KGB Style

I have had an infatuation with Russia since the third grade, when I found a book stuffed full of bizarre, macabre Russian fairy tales in my elementary school library. I’m fairly sure I was the only one who ever checked this book out, as everyone else was put off by the the cottage with chicken feet on the cover. Babies.This love is compounded by the fact that I’m often mistaken for a Russian when I’m traveling abroad. I suspect it has less to do with my blond hair and more to do with my oddly sulky ambient expression. If I’m not giggling behind my hand, I apparently look like I should be slurping borscht and glaring at soldiers over a copy of ”The Brothers Karamazov.”

So if I was to move to Russia tomorrow, what would I wear?

Okay, so I’m well aware that Russians probably don’t wear sickle and hammer t-shirts. But I’m nothing if not committed to a theme! Please note the lovely riding boots for running over icy cobble stones, the Moscow caliber parka, the hat (probably made from the hide of a Czar’s pet bear) and the babushka-worthy scarf. I would wear this while I read ‘Anna Karenina,’ snuggled against the steamy windows in the Trans-Siberian’s dining car.

Because I’m sure that Russian women often dress in a manner that approximates those delicious little nesting dolls, right? Okay, no. But! This outfit would be perfect for running through fields of poppies during the first days of spring. I suspect it would also be good for making piroshki with my Mommachka or wearing to a party where I would drink too much vodka and do that impressive kicking dance.

And this little ensemble? Well, this is obviously for those nights when my bearded, Mafia boss lover takes me to see Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in Leningrad. We smoke too much, nibble on bliny and loll in the huge velvet seats of our theater box. I am thoroughly exhausted by the other molls, but make pleasant chit chat in an attempt to be friendly.

What country’s couture do you covet?

 

“I Want To Quit My Job + Travel. Now What?”

How to quit your job and travel instead

Want to quit your job and travel? If you’ve been dreaming of quitting your job and traveling, last week I received this email from an awesome girl who’s struggling with a mean case of wanderlust you might identify with:

I’ve done a bit of traveling in my past years, but in August I decided I was going to go to SE Asia for 7 weeks … I had an incredible time, but am now itching to go back!! I’ve been looking into English teaching programs in Thailand even though I’m a bit hesitant…you know, I worry that I won’t be a good teacher, etc. I also just want to see more of Asia as I think the people, the land and the cultures are absolutely incredible. Many people here, including my family, don’t understand this or why I would ever want to go back there long term. They have many preconceived notions, which drives me crazy! I guess I just like the independence and dislike the way corporate America works and want to learn how others around the world live and work. Maybe I’m crazy? Maybe you’re crazy? What do you think? Any tips for English teaching? Any other suggestions?

Why Quitting Your Job to Travel is Okay

I think, if we are being honest with ourselves, that it is the rare person who truly thrives in corporate America. Two-week vacations, dress codes and cubicles are not the things are things our childhood selves dreamt of. Studies show that one in three American workers is chronically overworked and less than half of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. So it’s not too crazy to hate your job, find it unfulfilling or want to leave it.

But we all have the option to make the unusual choice to do something about it.

Leaving a comfortable, reliable paycheck for the unknown is always scary, especially in our current economic situation. But you know what’s more scary? Waking up on the eve of your 45th birthday and realizing that you have not lived the life you want and that you’d like a do-over, please.

How to Quit Your Job and Travel Instead

As someone who bailed on her fancy event-planning job for a life in Taiwan, teaching the alphabet to Chinese kindergartners, here’s what worked for me:

Get some teaching experience

If you don’t know much about ESL or you don’t have any teaching experience, it’s a good idea to some class time under your belt. Because it would suck to move to a foreign country and discover you hate your job, right? A great way to do this is by volunteering at an ESL school in your area. Many schools even provide training for their volunteers. A good place to start in Minnesota is at the Minnesota Literacy Council. That being said, don’t feel that you need to complete a CELTA or TEFL certificate to get a job teaching in SE Asia. Most schools just require a college degree and a good attitude. If you really enjoy your job and imagine that you’d like to work in ESL for years to come, you can always get one of these certificates later.

