Tag: Thailand

How to explain gaps in your resume because of travel

I have over 15 versions of my resume on my hard-drive. Being on-the-go full-time for 4 years was an incredible experience, but I am not independently wealthy. I had to work along the way to finance my travels. Many of those jobs were in the hospitality industry which exist worldwide.

My experience is all over the map. Depending on the job I was looking to get, I usually had some explaining to do.

Here’s a version of my current resume:

Resume Jillian Blog

As you can see, my experience is literally all over the board. It starts in Illinois, takes me to Hawaii (two different islands, now living on a third), back to the mainland in California, to Colorado and Wyoming. This doesn’t even account for a year I spent on the east coast in Philadelphia or my gap year where I traveled to Australia and Thailand.

Typical reactions I’ve received:

1. Why all the moving?

2. Hawaii? Why would you ever leave there?

3. What’s in Wyoming?

4. Looks like you’ve had a lot of fun! (This one I like!)

5. If I hire you, you aren’t just going to up and move again are you?

In my years of trying to get jobs and interviewing with every personality type you can think of, I’ve devised a way to make my travels work to my advantage. I want my prospective employer to see my frequent moves as as positive, not a negative.

Just to let you know, more than half the time, there is a stigma in the professional world when it comes to frequent travel. Some employers might let on that they think it’s cool and they wish they could travel. Some more positive interviews I’ve been on, owners and interviewers actually recount their travels with a gleam in their eye: they “get it.” I’ve actually got my job in southern California by just walking in the restaurant and handing my resume to the owner. My travels and world experience impressed him so much, he wanted me on the team. He was a world traveler himself and knew firsthand how travel makes you a more well-rounded employee.

I loved my bosses at my job in Southern Cali. I was able to taste and help order wine, eat cheese and photograph for the local newspaper!
I loved my bosses at my job in Southern Cali. I was able to taste and help order wine, eat cheese and photograph for the local newspaper!

More often than not though, people in the “real-world” are usually in a bubble. They can’t understand why you would choose to live in a jungle in Hawaii or still can’t comprehend WHAT, exactly, Wyoming has to offer. It becomes a little exhausting explaining myself to people, but hey, I DO need a job after all!

Many of my jobs have been “seasonal.” Many people I talk to don’t even know that seasonal jobs on the mainland exist. A seasonal job is one that lasts for just that, the season.A great resource for seasonal jobs is Coolworks.com. You work a summer in Yellowstone National Park, then the job ends. Then you work a winter in the Colorado Rockies at one of the ski resorts, then come April, that job ends. It’s a great way to see beautiful places all over the country while making money. It requires frequent travel, interviewing and job hunting for your next gig.

Why WOULDN'T I take a job in Wyoming where I can explore Yellowstone National Park on my days off??
Why WOULDN’T I take a job in Wyoming where I can explore Yellowstone National Park on my days off??

Making the leap OUT of the seasonal world causes you to encounter employers who don’t understand the seasonal lifestyle and wonder why you’re a vegabond that can’t hold down a job. For those people, you have your work cut out for you.

Here are some tips to get you through an interview where you have to explain gaps in your resume because of travel:

1. Make travel seem essential: When someone starts the conversation, “Why all the moving?” that doesn’t exactly sound like the most welcoming invitation to hear about my galavanting. In fact, it sounds like a threat, like they’re standing arms crossed waiting to judge my response. I found that the most effective way to soften up my interviewer is to make the strong argument that travel was essentially required for my jobs.

My response: Because the hospitality industry is world-wide, opportunities, often better opportunities, are presented to hospitality professionals who are willing to relocate. I don’t have any children and find it easy to take promotions and new positions in new locations. Plus, I have a Journalism degree, so on the side I’m a travel writer. I’ve been published in The Huffington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and more. I wouldn’t be able to pursue my writing or advance my career if I didn’t take new jobs all over the country.

These publishing bragging rights didn't exactly come from sitting on my butt in my hometown
These publishing bragging rights didn’t exactly come from sitting on my butt in my hometown

2. Highlight the positives of travel and how it translates to “real world” experience: I always get the question in an interview along the lines of: “Tell me about a time where you couldn’t get along with or see eye to eye with a fellow employee. How did you handle the situation?” When you travel the country or the world, you’ve probably problem-solved your way out of some gnarly situations with all types of personalities. Use this to your advantage!

My response: (Start off with a specific anecdote). When you travel as much as I do, you are presented with unique problems in which you have to solve in order to survive. You meet a variety of different personalities from all over the world. I’ve become really good at reading people and getting along with others from all walks of life. Travel has opened my mind to different ways of living and respecting others’ opinions and ways of doing things. I believe my experience leads me to be an excellent team player with an open mind who is focused on nothing more than solving the task at hand quickly and efficiently.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences: It’s pretty obvious that you’ve traveled based on your resume. There’s no reason to hide behind a wall of shame. You should be proud that you’ve been able to organize a life where you’ve been able to achieve individual goals. Highlight that. All travelers, especially solo travelers, are self-starting individuals who are smart, savvy and usually great leaders.

During my tenure as a hospitality manager at a tropical agriculture farm. I managed bookings, reservations, managed volunteer work shifts and more!
During my tenure as a hospitality manager at a tropical agriculture farm, I managed bookings, reservations, lead volunteer work shifts and more!

4. When in doubt, turn the conversation around: If the specific job you’re looking at doesn’t involve travel one bit and the person interviewing you is looking at you practically dumb-founded, chances are this isn’t the right job for you anyway. In order not to thwart an opportunity, take the time to interview your interviewer. A lot of people fall in the trap of thinking an interview is all about drilling a candidate. Make sure you ask questions and interview the company. You need to know that this is the right fit for you, after all. Here are some sample questions I like to ask when it’s time to take the focus off myself:

a. What is your company culture like here?

b. What benefits do you offer your employees?

c. How does your company invest in the health and wellness of your employees?

d. What do you like about working here?

