I never thought I would have the opportunity to visit, let along live for an entire four weeks. The apartment was a loft outside of the hustle and bustle of Rome, but a quick 20 minute bus ride would drop me off in the city center, with and outstanding price of 2 euros. This apartment was precious it had all the amenities I would need to live a comfortable life for a few weeks; there was even a washing machine. A luxury I haven't seen the likes of in 5 months. After living in Thailand and traveling in Cambodia for months, a washing machine was an invention I couldn't wait to use it. Too bad it would be my downfall, literally.
When I left Boston 4 weeks ago it was 20 degrees with 6 feet tall snow drifts on the ground. With very little sleep the night before; I get up at 3am so I can catch my 5 am flight. My clothing is laid out and I don a brand new pair of waterproof boots, fleece leggings, a long sleeved t-shirt, and my wool coat; something that I picked up in England weeks before. Still in a sleepy haze I check out of my hostel and contact Uber.
I arrive at the airport so early that TSA isn’t even open yet and neither is DD (Dunkin’ Donuts) or Starbucks; it’s like a virtual ghost town. There is one store open so I grab a coffee and a danish that cost me $10. There should be some sort of rule about airport price gauging. I take my over priced goods, have a seat on the floor and stretch out. It’s going to be a long day.
A few hours later I am boarding a plane to Puerto Rico. The question I have gotten for a year is, “where are you going to next?” This time, when I tell them Puerto Rico, looks of dismay come over their inquisitive faces. The follow up question is, “Oh are you going to help with the hurricane relief?”. I immediately say no and begin to explain.
I have nothing to offer Puerto Rico. I am not an electrician, or skilled laborer but what I do have is time and a little bit of money. This is what I can offer Puerto Rico. My accommodations are a local airbnb, I can take Uber, I drink, eat, and shop local. The biggest thing any of us can do is come to Puerto Rico and spend money.
After being in winter and in Europe for so long I forgot what humidity is and what it does to my hair. Waiting on my ride at the San Juan airport I begin to sweat and realize how inappropriately dressed I really am. Unlike yours truly, there is not a pair of long pants to be seen, and no one is dressed in black. Color is everywhere, along with smiles, happy greetings and controlled chaos at the arrivals pickup.
At that moment it was easy to forget that just a few months ago two category five hurricanes roared across this island, causing havoc in it’s wake. Massive amounts of damage ensued, power outages, and water shortages. A lot of the island is up and running but there are still areas that can not be reached and they are still without power, a luxury that my never return; if it does, it will be years. Talking to the people of Puerto Rico you can hear the stress in their voices as they relive the trauma of waiting out the storm.
Luckily where I am, Luquillo Beach, is in order. The power may go off for an hour or two, you drink bottled water but there are restaurants open and airbnb’s ready to welcome guest. When I first arrived I ventured down to a local restaurant which sits by the water. The bartender, whom I found out later was actually the manager; after the storm, the restaurant went from 30 employees to 10. He asked me if I was on vacation. I explained my lifestyle. With a smile and emotion behind his voice he said, “Thank you for coming to Puerto Rico”.
At this very moment I am sitting in the same bar, eating french fries, drinking a cold local beer, and watching the surfers. Last night I went to the local pizza place for take-away, and on Saturday went to the local farmer’s market. When a place depends so heavily on tourism a natural disaster can hurt the local economy so much that it may never bounce back. When I decided to come to Puerto Rico I asked the right questions: do you have power, access to water, are roads clear, and are grocery stores open? Because that is all you really need. Don’t shy away from a place because of what others say or what you see on the news. Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean need you, they are waiting for you, with open arms, smiles and warm greetings.
I began this writing last week. The next phase was to head to Germany for the month and continue the journey of traveling, pet sitting, and teaching English. The plane ticket was purchase; on the day of departure I woke up early, and with a heavy heart began to pack. There are other guest where I am staying, American’s running away from the northern winter. I am telling them how much I really don’t want to go to Germany and my thoughts of living on this island have consumed me.
About that time my friend and guest house hostess text me. She is wondering if I truly want to go to Germany. In my head I don’t want to exhaust my welcome in her lovely guest house, Love. Soul. Beautiful; I need to make more money which can be done more easily Europe. Even with this, I just did not want to leave. Molly comes up and says we can make a deal for me to stay. So, with that, I don’t get on the plane.
