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The Uneven Nature of Life: An Update

bourke nsw new south wales

Hello there blog reading people, I’ve been away for too long, although I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it as much as I have. Life has been coasting on uneven territory lately, so I wanted to write an update post. Here goes!

First off, I’ve been feeling down about this website since I haven’t made a solid focused effort to work on it for the past two months. Wow. Even writing that out hurts. The truth of the matter is that I’ve been on the move a lot. Going here, going there, and having to live out of a suitcase. Contrary to what some fancy travel blogger says, it isn’t fun to have to stuff everything into a backpack and duffel bag.

That is exactly what I’ve had to do. At the start of April, I went to Italy with my mom to visit one of her friends. I didn’t get to go to Rome or Venice or any of the main attractions. The week long trip consisted of staying inside my mom’s friends house in the small town of La Maddalena on a small island.

Being a small island, there wasn’t much to do. The trip consisted of sitting in a house all day for over a week. It was still good though. I got to have dinner with an Italian family and see a talent show.

After leaving Italy, I had returned to America for two days then boarded a plane to Australia. This.freaked.my.body.out. I had gone from America to Italy to Australia in a time span of two weeks and my body didn’t know when to sleep. It felt like I had some weird kind of extended jet lag. My first week in Australia consisted of falling asleep at random times, then feeling perpetually tired the rest of the time.

bourke nsw australia working holiday visa

I got Australia in mid-April. The past two months here have been interesting, to say the least. I came here like most working holiday backpackers do: no job and ready to hit the ground running. Not too long after I arrived, I started a work for accommodation job at the hostel I was staying at in Sydney.

Work for accommodation jobs are a popular thing backpackers do to save money on accommodation costs. The way they usually work is you do around 10-20 hours per week doing housekeeping, cleaning or light maintenance duties. The job I had involved doing housekeeping: making beds and cleaning rooms. You guys…I’m shocked at some of the stuff I see in rooms, haha.

I stayed at the hostel for seven weeks, doing the work for accommodation and job searching and working additional jobs. The job scene for backpackers here in Australia is strange. There are some odd hiring practices like requiring a photo on a resume for “identification purposes”.  I mean…what?!

A lot of the employers in hospitality/restaurant work seem to want a certain type of person for their waitstaff. I was talking with an Indian/Malaysian friend of mine. She talked about the difficulty she had finding a job in her industry and she has 8+ years of experience in the finance industry! It’s crazy and I plan on talking about it when I write up a guide on the Australian Work Holiday Visa.

australia working holiday visa guide

As of right now, I’m in a little town called Bourke, NSW. It’s dubbed the “gateway to the outback”. With a population of just 2,000 people, the town is very small. There is just a grocery store, a gas station on the edge of town, and a desolate town center half-filled with vacant buildings. The town entertainment is a bowling alley. There are a few mom and pop restaurants, no big franchise places.

It’s small and without a lot but I think I kind of like it. I started my job at a supermarket a few days ago. The guesthouse I live at is located just across the street. Since there are very little restaurant options to be tempted by, I think my cooking skills will improve!

A cool thing I like about Australia is their superannuation fund. A superannuation fund is similar to an American 401(k) or Canadian RRSP. Get this, lots of people get them! Office jobs, retail jobs, waitstaff jobs, admin jobs, and so on. Many employers in many industries offer to contribute to your superannuation (similar to an American employer 401(k) match). The typical amount an employer contributes is 9% of your pay.

It’s so crazy to me that even people like waiters and waitresses have access to an employer-matching retirement account! Wow.

So far, Australian life is going good. I plan to be here for four more months or so, give or take. Hopefully I can master an Australian accent while I’m here 🙂


What have you been up to? 

How To Pay Off Student Loans While Traveling

A lot of people wonder how to pay off student loans while traveling. They usually think it’s something that can’t be done without an inheritance or deferring on your loans. Not so! You can travel while paying off your student loans. Read on to learn how.

A lot of people wonder how to pay off student loans while traveling. They usually think it’s something that can’t be done without an inheritance or deferring on your loans. Not so! You can travel while paying off your student loans.

The way you can do it? Working abroad.

This isn’t the first thought that pops into most people’s heads. Whenever people think about travel, they usually picture sitting on a beach, drinking a cold one, and basking in the rays of the sun. In the distance sits a 4-star swanky hotel where there are a hundred different settings for the bath tub.