Do heaps of research on your country of choice (and be prepared to present all of this information to any and all nay-sayers)

Many Americans have no idea what day-to-day life in SE Asia looks like, I know I didn’t before I became interested in ESL. When I told people I was moving to Taiwan they asked me
a) if I planned on eating cats
b) if I would be living in Bangkok
c) If I would live in a pagoda

So it’s really important that you can correct these misconceptions and point out the similarities between life in your two countries. The importance of family, the emphasis placed on education and a great work ethic are all great parallels to start with. It’s also good to point out how developed and technologically advanced a lot of cities are … it’ll help allay those fears that you’ll be riding a water buffalo to work. Lots of people don’t know that SE Asia is one of the safest places to travel as a single woman or that the capitol cities of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong have great health care facilities. Taiwan has four Ikeas for Pete’s sake!

Line up a job ahead of time

Your family will feel a lot better if they know that someone is picking you up at the airport, helping you find housing and generally looking out for your best interest. It’s actually quite common to find a job before you go. I would recommend frequently the expat message boards for your country of choice and seeing what people have to say about the different employers. Pay, benefits and expectations vary greatly between employers so it’s important to find a school that’s right for you. It’s even a good idea to correspond with current employees at the schools your looking at. They won’t shy away from giving you the unvarnished truth.

Convince your family to chill out

Of course, your family is just concerned because they love you, they’ll miss you and they’re worried about you. All of this ground work and information should go a long way to calm your family’s worries. It might also help to involve them in the process – invite them into your ESL classroom, take them out for red curry at Tom Rum Thai, talk to them about the amazing things that happened to your during your last trip to Asia. Enthusiasm can be contagious!

Even with all this work, it’s possible that they’ll never cheer your decision with cymbals and streamers. But at the end of the day, it’s your life and you need to live it in a way that makes you proud and makes you happy. I have a good friend whose mother cried and cried when he told her he was moving abroad. However! This same mother regularly bragged to anyone who would listen about her brave, adventurous son and his globe-trotting life. I think there’s often a difference between what our parents want us to do for them and what they want us to do for ourselves.

Your family will surely miss you while you’re abroad, but I bet they will also be incredibly proud of you and your bravery. I know I am!

What other advice would you offer our globe-trotting lass who wants to quit her job and travel?

Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

photo (without added text) by Kai Zau for viewing here

Too close to home

Gasp! Choke! Chest-clutching! Quote … hitting … too close to home …!


Affluent college bound students
face the real prospect
of downward mobility
feelings of entitlement clash with
the awareness of imminent scarcity
there is a resentment at growing up
at the end of an era of plenty
coupled with reassessment of
conventional measures of success

Jenny Holzer

 

How to Travel on the Cheap: Part 2

cheap travel tips

Did you like part 1 of this super long post? What’s more awesome than traveling? Traveling for $2. Here are a few more ideas for cheapo travel…Travel during the ‘shoulder’ season

Sure, I’d like to be in St. Tropez for Valentine’s day … but so would every other girl and her sister. All those eager travelers equate to packed hotels and high prices. The shoulder season is the month before the ‘real’ tourist season kicks. You’ll still see good weather, but you’ll be privy to open beaches, short lines and even discounted rates on your lodging. Here’s an awesome list of shoulder-seasons for popular destinations the world over.

Sniff out the deals
There are travel deals to be had everywhere, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look. Kayak and Mobissimo both search heaps of travel sites for you so you don’t have to shuttle around from one site to the next. I’m also a huge fan of Travelocity’s ‘Last Minute Packages‘ tab. If you’ve got a three-day weekend coming up and your only requirement is ‘somewhere warm’ you can get amazing deals. Right now, I could get a round trip flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta, plus three nights in a hotel for $247!And don’t discount non-air travel. Though America isn’t known for it’s public transportation system, Megabus is making some pretty significant inroads. Routes are limited to the Midwest and east coasts of the US and Canada. But! You can get tickets for $1! $1! Of course, a lot of the tickets are a bit more, but they are always reasonable. I’m actually heading to Chicago next weekend for less than the cost of a new sweater.

