Holiday Gift Guide - The Best Gifts for the Travel Loving Ladies on Your List

Christmas may be over a month away… but, here in Sweden, Andrew and I have already been gifted our advent calendars (and are fighting the urge to begin opening them), we have set up our Christmas tree, and watched our first Christmas movie.

We even bought our first bottle of glögg, a mulled wine which, according to Swedishfood.com, is an essential part of the lead up to Christmas in Sweden… and I’m not one to argue.

…The one thing we haven’t started - Christmas shopping.

Maybe you’re against jumping from Halloween to Christmas. Maybe you think it’s too early for decorations or you’re just not feeling festive. I can’t say I can relate, however, I think we can all agree that it’s never a bad idea to get a head start on holiday shopping.

If you’re stuck for ideas and are wandering what to get the travel loving lady in your life this holiday season (other than plane tickets), look no further.

Being a travel (and christmas) loving lady myself, I’m kind of an expert on the subject, so I’ve compiled this list to help you out.

…it’s filled with things I have recently purchased, plan on purchasing, or hope Santa puts in my stocking. Tis the season for giving, so you’ll also find insider tips on upcoming holiday sales and discount codes!

 
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1. THE GIFT OF ORGANIZATION

…(or, in my case, slightly increased organization)

Every boss babe needs a planner, and with the new year right around the corner, most people will be needing a new one. You could gift an average planner, or you can go with one that is totally personalized.

When you give a gift card from Personal Planner, you allow the recipient to create a planner of their own. They can choose from one of Personal Planner’s designs or come up with something original. They can customize the layout of the pages, add personalized special dates, and even add inspirational messages.

I recently received mine (with stickers!) and absolutely love it! It’s so cool seeing an idea come to life, and I’m happy to finally have a planner to start mapping out 2019 adventures.

Personal planner also offers products like wall calendars, diaries, and notebooks.

For 15% off your Personal Planner order, use code HALLAROUND15. Valid until January 31, 2019.

To buy: personalplanner.com, $39

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2. THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL DRESS

Trying to pack for a trip can be a nightmare - especially when it’s a long-term adventure.

You want to pack practically, but you also want to have some cute options with you just in case. My packing problem has always been that many of these “cute options” either end up being too impractical, too wrinkley, or just totally ruined by the end of my trip.

Kosan created the Go Travel Dress to solve this problem… and it’s definitely at the top of my wish-list this year.

The creators of the Go Travel Dress couldn’t find the perfect travel dress… so they made it instead. They believe that, no matter where you are in the world, you deserve to look your best… without having to compromise on style, comfort or functionality.

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The Go Travel Dress, which is made of wrinkle resistant, anti odor (v important), performance fabric, has lots of other travel friendly features, too.

It has four pockets, two convertible skirt lengths, and currently comes in four different colors. The only downside to this dress is that it won’t be making it under any Christmas trees this year.

Kosan’s Go Travel Dress is still in the pre-order stages, but you can get 30% off the retail price by pledging on KickStarter now (and 20% after that)! By pledging now, you guarantee you’ll be one of the first to rock the Go Travel Dress when it ships next summer!

To buy: KickStarter.com, $85 - (Campaign ends Nov. 30).

3. WATCH + JEWELRY SET

Hey, Santa - I’m no expert… but I think this gift set from World Market would make a perfect stocking stuffer ;)

You can’t really go wrong with anything from World Market, in my opinion, but this in particular is the perfect little gift for the world travelling fashionista in your life.

It includes five dainty bracelets and a watch with a taupe faux leather band and a map on the face.

WorldMarket usually has BOGO deals on Black Friday, so be on the lookout for that.

To buy: WorldMarket.com, $29

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4. THE GIFT OF EXPERIENCES

I’m all for exploring cities on my own, but sometimes its nice to learn about a place from a local’s perspective. Though I have been on a few tours, they were never really my thing… that is, until I heard about Urban Adventures.

Urban Adventures is a global tour company offering locally led private and group tours in over 150 cities around the world. These tours are perfect for travellers wanting to escape the crowds, skip the big tourist attractions, and really connect with a city for a genuine, local experience.