Letter d almost always puts the interviewer and I on a level playing field. I love asking that question! It usually catches my interviewer off-guard and makes them ponder, usually rather uncomfortably, what they like about working at said company. I get to sit back, smile, relax and learn about their experience and gauge whether or not this company is the right fit for me.

Overall, I’m not afraid to ask the hard questions during an interview. I’ve had so many jobs that I know what I’m looking for in a position. Travel has led me to experience many different work cultures, some excellent, some bad, and I’m able to read a company’s vibe pretty well during an interview.

The point is, don’t be scared to interview just because you have a non-traditional resume. Chances are the right person will come along and see your world experience as a huge asset. That is the person you want to be working for anyway: someone who recognizes your talents and values that you care about personal growth and experience.

Dispatches from Thailand…Vol. 2

Many of you may remember the entertaining and cumbersome first installment of my week-long journey through Thailand. If you haven’t read yet, catch up here. Like I mentioned before, sometimes brutal honesty makes you plenty of enemies, but that is a risk I’m willing to take.

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The next morning we were awoken to the sound of the phone ringing –  the concierge. Our tour bus had arrived. We were about to embark on a long, seemingly endless day of travel down south to Koh Samui, but had we known beforehand how long the midnight train was to Koh Samui via Surat Thani, we wouldn’t have signed up for a day-long bus tour of rural Thailand tourist sites.

The tour van pulled up to our hostel and Madeline, Jess and I were the last three people to pile in with our suitcases, backpacks and luggage. Our van was jam-packed with Westerners, luggage up to their throats, and none of us knew where we were going. Some poor newlywed couple sat next to a teetering pile of luggage which threatened to topple onto them and crush their noble dreams for a future together.

This pilgrimage, it was clear, was not meant for the capricious traveler, the independent type who lusted to blaze their own trail. All of us tour-goers were jammed like sardines in the bus and stuck for hours with no getting out while the maniacal driver curved out of Bangkok and into the rural abyss.

Jess and Madeline had struck up a conversation with a young American girl from California who just finished her tenure teaching English in South Korea. She was talking about her experiences and travelling around Asia. She admitted that South Korea wasn’t “as fun” as an experience as she thought it would be, but she did love Japan. It was obvious she didn’t much care for Thailand.

“This country is just one big tourist trap! Every where you go, someone’s just trying to sell you something,” she complained.

I was inclined to agree with her based on what I had seen and experienced thus far. I had flashbacks of our tuk-tuk scam runaround. I knew that the experiences we were having were partly our fault. This is what I got for trying to cram a trip to Thailand in a week. Anywhere you go for only a week you’re likely to suffer, either knowingly or unknowingly, falling victim to a stereotypical tourist trap.

Our van shook onward and I watched people pass us on motor bikes against the swampy rice field backdrop. I was haunted by the severity of the scenery – the rice fields a poignant, verdant green, the sky overcast and the air thick with exhaust.

We finally arrived at Amphawa Floating Market, a rich cultural experience, easily turned tourist trap if you spend your time shopping, not eating. You will see the same souvenir you will find anywhere in Bangkok, the vendors attempting to earn top dollar, peddling it for as much as they could get away with.

After I blacked out and bought a pair of knock-off Birkenstocks, I made my way to the reason for the season: the floating food stalls. As far as the eye can see, large floating boats served up scrumptious goodies to hungry patrons. An old woman in a boat on the canal caught my eye – her collection of greens and spices could light up the night.

I got closer to observe her technique. She used a basket, filled it with noodles, then dunked it int a boiling pot of water. She then effortlessly put together one of the best meals of my life by preparing a bowl of fixings for the noodles: bean sprouts, cilantro, radishes, chives, chiles. She took the noodles out of their bath, poured some broth in the bowl, handed me some chopsticks and I dug in. It was a fantastically spicy little lunch.I enjoyed the smell of fish oil and relished in the sweet burn of my noodle bowl as my legs dangled freely off the side of the canal wall. While my feet flirted with skimming the water where this old Thai woman has been selling noodles probably her entire life, I realized I had the best seat in the house.

Back to haggling prices with vendors. Before waiting for our river cruise, Madeline, Jess and I had a bit more time to kill. Once you get started with shopping, it truly is hard to stop. The Thais are really good at approaching you, as if it was pre-destined that you would spend a chunk of change at their particular stall. They always knew you were coming, that you would haggle down, that you’d always meet somewhere in the middle, and before you know it, you’ve trotted away with a piece of junk you didn’t even want without even knowing what just happened. It’s a fun little sport, really. When you ask the price of a particular souvenir, they use a calculator to communicate:

“How much is this bag?” I asked

The vendor typed “800” on the calculator and showed me.

“No way!” I responded.

I took the calculator and typde “200,” offering them my rebuttal.

Before long we settle on something in the middle. It’s like gambling, but you pretty much always lose.

I felt embarrassed about some of our interactions with locals because I felt like a tourist, not a traveler. I vowed, against all costs, to not fall for the typical touristy debauchery. I’d much rather spend a good amount of time in one place, say 6 weeks to 3 months, exploring the intricacies of an area and getting to know it as a local. Instead, I swooped in for a week, got a taste, spent a bunch of money like a stupid, fat tourist, then left. It happened to me. Surely somewhere as rich and vibrant as Thailand was worthy of more than a week-long romp session at the markets, but there I was buying into the fantasy, which became my reality.

