Notes from the Road: Haucachina, Peru

Friends, here are some things that I am not:
1. an extreme athlete
2. an eater of ham
3. a lover of tapirs

And yet, despite all of this, I am seriously considering taking a dune buggy to the top of these giant, giant sand dunes and sandboarding all the way down, back into the tiny oasis of Huacachina, Peru where we are currently drinking a lot of pisco sours and sleeping on hard, sandy beds.In answer to your question: No, I have never sandboarded in my life. Or really dabbled in boarding of any kind. But this is what holidays are for, yes? Doing ridiculous things slightly outside of your comfort zone, wearing the same clothes day after day and developing travel hair (the deeply sexy combination of sun screen, salt water and sand)Other adventures thus far have included: poking around the cliffs and beaches of Lima, eating at The Nicest Restaraunt Ever, built out over the ocean, to the tune of $15 each, tiny Peruvian girls singing Sesame Street songs to me in an attempt to prove their English capabilities, five hour bus rides featuring stewardesses and music videos from the 1980s, climbing the sand dunes and watching the sun set, navigating the city with a head lamp when the municipal generator dies, remembering to throw the toilet paper in the garbage and not in the toilet, remembering not to drink the water, and ordering a ´jam and cheese sandwhich´only to discover that ´jam´ is apparently ´ham.´

Post sandboarding, we board a bus for 11 hours and head to Arequipa. I have high hopes for more 1980s videos.

How To Thrift The Best Clothes Ever

Want to thrift the best clothes? Of course you do! Thrifting helps you save money and it's better for the environment. Click through for my best thrifting tips!

Thrifting is lovely, isn’t it? Finding all sorts of treasures for a pittance, stumbling onto a copy of your favorite book from Elementary school, imagining the former lives of all these things.

However, there’s a big difference between thrifting for fun and thrifting as your primary mode of shopping. Though it can be a bit trying, but I highly recommend it. My wardrobe contains the likes of BCBG, Banana Republic, and Anne Klein … and let me assure you, that has very little to do with my salary of $2.

8 ways to thrift the best clothes

Wear your best Thrifting Outfit

Some thrift stores don’t have fitting rooms. Some only have one fitting room for a jillion customers and if you’re shopping on a holiday or a discount day, you might have to wait 20 minutes to access a changing space.

Make it easier by dressing for thrifting. I like to wear knit leggings, slip on boots, and a camisole under a big, belted cardigan. That way I can take off my cardigan and try on clothes in some quiet corner of the store.

Know that size labels are a suggestion, not a rule

Learn to eyeball sizes and don’t get too hung up on what the tag says. I have second-hand pants sizes 4 – 13!

But I’d also add that – unless you’re an extremely experienced and productive tailor – you should stay away from cute things that don’t fit. Every thrifter I know has a pile of “this will be cute once I take it in”  and “this will be cute once I lose 10 pounds” clothes. You deserve to have a closet full of clothes that look and feel good today.

Learn how to spot stuff worth buying

Sure, you can buy a Target dress for $8 at Goodwill but it probably cost $25 new and someone else has already worn it. Fast fashion clothes pill, stretch, and wear out quickly. If you like them and they look good on you, by all means buy them! Give them a new lease on life and keep them out of the landfill! (Here’s how to make cheap clothes look fancier and nicer.)

It’s a personal preference, but I prefer to thrift items that will last forever.

Here’s what I’m always on the look out for
* Wool and cashmere anything
* Real leather anything
* Furniture made before 1965 (so much sturdier and longer lasting!)
* Almost anything that’s lined. It’s warmer and more flattering!

Keep an on-going list of things you are looking for

It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of cheap clothes and buy a bunch of stuff you already have or don’t need. I find that shopping at thrift stores can actually be easier than shopping in normal stores because they are often organized by color and type of clothing (sweaters, and then divided by color) so you can pretty quickly see if they have the pink, long sleeved button-up that you’re coveting.

Keep a list in your phone of what you’re looking for and in which size. This will also prevent you from buying yet another cute thing that doesn’t really fit or go with anything in your closet.

