Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Initial shocks

I've experienced more culture shock here in Australia than expected.

Little bits of language surprise me constantly. Every shop you walk into give the same greeting: "howyagoin'?" with a smile. When putting together our Ikea shopping list, Nick laughed when I added 'clothespins'... here they are 'clothespegs'. More people have commented on my accent than I’ve ever experienced. It’s very weird feeling different, even in a country where you speak the language and don’t stand out visually.

I don't understand the subtleties--or perhaps the basics--of the Australian point of view. For instance, in a casual road trip conversation, I asked about Australian free speech. From a few sources now, I have heard that there are uncodified free speech liberties, but hateful/dangerous speech can be limited. When I asked where the line gets drawn, I get a fuzzy answer that "bad" speech may happen but common sense doesn't allow it to catch on so everything sorts out naturally. As an American, I find this baffling. How could it work? I am intrigued and need to learn more.

One of the most salient feelings I've had is sticker shock. Australia is expensive, particularly going out. Yes, food prices include tax and tip, but still, holy crap: $10+ for a pint of beer, $30+ for lunch? Yikes. Thank god the exchange rate has come down a bit in favor of the greenback… but even with that recent advantage, I feel cautious in what I can afford to do. A job will certainly help me feel more comfortable in this regard. To help, I eat mostly at home, taking advantage of cheap in-season strawberries and reasonably priced Australian meat and produce. 

Also plaguing me is homesickness. In the past, my time traveling has usually been at a natural pause in my life: moving or school break. I've always already said goodbye to a homebase for good or known everyone was to reconvene soon. Never have I spent a significant amount of time simply "away" from home. I know what my life would be like if I were still in Seattle, and I know it is going on there without me. I miss my family and friends. This all of course is natural, but still challenging. I am settling in and know it will get better, but there is a Seattle-sized hole in my heart currently...

Vintage Seattle flavor on the walls of a Freo pub, be still my heart! New vigor and strength indeed.

The benefit of blogging


It feels refreshing to write again! It is easy to lose track of all the new stuff I am processing, especially when surrounded by natives who find local culture the epitome of normal. Composing it all explicitly reminds me how much I am learning. Reiteration is an effective learning technique, but this also has the added benefit of connecting me more with friends back home. Thankful to have begun again.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Melbourne Cup: a day at the races

Springtime (that wacky southern hemisphere!) means outdoor sports season. I was invited by my new friend Nat to join her for a ladies day out to celebrate the Melbourne Cup, essentially Australia's Kentucky Derby. We attended at Ascot Racecourse in Perth to partake in local races and observe the broadcasted national spectacle.


But everyone knows the races are really just an excuse to get all dressed up and day drink in the sunshine. The men looked dapper in formal wear and the feminine summer styles were on show: delicate lace, floral patterns, and sweetheart bodices with deep V plunges. And of course, fascinators: fluttery feathery hair pieces! I was delighted when Nat loaned me one to wear for the occasion. :-)


All dolled up for a day at the races!

We arrived just in time for the Melbourne Cup race #7, the premier race of the day. With bated breath we bellied up to the rail and watched the race on the track bigscreen. There was a large sheltered area housing all the official and independent booking agents, each offering different odds. You pick your horses, then go shopping for a bookie to place your bet! I bet on the favorite and the hometown jockey going for a record. Nat and Mel placed last minute bets on horse number five, Protectionist, based on a random tip that a man in the train station shouted at us while we poured over the betting sheets in the newspaper. It turned out to be a winner!



Lucky ladies!
First round of drinks were on the winners. For a captive audience, drinks were reasonable: $25AUD per bottle of house SSB, Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. (Pro tip: pack a picnic to go with your wine.) We weren't the only ones drinking however. As the afternoon progressed, I saw an all-out fist fight break out one table away. When we took the crowded bus home at the end of the day, one man verbally reprimanded a second man for not giving up his seat to a woman. When man #2 continued to sit, man #1 smacked him in the face! I'm not used to arguments getting physical so quickly. My Australian lady friends rolled their eyes. Oh, the fighting, what an annoyance. A distasteful reality. To me, it was startlingly bizarre.