That’s more of a relaxed vacation. Travel can mean lots of things. Many people would describe it as being an experience of seeing new places and being immersed in new cultures. It’s not all about sitting on a beach all day long sipping a margarita.

A lot of twenty-somethings with student loans dream of being able to travel and see new places. But they think their student loans prevent them from doing so. They look at travel as something expensive and not possible while paying off student loans.

That’s what I used to think. Before I moved abroad, the idea of traveling and visiting several places never crossed my mind. I had graduated university with $21,000 in student loans and was intent on paying them off as fast as possible. Travel was something that would happen years down the line.

A swift leap of faith involved me moving abroad to Thailand to teach English. In the past year of being here, I’ve gotten to explore lots of Thailand and visit places like Myanmar and China. During this time, progress on my knocking student loans never even had to slow down. I’ve worked like mad for the past several months to make more money but I’ve also gotten to travel quite a bit.

It does take some patience and persistence to stay focused on paying them off your loans while traveling. When I was paying off my student loans, there were times when I wanted to use the extra money I had for a weekend getaway or to go off to another country like Vietnam or Cambodia, but through commitment and utilizing and allocating for fun money, everything worked out.

Here’s how to pay off student loans while traveling

Find a job teaching English abroad

Teaching English is one of the top ways people fund their travels and work abroad. It’s for good reason. Teaching English abroad allows you to really immerse yourself in another culture and see how day to day life is.

Teaching positions are typical 40-hour per week jobs where you spend 20-25 hours each week teaching. The rest of the time outside of teaching is either for lesson planning, making materials, or free time!

Googling “teaching English abroad” will yield thousands of results. The top places to teach English are China, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Taiwan. Asia is the most common place people go to teach English. There are English-teaching jobs all over the world but Asia is where the best-paying jobs are. When you’re focused on balancing student loan payments and traveling, having a good salary makes all the difference. The two best countries pay wise are China and South Korea.

South Korea is very popular because it’s a relatively easy place to transition into. Starting salaries for foreign English teachers range from 1.9-2.3 million won. Many jobs provide free housing, free school lunches, and reimbursed airfare cost for your travel to the country. South Korea positions have a lot of benefits!

A salary of 2.1 million won is around $1,850 USD. Many teachers are able to save around $700-1,000 per month. This can put toward extra student loan payments if you desire.

According to Forbes, the average class of 2016 student graduated with $37,172 in student loan debt. If you’re on the standard 10-year repayment plan, paying back loans with a 5.7% interest rate, your monthly payment would come out to $407. Saving $700-1,000 would allow you to pay extra towards your student loans every month.

The blog Great Big Scary World has tips and resources on teaching English in South Korea.

Private tutoring

In an effort to make more money for travel, many English teachers do private tutoring on the side of their full-time teaching job. They usually get private tutoring sessions through inquiries with parents or putting up fliers.

I taught several tutoring classes at a Thailand language center. It was fun and good way to make extra money.

Working Holiday Visa

Australia and New Zealand are two countries that offer one-year working holiday visas to people from several different countries. The visas allow you to work in the country for up to six months with one employer. 12 months in total.

From the countless articles I’ve read, the general gist is that Australia is the best for doing a working holiday. Australia and New Zealand have the same high cost of living, but backpacker/working holiday jobs are more plentiful and higher-paying in Australia.

Kate From The States saved 10,000 AUD in six months from her working holiday.


Now, when you’re wondering how to pay off student loans while traveling, the above options are good ways since they make you money. However saving money when you do travel is also important.

Below are some tips on cutting costs.



WWOOFing & Workaway

WWOOF stands for world wide opportunities on organic farms. Through the website, you can find volunteer positions where you get free room and board in exchange for work. Many long-term travelers do this. It’s a great way to reduce expenses while still being able to experience new things and places. You don’t even have to know anything about farming. Usually the jobs involve fruit picking, cleaning, and general landscape work.

Workaway is also another great option.

Couchsurfing

I used to think of couchsurfing as this weird thing to avoid…until I actually tried it. It’s great. I used it for the first time when I made a trip to San Diego for a conference. My host was fun to talk to and gave me great information on things to do in the city.