Our boat is finally ready for take-off, a welcome relief from the hot weather. We started cruising down the river and enjoyed a scenic ride. It was eye-opening. We passed rows of palms, houses along the river, in the river, built on planks ABOVE the river . . . a Southeast Asian Venice, if you will. But there weren’t any gondola drivers, just steadfast Thais chain-smoking and not really giving a shit when a particular sharp turn rendered half his passengers soaked. We passed houses with people doing their dishes outside, right in the river, soaping, rinsing, repeating. Dogs meandered about looking hopeless, laundry air-dried in the wind. Some locals waved as we passed. Most just stared.

Once the ride ended, we were escorted to a pavilion for lunch. A great thing about Thai people is that they absolutely love to eat. Makeshift food stalls adorn pretty much any corner – in the city or country – and any occasion is a good one to pop a little something in your mouth. Our spread for lunch was impressive – stir fried vegetables, cashew chicken, red curry chicken, pad Thai, pineapple pork and sticky rice. It didn’t matter that I had slurped down a bowl of noodles just an hour before. I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.

Inevitability, after getting our fill of spicy foods, we had to make a stop at the bathrooms. This was my first encounter with a squat toilet- essentially a porcelain hole in the ground you have to squat over, undoubtedly getting shredded quads in the process, a bucket of water and ladle sitting next to it to aid flushing. The idea is to squat, do your business, then ladle the water in to flush. I was flushed. How on Earth was I supposed to stay suspended for a undetermined amount of time (I did have plenty of spicy food, mind you) over a hole in the ground without making a mess? I did yoga, but nothing could have mentally or psychically prepared me for this endeavor.

Luckily, the Thais installed some Western toilets for people like me who are too ill-equipped to adjust to a hole in the ground. My run-in with the squat toilets were not nearly, over though. We would meet again on the ferry to Koh Samui and I had no choice, bumbling over waves, sea water jetting out from the hole in the ship’s bottom, to somehow balance and aim.

After lunch, it was back onto the tour bus for our next excursion: The Bridge over River Kwai. Jetlag, our old friend was starting to get to us, and it was hard to appreciate the gruesome history . At the time, we didn’t learn much about the once Death Bridge, used to haul cargo to India, built by POW and Asian slave laborers, many of whom lost their lives because of dangerous work conditions. Since the eerie visit and revisiting my photos, I’ve been able to appreciate the cultural significance of the bridge, but at the moment of our psychical presence, my brain was still somewhere sleeping in the Western world.

The next 20 hours feels like misery upon misery as we are stretched thinner and thinner, cramming more and more excursions in, hoping to eventually make it to our final destination – Koh Samui. It’s a miracle we lived through the weird and wonderful experiences that came next without losing our minds to jet-lag and exhaustion.

After putzing around the Bridge, we felt defeated and wanted the day to end as quickly as it had begun, wanting desperately to just make it to our night train so that we might finally be able to relax.  No dice. Next up was a visit to the Tiger Sanctuary.

No visit to Thailand is complete without a visit to the Tiger Sanctuary. I wasn’t entirely keen on the idea of petting a drugged out 1,000 pound cat, but hey, we had to stick to the itinerary. The tigers are sedated just enough that tourists can take pictures with them. Lovely. Upon our arrival, we were corralled around and had to change clothes into neutral colors. I suppose my neon pink raincoat would inspire the cat to take a giant bite of me. I could see it now: “American tourist mauled to death at exotic feline sanctuary.” That would look good on my resume, right?

We were led into the tiger canyon, our feet muddy from the recent downpour and our spirits temporarily lifted from having a few run-ins with local animals, like a herd of boars. Jess got in line to take a picture with the tigers, nearly all of them lying there, unmoved, drugged. Their handlers poked and prodded the beautiful beasts, wrestling them a little, too. I envisioned worse-case-scenarios playing out in every direction I looked. Over 50  tigers among the half-brained tourists lined up for pictures and one stood out. This one was chained to the Earth, seemingly adverse the effects of drugs. He paced back and forth quickly, scoping out the scene. He knew who was in charge here, even if the stupid humans temporarily forgot their roles.

After Jess’ picture, we dragged our sorry asses away from the tiger spectacle and were headed on the next adventure: a completely packed, hot 2-hour shuttle bus drive to our night train that would somehow eventually deliver us to Koh Samui. As we rode through rural Thailand, I thought I was going to die. The combination of jet-lag, hot temperatures, close proximity to strangers and mind-bending experiences was enough to send me into a near panic state. I literally felt terrible. There was no down time on this trip.

We stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break an hour outside of our train stop. The rest of the crew would ride further on to Bangkok. I actually felt bad for them. Another hour on the bus and that would be the end for me. I’d either die of exhaustion or frustration, or simply become a cold-blooded killer, running through these foreign streets, wielding what? My backpack, blood-thirsty for revenge against anyone who dared put me in this situation, until of course, I happen upon a mirror and see my own sorry reflection staring back at me.

Finally we are dropped off at our train station, the three of us, our prospects looking grim. We’re starved, but still find the energy to haul our things over to the platform while Madeline inquires about our train’s departure time.

I find a bathroom and pay the troll 5 Baht to hopefully have a Western toilet to relieve myself. Could I be so lucky? YES! No toilet paper, but I have that covered with a little shimmy shake technique I picked up on the road, the little resourceful traveler that I am.

Unfortunately, our luck runs dry there.

“Our train doesn’t come for another 3 hours!,” Madeline reports.