I am a big fan of this company because they keep their tour groups small, employ local guides, and give back to the community. They also are big advocates of sustainability and responsible travel. According to Urban Adventures, “‘Responsible tourism’ isn’t just a marketing catch phrase or box we tick. It’s at the heart of everything we do, from how we design our tours, to who we employ, to where we grow our business.”

There’s a lot to be said about their mission and dedication to sustainability - I’d highly recommend heading here to read more about it.

Support a great company and give the traveller in your life the gift of a real life experience with an Urban Adventures gift certificate. Choose a dollar amount or a specific best day ever tour experience. Urban Adventures will email the gift certificate directly to your recipient!

To buy: UrbanAdventures.com, $10 minimum

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5. PIN-BOARD MAP

At the end of an adventure, we all eventually come home… and that’s where Conquest Maps comes in. With a Conquest Map, you can document all of your past, present, and future adventures.

This company offers several products the traveller in your life will love including pin-boards and poster maps of the world, the USA, and even individual states. Each map is crafted by hand and can even be personalized.

Conquest Maps make great gifts - but I don't blame you if you want to keep one for yourself! We ordered the modern slate pin-board map pictured below, and I cannot wait for it to arrive.

If you’re interested in ordering a Conquest Map for a loved one (or yourself) here’s the inside scoop on all of their upcoming holiday deals!

Shop their Fall Sale from November 22 to November 26 and save up to $100, or shop their Holiday Sale from November 27 to December 7 for BOGO 30% off on Pin-Board Maps or 10% off your entire order with code Holiday-10.

To buy: ConquestMaps.com, $99

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6. PACKING CUBES

I seriously underestimated the importance of packing cubes until they became absolutely essential for keeping my backpack organized.

When I was only going to be visiting a city for a few days, I’d keep different items and outfits in each of my packing cubes to avoid having to unpack my bag entirely.

I recommend purchasing a set with multiple sizes and colors to avoid getting them confused!

To buy: Amazon.com, $14.95

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7. PORTABLE POWER BANK

There are few things worse than a dead phone battery… especially when exploring a new city. I normally travel with multiple power bank so I can keep my phone charged for photo taking and navigating. The Anker PowerCore 10000 is an awesome long-lasting, and lightweight option. If you’re travelling with multiple friends (or multiple devices), consider the EasyAcc Portable Charger with 4 USB ports.

To Buy: (single port) Amazon.com, (multi-port) Amazon.com

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8. THE PERFECT TRAVEL CAMERA

When I started travelling a few years ago, I knew nothing about photography (still don’t), and was shooting all of my travel photos on my iPhone. If I wanted to be in a picture, I had to pull the awkward “ask a stranger and hope for the best” technique… and when none of those pictures ever turned out great, I kinda just stopped asking.

In my first year of travels, I can count on one hand the number of decent photos I had that I was actually in. I finally broke down and purchased an action camera (something I wish I had done a lot sooner).

My GoPro was a god send during my solo backpacking trip. I captured so many great photos (pictured below) by using its screen capture feature, and a ridiculous amount of video footage.

The best part… I never had to worry about breaking it.

Seriously ladies, if you plan on travelling and are trying to decide on a camera, I highly recommend gifting yourself a GoPro. It’s easy to pack, easy to use, and will capture all of your epic adventures (with you in the frame).

To buy: Amazon.com

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What’s on your holiday wish list this year? Let me know in the comments below!


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Life Update + 8 Things I Love About Living in Malmö, Sweden

As most of you may know, at the start of October, I moved to Sweden with my boyfriend Andrew. We tried the whole long distance thing a couple of times this summer, and let’s just say neither of us were a big fan.

The day after Rachel’s wedding, without much thought or preparation, I found myself on a one-way flight bound for Europe. Before long, we arrived in Malmö, a coastal university town in southern Sweden… conveniently located just a 30 minute train ride away from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Now, I know what this may look like… it probably looks a whole lot like me running around the world chasing the boy I love… and, yes, while that is part of it, there’s much more to the story.

When my initial residency application was denied (and put under what may potentially be a year long review process) we decided to say screw it and found an alternative… a very fortunate alternative - Getting my British passport.