Overall, it was a lovely Tuesday in the sun with wonderful company, and an enjoyable cultural experience indeed!

On a somber note, there were some unfortunate fatalities: two horsed died. We found out the news after leaving. One--Admire Rakti--was the favorite in the main race but suffered heart failure immediately after. An uncommon, but not unheard of, accident. A second horse in another race got spooked by a flag-waving fan, shattered its leg, and was euthanized shortly thereafter. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Landing in Australia and moving to Freo

Finally, after nearly 24 hours in the air and two days in Singapore, I landed in Perth, Western Australia. Nick, one of my best travel buddies from Central America, warmly welcomed me at the airport. On the drive home, he told me--surprise--we're moving house tomorrow! Well, let's jump on in then. It had been a year since I last saw him, so we enjoyed a quiet night in catching up before the big day following.

I awoke early my first full day in Australia. I heard the sound of the birds outside and could not sleep from curiosity. Kookaburra say what? I am not usually a morning person, so when jet lag gives me the gift of being awake at unreasonable hours I take advantage: I watched the sunrise cast light on Perth CBD ("central business district") across the Swan River. After a quiet morning wifi-ing at a cafe--where I took my first step toward employment by applying for my Australian Tax File Number--we got to work and moved house from Victoria Park to the new digs in Fremantle. "Freo" is a seaside village, historically a port town and now a southern pleasant southern suburb of Perth known for easy going cafe culture. Some of the buildings display delicate and colorful wrought iron facades that remind me of New Orleans.

Fremantle town hall plaza, with free wifi!

Pretty buildings....

The town overlooks the Indian Ocean, with a few beaches I'm sure to frequent this summer. The strong ocean breeze, nicknamed the "Freo doctor", is a constant presence that howls past my house daily. Downtown's Cappuccino Strip is littered with pubs, cafes, and shops. Nightlife looks lively. I feel lucky to have landed here. Particularly in this household. I'm staying in my friend's beautiful townhouse that has a view and a healthy stream of houseguests. The new furniture has been built, we've developing house rhythms, and are preparing for Thanksgiving and a housewarming party. It holds promise to be a pleasing place to live.


Sunset from our new "Terrace del Sol", looking down to the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Singapore stopover

Me and the Merlion!



En route to Australia, I flew through four countries in 22 hours, landing in Singapore for a three-day stopover. I arrived just after midnight, took the convenient hotel shuttle from the airport (leaving the airport every 15 minutes, approx $7USD) to my hostel doorstep on the fringe of Little India. I crept into the female dorm in the dark, scaled up to my top bunk, and crashed.

The next day, I poked my head out to explore nearby Little India. There are many ethnic groups represented in Singapore, and many have enclaves in various neighborhoods. When I got hungry, I followed locals to the grungy but cheap and tasty Tekka Center food court and found myself a plate of veg curry for $3SGD.

One of the highlights of visiting S'pore was catching up with a old high school friend I hadn't seen since graduation. She and her husband have been living there for four years. She and I took a sunset walk along the water, chatting about ex-pat life, dipping into hotels when we needed a blast of AC, and introducing me to the iconic Singapore Merlion. I squealed when I saw it from afar! The skyscrapers and luxurious hotels and shops--the Louis Vuitton store along the water, sparkling in the sun--in the prime marina district were night and day from the gritty Little India neighborhood of my hostel.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, across from Merlion Park.

For dinner, she took me to her favourite hawker markets, Lau Pa Sat. Recently remodeled, it is one of many food stall markets that provide a way for street food to exist but be regulated. This corralled system appears to work, offering the benefits of cheap and tasty food with stronger supervision than can be achieved with chaotic independent street food. (But it does lose some of the personality...) We dined on a few local foods she said I must try: laksa (a curry noodle soup, like a spicier ramen) and fried white carrot cake (not actually carrot, instead it is turnip cake scrambled in with fried egg topped with onion and chili). Both were tasty, but more significant about the evening was enjoying my friend's company.

Fried white carrot cake and laksa dinner.