We look around at our situation, where we’re forced to kill 3 hours before sweet, lovely salvation of sleep is reached: We are in the threshold of Hell…or at least some version of it. Trains pass by, choking us with black, hateful exhaust. *Side note: The pollution in Thailand is such a cause for concern that Jess continuously challenges the queen to take a ride around the country with her so that she can personally point out how, exactly, her people are living.*

We’re disgusted in many ways by this train station and can’t help but feel exhausted, miserable, and although we’re together (and the only Westerners in sight), our spirits have dropped to an all-time low. We feel alone.

Time crawls and we try scoping out this little town for food. We go in shifts, as someone has to watch all our belongings. Madeline agrees to sit with the bags and Jess and I venture off in search of sustenance.

It was dark as we walked down the street, a temple glistening in the distance. A nice sight to take in, but not helping our ravishing bellies. We step over a decrepit man sleeping literally in the street, not even on the sidewalk. I’m careful not to step on him, motorbikes whizzing past me, not paying attention and nearly running me over. I guess what people notice differs.

We walk up the block, make time to snap a few pictures of the temple, incredibly, given that we’re starving and crabby, on the brink of a psychotic episode. We scour the streets for a reputable place to buy something eat, giving up and resigning to our likely dinner of fish-flavored chips at 7-11 when we spot it: A food stand! With a line of locals! Score!

We have no idea what we’re ordering or where we are going to eat it, but by the looks of it, a bag of fried chicken pieces and a bowl of soup is the popular choice. When it’s my turn to order, I attempt to signal something that might resemble “1 Please!” Everyone in line turns around and stares at me. The woman/man taking order glares at me and literally has black eyes. His/her hair is spiky and reminds me of an unfriendly cat. Jess has similar “success” as she manages to order a bag of fried whatevers.

We sit and not long after, they deliver to us our treasure: DINNER, in a far-off land with no one around who knows our names or speaks our tongue. Jess and I conclude that her meal is pork rinds (who could really be sure, though) and my soup is a safe bet, but the meat is of rather mysterious origin.

Before traveling to Thailand, I studied up briefly and read a chef’s comment on Thailand’s street food: “Just bloody well eat it!” As I took the brave plunge again and again, the chef’s advice rang in my ears.

After getting our fill, we returned back to the train station, just in time to realize that our 2-hour wait-a-thon starts now.

 

 

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Dispatches from Thailand…Vol. 1

I’ve debated for the longer part of 2 years whether I wanted to publish this, either on my own blog or pitch it out. Out of fear of ashaming and outing a once good friend due to circumstances beyond my control, I believe the friendship is exhausted, unfortunately. There’s no reason to keep the following a secret. After all, all the best writers make plenty of enemies.

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I’d never go back for only a week. And that’s only the beginning.

The trip was Madeline’s idea: she’d backpacked through southeast Asia just after high school. She raved about the food, the culture, the amazing scenery. I was all in.

Here we were 23 hours from where started, somewhere on the other side of the world – a far cry from Chicago. Three girls on a half-brained scheme to tour Thailand in one week. The plan was simple: Meet up with Madeline and her flight attendant friend Jess, use their airline benefits (thank you flight attendants of the world!) to jet off to the other side of the world, practically for free, and take in the sights. Stupidly, I had agreed to let Madeline play tour guide, given she had been to Thailand before. There was no backup plan. It was all here and now.

We were hot sweaty and jetlagged at Bangkok’s airport. First order of business: money.

We elbowed our way through the crowds as best we could on the moving platform to the ATM. First rule of international travel? Let your banking institution know you’re going.

Jess and I successfully withdraw the equivalent of $100 US money to play around with. It comes in the form of Baht, the Thai currently. It’s enough for the cab fare to the hotel and a beer and a bite, at least.

It’s Madeline’s turn. Her card won’t spit out any Baht; it’s been placed on temporary lock. She didn’t tell the bank she’d be out of the county.

“It’s okay Madeline, we have you covered this time,” I offered.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me!,” Madeline lamented. “This trip just isn’t meant to be! I’m leaving on the next flight home!”

The luxury and curse of at-your-fingertip flight access is that you are afforded the opportunity to make rash decisions. If she really wanted to, in her frustrated, travel-wearied state, Madeline could have caught the next flight out to Narita, Japan and wait for the next plane back to Chicago. How anyone could manage that, mentally or emotionally, after flying so many miles is beyond me, but it was certainly possible.

I had never seen someone so angry over something so little. Surely neither I nor Jess would leave her at the airport empty-handed. We would spot her some cash until tomorrow.  In any case, Madeline stomped off, leaving Jess and I bewildered and abandoned in a foreign city I knew next to nothing about (*Note: always have a Plan B in case you tour guide loses it).

Jess and I spent the next hour trying desperately to find Madeline in the seemingly endless airport, which was somehow BUSTLING at 1 a.m. After traveling 7,000 miles in 23 hours and dragging around our luggage, we came across the “Lost and Found.” Miraculously, through a combination of broken English and sign language, we were able to croak out, “We lost our friend! She ran away. Can you page her?”

The search was futile. Resigning to the fact that Madeline was probably listening to the safety procedures and preparing for liftoff to go back home, we grabbed a cab from the tourist booth- another mistake that cost us 1000 Baht, about 600 more Baht than the standard fare.

It was hot and muggy, even at 1 a.m. I could tell we weren’t in the states anymore. Hello Bangkok!

We were driving on the left side of the road. Our cabbie didn’t speak a lick of English, nor did we speak a lick of Thai. He tried to find our hotel for the better part of an hour, circling around the immediate vicinity, but not quite able to pin point it. I can’t lie: I was scared. The cabbie drove, backed up, turned around, doing this ugly dance about 10 times, narrowly avoiding a family of five on a motorized bike zooming past us.

We saw the streets. In Bangkok, it’s all about the STREETS. The streets were alive. They breathed and omitted pollution. They sold sex and dinner for 30 baht and offered Thai massage, lottery tickets and turtles in a bag. Stray dogs were everywhere. And so were the lady boys.

Jess, rather naively, questioned: “Who are all these girls? And what are they doing out so late?”

Only the discerning eye could tell that these girls where actually lady boys, or transgender/cross dressing Thai men who make natural women look like dogs. They are every bit as beautiful as natural women, but their disgusting offerings cheapened them to the likes of a whore. Lady boys continuously primp themselves, hoping for a fare, some business. Like robots on a programmed schedule, they pull out their compact, cake on some more powder and touch up their lipstick. A lady boy’s vanity rivals any sane (or insane for that matter) woman’s.  When not putsing around in mile-high heels over open sewers and smoking cigarettes, they traipse over to 7/11 to buy Pepsi, not making eye contact with anyone, but hoping desperately to be seen, if not touched.

We finally make it to the hotel and start a frantic plea to the overnight concierge: “Our friend Madeline’s not feeling good. She went home–” we start, as the room was in her name, with her credit card.

“Madeline from Chicago? She’s already here and checked in,” the concierge offered.

A cruel joke.

We ride up to the fourth floor, our jaws agape in disbelief and anger. We’re speechless. We walk into our room, and there she is: completely showered, relaxed.

“What took you guys so long?” Madeline asks.

She’s been looking for us! What a laugh. We try to avoid an all-out war. My head is spinning with images of the Bangkok streets and in the battle of me versus jetlag, the latter is the promising victor. Madeline offers a lame apology and we all simultaneously collapse into bed.

No one sleeps. Like on the plane ride, I lay with my eyes closed for five hours and think “good enough” around 6 a.m. to head down to breakfast.

By 7 a.m. we’re down at the continental breakfast, happy to be alive, munching on home made Pad Thai, fruit, and fueling up on the best goddamn coffee I’ve ever had. Three cups later we make a loose plan of action.

Madeline suggests the tourist mecca known as Koh San Road to start, so we head in that direction.

Again on the streets. Every other corner is a rummage sale trying to peddal worthless and probably illegal goods. I contemplated buying one of many passports lining the sidewalk. Surely a cool, albeit illegal souvenir.

After a few blocks, a friendly Thai history teacher intercepts us.

“It’s your lucky day!” the teacher began. “Today is a holiday!”

Yes! There was some light at the end of the tunnel after a long and shitty travel day. Little did we know,  any scamming Thai local will lead you to believe it’s a holiday for 20 Baht!

According to our new tour guide, today was the one special day of the year that an extra special Thai temple was open to the public. He even summoned a “Government Official” tuk-tuk for our traveling needs. Our driver agreed to take us all around Bangkok for 15 Baht.

I felt so special. “How could I be so lucky?” I thought as we piled in for the ride of our life.

Tuk-tuks are more of a novelty turned headache. We crammed in, the 3 of us, and zoomed off into the streets of Bangkok, destination and destinies unknown. All we knew was that we were going to see some rare shit, and that was good enough. Who wouldn’t want to be us?

We weaved in and out of traffic, our driver beeping indiscriminately at anyone who dared cross his path or THOUGHT about crossing his path. In a pair of gray Converse, the peddle was to the metal as we whizzed up streets, over bridges and through neighborhoods. It didn’t matter that none of us knew where we were going, where we would end up. We were going somewhere, doing something, somewhere far off, exotic. How many people could say that?

We arrived at our first Buddhist temple. I didn’t quite know how to act. I’m sure this place was sacred, so I just acted cordial, on my best behavior. I heard Monks chanting in the distance.

“I’ll wait here,” our driver said beside his Government Official tuk-tuk.

We took pictures outside of the temple before removing our shoes and entering. There were a few people inside praying along with the monks who make a sea of orange with their cloaks. I stared in awe at the giant Buddha. It glistened in the hot Thai sun. A magnificent sight, surely, but a whirlwind nonetheless.

Back to the tuk-tuk driver. We zoomed through the streets again, choking on pollution, snapping selfies and making up for lost bonding time. We continued to visit random temples. They were all beautifully adorned with gold, statues, and outfitted with chanting monks. All of them were nice, but the trip was becoming repetitive. Jetlag was starting to settle in along with exhaustion.

Madeline piped up to the driver that we wanted to be dropped off at the water taxi so that we might cruise up the river to get to Chinatown.

“We have to get gas coupons first,” the driver said.

We arrived at a tailor shop. Upon walking in I saw expensive coats, jackets, furs, ties and other accessories. It was hot as hell outside, much too hot to think about buying a winter coat. I wasn’t  interested and neither were the girls.

It turns out we had been scammed. We were harassed to buy cashmere coats and silk ties for an exorbitant amount of money. No wonder our ride only cost 15 Baht. When we refused to pay or counter offer them, the shop owner called us stupid and chased us out of the store.

Jess talked to our driver and pleaded with him to drop us off at the river ferry.

“I want my day of pay!” the driver demanded.

He made off with $6 US, obliged to drop us off at the ferry.

We rode the ferry toward Chinatown. The river was pretty nasty. In fact, a lot of areas of Bangkok are pretty nasty. The streets are strewn with litter, people are sleeping in the streets, feral cats and dogs with open wounds and mangy hair are scrounging for food, komono dragons lurch out of city sewer pipes, I mean, you name it.

The river ferry is fun and no-nonsense. Every stop is a dock, and the ferry stops ALMOST long enough for everyone to get on, but hardly. The ferry driver routinely leaves behind around a dozen people who may or may not have had one foot on the boat already. The ferry zooms forth, and poor, unsuspecting suckers are left stranded, scratching their heads with no choice but to wait for the next maniacal captain.

We arrived to Chinatown and I was feeling bad, dizzy. I was tired, cranky and starving: I was hangry (*Note: Hungry + Angry = Hangry).

Asian food is good, probably one of my favorite cuisines.  I have my first of many street vendor meals in Thailand from a Pad Thai cart. Basically the rule of thumb for ordering food in Thailand is to just point to what everyone else is eating and say, “1 please!” Minutes later, steaming hot noodles with mystery meat, peanuts, cilantro and chili arrive. You have to top it off with chili flakes, fish sauce and peppers (all found on any respectable make-shift table in S.E. Asia) and you’re set for foodie bliss. Let the magical ingredient combination wash over you and save your tortured soul! Sweet misery!

I down my noodles and some water and feel better…if only for a moment. My travel companions turn out to be typical women: shoppers. I’m screwed.

We hit the markets of Bangkok’s Chinatown. If you really want to go a bender, go to Chinatown jetlagged. It’s crowded, and I mean arm-to-arm, can’t move, just-get-pushed-to-the-next-place-like-you’re-on-a-conveyor-belt crowded. A veritable labyrinth of stalls, women, junk selling for mere pennies in wholesale quantities. There are women in colorful burkas from the middle east buying purses in bulk, people snatching up umbrellas, fans, stickers, earrings, wallets, shirts, sunglasses, junk upon junk for as far as the eye can see.

In between what appears to be a never-ending alleyway of stores, going deeper and deeper into a dark abyss (sunlight is void the further you meander), turning you into a shopping zombie, the occasional motorbike nearly bowls you over and you come back to your senses and try some meat on a stick or freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.  I opted for a good old-fashioned Pepsi, which was served to me in a plastic bag with ice and a straw. Welcome to Asia: Land of waste and weird.

We escape Chinatown. Jess and Madeline make out with hello kitty stickers, 3 purses each and a menagerie of what I perceive to be worthless shit.  Next on the agenda is Koh San Road.

Bangkok streets never sleep. They’re fueled on haggled dollars, Chang beers, cheap smokes and doomed backpackers like ourselves and Koh San Road is no exception. It’s the stereotypical tourist trap, though I felt a lot of places I meandered to unsuspectingly turned out to be tourist traps, too.  For example, one lady trying to make a buck was wearing a court-jester hat and was draped in every gimmick you’d ever see for sale at a Fourth of July fireworks show in the States. She shoved a wooden frog in our face and wanted us to buy it. I guess those are the experiences you remember when you try to cram a tour of Thailand into one week.

Backpackers inhaled cheap beer and Pad Thai that had been sitting out for hours. Rhianna over the loud speakers reminded everyone that she fell in love in a hopeless place. This place really did feel hopeless in some ways. After getting our fill of cheap thrills, we stumbled home and crumble into bed at midnight, scarred for life, but exhilarated.

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*Names have been changed.

 

 

 

Overcoming the Four Letter Word

Nothing’s certain. Nothing’s perfect. The time is now.

So often before I took the leap of faith and starting traveling around the world solo, I wanted all the stars to align. In my mind, I fancied every aspect of my life lining up in perfect harmony so that it would make sense to quit whatever I was doing and travel. After all, I had what all college graduate Americans had: a decent job, an apartment and a modest budget to purchase the important things, like a night out at the bars to forget about the monotony I signed up for.

I was living in Philadelphia, working a restaurant job and daydreaming, as I cleaned tables, of faraway places, places I would surely never see, especially on a waitress’ salary. When dealing with a difficult customer, I’d imagine taking a zip line through the rainforest somewhere, maybe Costa Rica, or even Hawaii. Hell, I’d take a zip line in my own backyard if it meant a few moments of serenity.

This yearning inside of me was new and in my mind, fairly controversial. . I was afraid and that four-letter word, fear, held me back.  How, as a woman, could I travel the world extensively solo? I would probably get raped, or mugged, or worse, end up back at home, empty-handed, broke and unhappy. These are the scenarios your worst enemies plot out for you. Unfortunately sometimes your worst enemy is your own psyche.

I took to the internet and gained an immeasurable amount of confidence. I discovered Matador Network, a travel writing community and signed up for their courses. This way, I could not only put my journalism degree to use (finally!), but I could gain some valuable insight and resources into how to make a round the world trip possible.

Through my travels, I learned that the power of manifestation is the key driving force behind our life’s biggest ambitions. I yearned to travel. It hurt how bad I wanted it. I saved up and signed up for my first US Passport. I didn’t know where I was going or when, but I was going.

I then emailed a childhood friend who had been traveling alone around the world since high school. I scrolled enviously through her Costa Rica and Thailand pictures. I emailed her asking in my naiveté, “How did you do it? Do you have any advice?”

She told me, and I would subsequently tell people who emailed me asking the same thing after my travels, the only thing holding you back from traveling is you.

A lot of people have the misconception that to travel you have to be rich. This isn’t the case. With resourcefulness and a bit of savings and bravery, you too can make your dream of traveling a reality.

After mustering up confidence, I was ready. Where should I choose first? The world was an awfully big place. I had never traveled internationally besides Canada and Mexico. The scope seemed so large and I was woefully overwhelmed.

Then it dawned on me: I could go anywhere. I didn’t have anyone to tell me “no” except myself. That realization sparked the enormous boost of self-confidence I had needed. My adventurous spirit was alive and well. I no longer had to wait for all the stars to align, because perfect isn’t real.  I manifested the most perfect situation for me to take a leap of faith. I was brave. I was ready.

I decided on one of the farthest places from home I could think of: Australia.

I researched ways to save money while I traversed the land down under. I organized a few home stays and hostels. The rest I would figure out as I went along.

As I was sitting on the long flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and think that I was starting my journey of self-discovery while kicking fear’s ass.

Fear is the most debilitating emotion there is. It puts ideas in your head that you aren’t worthy, that you’re stuck where you are. Fear makes you believe you are less important, weak, scared and futile.

I decided to throw fear out the window and start doing my own thing. I was starting with Australia.

When I arrived on the other side of the world, by myself, backpack on, all I could think as I headed into the warm, February air was “I did it.”

I took a bus to King’s Cross and checked into my hostel. From there, I didn’t immediately fall asleep because I was so wired from the 18 hour plane ride. I took to the streets, camera in hand, and started to get a better idea of what Australia was all about.

A few hours later, I collapsed into bed. The next morning offered a pleasant surprise: befriending other travelers.  A girl from Belgium and I hit it off right away and decided on a day excursion to one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, Bondi Beach.  As we walked along the coast to Coogee Beach, stopping along the way for a dip or a taste of gelato, I was in awe at my “luck.” How did I end up here? I wondered.

A view from the Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach
A view from the Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach

In front of my eyes were such beautiful sites, so many amazing, kind people. Is THIS what I had been afraid of? Having an amazing time? Meeting people from halfway around the globe who share similar interests as me? It all seemed so silly now. It’s true that nature loves courage.

From Sydney I continued my travels north to Brisbane. I stayed with a lovely young couple, their daughter, and a French exchange couple. In the few weeks I stayed there, I learned about Australian gardening, canoed, went on a day trip to the Gold Coast to watch some of the world’s best surfers and saw the first of many kangaroos.

After my stint in Brisbane, I craved more. I took a flight up north to Cairns. I wanted to see and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I wanted to be the only person I knew personally to witness one of the Seven Wonders of the World. My thought was, “If not me, then who?”

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

I also wanted to take my bravery a step further and do something I saw people online in the travel writing circle seemed to do with ease: couchsurf.

I wrote a few couchsurfing requests from a hostel in Cairns and was accepted by Nevan, a 20-something world-traveler and aspiring skydiving instructor. He took me in for 10 days it was one of the safest, most sincere encounters of my life.

While staying with Nevan, we cooked, went to the beach and explored the rainforest village of Kuranda together. I had the freedom to come and go as I pleased and was during the time I was able to have one of the best days of my life snorkeling with sharks and various precious sea species in the Great Barrier Reef. 

Through couchsurfing with Nevan, I met Linnea, a fellow German traveler. She and I became quite close in the short time we had together and she even joined me on a rainforest tour in Cape Tribulation. The day ended in a giant rainstorm where we played in the rain and jumped in puddles. It was the quintessential carefree moment. I loved the way Linnea was always humbled and pleased by life’s “real” moments by exclaiming, “This is life!” or “This is really living!” It’s not every day you hear that.

Nevan, Linnea and I at Kuranda
Nevan, Linnea and I at Kuranda

When I finally left Australia a month later, I already felt like a seasoned traveler. Nevan told me to bring one thing back to America with me – a message to other fellow travelers. He told me to be an ambassador of international travel to my friends, family and anyone who will listen. He said:

“For so long, the world has been looking at America. Now it’s time for America to look at the world.”

The Gold Coast, Australia
The Gold Coast, Australia

Since my trip to Australia, my wanderlust became insatiable. I traveled all over the U.S., lived in Hawaii for a year and visited Thailand. By overcoming my fears, I discovered my life’s passion. Following your bliss and overcoming fear can produce some amazing memories and ah-ha moments. Fear is one four-letter word I won’t let hold me back. I’d only be restricting myself from the uncertainty and beauty this world has to offer.  And now, I know better.

Dispatches from Thailand – Bangkok and beyond in photos

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Staying fit on the road

It’s time to address an issue that has been on my mind my whole life, but most recently more so ever since hitting the road: staying in shape.

I’m a person who has been technically overweight my whole life. Part of this is because I truly love to eat. Something about food tastes so darn good. Flavors, textures, you name it…if it’s about food, I’m all about it.

Ain't no shame. Grinding on a hoagie in Maui
Ain’t no shame. Grinding on a hoagie in Maui

As I grew older and more self-conscious (and self-aware of my health), I realized that I, personally, needed to work out at least 3 times a week. Not only that, but I had to cut out many of the foods that I loved so much growing up: soda (pop as we in the Midwest call it), chips on a day-to-day basis, mayonnaise and chocolate among other delicacies.

The heaviest I ever grew was in college to 23o pounds. Freshman year was when I put on the most weight, drinking, partying, eating pizza and junk food into the wee hours of the morning, stuffing my face with dorm food, ordering takeout, you name it.

The heavier years...
The heavier years…

I visited the doctor for a routine check-up that he told me I had high blood pressure because I was overweight. That was the nail in the coffin for me. How could I have high blood pressure at age 19? I wasn’t a 65 year old man with high cholesterol. Worse, I was not educate when it came to eating healthy and staying fit.

That doctor’s office visit was the wake-up call for me to lose some weight and try to maintain a more conscious lifestyle.

Since then I’ve lost 35 pounds and managed to keep it off. I have fluctuated somewhere between 185-195 for the past 5 years. I can’t say it’s been all easy, nor have I been a saint.

These days I like to stay active outdoors
These days I like to stay active outdoors

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The ways in which I keep off weight to me are simple (most days):

If it makes you feel gross eating it, don’t.

If you can feel sugar in your teeth after you eat/drink something, stay away.