 
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My mum is British, making me a British citizen by default, so the whole process of getting my passport was pretty straight forward. The most difficult part was making sure that all of the forms were filled out properly and the passport photos sized correctly, but after a stressful few days, it was submitted. A week later, my application had been received, processed, and I was sent my brand new, shiny, god send of a UK passport.

I say god send, because this passport is going to make things so much easier for me here in Sweden (until Brexit I guess… but that’s a problem for another day). I can travel freely between EU countries, I can legally work in Sweden, AND (here’s the best part) - I can go back to school for my masters - FOR FREE… (so you can bet money that I will be taking full advantage of that).

 
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All EU citizens can attend university in Sweden for free… and all Swedish citizens are actually given monthly stipends for attending school from the time they’re in high school.

Being from the states, this whole concept is completely foreign for me.

Most of my friends and I entered “the real world” with some serious college debt. We have been working since we could, and while this has given us lots of “experience” to put on our CV’s… (experience that doesn’t help much when it comes to landing a “real job” after graduating)… it also distracted us from the studies that should have had our full time and attention.

Sweden is getting the whole education thing VERY right. Once you’ve jumped through the governmental red tape, residents and citizens are actually offered a number of awesome benefits - universal health coverage, paid vacation, free Swedish classes, and maternity leave (maternal AND paternal).

…but those aren’t the only things they’re getting right here.

 
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I can’t speak much for the rest of Sweden, but, in no particular order, here are 8 of favorite things about living in Malmö after month one.


1. Fresh air

This is a biggie.

In Korea, the air quality in general is far from ideal, and it only got worse during yellow dust season. While living there, it seemed like I was constantly sick… due to the polluted air or perhaps my germ-infested classrooms.

It’s nice to go outdoors without feeling like I need to wear a mask… to take a deep breath of air that isn’t slowly killing me. A bit dramatic?? Maybe… but I cannot emphasize enough how great it is to live in an environment that doesn’t make me cough incessantly for weeks on end.

 
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2. Everyone speaks English

Well, maybe not everyone… but the vast majority. Though there is a bit of a language barrier, it’s nothing like what I experienced in Korea.

Not only does just about everyone here speak English… just about everyone I’ve met is bi or tri-lingual. I fully intend to do my best to get on their level.

Even though I could totally get by on English alone, I have been trying to learn how to speak Swedish… starting with the essentials - foods. Jag älskar mat - (translation: I love food).


3. Sunsets by the water

When I attended uni in the little coastal town of Wilmington, North Carolina, one of my favorite things to do for sunset was going for a run down to Wrightsville beach or alongside the Cape Fear River.

In Korea, I frequently enjoyed sunset runs and river beers by the Han.

I was happy to find that these were traditions I wouldn’t have to give up after moving to Sweden. From Västra Hamnen to Ribersborg, there are so many beautiful places to enjoy sundown by the water in Malmö.

 
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4. FIKA

Aaah, fika. A Swedish noun/verb with no direct English translation.

Basically, it means to have a coffee break… but fika is more about socializing than getting your caffeine fix.

Best paired with something sweet and good company, this daily break is a Swedish custom that I can definitely get behind… and thanks to fika, there is no shortage of cute cafes to choose from, (which I was happy to discover, since cafe hunting was one of my favorite weekend activities in Seoul).

With unlimited coffee (for about $3) and an attached plant shop, Atrium Kaffe Bar is definitely my favorite spot for fika so far.

 
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5. It’s easy to get around

In North Carolina, having a car is a necessity… but here in Malmö that’s not the case.

In it’s Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, the city says “Walking, cycling and public transport are the first choice for all who work, live or visit Malmö. These travel choices, together with efficient and environmentally friendly freight and car traffic, are the basis of the transport system in our dense and sustainable city - a transport system designed for the city, and for its people.”

While, yes, there are times when it would be nice to have a car… like when we bought our Christmas tree and then carried it all the way home… it definitely isn’t essential (making it one less expense residents need to worry about).

It’s affordable, easy, and safe to take advantage of the city’s public transportation and well kept bike paths. As a matter of fact, Malmö has been named one of the most bike friendly cities in the world. I guess I have all the cyclists to thank for the fresh air.

Pro tip: Look both ways before crossing the bike path.

 
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6. Diversity

Before moving here, Andrew told me that all of the girls in Sweden are tall, blonde, with huge boobs. Needless to say, I was happy to find this was not the case.