I zipped home on the seamless subway (loved it), hunkering down and sleeping at odd hours for the next day. I confess I didn't get to know Singapore as well as I should have. My general impressions were that it feels of but also not of SE Asia. Prices were on par with the US, contrary to other cheaper places in SE Asia I have traveled. I was surprised when walking around Little India and Kampong Glam (the Arab quarter, nearby) how quiet the streets were. Not nearly as much life out on the streets as Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia. It didn't feel as vibrant. Things were very orderly, almost sterile.

During my stay, I fell mostly victim to jet lag, travel adjustment, the easy-flowing AC in my hostel, and an early bout of homesickness. Also, a budding addiction to my new luxury item for this trip: a Kindle paperwhite! I am in love with it, and am so happy I finally took the plunge into e-books.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The one-way ticket butterflies: Australia here I come

It is time for my next adventure! One year ago, I returned from Central America, thrilled with traveling and hungry for more. So I secured a Working Holiday visa to travel and work in Australia for a year before I (a) turned 31 and ineligible, and (b) my traveling can-do spirit was tempered. It has been a ticking time bomb in my pocket ever since.

After a year in Seattle, I'm finally taking the plunge and bought a ticket to Perth, Western Australia. There's nothing like the nerves right before pushing the "purchase" button for an international flight. I learned from my past mistake: when going on adventures, never book round-trip. Anything can happen, don't overly plan if you don't have to.

I am nervous. I'm never consciously bitten off a trip this big. How long will I stay in Australia? What will it be like to work in a foreign country? I've gotten comfortable in Seattle; will I get homesick? Will I get into the Outback? Will I scald myself on a meat pie before developing proper technique? Who are my future friends that I don't know yet? How different *is* Australian culture and vernacular? What's out there for me to learn? Does my travel insurance cover drop bear attacks? If I have a terrible horrible no good very bad day, where do I run away to? (See image below... yuk yuk.)

So many questions, yet I take solace: seems like a sign that I'm moving from one WA (Washington State) to another (Western Australia) and upon my arrival one of my favorite people is taking me on as a houseguest to soften my landing. Plus, the weather report for Perth looks drop dead damn gorgeous. [Deep breath.] Here goes nothing!


Alexander from "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day".
Via Google images.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Onward: road tripping the American West

The car is packed and off we go, headed south to begin our August American west road trip. Can't wait to do some exploring in my own backyard, especially the red rock national parks that have been calling to me for years... Oregon, California, Nevada, and Utah here we come!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Welcome to everyone via CNN Money!

I'm so excited to share that a revised version of my "how to pay for longterm travel" article has been published on CNN Money. Welcome to anyone new who has found me through that article!

I started writing this blog in 2013 when I traveled to Central America for six months and have more travel forthcoming: I depart on an American west road trip in three days and am planning on heading to Australia for a year on a work and holiday visa in September. So check out my past writings and stay tuned for more adventures soon!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How I pay for longterm travel

The things I do for money... :-) Biking Billboards, at the Seattle Wedding Expo.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Tat.
Breaking away for longterm travel is more financially accessible than many people think. But people ask me "you traveled for so long, how do you pay for it?". If it's a priority, you can make it happen. There are lots of ways people do it, but here are a few of my tricks.

Save.
This is the obvious one: when I was working a steady job, I saved. Over three years, I lived below my means and put away over $20,000 with the intention of spending it on something big, either a trip or an apartment downpayment or a wedding (trip always being the heavy favorite! :-P). Since returning to my home town of Seattle in October 2013, I picked up some work and replenished my savings so now have the resources head off to somewhere new (Australia? Indonesia? Mexico?). I am conservative with my money (all credit cards paid off each month, no true debt), with a goal of leaving again to travel in mind.

Travel in cheap countries.
When I went abroad in February 2013, for six months I traveled in cheap countries (Central America) and kept my travel costs fairly low (I spent roughly $1,500 per month all-inclusive). I lived it up for a backpacker; I know I could bring those costs down if I tried harder.

Live cheaply when you aren't traveling.
In America, we live in a strongly consumer culture where it is normal to buy far more than you need or use. It feels natural, but is far from necessary. It's actually amazing how easy it is to not spend money! I used to save a decent amount (see point #1), but after returning to the US from Central America and realizing I wanted to devote more resources to travel I cut my monthly expenses by more than half. It took adjusting (I used to have Amazon packages delivered more days than not), but I rarely buy things anymore. For the most part, I live off what I already own.

The majority of my current costs are rent, food, alcohol, phone, and gasoline. For clothing, I thrift. For health care, I go to a free clinic. I go out, but usually at happy hour. For entertainment, I buy tickets sparingly, volunteer in exchange for tickets, or go to free events. I tend to spend time with people who act frugally too. I drink a lot more beer now, whereas two years ago my typical order was a $10+ cocktail or glass of wine. I eat eggs instead of meat. Not to say I don't splurge sometimes! ;-)

It won't substantially change your life to go without a few luxuries. The experience of travel will. So save your money, clip coupons, and be happy with what you have. Recognize what things you buy are unnecessary and quit buying them!

Be thankful for the generous support of others, and look forward to treating them back.
I am blessed with kind and generous family and friends. Since being back in the US, dear ones who know I'm on a shoe-string have fed and housed me for short and long periods of time for little or no rent. It's an incredible gift. I couldn't be more grateful, try to repay their kindness as best I can, and look forward to gifting I can do in the future.

Think broadly about potential work. Be flexible about your timeline. 
Friends and family are a great resource in job hunting. Let people know you're looking for work, attend events where you might make connections, and follow up on potential opportunities.

In December, I turned down two opportunities for three-month projects that paid around $10,000. I stupidly passed on both because I didn't think I'd be in Seattle that long (she says, eight months later), didn't want to do grunt work, and didn't realize how tricky it would be to make meaningful money without getting locked into a multi-year job. Now I regret it. If an opportunity for decent money comes your way, be willing to change your plans. That leads me to my next point...

When you can, make some money!
Picking up extra cash is tough when you're transient. Short-term work that pays well is scarce, yet committing to a long-term job is generally anti-travel (at least, the fun kind, typically). It's a dilemma. In my eight months in Seattle, I picked up a number of jobs to cobble together an income. I managed to not only live net-neutral but rebuild my savings. Here are my income streams, big and small, in order of earning potential:

Contract/seasonal work in your field of expertise:
From March to June 2014, I was fortunate to work as a contract fundraiser for a music festival, which is my professional background. The job was a set, seasonal time period and paid a reasonable wage full-time. This was by far the overall most lucrative and reliable income I received in the past year. Travelers afraid of commitment, short-term (3-12 months) or project-based work in your field is where it the best buck for your time is.

What are your unique marketable skills that have the highest income potential? What industries/companies/organization might pay for you to work remotely or short-term? What will help bolster your resume for when you decide to truly return to the workforce?

Festivals, while stressful, provide seasonal employment for the wanderers.
We're pretty much modern-day carnies.

A side note to wanderers out there: Many people on staff at the festival where I worked have regular 3ish-month gigs with festivals around the country and move along the circuit. It's hard work, but you can too! It's a small festival world, so once you get hooked in you can network for other festival gigs.

Part-time jobs:
Part-time or casual jobs tend to have lower hourly pay but are easier to get and leave. Good for those who are wary of committing to a job, but in my experience only pay enough cover cost of living, not generate savings. Get more than one; a few flexible part-time jobs put together like puzzle pieces make a more comprehensive schedule.

Job #1: I arrived in Seattle in late October so looked for work at local tourist attractions who might need extra help over the holidays. I got quickly hired by the Space Needle as an elevator operator team as part of their holiday relief staff. The the job was easy to secure, had no take-home stress, and I enjoyed being on-site at a landmark and sharing my Seattle joy with visitors. The downsides were low hourly pay and little control over my schedule.

Taking a break from operating the Space Needle elevators to get attacked by a giant salmon.
It doesn't get more Seattle-y than this...