Know what you can change/alter/repair

Can you hem things? Do you know how to dye things with RIT? And – more importantly – are you really interested in doing those things?

These days, the only ‘alteration’ I’m willing to make is removing pills from an otherwise PHENOMENAL item. I literally shave off the pills with a disposable razor!

Shop in the fancy neighborhoods

Or shop in the very non-rich neighborhoods. Stay away from the hip neighborhoods! I do almost all of my thrifting in the neighborhood where I work – a neighborhood which is almost patently un-hip.

But! This means that all the cute vintage dresses, 1960 purses, and vegetarian cookbooks are still there, because it’s not overrun with hipsters. Rich neighborhoods are good for fancy ‘work clothes’ and nice furniture.

Don’t limit yourself to the women’s section

The men’s section is full of cutely over-sized sweaters and the kid’s section has large boys’ blazers that will fit a petite woman. I’ve also found tons of amazing things in the Halloween section. One woman’s Halloween costume is another woman’s Date Night outfit.

Think about how you can re-purpose things

Love the print on that tiny skirt? Make it into a throw pillow. Mismatched cups become vases or votives, vintage records or books can go on your wall, an old children’s school desk can be your new end table, and that pretty patterned sheet could be your new curtains … or pillow cases … or dish towels!

Bonus tip! Before you look at the price tag, consider how much you’d be willing to pay

When something’s cheap it’s very, very easy to convince ourselves we need it. It’s very easy to consider something a bargain when it costs less than $15. But if you never use it, it’s a waste of $15! There are many times when I’ve thought “$7” and turned over a price tag that read “$35.”  But occasionally you’ll find things you’d pay hundreds of dollars for that only cost twenty bucks!

If you’re an experienced thrifter, pleeeeease leave your best tips in the comments so we can benefit from your knowledge!

P.S. How to make cheap clothes look fancy + How to wear any style (even if you’re broke, intimidated, or work in an office) 

P.P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!

photos by crew // cc

Notes from the Road: NYC

One would think that if we left for Lima, Peru on Saturday at 8 a.m. we would be there by now. I should be on my third cup of coca tea by now and surrounded by my own herd of tiny llamas.

But I am not tucked in among loving alpacas. I am tucked amongst investment bankers and trophy wives at a swanky, swishy hotel in New Jersey. We landed in New Jersey after the first leg of our trip from Minneapolis, only to find our flight overbooked by six people. Which seeeeeems like it would be awful, but when you’ve got three months of wandering ahead of you, what’s one less day? Especially, when they give you each a $500 voucher for future airfare, a first class upgrade for our flight tomorrow, a room at a fancy place and heaps of food vouchers so I can indulge my cheese addiction in a new state? YES PLEASE!

After retiring to our giant room to inspect the complimentary toiletries and jump on the bed, we headed into Manhattan for an impromptu meet up with my favorite New Yorker and college roomie. We drove through Times Square, ate some yummo Mexican food, drank a bit too much bubbly red wine (who knew such a thing existed?) and cuddled Lulu the French Bulldog. We caught the train back to New Joisey at 1 am and have now slept in and lolled in bed watching cable on the giant TV.

Soon we’ll head back to the airport in the same clothes we wore yesterday. And we’ll be those people who get to load first when they say “We are now boarding all rich and fancy people.”

And it will be a lot of rich and fancy people and then us. The Mister in his zip-off hiking pants and me wearing skinny jeans and Eu du Bulldog.

Okay, see you in Peru! This time for real!

How To Have A (Nearly) Stress-free Trip

Sooo many good tips to help make travel less stressful! Particularly useful if you're traveling international or in developing countries

Something that a lot of people don’t talk about is the fact that travel can be stressful.
Wicked stressful. Navigating an unknown city, often in a different language and culture, while carrying a 25 pound bag on your back? And all while trying to have The Best Time Possible? Because this is what you’ve been planning and saving for over the past six months and you are going to have a great time if it kills you.
Annnnd cue the meltdown in line to the Louvre.
Because most of us have a very limited number of vacation days, we put pressure on ourselves to squeeze joy out of every minute that we’re in another country.
When I did my six month trip, I remember being haunted by the feeling that I ‘wasn’t doing it right’ because I was having an awesome time, yes, but I also got lost a lot, got hit by a scooter, overslept on the train and missed my stop, and got a rash from the overnight bus in Vietnam. Seriously.
So please allow me to share some of the tricks I’ve learned to help one chill the eff out and enjoy the ride. Reducing travel stress is more of an art more of a science and it requires you to change your perspective a bit.