Stay with friends or Couch-surf
I encountered some dumb luck while planning my world ticket and happened to have friends living in four amazing cities that I wanted to visit. If you have friends abroad at the moment, seize the moment and go sleep on their couch! You’ll get free lodging, your own tour guide and insight into the city. Just be sure to clean up after yourself, cook them dinner and send a thank-you gift … But you already knew that, right?But if you’re headed to someplace obscure or friend-free, give couch surfing a try. Here’s how it works: After you select a country you’re traveling to, you sift through profiles of various intrepid souls who have opened up their homes to travelers. You email hosts that interest you, introducing yourself and sharing the details of your trip. If both parties are keen, you stay with them on your way through their city, make a new friend and return the favor to other travelers when you get home. So lovely, right?

Rental relocations

Sweet Jesus, but these are awesome! Countries like New Zealand and Australia have huge tourist industries with heaps of tourists driving all over, very often in one direction. Many travelers land in Auckland, rent a car and then spend a few weeks driving down to Christchurch where they fly home. And lucky you – the car rental companies are happy to rent you that car for $1 if you drive it back up to Auckland for them! The Mister and I spent a three-week holiday on the southern island of New Zealand driving wherever the rental relocations were going . We even drove a $300-a-night camper van for a few days. This website will tell you everything you need to know about the rental relocation process.

Eat like a local
One of the best ways of experiencing a new culture is through the food, right? What would Bangkok be without mango sticky rice or Edinburgh without haggis? Lame, that’s what. But eating out all the time gets spendy! If you’re going to eat out, nosh during the lunch hour when prices are a lot more reasonable and take your leftovers back to the hostel for dinner. Or make a picnic out of nibblings from the grocery store or the fruit and veggie market. I’m also a huge fan of eating from street vendor carts. Authentic, adventurous eats for a pitance. But stay away from those grey cubes rolled in black sesame seeds. They’re not tofu. They’re congealed duck blood.

Haggle
I nearly turned inside out with embarrassment the first time I haggled a price down in South East Asia. “But it’s already cheap! And it’s so damn awkward!” It doesn’t have to be – just like most things, if you approach haggling with charm and confidence you’ll be fine. Often prices are not posted and the price you are quoted is a) intended as a starting point b) inflated because you’re a foreigner. So smile sweetly, reduce the price by a third and have a go!

photo by Giuseppe Milo // cc

 

How To Travel On The Cheap

Travel for cheap with these cheap travel tips

Here are some things that I know about:
How to eat epic amounts of cheese in one sitting
How to dress like Dolly Parton
How to travel the world on $2

Okay. Maybe not $2. Maybe $4. But that’s still traveling on a really small budget, for pete’s sake!

In 2010, I did a six-country, 10-month trip to the tune of $5,000. Quite a deal, right? I know better than most travelers how to travel cheaply and still travel well.

Want to travel on the cheap? Here are my secrets for affordable travel:

Travel to somewhere cheap

We all grow up fantasizing about seeing Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, but Western Europe’s expensive, yo! And there’s a lot more excitement to be found outside of the EU. There are heaps of lovely, amazing, culturally significant, safe countries just aching to be included in your itinerary. The Czech Republic, Mongolia, Tunisia all get high marks. You can find other suggestions here and here. Plan your trip to an affordable travel location and you’ll save big!

Stay in cheap travel destinations for awhile

The biggest expense of most trips is the transportation to and from your destination. So get the most out of that $1,600 ticket to Saigon and hang out for a bit! The key to traveling cheap is focusing on being in cheap places, rather than hopping from destination to destination on expensive tickets.

The feeling of really staying in a city, getting to know all its nooks and crannies, having that little cafe you always get coffee at … well, it’s a lot better than changing hostels every night and spending every day standing in lines for various Important Landmarks. You will have a much deeper relationship with your host country … and save a chunk o’ change as well!

Get cheap or free travel lodging by volunteering

Seriously, if you’re looking to travel for cheap is the way to go. Not only will it significantly cut the cost of your trip, you’ll meet heaps of people and contribute something to your host country. The trick here is to find a volunteer program that is free and will cover your housing.
Many volunteer programs require that you cover your own costs and, thus, are actually really expensive. But free volunteer programs do exist. I had an amazing time volunteering on a tiny island in Greece with The Aegean Wildlife Hospital. In exchange for two hours of water-bowl filling and corn scattering I got my own bedroom in a sweet little Greek farmhouse and the rest of the day was free for sunbathing, ouzo-drinking and cliff diving.
A sure bet for a volunteer/lodging exchange is WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFers volunteer on organic farms in exchange for room and board, often living as a member of their host’s family. There are WWOOF farms on every continent except Antarctica. You just choose a country and farm that you’re interested in, email them and go! Amazing, right? It’s my best secret for cheap travel!