Job #2: My sister works at Biking Billboards and hooked me in with a very flexible part-time gig, doing exactly what it sounds like: biking with a billboard and doing on-the-street marketing. I enjoy it, the pay is great for casual work, have complete control over your schedule, and it is a family company that treats its employees well. As you might imagine, there are more shifts available in the good-weather months as companies market outdoors at summer concerts, fairs, and other events. In the winter, I did 1-2 rides every 1-2 weeks. In the summer, I am doing 3-4 rides each week. Each ride takes about 4 hours so it's very part-time.

You meet the most interesting "people" handing out flyers on a street corner. Photo courtesy of @homerbassett.

Research studies:
This is one of my favorite ways of getting a little extra cash. Selling your body to science is the best! This is not a primary money-maker, but a great way to make pocket-money. Studies are random, somewhat entertaining, and pay well per hour. My primary source for local, legit studies is Craig's List etc jobs page, which I check daily as new studies pop up all the time. You quickly get a sense of which studies are most likely to call you back. Ignore big online survey companies like Murfite that promise small amounts of money or points; they aren't worth your time.

Studies generally come in two flavors:
  • User testing: Companies want feedback from normal people about their products. Apply for local in-person focus groups that pay cash or Amazon/Visa gift cards. Studies last 30 minutes to two hours, scheduled about a week in advance, and pay anywhere from $30-$120/hour. They're also usually interesting! I have play-tested a MMORPG video game, made left turns in a driving simulator, given my opinion on blogging and texting applications, and had my brain activity monitored as I watched videos.
  • Medical/Psychological: In Seattle, there are legit medical studies through the University of Washington, and sometimes Fred Hutch needs healthy subjects for cancer and HIV research. I like supporting medical research, as long as my health is NEVER impacted. I have done nothing I considered too invasive nor taken any medication. I have shared my drinking and dating habits (single ladies, check out Project FRESH through the UW pays up to $320), gotten medical exams I needed anyway (ladies again, check out the HOPE study through UW pays $200 for routine female exams), and given small tissue or blood samples for drug research ($30-50 each visit). I also learned about additional studies by asking clinicians and front desk staff about other studies I might qualify for. 

Selling possessions:

When living more simply, you discover you already own a lot of crap you don't need. I sold books and household items with resale value I could do without. My KitchenAid mixer now has a good home with a friend in California, making baked goodies I see pics of on Facebook often :-). This can be turned more into a business; I have friends who flip things they find at thrift stores and estate sales for a profit. If you have knowledge in a particular area, are able to fix things, or have an eye for spotting potential treasure, go for it!

Startups for odd-jobs:
Platforms for contracted labor have popped up everywhere in the past few years: TaskRabbit, Uber, Lyft, Postmates, just to name a few. I haven't found much success in this area due to basic logistical constraints: my car isn't new enough to be a chauffeur and my house is too far from population centers to be a bike deliverer. I tried TaskRabbit while visiting in San Francisco in January 2014. I found a quick-assign task at 11pm and made $35 in two hours the next morning making kid lunches. It felt ok, but inefficient and like slave-ish labor.

Writing:
I should probably try to monetize this blog more; it's an upcoming project for me. I added a PayPal donate button earlier in 2014 (see it up there all shiny and orange at the top right!) and have received a few gifts--thank you!!

Be aware of your money.
Once you have money, what can you use to spend and watch it responsibly? I've always had fun managing my money. International travel makes it a little more complex. I don't create hard budgets, but am aware of what I have and where I want to be. I use a few financial tools to help.

  • CREDIT CARDS: I use two no-annual fee credit cards with cash back.
    • Chase Freedom for 1% or 5% cash back.
    • Capital One for 1.5% cash back, no international fees, and lets you monitor your credit score--neat! 
    • I am conscious of which card is best for what circumstances and use them accordingly. In the US, I use Capital One for all purchases since it has a slightly higher cash back rate, unless my Chase card is running a special cash back deal (in April-June this year, they had 5% cash back for restaurants so I always used that card when I ate out). When traveling outside the US, I always use my Capital One card because it has zero foreign transaction fees.
  • BANK ACCOUNTS: I have two bank accounts, each serving different purposes. 
    • I have the bulk of my money in a Wells Fargo checking account, which serves as my primary domestic bank for deposits and paying bills. This account works well in the US, but has high $5 ATM withdrawal fees abroad. 
    • As an auxiliary online bank account primarily for travel, I have a Charles Schwab Investor High Yield Checking Account, linked to my Wells Fargo account so I can easily move money between the two. This account is blissfully simple: managed online, no annual fee, no account minimums, and is special because you can withdraw money from any ATM in the world for free. (Can you imagine? Not having to pay money to access your own money anywhere? A dream!) 
  • RETIREMENT: I have retirement accounts (a 503(b) with TIAA-CREF and Roth IRA with Vanguard) that I review often and rebalance a few times a year. This is where the bulk of my net worth is, so I don't neglect it. Also, it's good to note that a Roth IRA (though I don't intend to use it this way) can serve as an emergency fund; principle contributions can be withdrawn any time tax and penalty free. Set up a Roth IRA in addition to your 401(k), people!
  • KNOWLEDGE: I closely watch all of my accounts together using Mint.

In conclusion...
Live cheaply, make money when you can, be aware of your money, and save save save! Then enjoy the trip of a lifetime, over and over again. Best wishes to all your bank accounts and happy traveling.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The many ways to row a boat

The lake and our cabin's lower deck.
Ah, summertime. What better place to welcome the solstice than lakeside?

I joined my family up in the Cascades at our family cabin on Lake Cle Elum. It has been a special gathering place for my family for twenty years and is the perfect spot to reconnect. We definitely hit our quota of storytelling, bullshitting, and laughing! Something unusual about this gathering: we had a high concentration of new boyfriends in attendance. Three brave men jumped into the family fray, all made it through gracefully.

Before the weekend, I expressed to my plus one, Court, my desire to go out rowboating. He promptly promised to take me. We got our chance on our final morning at the cabin. Throughout the weekend, he had wanted to prepare, "Erin, where's the rowboat? Should we check it out?" Nah, I replied. It's downstairs outside, it'll be fine! Finally, the last morning, we inspected our equipment... Turns out, not only was the boat incredibly jenky, the longtime home of many insects and dustmites, and probably not watertight, but we were also missing oars. Drat.


Court, skeptical of our trusty chariot.

But how can you go wrong with a name like that?!


Discouraged, we went down to the water's edge anyway. I giggled in delight as I spotted a Yorkie aboard a kayak bow paddling by. "Ahoy!", we greeted from the shore. Our new friend (the man, not the dog) called back what a beautiful day it was out on the water, so I shared how much I wanted to be out too but woe is us having no paddles. He invited me over two doors down, where his family had some I could borrow. Woohoo! Crisis averted.


Our hero!

I collected the paddles--a two-bladed plastic kayak paddle, but better than nothing!--and the guys brought the boat down to shore. Court gave it an in-water look-over and deemed it ready, despite the fact we were already taking on water. I daintily and precariously stepped into the boat. Off we went.


The launch and inspection #2. Is that water dribbling in already?

Court, second-guessing agreeing to be my escort, not sure we're going to make it!

Bon voyage!

The first thing to figure out? How the hell to row a boat with those damn kayak oars. Court began in true kayak style, but the boat was just too wide. We quickly split the paddles and began booking it canoe-style, with me paddling backwards at the bow for essentially no reason. When we "rowed" by our neighbors who lent us the paddles, they laughed and supplied us with additional extenders. With that little extra length, we became a two-man crew. Stroke!


Paddling canoe-style, regular and reverse.

Happy summer! Celebrating with boat selfies... and Court laughing at me for taking too many pictures.

But my favorite way to row a rowboat? Kicking back and be spoiled by a gentleman who takes both paddles and does all the work! Court did a great job of good-humorly indulging me all morning. Including taking requests to lose his shirt. ;-) This boat ride just keeps getting better and better...


Happily spoiled.

After a taxing time out on the water, I was in much need of refreshment. Luckily, Dad is on a potato salad kick and bowls of it keep appearing in the fridge. We can't seem to eat it fast enough. But I was happy to try. Amusing end to a lovely weekend. I'm excited summer is here, and looking forward to many more lazy lake days in the coming months.


Lunch on the porch. Yum!