How to Make Travel Stress-Free*

Realize that everything is going to take longer and cost more than you thought

One of the biggest stresses when traveling is money. When reading about the prices of food and lodging in a country, it’s easy to add those two numbers together and assume that’s how much money you’ll spend in a given day.
But then you get lost have to take a taxi back to your friend’s house. And you lose your return bus ticket. And the only restaurant that’s open has $17 entrees. It’s also possible (especially if you’re traveling outside of the western world) that your bus will break down, your captain will run on island time, or the roads have washed out now that it’s rainy season.
Of course these things are all hugely frustrating, but often unavoidable. You’ll be a lot happier and more relaxed during your travels if you leave some wiggle room in your schedule and budget.

Everything is just a matter of time and money

Oooh, that sounds rather ominous doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t everything in life just a matter of time and money? But especially when traveling, I think it’s worth remembering this.
Snags in your plan are not a matter of life and death, nor do they have to ruin your trip. Your flight is delayed and you’re going to get in to Edinburgh two hours late? Just message your friend, tell her you’ll get in at 11 pm, and take a taxi to her house.
Whenever I encountered these problems I would repeat this mantra in my head “Everything is just a matter or time and money. I have all the time in the world and a credit card with a high limit.”

That $3 means a lot more to them than it does to you

Bartering is par for the course in many cultures and it’s something that turns many of us westerners inside out with embarrassment. Negotiation + confrontation = nightmare scenario for most women I know, myself included. I have two settings: “Please, overcharge me! I implore you!” or “You want $99? How about $3? No? You are dead to me.”
Of course, as foreigners we are surely being offered extremely inflated prices and shouldn’t accept the first number offered. However, I have seen westerners joyfully embrace the bartering system and spend 20 minutes haggling over a difference of 20 American cents. It’s worth remembering that the four dollars that you’re saving means a lot more to these vendors than it does to you.
The average yearly income in Bolivia is nine hundred American dollars. Just sayin.

It's easier to make money than it is to make memories. Click To Tweet

For most people, money is a constant stressor while traveling. But remember the reasons why you’re traveling in the first place!
Now that you’re three weeks into your trip, funds might be getting a bit low. You find yourself eating a lot of bread and cheese and sleeping in the dorm room at the hostel instead of the double. When your friend suggests the $80 rappelling/black-water rafting/rock climbing trip you balk. That’s, like, four nights of hostel!
Dude, do it. Put that shit on your credit card. If you were at home, you would not think twice about buying a cute sweater from Target and then getting dinner with your friends – and that would probably run you the same amount.
If you’re getting too wound up about money while your traveling, just think about what this money would translate to in your life back at home. New pair of Frye boots or sky diving? Swim with dolphins or one new tire for your car? Not such a difficult choice.

When in doubt, cry

When things just get to be too much, sometimes you just need to let your emotions speak for you. Just as a smile is universal, so is crying. There are few people in the world who can look into the crumpled, messy face of a overwhelmed lady and not feel inclined to help. Or to let you off with a warning.
I really believe that everyone, the world over, is good at heart. You will be amazed at the things that people will do to help you when they can see that you need it.

Are you dead? Are you hurt? No? Then it’s not the end of the world

Travel stress can mount if you let it. It totally sucks to lose your passport or have your wallet stolen or for your luggage to get lost in transit. No arguments there. But all these things are temporary and repairable.
They will make for excellent stories later on in which you will be featured as The Intrepid Traveler Who Went Through So Much But Still Had a Good Time.
How do you stay zen when you’re traveling? Share your tips in the comments so we can learn from you!
* jk it’s 100% not possible to make any sort of trip completely stress-free
Photo by Ruben Gutierrez on Unsplash

How To Cure Homesickness

How to cure homesickness - tips about getting rid of homesickness when traveling abroad

Homesickness can be a serious downer in the face of all your globe-trotting and passport-stamping. There you are, eating gelato while looking at the Leaning Tower of Pisa and allofasudden you’re overwhelmed with a desire for some mall food and a matinee with your best friend.