travel-cheap-public-transport

Cheap travelers are best friends with public transportation

Traveling for cheap often means traveling like a local! Sure, taking the bus through downtown Bangkok can be pretty intimidating. So if you’re in a non-English speaking country and you’re only in cities for a few days at a time, I’ll give you a pass on this. But if you’re planning on kicking it in Berlin all summer, you have no excuse for avoiding that subway. Even in places where the taxis are cheap (compared to what you’re used to paying) all those rides add up.

The added bonuses of taking public transport are a) meeting locals b) seeing parts of the city you’d miss on that air-conditioned tour c) feeling quite chuffed that you’ve figured it out on your own! One of my favorite memories of our three weeks in Fiji are the 70-cent, open-air buses full of babies and families and clanking hip hop music.

Work while you travel to offset costs

If you have expensive travel destinations in your plans, making them cheaper by working while you’re there can really help to offset the costs. Most hostels/backpackers hire guests to clean the building in exchange for their board. If you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, fruit picking jobs are huge in New Zealand and Australia and hospitality jobs are usually easy to come by in most tourist ports. Proper employment calls for a working holiday visa, but it’s often easy to find cash-in-hand casual work, too.

If you’re a Virgo like me and have to plan everything out ahead of time, please allow me to sing the praises of Italy’s ACLE program. You teach English to Italian kiddos for six hours a day, for 250 Euros a week. And! You stay with an Italian family so you get all the gnocchi and gelato you could ever want without spending a cent. Nice, eh?

Get cheap travel during the ‘shoulder’ season

Traveling on the cheap means you’re going to plan trips during non-peak shoulder seasons. Sure, I’d like to be in St. Tropez for Valentine’s Day, but so would every other girl and her sister. All those eager travelers equate to packed hotels and high prices. Cheap travel during shoulder season has great benefits beyond affordable travel costs too!

‘Shoulder season’ is the month before the ‘real’ tourist season kicks. You’ll still see good weather, but you’ll be privy to open beaches, short lines and even discounted rates on your lodging. Here’s an awesome list of shoulder-seasons for popular destinations the world over.

travel-cheap-beach

Sniff out the travel deals

There are travel deals to be had everywhere, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look. Kayak and Mobissimo both search heaps of travel sites for you so you don’t have to shuttle around from one site to the next. I’m also a huge fan of Travelocity’s ‘Last Minute Packages‘ tab for cheap travel deals.

If you’ve got a three-day weekend coming up and your only requirement is ‘somewhere warm’ you can get amazing deals. Right now, I could get a round trip flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta, plus three nights in a hotel for $247!

And don’t discount non-air travel when looking for cheap travel destinations. Though America isn’t known for its public transportation system, Megabus is making some pretty significant inroads. Routes are limited to the Midwest and east coasts of the US and Canada. But! You can get tickets for $1! $1! Of course, a lot of the tickets are a bit more, but they are always reasonable.

Stay with friends or Couch-surf

I encountered some dumb luck while planning my world ticket and happened to have friends living in four amazing cities that I wanted to visit. If you have friends abroad at the moment, seize the moment and go sleep on their couch! You’ll get free lodging, your own tour guide, and insight into the city. Just be sure to clean up after yourself, cook them dinner and send a thank-you gift. But you already knew that, right?

If you’re headed to someplace obscure or friend-free, give couch surfing a try. Here’s how it works: After you select a country you’re traveling to, you sift through profiles of various intrepid souls who have opened up their homes to travelers. You email hosts that interest you, introducing yourself and sharing the details of your trip. If both parties are keen, you stay with them on your way through their city, make a new friend and return the favor to other travelers when you get home. So lovely, right?

Try rental relocations

These are so, so awesome. Countries like New Zealand and Australia have huge tourist industries with heaps of tourists driving all over, very often in one direction. Many travelers land in Auckland, rent a car and then spend a few weeks driving down to Christchurch where they fly home. And lucky you – the car rental companies are happy to rent you that car for $1 if you drive it back up to Auckland for them!