A few tips would be to make sure to go with someone who has lots of positive reviews and has a verified badge. Trust your gut. Always make sure you have the funds to book accommodation in case your host cancels or it doesn’t work out.


Basically, when you’re wanting to know how to pay off student loans while traveling, it comes down to working abroad and choosing budget-friendly options when you travel. Teaching English in good-earning places like China and South Korea where you are able to save up to $1,000 every month really helps.

Thailand (the place I’ve taught in) isn’t as great when it comes to making a good salary. However, I’ve made it work through getting a job at a school that offered higher pay and also doing tutoring sessions during the nights and weekends.

I paid off $21,000 in student loans in 18 months. 11 months of that was spent while abroad teaching English.

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How did you go about paying off your student loan debt? Do you like the idea of long term travel and working abroad? 

Malaysia Photo Journal

Malaysia often gets overlooked when it comes to Southeast Asia. Places like Bangkok, Bali, and Hanoi usually get most of the coverage. However, with visually stunning buildings like the Petronas Towers and the vibrant street art of Georgetown, Malaysia is a real gem.

I took a short holiday to Malaysia after finishing up teaching English in Thailand. It was a last minute decision and I didn’t plan as much as I should have but the trip still turned out great. Unlike many of its Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia doesn’t require a visa when entering, which makes the planning process a bit easier.

Since I only had 4.5 days in the country, I didn’t get to see all the sights. I stayed in Kuala Lumpur the whole time. So I didn’t get to see the cool street art of Georgetown, Penang, or visit the tea fields and forests of Cameron Highlands. If you’re planning a trip to Malaysia and have the time, definitely visit these places!


kuala lumpur tower

The Kuala Lumpur tower is such a sight to watch at night. It lights up at night and periodically does a light show throughout the night where it flashes a bunch of different colors. I found myself just standing on the street watching it for a good minute.

petrona towers kuala lumpur

The Petronas Towers are the famous skyscrapers that Kuala Lumpur is most known for. There are tickets you can buy to visit the sky bridge and observation deck but in my opinion, it’s best to be outside of the towers.

Seeing them at night is not to be missed. Through some interweb research, I was able to find the best place for a view of them: Traders Hotel, Sky bar, level 33. I sat in the bar for two hours sipping on my drink before it got dark enough for me to get this view.

Batu Caves

 

You see all those stairs? Yeah, it was as strenuous as you would expect. Luckily there were monkeys playing on the stairs along the way that I was able to stop and look at. I took the sky train to get to the Batu Caves. Getting into it was free.

batu caves monkey kuala lumpur

Tired monkey on the steps leading to the Batu Caves. Her baby monkeys were jumping around on the steps with her.

batu caves writing

Writing on the walls of the Batu Caves.

batu caves

Woman sitting outside the Batu Caves selling necklaces and stuff.

kuala lumpur travel

This is one of my favorite shots from Kuala Lumpur! I was walking from my hostel to the Perdana Botanical Gardens and along the way, I spotted this little walkway on the side of the road.

The photo looks like it’s in some lush park or something, but it was really on the side of a busy road. I always love finding unexpected things like this.

chinatown petaling street

Stuffed teddy bears in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

chinatown kuala lumpur

Family eating lunch in Chinatown.

Chinatown kuala lumpur

I was about to leave Chinatown when I spotted this family walking down the street. I had to get a picture of it.

flower shop in Chinatown

Flower shop in Chinatown.

putrajaya

I took the KLIA Transit to Putrajaya, which is the administrative capital of Malaysia. I got to see and walk inside the Putrajaya Mosque. The tour guides were friendly and talked to me more about it and Islam. It was free to get in and people got long red robes to put on to get inside the mosque.

putrajaya mosque

Inside the mosque.

Putrajaya mosque

Ladies outside the Putrajaya Mosque. They were gossiping about people, haha.


What has been your favorite place to visit? Have you ever wanted to visit Malaysia? 

Goodbye Thailand

This past Monday I closed the door to my little 350 sq ft Bangyai neighborhood apartment. With two bulging suitcases, I made my way to the airport and left Thailand.

On the plane ride, I kept flicking back through my passport, looking at the numerous visa, stamps, and notes pertaining to Thailand. My time in the country was…I’m not really sure how to describe it. If you looked at my Instagram, you would probably think it was non-stop fun and constant beautiful scenery. If you’ve read any of popular teaching English abroad blog posts, you would think it was this fun, carefree thing where I got to coast by and mysteriously travel all the time.

It wasn’t either of those things. To sum it up best, my time spent in Thailand was a beautiful mess. Kinda like “regular” life is back in the states, but different, ya know?

teaching english in Thailand

In early 2016, I quit a job I dreaded and finally had the opportunity to travel. This was a different kind of travel. I got to experience life in a different setting. Different societal ways were around me. Good stuff happened. Sucky stuff happened. And then it all came together and worked out to be a big learning experience for me.

I moved to Thailand on March 31, 2016, and left the country on March 20, 2017. So I spent about one year living in the country. When it comes to living in Thailand, there are two ways to go about it. Rural (usually northern Thailand) living or urban (usually Bangkok) living. I experienced the urban living, getting to live in a neighborhood about 15 minutes outside of Bangkok.

I loved getting to live in the Bangkok area. It’s a very interesting city. The place is chaotic, the air is thick and humid, and the city has a very fast paced and slow nature to it at the same time. Now I know it as more than just the city that was in the movie The Hangover 2! Haha.

In the typical Hollywood way, that movie wayyyy played up the craziness of Thailand. Alas, though, there is a seed of inspiration that comes from truth with the movie. Bangkok really was a crazy (in a good way) place.

As for my actual work, teaching English, it was an experience that surprisingly taught me the biggest lesson of professionalism: show up and care.

Working at the school, alongside over 30 other foreign teachers, I saw the not so good way people conduct themselves when it comes to a job. Like you might expect, a lot of people didn’t take the job super seriously, instead treating it as a placeholder thing used to fund their travels.

People would repeatedly be late to work because they overslept or had stayed up till 4am partying. Taking a “mental health” day off work to go to the mall or sit at home and watch movies was an acceptable thing. There would be foreign teachers who would go out to bars and drink on weeknights. They would slog into work, hungover, and proceed to teach for the day.

Everyone was shocked when the school announced they were cracking down on teacher attendance policies and introducing a new attendance policy for the semester. Basically, under the new rules, you were only allowed to take Tuesdays and Thursdays off. Taking off a Monday, Wednesday or Friday would almost certainly result in a pay deduction.

Seeing how other people viewed their job with such low commitment made me realize the importance of professionalism, no matter what the job.

teaching english in Thailand

As for the living aspect of Thailand, there are a lot of things I will miss. I will miss the one dollar smoothies I could get, the seven dollar messages I could get, and the most of all the 58 cent sliced fruit. I would get sliced fruit almost every day. There would be little street stalls I would go to where I could get pineapple, cantaloupe, guava, papaya, watermelon, or dragonfruit for only 20 baht! (0.58 cents USD).

I will remember the slow, relaxed vibe of Thailand. It was something that never fully grew on me but I did appreciate it in some ways. In Thailand, there is a less urgent attitude toward things. It will happen when it happens. Obviously, you soon realize how bad this can be. People would almost never be on time, immigration officials would take a slower pace when processing your work visa, and when things would break like a leaky A/C unit, it would take a while to get it fixed.

A slower pace is not so lovely when it comes to many things, but it does help you appreciate and learn more about a calmer, more peaceful approach to processing the day to day.

And the scenery! Ah, I’ll miss all of the beautiful beaches and all of the green I got to see while in Thailand. I haven’t been to a ton of beaches but Thailand’s southern island beaches have been the best I’ve been to so far.

All the places I’ve been to in Thailand will live on in the hundreds of photos I took while there. I still wonder why Thailand isn’t on more people’s vacation lists. The place really gives a full scope of things to do. Aside from the beaches, there is the fun loving hippyish town of Pai to the digital nomad haven of Chiang Mai. Thailand’s got it all.

Somewhere along the way, through my Thai travels and living, I got to teach and adore 305 little Thai children. Their brightness and enthusiasm has stayed with me.

teaching english in Thailand

It’s goodbye to Thailand for now. I did go to Malaysia for a short holiday following it and right now I’m back home in Texas. I’ll be sharing a Thailand and Malaysia photo journal post in the next week or so. In mid-April, I will leave to my next destination to start working. Can’t wait to share where!


Where is a place you remember fondly? Let me know in the comments!

How To Fly Spirit Airlines

Looking for a low-cost, budget-friendly way to fly? Spirit is the answer. I used them for a flight and spent around half of what it would have cost to go with a major airline. The bare bones flights are great, but you do have to watch out for hidden fees. Click through to find out more about flying with Spirit!

There are a bunch of ways to save money when flying: book on a certain day at a certain time, use reward points, pick a less popular time to fly, and so on. Another big way to save on airfare is to book with a low-cost budget airline.

Not too long ago, I started looking into flying with a low-cost airline. Let me tell you, it can be amazzzing (because of the whole saving $$ thing) or terrible due to…well, lots of things (bad customer service, non-existent leg room, etc).

Spirit is the most well-known budget airline in the U.S., for both good and bad. Spirit has had public relations chaos and dealt with a notable bout of hate from people who have flown on the airline. Never fear! There is a way to fly Spirit airlines and have it not suck (for the most part…).

Spirit has routes running all over America, the Caribbean, and Central America. When you first see their pricing, you’ll be blown away. The fares are very low when compared to other airlines. You’ll think you scored some massively awesome deal. You did! Sort of.

In an effort to provide the lowest of low airfare prices, Spirit cuts out everything you would normally expect when flying. The mission is simple: get you from point A to point B. If you want the traditional amenities you’ve been accustomed to when flying, you’ll have to pay up with additional fees. 

Peanuts? That costs extra. Picking your seats? Costs extra. Reclining your seats? Hahaha, nope.

When I flew with Spirit on a trip from San Diego to Houston, the base fare for the flight only cost $61. Adding in some fees, I ended up having to pay $113 total. Still a way better deal than the other airlines, and the experience of flying with them was mostly okay.

BAG CHARGES

Spirit charges additional fees on everything you can probably think of. It really is a bare bones flight. Be aware of how you will be flight (how many bags, how big, etc) when booking so you can add on anything extra at the time of booking rather than paying more for it later on.

There is no free carry-on. You are allowed one personal item per person. For my flight from San Diego to Houston, I paid an additional $35 to bring one carry-on bag with me on the flight. 

flying with spirit airlines
Only one personal item is allowed per person. A carry-on bag costs extra

BRING YOUR OWN SNACKS

Spirit doesn’t give out peanuts or even a small complimentary drink. For a person like me who orders ginger ale and sips it as I look out the window pretending to be in one of those cool alcohol commercials, it can be a bummer not to get anything.

Think ahead and bring some snacks and an empty water bottle with you to the airport. Fill up the water bottle after you get through security.

If you buy a snack and soda on the flight, it’s going to run you around $5-15. Although apparently Sprit’s on board alcoholic beverages are cheaper than other airlines. Maybe that’s something to be excited about? 🙂 (I wouldn’t know, not much of a drinker).

OTHER CHARGES

Seat selection. On default, Spirit will pick your seat for you. Not something that’s ideal if you’re flying with someone else or in a group and want to stay together.

Customer selected seats range from $1-50. The big front seats, which have more leg room and no middle seat, cost between $12-199.

On my flight from San Diego to Houston, I opted to let Spirit choose the seat for me. It would have cost $10 if I had wanted to pick a standard seat of my own and $50 if I had wanted one of the big front seats.

 

If you book over the phone or online (a.k.a. they way almost everyone books flights nowadays) you will be subject to a “passenger usage fee” which ranges from $8.99 to $17.99. I got charged $17.99. The fee is waived if you go directly to the airport and book at the clerk counter. So if you happen to live close to the airport, book there.

Getting your boarding pass from the clerk desk costs $10, so either print at home or at one of the airport kiosks (the kiosks are free!).


I remember another blogger mentioning how Spirit felt like a “greyhound bus in the air” because of how not great the flight was. Many people have mentioned how Spirit’s flights are frequently late on arrival.

My experience flying Spirit was positive and I didn’t have any problems. The seat was a little tight, given that I’m 6’2 and Spirit puts their seats closer together but it wasn’t too bad. I had snacks I brought on the flight and kept myself entertained with a book and my flight arrived on time.

Have you ever flown with Spirit or another low-cost budget airline? What has your experience been like? 

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