Though I have been in some areas where Andrew and I were the only two brown haired people there… this hasn’t been very frequent. It’s a nice change of pace… as, in Korea diversity was a bit… well… lacking.

A Diverse community means diverse foods.

…and you already know how much I love food.

People at home asked me, “What do Swedish people eat?” and other than meatballs, I honestly had no idea.

Turns out, Swedes have their own traditional foods and drinks like anyone else, but for the most part, I’ve found the food choices here to be really diverse.

Believe it or not, here in Malmö, I’ve found myself eating more falafel and kebabs than anything.


7. Being closer to family

…my family and Andrew’s family.

After years of being 7,000+ miles away, it’s nice to have people who treat me like a part of the family just a short train ride away. Family meals and gatherings are something you really miss after living on your own for awhile.

I’m also closer than I’ve ever been to my family in England and Ireland… a proximity which I plan to take full advantage of very soon.


8. International day-trips

Remember how I said Copenhagen was just a 30 minute train ride away? Well, this is something we’ve taken advantage on more than one occasion since I moved here.

From Malmö, it’s so simple to make a little day trip to Denmark… so simple, that this weekend, we even went over one evening just for a concert. It feels like a little vacation… but it actually takes less time to get there than it used to take for me to drive to work in the states.

 
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there’s a lot to love about living in Malmö.

So far, it’s been a bit of an adjustment process in a very unexpected place… (long-term, solo life in Asia will do that to you I guess) but in a positive way.

Though I hardly have life here all sorted out, I’m really enjoying this journey I’m on, and am loving that it brought me to Sweden.

Month two is shaping up to be a pretty exciting one… though a big chunk of it won’t even be spent in Sweden. I’m so excited for new opportunities and adventures, and to share them all with you as this chapter in my life unfolds.

What do you love about Malmö? Let me know in the comments below!


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The Most Hands-On Cooking Experience in Hoi An - Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

While visiting Hoi An, or Vietnam in general, it would be silly to miss out on taking a cooking class. With so many to choose from, you may be wondering where to begin.

During my first trip to Hoi An, I spent a day at Green Bamboo Cooking School. This time, I wanted to try something different, so Andrew and I decided to go to the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. It shared some similarities with Green Bamboo Cooking school, but overall I think it gives guests a more hands-on cooking experience.

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WHAT TO EXPECT

Visiting The Market

Like my previous cooking class experience, the Hoi An Eco Cooking class begins with a trip to the Central Market. Here you’ll see the colorful lively market where many locals buy and sell their produce and other goods. If you’re a first timer at the market, it’s nice to go with a guide who can teach you a bit about the market and products sold there.

(Tip: Once you’ve been given the inside scoop, be sure to head to the Central Market on your own, and do it early! - before the parade of tourists comes through. You’ll see what I mean).

Bamboo Boating

After visiting the market, we drove to the cooking school which was conveniently located right beside the water in Cam Thanh Coconut Village.

Before the cooking begins, you’ll take a ride in a traditional coracle, better known as a bamboo boat, through the beautiful water coconut palm forest.

The local fisherman guiding your boat will teach you how to catch fish and purple crabs. He also attempted, with no success, to teach me how to properly paddle the boat… let’s just say I’ve been skipping arm day at the gym for way too long.

Hands-on Cooking Experience

After exploring the channels, you’ll return to the cooking school for quick refreshments. Then you’ll get down to business. You’ll be given an apron, a number, a chef’s hat, and full responsibility for everything you cook from then on. Everything we were to eat we had to make totally on our own, so if your cooking sucks, your food will suck… the head instructor’s words… not mine. No pressure.

We learned how to make rice milk, which we then used to carefully make rice paper. The whole process was so delicate and precise. We used our rice paper to make fresh spring rolls, which we dipped in a delicious sweet and sour fish sauce.

We cooked some of Vietnam’s famous Pho Bo (beef noodles), Aubergine with soy sauce, and a delicious banana flower salad. Then things got hot as we played with fire to fry up some Banh Xeo (crispy pancakes).

As each dish was finished, we placed it on a tray with our number, and, once everything was complete, sat down to a delicious and rewarding feast.

To end the day, everyone watched an incredible food art demonstration! Sadly, I didn’t manage to turn tomatoes into roses and carrots into flowers on my own. We were given special cooking tools, a mini cook book, and serious food comas to take home with us!


WHAT I LOVED

Unlike the Green Bamboo Cooking School, where each guest chose and prepared a single dish (but got to try a bit of everything), at the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class you prepare everything you eat on your own. Though it was a bit more fast-paced, I really enjoyed getting to learn more about each food and how it is made.

(Note: Since you were only responsible for preparing one dish at the Green Bamboo Cooking School, there was more time to relax and chat with the other travellers. If you’re looking for a more laid back experience, this may be a better choice for you).

I for one felt proud when I successfully prepared all of the dishes on my own… and even more proud when they actually tasted good. I also really enjoyed the Bamboo Boat ride - This was something Andrew and I wanted to do anyway, so it was great to get that experience and a cooking class all in one!

This class is also great for those with dietary restrictions. Even the vegetarians in the group were able to cook veggie-friendly versions of each dish (which is something you definitely won’t get at every cooking school)!

If a fun, hands on experience is what you’re after, then the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class is the perfect choice for you.

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BOOKING

To request a spot at in the class, head to hoianecocookingclass.com.

Note: I was a guest of the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, however, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.


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Beach Camping on Cham Island - When to Go & What to Expect

The big cities of Vietnam can be a bit overwhelming… and Hoi An is no exception.

I love its lantern lit streets, cozy cafes, and endless tailor shops… but if you plan on spending more than a week there, you may find that you need a little break from the incessant horn honking and selfie stick filled streets of the old town.

Thankfully, there’s an island escape a short boat ride away - Cham Island.

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what is cham island?

“Cham Island,” is actually a cluster of eight small islands just eight miles off Hoi An’s coast… but only one is inhabited. This island is said to be the perfect getaway for anyone wanting to get out of the city for a bit… and after a couple weeks in Hoi An that’s exactly what we needed.

We booked our trip to Cham Island with ALO Travel Asia, a company which offers a number of tours and excursions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Our booking included roundtrip hotel and boat transfer to and from Cham Island, snorkeling, all meals, and an overnight stay in a little tent on Bai Chong beach.

What to expect

At 8am the day of our trip, we and a bus full of other travellers were picked up and driven to Cua Dia pier. From there we boarded a double decker boat with Cham Island Divers and began to make our way to the islands.

The boat stopped twice along the way for snorkeling, diving, and free time to swim and jump off the boat. This was the first time I had gone snorkeling since I was a kid… and I must say, I was pretty horrible at first. Andrew got a huge laugh as I kept going too far under with my snorkel on and ending up with a mouth full of water. It also didn’t help that my first pair of flippers were WAY too big. Anyway, once I got my mask/flippers/general technique sorted, we both had a really great time.

At around 1pm we arrived at Cham Island and had lunch on Bai Chong beach. The beach was already filled with other tourists at that point, so, after lunch, we grabbed a beer and a hammock under the palm trees.

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An hour or so later, the tourists boarded their boats back to Hoi An and the only foreigners left on the beach were six French girls, Andrew, and myself. It was then that we really got to enjoy this quiet island getaway.

We went swimming, relaxed on the beach, and Andrew had a mini game of football with a young local boy. Though he hardly spoke any English, he and Andrew got by with hand signs, smiles, and laughs. I’ve always known a smile to be universal, but now I’m fairly certain that football must be too.

After awhile, the boy proudly proclaimed, “My name Thuy. Who you!?” - and then laughed hysterically when he found out our names.

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Soon, it was time for dinner. We joined the French girls in the little island restaurant for beers, freshly cooked fish, delicious tofu, rice, spaghetti and tropical fruit for dessert - an interesting combination, and quite a feast considering. We tried to order cocktails from the “bar” but they had already stopped serving liquor. Instead, they gave us a cooler filled with beers, and charged us for what we drank the next day.

Surrounded by the island pups, we spent the rest of the evening around a bonfire, (which Andrew proudly kept stoked). We drank as many of our cooler beers as we could, and played a really fun game called FishBowl - I had never heard of it before but would 100% recommend. We chatted about life, politics, and got to bed fairly early since we had to be up early for breakfast and more activities the following day.

We woke up to one, two, then three guard pups outside our tent, ate breakfast, and then headed back out onto the water.

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Typically, when you book through ALO Travel, day two of this trip just includes a free day on the island, lunch, and your boat transfer back to Hoi An. The staff at Cham Island Divers were kind enough to pick us up that morning for another day of snorkeling and cruising on their double decker boat.

After that, we came back to the island for lunch - (unsurprisingly, the same lunch as the day before), and, I have to say, I was absolutely appalled…

wait, what happened…?

Everything was going great… the staff and people on the island were welcoming and hospitable… the food was good… the water was cold… but the beach, which just a few hours before had been for the most part clean, was filled (and I mean FILLED) with garbage… and I don’t just mean trash the tide had brought in.

Surrounding the lounge chairs and hammocks… and, in general, all across the beach there were bottles and bags and pieces of plastic that were so small they weren’t much of an eyesore… You might not even notice them… until they ended up in the stomach of a fish who’d go belly up and wash up on the shore. And yes, we did also see a dead fish… with a very swollen belly.

Like most of us, I’d seen lots of pictures and videos on the internet of beaches hidden under a layer of plastic… until that day, I’d never seen anything like that with my own eyes.

Though I couldn’t believe this was the same beach where we’d spent the most perfect night, I was more shocked that that none of the other tourists on the beach seemed to be doing anything about it.

While Andrew and I lugged hand-full after hand-full of trash to and from the island’s bins, all the other tourists that I could see just sat and watched… or didn’t watch… maybe they didn’t care. (Plastic not pictured because, like I said, we were busy trying to pick it up.)*

I get it. People want to go to a beautiful beach… they want to enjoy their time… to relax… to have someone else clean up after them. Maybe there should have been more bins… maybe there should have been less tourists… Or maybe everyone needed to start caring a little bit more.

The fact is, if we don’t get our shit together, there won’t be anymore pretty little islands with crystal blue waters to lounge around on.

Fortunately, the first step to solving a problem is noticing that their is one… and thankfully that process has already begun.

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What is being done?

Plastic pollution is a huge problem everywhere, not just Cham Island… The island is just the first place where the severity of the problem really hit me like a slap in the face.

I spoke with Deano, one of the boat captains at Cham Island Divers, and he gave me some reassuring information about what the government and Cham Island Divers are doing to address the waste issue we witnessed on the island.

Across Vietnam, plastic bag usage has been the focus of many recent government campaigns. Additionally, Danang, one of Vietnam’s largest cities located just a short drive away from Hoi An, is launching a new campaign against single use plastics specifically. These single use items make up a majority of the rubbish we found on the beach.

On Cham Island, plastic bottles, mainly water bottles, remain a huge issue. The waste on the island, which, as you can imagine, is much worse during peak tourist season, is tidied twice daily by locals employed by the Marine Park Authority (MPA).

Cham Island Divers also works with the MPA and other local authorities to implement strategies and practices to help the people of Cham Island protect their beautiful home. On a daily basis during their dive and snorkeling sessions, the instructors do their part in cleaning up the ocean floor… all while keeping their customers educated and ensuring they have a great time.

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What can I do?

Well, it’s simple really…

You don’t want people coming and trashing your home… so don’t trash someone else’s.

If you’re planning to visit Cham Island be aware and be conscious… Aware of the plastic pollution problem the island faces and conscious of how you yourself are contributing to it. Make an effort to minimize the waste you are producing and to clean up the litter that’s already there.

I think people today are becoming so much more conscious… of the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, the products they consume, and the waste they create… the fact that you’re even still reading this post proves that.

Campaigns like plastic free week and Jackson Grove’s Adventure Bag initiative are a huge step in the right direction… but it’s a step we need to take together, and a step we need to take often.

While visiting Cham Island, lead your own adventure bag clean up with travel companions, or clean up what you can solo.


When should I go?

The best time to visit Cham Islands is from March to September, but, if you are planning on diving during your trip, it is recommended that you visit between June and August.

I’ve reached out to Cham Island Divers to ask if they are leading any upcoming island cleanups. I will update that info here as I get it - because that would obviously be a pretty great time to go, too!


Booking

I would highly recommend booking a trip to Cham Island through a dive school or tour company versus trying to plan a trip on your own, especially if you want to camp out overnight.

You can book your overnight trip through ALO Travel Asia like we did here, or book directly through Cham Island Divers here.

Despite it’s pollution, Cham Island is beautiful… I really enjoyed the time I spent there, and genuinely hope it remains beautiful for all of its visitors in the future.


GALLERY

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Hometown Photoshoot with Madalyn Yates Photography

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.
— Dorothea Lange

I love photography.

I may not be the best at creating beautiful photos, but I really enjoy snapping em, editing em, sharing em, and having the memories held inside to look back on.

Since I began travelling, my love for photography has grown exponentially.

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In my first couple of years living and travelling in Asia, I successfully mastered the art of the selfie thanks to my GoPro and tripod. Then I met Andrew… and he’s kind of taken over as far as insta-boyfriend duties are concerned. We’ve captured some pretty great photos of each other on our travels, but still struggle a bit when it comes to capturing good photos together.

I was so happy when my friend Madalyn Yates said she was looking for couples to shoot in the Greensboro area. I was visiting home for a couple of months, and Andrew was planning to visit for my sisters wedding, so I quickly signed us up… without asking him. Sorry, babe - (but it turned out alright, eh?).

We’ve taken a lot of pictures in a lot of places, but these hometown shots might just be my favorite.

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Though it rained (actually, poured), we still had so much fun during our shoot.

Madalyn made us feel comfortable in front of the camera, gave us directions when we didn’t know what to do with our hands, and somehow managed to capture our love, happiness, (and awkward) in a beautiful way.

Andrew is such an important part of my life, and I’m forever thankful for his love, kindness, and full support of my every project, passion, and whim - including this impromptu photoshoot, lol.

Thanks so much again for capturing us together in my hometown, Madalyn! Now I have cherished memories, beautiful photos to frame in our new apartment, and an inexhaustible amount of boyfriend posts for the gram - (sorry I’m not sorry).

Madalyn Yates Photography

If you’re in the Greensboro area (and even if you’re not) I would highly recommend booking a shoot with Madalyn and guarantee you will not be disappointed with the results. This creative genius shoots weddings, engagements, babies, family sessions… You name it, and she probably does it. Now I’m just waiting on her to visit Europe for some destination shots ;)

To contact Madalyn visit her website MadalynYatesPhotography.com.


Gallery

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7 Budget Friendly Brunch Spots in Hoi An

I love a good brunch…

…so, while visiting Hoi An, I was happy to discover that the beloved meal between breakfast and lunch is becoming increasingly popular in the lantern lit city.

Whether you’re craving Western favorites, local flavors, or vegetarian friendly choices, you’ll find several places throughout the city where you can get your mid-day fix.

These were some of my favorite (and budget friendly) brunch spots. 


DINGO DELI

Dingo Deli is one of the best places in Hoi An to get a large-portioned, Western style brunch. Opened in 2010 by a western couple, the Deli’s extensive menu offers a variety of brunch dishes like French toast, eggs benedict, and breakfast burritos. All of these meals are served with your choice of bottomless drip coffee or tea.

If you’re not in the mood for a full breakfast, Dingo Deli has several delicious options on their a la carte menu as well.

(FYI: The Deli also has a quiet room, which is perfect for digital nomads wanting to get some work done while having a meal. When we visited, the use of this quiet space was first come first serve, but you may be able to reserve it in advance by contacting the folks at Dingo).

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Feel like hitting snooze? No problem. Dingo Deli serves up brunch all day, and, if you don’t feel like getting out of bed, they even offer delivery! Head to their website via the link below and get your brunch (lunch or dinner) delivered straight to your door!

  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 7:30am – 9:30pm daily

  • Location: 277 Cua Dai Road

  • Website: Dingo Deli


THE KEBAB SHACK

The Kebab Shack is another spot where you can get your brunch fix all day long. Opened by English owner Tim and his wife Ly Anh in 2014, this is the perfect place for English expats to go when they want a little taste of home… and we’re not just talking about their huge English breakfast.

At The Kebab Shack, locals and travelers alike can enjoy the hospitable atmosphere, while indulging in hometown favorites like Heinz beans, Magners Cider, and (almost impossible to find) HP Sauce!