There’s not one-size-fits-all, airtight cure for homesickness, but these tips have helped through five years of living abroad and 35 countries.

Ways to Cure Homesickness

Stay in touch with people from home.

No, I mean really stay in touch with them. Not just the ‘once a month’ update stay in touch, but the ‘several times a week, hey remember how I told you about that guy?’ stay in touch.
This will really help ease you into your new home, before you’ve made any new friends or really gotten accustomed to your surroundings. It is not an exaggeration to say that when I move to a new place, my best friend can expect daily emails, detailing the new food I’ve eaten, my most recent cultural faux pas and the caliber of fashion in my new home.
Good friends will probably be really excited/intrigued by your new adventure and email you back pretty quickly. You won’t feel so alone in this strange new place, knowing that someone knows exactly what you’re up to.

Think about what you’re really homesick for

Are you homesick for your friends? Your family? Food, language, weather, hobbies?

Of course, you probably miss all of these things in varying amounts, but it can be helpful to parcel them out and decide what you miss the most. If you really miss your friends and family, Facetime ’em.

Find an expat group, travel somewhere that has the snow/beaches/maple trees that you’ve been missing, find some restaurants that serve a reasonable facsimile of your homeland’s food.

Create a go-to homesickness ‘first-aid kit’

When you feel a bout of homesickness coming on (mine usually came around 2 pm on overcast Sundays) turn to your fail proof treatment. This might be a comfort food from home coupled with familiar TV shows or movies and a call home. Or it might be a visit to a mall or an ice skating rink or a national park.
When I was living in Taiwan, my triage plan was 1) go to the import store and buy refried beans and salsa a) eat burritos with Tamara while watching SATC c) go to the upscale bookstore and pay $7 for a copy of Glamour. This got me through the two typhoon seasons.

Try to push through it

I think it’s also important not to indulge your homesickness too much. Just as we often sugarcoat our time abroad, it’s easy to view home through rose colored glasses and lose sight of all the amazing things going on around you.
Get out an explore your new home, even if it’s just for a few hours at a time. Limit yourself to a few phone calls per week and one session of emailing per day. Try not to compare this new place to home. More likely than not, they’re apples and oranges.

Realize that homesickness is an unavoidable part of travel

Just like there will be days where you hate your job and nights when you question your decision to be with your partner, there will be times that you are fed up with being away from home.
You can’t read the signs, everyone stares at you and you can’t find clothes that fit to save your life. That being said, I know that one of the proudest days in my life was the day that I had to send in my passport to get more pages added.
You never hear people say “God, you know I really wish I hadn’t spent that summer volunteering in Greece.” Travel isn’t always easy, but if you realize that there will be tough days, you will be less likely to take them to heart.
And you can always, always go home.
What would you recommend, friends? How do you deal with homesickness?
Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

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

Can you really quit that job and travel the world? I did! Click through for tips on choosing a country, finding an ESL job, and calming your family down.

Want to quit your job and travel? If you’ve been dreaming of leaving your job and traveling the world, you might identify with the reader who sent me this email:

Dear Sarah,

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, not many of us truly thrive in corporate America. Two-week vacations, dress codes and cubicles are not the things are things our childhood selves dreamed of. Studies show that one in three American workers is chronically overworked and 85% of workers worldwide hate with their jobs.

It’s not too crazy to hate your job, find it unfulfilling or want to leave it.

Luckily, it sounds like you are in the position to do something about it.

Leaving a comfortable, reliable paycheck for the unknown is always scary, especially in our current economic and political 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 certainly 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?

P.S. 7 travel tools I will not shut up about + How to love your life if you hate your job

Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash