A list of lists

photo by jschumacher

You know what I love so hard? I mean, in addition to cheese and kittens and globe-trotting.

Lists. Oh friends, I love them. Not only those uber-productive, plan-making, world-domination-plotting lists, but lovely, hilarious, ridiculous ones. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Favorite songs from 1998
  • Top five animals
  • Best words ever
  • Fictional Characters that would be my best friends
  • Smells that I love
  • Scary things I don’t ever want to touch
  • Songs that can be categorized as “Sparkly”
  • Best songs for air kicks
  • Food to eat when I’m downtrodden
  • Movies that I have seen more than ten times
  • Names that I will never saddle my children with
  • Things about me that are awesome

What lists do you make?

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?”

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


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.

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