Today is Monday, I was suppose to leave on Saturday. Since then I have been looking at apartments, figuring out logistics for some things that are in South Carolina, and powering back up the photography business. I have also been offered paid house-sit/pet-sit jobs for the future, the Bougie to Budget: Travel Guide business has picked up, and lastly I have started a gofundme campaign to help upgrade equipment so Wander Woman will sore. I can’t believe I am writing this from my new home, Puerto Rico. Never in a million years did I think this would happen. Come to Puerto Rico, you just may never leave.
Budget travel has never been easier. The internet along with social media provides you with everything you need to learn or know to put together an amazing trip all on your own. The down side is, it takes time and a lot of it. Since I have been traveling I have learned so much about travel, planning, and resources that fit the way I want to see the world. Here are 5 ideas for the budget conscious traveler.
1. Flights: If you are flexible with your dates you will find cheaper more accommodating flights. I booked a direct flight from San Juan to Frankfurt last minute for $200 every other day was over $500. Try using the +/- 7 days filter to find less expensive offer.
2. Accommodations: There are an assortment of places to stay from hostels to hotels and airbnbs. There are places to stay for fee. I have been petsitting around Europe. I take care of peoples houses and pets while they are away, in return I get free accommodation. I must say some of the houses have been spectacular. There are also places like workaway, where you help around a farm, hostel, or with a family for free accommodations.
3. Public Transportation: Learning the public transport system will save you so much money. Think $2 one way instead of $20 for an Uber or Lyft.
4. Entertainment: There are so many ways to entertain yourself. From parks to museums you can get away with saving a ton of money. By using Groupon you can cut the price of eating out in half along with theater and tours. I paid $6 for a 4 hour walking tour in London.
5. Food: Book a place that offers breakfast and sneak an apple or a banana in your bag as a snack. Find a street vendor for lunch and splurge on a good dinner.
“How the hell were you able to stay in Europe for so long, don’t you need a visa?”….this is one of the many questions I received about my 8 month stay in Europe in 2017. In all honesty, I was so confused about the visa laws that I contacted several people and read a ton of blogs because I didn’t want to be hauled off to some foreign prison never to be able to return home again. Well…they probably would have just put me on the next plane to the U.S instead of jail. First things first, as of now, American’s do NOT need Visa’s to travel throughout the EU, this may change.
So how did I do it? There are a few key terms that you need first: Schengen and Non-Schengen ( still have no clue how to say these words). The EU is made up of a lot of countries. Some of these countries are part of what is known as the Schengen agreement. Members of the EU can travel throughout these countries without trip interruption and if you are an American you don’t need to get a visa, but you can only stay in these countries for 90 days out of 180 days. There are countries that ARE part of the EU but are NOT part of the Schengen Zone known as the non- Schengen Zone. These countries have their own laws when it comes to stays.
Now, you can only stay in the Schengen zone for 90 days! After the 90 days you MUST leave the zone for up to 90 days. After 90 days you can return to any of the below countries and the 90 days starts over. There are EU countries that have their own visa rules. The below non-schengen countries have their own visa laws. For instance, Ireland is 90 days ,UK is 180 days, Croatia is 90 days along with Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania.
26 Schengen Zone Countries
Non-Schengen Zone Countries
Allow me to give you some examples to make it more clear. This is what I did for 2017: Italy (30 days), Croatia (30 days non-schengen), Germany (60 days), United Kingdom (90 days non-schengen). Once you leave a schengen zone and go to a non-schengen zone like I did (Croatia) the time ends but DOES NOT start over, it is just paused until you return to one of the schengen countries.
Another example…Iceland ( 10 days), Sweden (10 days), France (10 days), Ireland (30 days), United kingdom (14 days), Croatia (14 days), Italy (20 days).
Now with the above example you have stayed in a Schengen Zone for 50 days. You still have 40 days to travel through other schengen countries or just save those days and go to a non-schengen area.
If you want to bounce around Europe you know have the knowledge to do it without the risk of being deported. If you play it right you could stay Europe for a really long time!
Constant travel and living out of a suitcase for over a year has taught me so much about myself and how I want to live. Minimalism is now me; being around to much stuff stresses me out and just doesn’t feel good to me. Like most Americans I had a house full of furniture, and lots of things filling every corner and covering the walls. Even when I began this journey I purchased a larger suitcase because I couldn’t fit everything I needed into the one I had. On the first plane right to Thailand I had a suitcase, a day back pack, and a larger backpack. A year and 2 months later, I am down to a bag for my computer and a medium sized suitcase.
Down sizing has taught me that I don’t need as much as I thought. Unless you are trekking through the untouched jungles of the Amazon, you can find pretty much what ever you need throughout the world. Packing for a trip can be stressful but it doesn’t have to be. Pro tip, pack what you think you will need, then unpack those items. Next cut the number of items in half. This will save you money on baggage fees and I promise you will feel better while traveling.
The way I pack is based off of two words: comfort and layers. Comfort is key to having a good trip. Some people can walk around Rome in high heeled shoes. I am not that person, I would end up in the ER with a broken foot or ankle. My comfort level is flat shoes, leggings, and loose fitting shirts. But if you are comfortable in tight dresses and high heels more power to you! Besides comfort, wearing layers is a lifesaver! When I was in Scotland there was a beautiful wool sweater that I was dying to buy. I thought about it for a good 30 minutes and then logic kicked in. This sweater weighed about 2 lbs, and was bulky; there is no way shlepping this piece of clothing around the world made sense; I am currently in Puerto Rico where it is 80 degrees, I would be kicking myself if I had that sweater taking up room in my bag. Keeping it simple with layers will make you a happy traveler, especially on those days when you begin early in the morning and it’s still cool out but later in the day the sun is beating down on you, and you can’t take off enough clothing.
Take the stress out of travel, pack smart, and enjoy your journey. If you are still stressed out about packing and travel, get in touch with me. I can certainly help answer questions you may have. Until then, happy travels! May we meet in the middle one day.
“Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.” -google.com
Reverse Culture Shock is real, powerful, and can control ones emotional state for quit some time after being abroad. If you know someone suffering from RCS keep reading my story. This may help you deal with the symptoms that come back with your friend who travels.
I had never in my life heard of reverse culture shock we will call it RCS. When I returned from Africa a few years ago, I just thought I was irritable because I missed Tanzania. Upon returning to the U.S 4 weeks ago (feels like a lifetime ago) I have been suffering from RSC; it’s worse than I ever imagined. Let me get off my chest what has been driving me nuts while being back in these United States.
Public transportation or the lack of it is killing me. When I moved, I sold everything from clothes to my car; why would I need that stuff, right? Flying into a large U.S city from a country with exceptional public transport helps you acclimate but not fully. While waiting for the train from BWI to D.C I sat in a cold not so sterile room with 20 chairs; people looked bored and angry. Also the 1970’s called, it wants it train station back. There was a cartoon on the TV warning parents of the dangers of kidnappers and kids falling on the tracks…seriously. The next “show” was about bomb dogs and how they became so. I have been in a lot of train stations over the past year and have never seen such craziness as those two infomercials. I had been in the U.S for 10 minutes and fear was everywhere. Yes, be aware, be vigilant, don’t do stupid shit, and you will most likely be ok. But do we need to be reminded of it over and over and over again, I guess so since they make cartoons about it.
Once down on the platform, the train arrived 10 minutes early and left 5 minutes early. This is the complete opposite of the precise schedules in Germany of which you can set your watch to. Once back in a town with little to no public transportation I realized how lucky people are that can afford the cars, car insurance, gas, property taxes. What does the other half do? Reverse culture shock doesn’t stop there, far from it, let’s move onto dinning out.
I was a waitress for several years in my early 20’s, I feel like I did a good job and didn’t annoy me customers, made decent money. Well, going out to eat now annoys the every lovin’ shit out of me. Servers do not leave you alone. The other day I met up with a friend for lunch. I arrived first. I was seated and the server came over. I ordered a water and said I was waiting on a friend. As I was waiting he came over 2 more times to see if I “needed anything”. I told him I am still waiting for my friend. She arrived, we hugged, and as she was taking off her coat to sit down the waiter came over to get our order. I looked at him like he had lost his damn mind. Politely asking him for a few minutes to get settled; my friend and I began to chat, I mean we had not seen one another in a year. Oh we were the only people in the restaurant so they were not busy. Within 5 minutes he came over 3 times to see if we were ready. I, again, politely, asked him his name, he told me, I said I would let him know when we were ready. Whew…this worked. When we were ready we order; our food arrives and during the meal he comes over about 7 times to see if we needed anything. For goodness sakes, it’s lunch, we are pouring our own water…wtf do we need? This was not the first or last time this has happened while being back. Give me a restaurant in the U.S where I am left in peace to enjoy my meal and catch up with friends, that’s all I ask. I dream of the days when I would go out to a restaurant and be completely ignored by the staff.
I could go on and on about the effects of RCS but I won’t. But let me tell you about not being able to buy alcohol in one place on certain days. It was Christmas Eve 2017, it fell on a Sunday and I wanted to run out to get a bottle of wine for dinner. As I am thinking about leaving for the store, I tell my step dad I will just run out and get a few bottles. He looked at me and said, “ No you won’t”. I am slightly confused and reply with, “why not?”, it’s Sunday he says. I become enraged. If you don’t know, in some parts of the southern United States you are not allowed to buy alcohol on Sunday due to certain laws that have been on the books for hundreds of years; you know to make sure us heathens go to church on Sunday instead of drink.
Not only can you not buy alcohol in some states on Sunday alcohol is sold in separate types of stores unlike everywhere else in the entire world from Bangkok to England, believe me I have seen it. So if you want a bottle of wine or beer you can get that at a market but if you want liquor, well now you have to go to a liquor store to get that; the only reason I can think of the separation is to inconvenience humans to the point they don’t want to go to two separate shops to buy alcohol. I am sure there is a better reason but I don’t know it.
The symptoms of RCS can be mild to server depending on the length of your time away. Symptoms include mood swings, low tolerance for things that could be better but aren’t, and irritability. If you know someone who suffers from this tread lightly for a few weeks. After a few weeks the symptoms will subside but will never fully go away. There is no cure but if you want to keep the person in your life comfortable buy them anything travel related, help them plan a trip, or just give them your airline miles.
- External battery charger : for some reason my phone battery doesn’t last as long as when I am home. It could be because of all the picture taking or GPS usage. An external charger can save you from stranded without a phone.
- Day pack/backpack: This seems like a no brainer but having a backpack that will hold your computer, water bottle, and other electronics is necessary. Carrying a purse can be back breaking and honestly, annoying.
- Water bottle: Essential. While traveling, finding accessible water can be difficult. If you already have a water bottle, fill it up where you are staying, and try to keep it filled throughout the day. Drinking from any fountain in Rome is amazing, they have the best water. Dehydration can happen quickly if you are not careful.
- Camping towel: Sometimes you may find yourself under a waterfall, fully clothed, in the middle of a jungle. Or in a hostel where they don’t provide towels. A small camping town is great to have on hand, just in case.
- Slippers: This is just a good idea all around. Your traveler may be going to a place where shoes are not allowed inside or they could be headed to Iceland in December. Either way a good pair of house slippers is nice to have to lounge around in. Make sure they are bendable.
- Homemade health kit: THIS! Ok wanna make something for your traveler? This is the best. What you will need: plastic bag or a see through zip pouch, band-aids, antiseptic, pain reliever, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, tweezers, nail clippers, hand sanitizer, condoms, antihistamine, pepto-bismol tablets.
- Socks: I don’t mean a pack of 12 socks from discount store. I mean a good pair of wool socks that will protect feet from the elements, blisters, and water. These socks will cost at least $15 not $10 for 12 pair.
- Hat: The type of hat depends on the type of hat your traveler likes. They will need something to protect their face and head from the sun. I, myself, love a ball cap and wear one from my local brewery where ever I go.
- Scarf: A lightweight scarf is great for those chilly nights or hot days. In many holy places scarves are needed to cover up a travelers shoulders, especially when it’s a hot summer day and they are dressed in a tank top.
- Packing cubes/plastic storage bags: Packing cubes are the when organizing personal items like make-up, healthcare products, pens, and under garments. Plastic storage bags where the air can be released to make the space smaller for your clothes is a storage life saver.
- Notebook and pen: A small notebook for keepsakes, ideas, or trip planning is great. Having a pen on hand helps when flying into another country and filling out those custom forms.
- Sunglasses: These don’t need to be expensive because your traveler will most likely leave them on a train, plane, or in a taxi. Having a pair is necessary, especially in Thailand and Cambodia.
What do you think about when someone says they are staying in a hostel? Do scary images come to mind about a sorted building in a dark, foggy city where no one speak English which is filled with 20 something backpackers making their way around Europe. Well, when I tell people I am staying in a hostel I can see it on their faces, confusion, which is most likely followed up by questions like, “ Why do you stay in a place like that?” or “Aren’t you to old to be doing that?”. This past year I have been petsitting around the world, but there have been times when I needed a place to say for a few days or wanted to see other parts of a country but didn’t want to break the bank.
There has been an evolution to the hostel experience; still budget accommodation, hostels offer up common spaces for strangers from around the world to gather, talk, and rest. Now with the internet and cable tv you can find free Wifi and in some cases computers are available for public use. It’s like your living room but shared with people from all walks of life. While staying in an independent hostel in Cornwall, England, the age range was 18-81 years. The guest were literally from all over the world, a virtual revolving door of culture. We chatted around a fire pit at night and I had the ultimate pleasure of introduced the grand old American tradition of making s’mores. Hostels aren’t just for 20 somethings anymore!
I am currently in a hostel in Washington, D.C; yesterday, upon my morning arrival I was greeted with a complimentary breakfast of pancakes, cereal, toast, tea, orange juice, and coffee. The kitchen is fully stocked with all utensils needed for cooking, two refrigerators, 3 dish washers and two sinks. You can go to the store up the street, bring back your groceries, and keep them safe in the kitchen, which will save you loads on food cost while traveling. While this hostel has a kitchen others may have a restaurant and bar for their guest. Depending on what you want to get out of your stay, there are so many options.
Traditionally, hostels have multiple rooms with a lot of bunk beds filling the space. This still holds true but now you have more options for your stay. There are mixed bunk rooms with male and female guest, but you can also get rooms that are just for females or males, there are also private rooms with ensuite bathrooms that compare to hotel rooms but at half the cost. Also some hostels even have family rooms, so cut the cost of family travel in half by staying in a hostel.
My absolute favorite thing about hostels is the location. Hostels in big cities are most likely located near the city center, public transport, and close to the tourist attraction. Instead of spending $150 or more for a hotel room or $50 on an Airbnb you can spend as little as $10 a night; this was the case for me when I had an early flight out of Shannon, Ireland. My hostel was near the airport, $10, shared with two lovely girls traveling through Ireland together, and the bathroom was in the room.
Hostels have evolved from dodgy budget accommodation to places that have a life all their own, they can enhance a persons travel experience by providing fellowship and a safe, comfortable place to lay your head and rest before discovering a new city.
From day one, the actual date was November 26, 2016, the common question has been, “How will you afford to do this ( “this” meaning travel). There are multiple blogs and articles out there that explain and explore this topic so I will not rehash. What I would like to discuss is sustaining your long term travel plans and the highs and lows that come with living away from your home country for an extended period of time.
The beginning…I left South Carolina to pursue my dream to travel. With this came with giving up a business I had been building for several years. Because I worked all of the time, I was able to save up enough money to begin to pursue this crazy dream of mine. Because I didn’t have any plans of returning to the states; items needed to be bought and sold.
Two Items that needed to be bought: new laptop, noise canceling headphones with bluetooth ( which have been life savers). Of course I did buy other “stuff” but looking back, it was pointless. The only consistent personal items that have survived traveling are the computer, headphones, and my phone.
Everything else in my life was insignificant. I am fortunate enough to have free storage space for things I felt like I could not give up: antique furniture, a sofa that I love, a few childhood memories, and a box winter clothing that I may or may not need while traveling. All else was either sold or given away. The 50 in flat screen tv…given to a friend; kitchen supplies…..sold; desktop computer….sold; sewing machine…sold; clothing, mattresses, towels, dishes, vases, pictures all donated. Car, sold!
Letting go of these items was very hard! If someone tells you that letting go of everything you own is easy, they are liars. But being free of all things makes life a lot easier, promise. Here begins my journey. One backpack, and one duffle bag.
With money in the bank and semi support from my family and full support from my friends, I am off. I bring up support because this is important to long term travel. If you don’t have support than your adventure will be a million times harder. With the advent of computers, social media, Skype, FaceTime, texting, and all of the other way to communicate via a device, it is so easy to talk to your loved ones. I honestly have not spoken to my family more than since I left. Knowing that others are happy, excited, and thrilled for your next life step helps you cope on the bad days.
Unfortunately, sometimes, the same people who are your number one fans will leave you in the dust. With traveling comes a separation of friendship. This is something you will have to deal with, emotionally. It’s hard when people stop communicating. You begin to think of what you may have done wrong or what you may have said for them to stop talking to you. The friendship may pick up in the future but right now, it’s on pause. That is how I am looking at it, a paused friendship, with hopes that it will return one day. While traveling it’s ok to be emotional about things, or people. Let it out because if you don’t your time away will be ruined. Focus on the present and maybe the past will return.
Just like friendships, money doesn’t last forever. I am not a rich person. I just worked my ass off to get here and have found ways to keep up this type of lifestyle. After 4 months of a steady paycheck in Thailand, I wanted to be able to do and see more, without being held to a classroom or contract. If you don’t know, I am teaching English as a foreign language. The month before my contract ended in Thailand I applied to several position around the world. I accepted one in China. But quickly realized China was not where I wanted to be. I found an alternative way of making money, teaching online. Am I going to get rich off of this, nope. But does it help me to travel and see other places, yep.
Once hired, I decided to take a week off and travel to Cambodia. From there, it was a 3 weeks in Rome, next 4 weeks in Croatia, and currently I am in Germany for two months. While in Germany I am pet sitting for a friend. Which is certainly the way to go, rent free! Because of this I have signed up on a petsitting website so I can sustain this way of life.
Thinking outside the box is a major player in continuous travel. If you don’t have a trust fund or millions in the bank; which most of us don’t, it is a very important. So let’s review: save money, have a job before you leave, work while traveling, letting go of people and things.
Now, it’s gut check time…do you go on Instagram and see the whimsical photos of that one person and think, how the f*&^ are they doing this? All of these places around the world, they must be spending a fortune. Well they may be spending a fortune but I know I don’t have that kind of money to spend. While in Germany, I have done very little in the way of travel. By looking at my Instagram it would appear that I am spending money left and right. This is not true. Budgeting is my #1 priority. Other than that, I have been working almost everyday, shopping at the local market, watching Netflix at night, and going to Fests on the weekend. It’s just like living back home.
My time in Germany is to rebuild the bank account and spend as little money as I can. Today, I will be going to a bathhouse which cost 5 euro for an hour. Later on this afternoon, I will take the train 5 euro into Frankfurt to explore what the city has to offer. For the month of July, I plan on going on day trips that will not cost more than 50 euro.
Just like everything else in life being able to sustain long term travel is hard and needs to be worked on every single day. Create wonderful memories but not tons of debt and follow your own path.
Four words…who’s life is this? I am sitting in London, just booked a flight to Bali, and finally finished putting together digital photo albums from the past 9 months of travel. I left the United States in November of 2016 where I had amazing people in my life, a diverse community, and a career which I built from the ground up.
My career took me to places all over the world. Photographing weddings in Mexico, working with a non-profit group in Africa, and solo travel around Europe. This was a dream job; something that I worked hard on daily; shed tears over monthly, and built up consistently every single year. As thankful as I was to have such a life, something was missing. I needed to figure out what that something was, and quick. So, I booked a flight.
In April 2016 I took a solo trip to Europe: Ireland, England, and Prague. I did this trip with no expectations, very little planning, and dedicated to not working. I drove south from Dublin, down to Glendalough, over to Cashel in the wind and rain. Scared to death half of the time, driving on roads made for horse and cart in a car where the steering wheel is on the opposite side and so is the gear shift, all while driving on a side of the road you were taught is the wrong way, is one of the most terrifying yet thrilling experiences you will ever have. With that said, this was the sort of challenge I was looking for on this journey. I needed a shock to my system or a better word would be to reboot my life.
Three weeks later I arrived home and fell back into my routine and instantly began to think of my next trip. While at my night photography job with no more work to do I decided to research living and traveling abroad; trying to take in as much information as possible but unfortunately there just was not that much information about it. Yeah… you could do it if you had a ton of money, dual citizenship, or worked for a foreign company. For the average person this seemed like an impossible fleeting goal. I have always been hard-headed, give me a challenge and I will do my best to find a solution. To figure out that solution to this problem, I asked myself some questions.
What was I looking for? How do I afford to live in another place? Thoughts and questions were spinning, swirling through my head as I googled random words: travel, working abroad, living abroad, work and travel, how to live abroad. Then it happened, the correct combination of random words and wha-la, Teaching English As Foreign Language. Teaching English abroad had NEVER occurred to me; this was never even a blip on the radar of life. Who does this and how do they make it work?
An entire new world opened up to me; this way of life was scary and seemed crazy. People actually learn how to teach English abroad and there is a massive job market. I felt like I stumbled upon a secret that was only being revealed to me; could it be this easy to work and live abroad? Weeks went by. I called companies about certification, there are thousands of companies that offer different levels of certifications with price ranges from $300 to $2,000; there was a lot to sort through but I was excited to see this opportunity unfold.
I wanted to make sure I got certified through a reputable and legitimate company because with ever industry there are people out there trying to just make a quick buck and the certification isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. The TEFL industry is not immune to scams by fraudulent people. There were some companies I looked into where people never received their certificate after course completion and even companies closing without notifying the student in the middle of the course, and the student never received a refund.
Before making a large purchase with a potential of changing my entire life; I wanted to make sure I had ALL of the information I needed to make an educated decision. My due diligence paid off! After many conversations with many companies I came to i-to-i. com. They answered every question I had and was happy to do so, the company is a leader in the industry, and the customer service after certification was next to none. My choice was made. Within hours I was on my way to getting my 120 hour TEFL certification. With so many options in certifications from 100% online to actually going to a facility abroad and having 3 months of intensive classes, I decided to go with the online experience.
During this time, I was still working full time; taking the class online made sense for my life. This class should take the average person around 12 weeks to complete, it only took me 6 weeks. At the end you will have a final exam and you will have to submit a completed lesson plan. The lesson plan is a pass or a fail and if you do not pass the first time, you will have a second chance at passing. So it is done; class complete; exam passed with flying colors, and lesson plan completed and passed. Not knowing how long it would take to find a job, I began my search immediately. i-to-i offers job assistance after program completion. Most programs offer this and if they do not look at getting certified by another company. With their database I was able to upload a resume and start my job hunt.
Within 48 hours of uploading my resume and contacted a few organizations directly, I had four interviews lined up over the next few days. The interviews were like any other interview but via Skype. Sometimes the interview was directly with the school or facility looking to hire but others it was with a head hunter; people who represent schools, organizations, or agencies to find quality employees. I interviewed with places in Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
With each interview I was offered a position. Like I said before, the market for English teachers is massive and ever-growing. After weighing the pros and cons for each place I decided on Thailand. It wasn’t a hard decision for me. Thailand had been on my bucket-list for a long time. Another factor was the sheer size and visiting places such as Bangkok and Phuket appealed to me; also you can get anywhere from Thailand. To the east are beautiful islands; the south holds Australia and New Zealand, Europe can be reached with ease and to the North is China and Japan.
My mind was made up so it was time to prepare. With the help of my agent I was able to secure a visa and the documents need to live and work in Thailand. Unfortunately, this is where the help from my agency ended. This part of the story could be it’s own novel. For now, I will say, ask a lot of questions and make sure you feel comfortable with your agency before signing on the dotted line.
It’s now 2 days after Thanksgiving and my parents are taking me to the airport. Now, I am not a nervous or emotional person; I can hold my emotions together pretty well. As we drove to the airport I thought I was going to have to ask them to pull over so I could vomit on the side of the interstate. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. A short 24 hours later I was landing in the land of Buddha, gold temples, ancient rainforest, breathtaking landscape, and humidity.
I am so glad I was born and raised in a place where humidity is it’s own weather pattern because Thailand is hot, humid, and very sunny. When I arrived, it was winter and the temperature was a comfortable 90 degrees with 40 percent humidity.
My agent picks me up from the airport, oh… so he helped with two things but he was late. Once he arrives we headed to town to take care of paperwork and to do a bit of shopping. The following day I start my life as a teacher in a foreign land in an area where white skin is revered like a God. When moving across the world you will encounter growing pains, cultural shock, and miscommunication. Even though I wouldn’t change my time in Thailand for anything, I wouldn’t go back there to teach. I was not there to educate the youth of Thailand so they might have a future in a world where English is quickly becoming a mandatory skill. I was there to be a human marketing tool as a white American female.
I learned very quickly I was there to increase enrollment and to be a face only to show the parents and community that this school could afford to pay an American to work at their facility. At first I was sad, depressed, and couldn’t believe I changed my entire life for this; moving to a place where no one seemed to care about education.
Two weeks into my “teaching” I had a long weekend break. I had to get out of my small town so I took the weekend and headed to Bangkok. With thoughts of leaving Thailand wheezing through my head I had a chance encounter in a random coffee shop in Bangkok. There, I met two lovely girls from the US. Both had been teaching in Chiang Mai and had gone through the same experiences as me. They talked me down from the thoughts of giving up and gave me tips on how to handle teaching in Thailand. Without their help, I don’t know what I would have done. Who knows, I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. With an open mind and refreshed body I left Bangkok to face the many challenges that awaited me.
I decided to just deal with the situation the best I could. I took the knowledge I learned from my TEFL certification and life; I played games, had conversations, and did my very best to connect with the students on a personal level. School management tried to bully me into doing things out of my contract and I refused, stood my ground. This did not go over very well but I was within my rights. I was left to my own devises for 4 months. Contracts for teaching are usually 6 to 12 months. I lucked out as I came in the middle of the school year; I would be done in May.
Surprisingly May comes quickly and it is time for me to figure out the next step. Knowing it was time to leave Thailand, my job search was all over the place, but just as before the job opportunities came pouring in. This time the jobs were coming from all over China. With to many opportunities in front of me I began to panic and settled on a position in a university in China. As the time got closer there was a feeling of dread. The contract was for 1 year and the winters were going to be harsh. At this point I took a step back to reevaluate why I was doing this.
I thought about my previous self from 4 months prior. What I wanted was to travel and see the world, to run away from winter, and to experience as much as possible. Taking the position in China wouldn’t let me see as much as I wanted and the cold winters may have killed me. With professionalism and apologizes, I contacted the school and told them I couldn’t come to China. They completely understood and said if I ever changed my mind for me to contact them in the future.
What was I going to do now? Well, what’s the saying…when one door closes another one opens. That very day I found a position teaching online which would allow me to travel and work anywhere in the world, as long as I have an internet connection.
I found a position teaching English online to students in China. If you are TEFL certified, or have a degree in teaching with experience, you are eligible to work with 51Talk. 51talk is growing at an exponential rate and they are hiring new teachers at a quick pace. Because the company is growing so quickly there are ups and downs with being an independent contractor for them but I will not dwell on those facts in this story.
Teaching online has given me the magical experience of living in some of the most beautiful and amazing places on this planet. The first stop was Rome where I lived in a flat near Appia Antica. I was able to walk the ancient roads laid down 2, 000 years ago; I was close enough to hop on the 118 bus that would take me to the center of Rome. Three weeks later I was on a plane to Croatia; a place I have dreamed of going for so long. While there I had a sea-view apartment minutes from the village center. Croatia was one of the most stunning places I have experienced; nature infused into the stunning limestone villages that wer created hundreds even thousands of years ago.
I hated to leave Croatia, there is so much to see and do but I had a date in Germany. Way back while in Thailand ,a friend of mine got wind of me coming to Europe. Her job takes her away for months and finding a pet sitter is difficult. She asked me to come to Germany to watch after her two cats for two months. This was a touching gesture of trust and friendship. So,booked my flight to Germany. Germany is beautiful! If you are looking for outdoor adventure, wine tasting, or just a lazy vacation, go there. Cruise on the Rhein, head to the Rheingau region and taste the wine of which the Roman’s planted the grapes, or enjoy a weekend festival because there is one almost every weekend.
What I learned while in Germany: German wine is AMAZING, Germany can put on a weekend festival that will make you want to move there for ever, and the food is to die for. Exploring, living, and playing abroad while traveling long-term is a skill that has to be mastered, or you will be on the next plane home, or calling home for help. I was in a position where I needed to think of something to help sustain this lifestyle.
Sustaining long-term travel is not a walk in the park. It takes time, energy and a creative mind to figure out how to live a cheap as possible. While in Germany I found Groupon. Well not really finding it but re-finding it. Groupon is in many places around the world and on here you can get discounted tour tickets, meals, and attractions. So far I have saved around $300 by using Groupon, it’s a great way to do fun things on your own without it breaking the bank. Other than finding things to do you must have accommodations.
Renting apartments is expensive especially in larger cities such as Rome and London. Figuring out how to live on the cheap was probably the hardest challenge. Sites such as Airbnb are great but don’t always give you the deals you need or want. I had to start thinking outside the box to figure out how to live.
My google search began again: live for free, cheap accommodations, living abroad. The internet gods gave me…. pet-sitting around the world! I think this is genius idea and right up my alley; I quickly signed up. There is an annual fee that is paid at once and a background check is done for a small fee. Honestly, this site has paid for its self already. I have been living for FREE for 4 months in Europe. If I would had to pay my accommodations the price tag would have been around $1,000 per month, I saved $4,000. CRAZY, RIGHT?!?!
Have I found the perfect trifecta of traveling the world on the cheap? Maybe. Just maybe. There are so many factors when it comes to having a sustainable life abroad. Finding the perfect combination for you is key. I utilized my skills and got a job, my love of pets provides free accommodations, and my love of travel fuels me to keep going until what I am doing doesn’t make sense for who I am any longer. When will I return home? I have no idea….the tropics are calling and I must go. There is so much to see and do in this world and the thought of returning home to a 9-5 job and a boss makes me really sad. The journey will end one day but that day is not today or tomorrow. Until then I will keep traveling the world, while making a living online, and living for free.