A friend and I spent a three-week vacation on the southern island of New Zealand driving wherever the rental relocations were going . We even drove a $300-a-night camper van for a few days. This website will tell you everything you need to know about the rental relocation process.

travel-cheap-street-food

Eat like a local and get cheap travel eats

One of the best ways of experiencing a new culture is through the food, right? What would Bangkok be without mango sticky rice or Edinburgh without haggis? Not nearly as awesome, that’s what. But eating out all the time gets spendy!

If you’re going to eat out, nosh during the lunch hour when prices are a lot more reasonable and take your leftovers back to the hostel for dinner. Or make a picnic out of nibblings from the grocery store or the fruit and veggie market.

I’m also a huge fan of eating from street vendor carts – authentic, adventurous eats for a pittance. But stay away from those grey cubes rolled in black sesame seeds. They’re not tofu. They’re congealed duck blood.

Haggle for cheaper prices

I nearly turned inside out with embarrassment the first time I haggled a price down in South East Asia. “But it’s already cheap! And it’s so damn awkward!” It doesn’t have to be – just like most things, if you approach haggling with charm and confidence you’ll be fine.

Often prices are not posted and the price you are quoted is a) intended as a starting point b) inflated because you’re a foreigner.

So smile sweetly, reduce the price by a third and have a go! Here’s a good how-to.

Are you an experienced budget traveler? Share your best tips in the comments!

7 ways to celebrate Day Lights Savings (in addition to sleeping in)

celebrate-daylight-savings

How often do we happen upon a pocket of un-scheduled, un-spoken-for free time?

How often do we stumble into an open hour that we can use as we please?

This happens to me, oh, about once a year and – shockingly – it seems to coincide with turning the clocks back. If I’m not careful, I’ll just absorb that hour into my day, squeezing in another load of laundry or another round of emails.

But what if we were intentional with that hour? What if we spent those sixty minutes doing something lovely and interesting and wonderfully unproductive?

Yes? Yes.

Some ideas for how to use that extra, delicious hour

  1. Write a proper letter to someone you love

    Yes, put actually pen to paper and tell someone what you’ve been up to. Inform your grandma of your latest shenanigans or ask your niece how soccer is going. Send Autumnal greetings to your far-flung friends or just write something like “Dear Meghan, remember when we ate lemon meringue pie at that fancy hotel in Kerala? And watched fireworks in our stained, sweaty salwar kameez sets? Miss you and love you!”

  2. Youtube a favorite childhood television show

    He-man and Scooby-doo are personal favorites of mine. Decide if they’ve withstood the test of time. Revel in the jokes you understand now that you’re an adult and be shocked that Shaggy’s pot smoking jokes made it on the air in the late 80s.

  3. Make a list of all the things you’ve accomplished this year

    As the year winds down and we’re encouraged to think about the changes we can make to be better! faster! thinner! richer! it’s important to remember and honor all the awesome things we’ve already done.

    Pull out your favorite notepad and really think about what you’ve done this year. It can be easy to forget the mundane-but-important things, things like “hired a financial planner” or “finally started drinking enough water every day” or “scheduled that really important doctor’s appointment after avoiding it for a year and a half.” You’ll remember more by looking through your calendar and Facebook page!

  4. Give yourself a good ol‘ fashioned at-home spa treatment

    Whipped avocado, honey, and olive oil hair mask! Coffee and sugar scrub! Yogurt and honey face mask! Or draw yourself a lavender milk bath and read your best, most frivolous book in it.

  5. Read the Wikipedia entry on any topic you’ve always wished you knew more about

    May I suggest Rasputin, the Rain Queen of South Africa, a list of all the guest stars on Sesame Street, or phantom time hypothesis. It’s also hard to go wrong watching episodes of Drunk History, MTV’s True Life or any VICE documentary.

    The world is full of amazing things! It is so fun to learn about them!

  6. Head to the top of the tallest building in your city with your camera

    Just google ‘tallest building [your city]’ and check to see if they have an observation deck or an inevitably overpriced coffee shop or bar up there. Put on something cute, make sure your camera/phone batteries are fully charged and head up there for some great views and lovely photos.

    If you live in Minneapolis, your best bet is the Foshay tower’s observation deck. It opens at 11 am on Sundays!

  7. Sleep the eff in

    But, like, with intention.

I’m planning on a little of number 4 and a little of number 7. What are your plans?