Water is your best friend.

Stick to granola, bananas, hummus, pretzels, apples, and other light, healthy snacks.

Don’t deny yourself some pleasures.

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Another key to staying fit is working out. I am a runner, albeit a rather slow one, but I do try to get out there at least twice a week and run a few miles. I practice yoga about 3 times a week, I lift weights and do pushups. I also love hiking, biking, climbing and swimming when the opportunity presents itself. My workout routine is moderate at best, some weeks ranking in at sluggish. Though I do sometimes feel guilty about this, I give myself one small allowance: I work on my feet as a waitress about 8 hours a day, clocking anywhere from 5 to 10 miles walked daily. Not to mention, I’m constantly, bending and lifting.

Hiking Green Sands in Hawaii
Hiking Green Sands in Hawaii

Routing is probably the best way to keep a healthy lifestyle, but with travel sometimes this becomes difficult.

When on a road trip, it’s almost impossible to pass up chicken fried steak in the south, the new-to-you IPA in the Rockies or huge T-Bone steaks on the grill in the country. This is life and it’s worth celebrating. Most often we celebrate with food and drink. It’s hard not to say “Screw it! I’m having a burger!”

It’s easy and fun to throw caution to the wind when it comes to eating and drinking. I find that the most exciting culinary experiences happen on the road. You get to try new flavors which initiate new sensations. Who couldn’t get behind that?

While all this is true, it’s also a recipe for disaster. I have been guilty of letting one small freebie turn into days, sometimes weeks on end of freebies. That’s when I get a little cushy, for lack of a better term.

Beer: one of my many vices
Beer: one of my many vices

Life most things in life, all things are good in moderation. While on the road, instead of indulging into my boyfriend’s bag of beef jerky, I’ll grab a granola bar and a yogurt. Let it be known, though, middle-American gas station selections rarely weigh on the side of healthy. I’m more often disgusted and would rather listen to my stomach rumble than eat taquitos and old, dry rotating hot dogs.

Another tried and true tip I use is if I’m full, I stop eating. This becomes increasingly difficult if I’m noshing on a plate of nigiri sushi, an amazing burger and beer combo or a huge, delicious steak. Other vices include kettle cooked potato chips and the occasional soda. What can I say? After all I’m American.

Soda in a bag in Thailand. What's up with that?
Soda in a bag in Thailand. What’s up with that?

Staying fit on the road isn’t always easy, especially with endless opportunity and deliciousness knocking on your door at every turn. But with a little conscious decision making, staying in good, healthy shape can make your adventures last a lifetime!

Common Thai scams and how to avoid them

Somehow I just lived through a whirlwind trip to Thailand in Southeast Asia for a week: yes a week. Between days-long flights, nasty airplane food and being dropped in another world, I was already ready to throw the towel in upon landing in Bangkok. I’ve seen Japan‘s airport. Yeah, I used the little fancy bidet and music maker on the toilet. I set foot in Bangkok. It was enough to say I did it and go home, right?

Flushing sound, sounds while…flushing

Not so. It was time to make the most of our week in Thailand, jetlagged or not.

After a not so restful night of sleep after traveling 23 hours, the girls and I sprang out of bed at 6 a.m. to hit the streets of Bangkok for some site-seeing. Our presence as Westerners must have been obvious…we walked for about 5 minutes before a man came up to us, offering us directions to some nearby MUST-SEE temples. He was even kind enough to hail a tuk-tuk for us.

Sly devils

1. Never believe that a tuk-tuk ride would cost you 15 Baht (75 cents, USD maybe?). A more decent fare (depending on where you’re going) is about 100 Baht. Our tuk-tuk driver took us on an escapade of Bangkok, taking us to various temples, waiting for us, giving us our own private tour around this new foreign city. Score, right? Wrong. Half the day later, he dropped us off at a tailor that wanted to sell us expensive cashmere coats and silk ties (neither of which we had any use for, by the way, it being 100 degrees and muggy outside). When we refused to buy anything, he insulted us and basically chased us out of the shop. The driver guilted us and said that if we bought something, he’d get gasoline coupons. We tried to appreciate his honesty (even if it was after the fact) and paid him normal fare instead being dragged around town to gem and tailor shops so that he could gain commission.

2. A taxi ride from the airport is not 1,000 Baht, contrary to jetlagged-melted-brain belief. A much fairer and common rate is 400 Baht. Always go to the taxi stand and have a taxi that is METERED take you on your journey. It’s so much cheaper. And it’s illegal in Thailand for taxi drivers to pick up fares without using a meter. A metered Thai taxi is your friend. Remember it.

Tuk-tuk, motorbike, taxi? There’s many ways to get around in Thailand

2. Haggle the shit out of your vendor for a better price. If it’s not low enough, walk away. I had a woman offer to sell me a deck of cards and dice for an outrageous 1600 Baht. That’s about $45 dollars! It’s clearly a joke and they expect you to haggle with them. The common rule of thumb is offer 1/3 of the asking price. If they deny it, start walking away. Then they usually ask, “How much you pay?” Now we’re talking.

Do it right? Mad loot.

3. Whatever you do, don’t book your side trips through the agency T.A.T. Luckily we booked through a different agency, but we we warned against the inherently evil and malicious T.A.T. “They’ll eat your firstborn!” they warned. “They want your blood!” our concierge bemoaned. Not really, but we were told some horror stories about people being charged upwards of 4 times the amount it really costs for train transport, tours and accommodations on islands like Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan. Best said: do your homework. Don’t listen to strangers off the street who want you to spend money. And be wise with your cash! No refunds!

All in all, these scams weren’t dangerous, just annoying. A small blip in an otherwise amazing trip!