The English aren’t the only ones who will find comforts of home here. The Kebab Shack also serves extremely affordable Middle Eastern style kebabs, and delicious Aussie beef pies!


ROSIE’S CAFE

Rosie’s is probably my favorite of all the brunch spots on the list.

Owned and operated by My and Thuy, two local girls and longtime friends, this cozy little café can be found tucked down a quiet alley, away from the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter. Considering its proximity to the popular tourist destination, Rosie’s is actually extremely affordable. 

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The two girls say Rosie’s is the result of their mutual passion for coffee shops, and their desire to serve up a little something of their own. I was a big fan of what they’re serving up, and with loads of healthy options that everyone can enjoy, I think you will be too.

Start your day with one of their colorful smoothie bowls, avo toast, or Rosie’s signature Brekky. While you’re there, don’t forget to try one of their delicious cold pressed juices, a traditional Vietnamese coffee, or satisfy your sweet tooth with one of their milkshakes!

  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 9am-5pm Monday - Friday, 8am-3pm Saturday, closed Sunday

  • Location: 8/6 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai

  • Website: Rosie’s Cafe Facebook


MORNING GLORY

Opened in 2006 by Ms. Vy, local celebrity and author of the cookbook Taste Vietnam, this restaurant takes its name from the morning glory vegetable. Known for its resilience, the morning glory is able to thrive and survive in the harshest conditions, and (after rice) is the second most commonly eaten food in Vietnam. According to Ms. Vy, it symbolically represents Vietnamese character.

Morning Glory, the fourth restaurant opened by Ms. Vy, aims to give guests a broader view of Vietnamese cuisine by also featuring dishes from outside of Hoi An. Some of their most popular dishes among guests are their Banh Xeo (crispy pancakes) - and Cao lầu (YUM).

Check out the original Morning Glory restaurant, the Morning Glory cooking school, or one of Ms. Vy’s many other restaurant locations in Hoi An for a delicious spin on local favorites. You can also take advantage of their delivery service on their website!


HOI AN CENTRAL MARKET

For a truly unique experience, do as the locals do and trade your western brekky for a bowl of pho or Cau Lau at the Hoi An Central Market.

As the name suggests, this market is literally located in the center of town, making it the perfect place to grab a bite before a day of exploring the Old Town.

Though you will likely end up paying a bit of a foreigner tax on anything you buy here, a visit to the market still guarantees you a delicious meal and an experience you won’t forget - all for less than a couple bucks!

Don’t forget your camera! The sights and sounds of the market and its food hall are something you’ll definitely want to write home about.

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  • Hours: Open daily from 5am

  • Location: 73 Phan Boi Chau Son Phong


THE DECK HOUSE

For a delicious brekky on the beach, head to An Bang Beach’s Deck House.

From 7-11 everyday, they offer a variety of breakfast entrees ranging from veggie omelettes and breakfast bowls to avo toasts and traditional cau lau.

The prices are a bit higher here than some of the other spots on the list, but the beach views more than made up for it.

We loved beginning our day with a run to the beach, grabbing a bite here, then taking advantage of the Deck House’s lounge chairs to soak up some rays on the beach.

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  • Hours: 7am-11pm

  • Location: When you arrive at An Bang Beach, take a left at the end of the street. The Deck house will be located on your right.

  • Website: The Deck House


FISHERMAN

To all my vegan, Instagram lovin’ readers - this last one is for you.

The Fisherman is an affordable, sustainable, and vegan restaurant also located on An Bang beach. They serve up a delicious healthy breakfast all day, and boast one of the most insta-worthy interiors and restaurant patios that I have ever seen.

The Fisherman also has happy hour specials and hosts the occasional full moon party, so if you’re visiting Hoi An, be on the lookout for that, too!

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  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 7:30am - 11pm

  • Location: Head to An Bang beach via Hai Ba Trung Street. When you reach the end of the street, turn right. Continue down the path until you see The Fisherman on your left.

  • Website: The Fisherman Vegan Restaurant Facebook


MAP


Did I miss any?

Where is your favorite place to brunch in Hoi An? Let me know in the comments below!

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Checking in to the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur

Looking for a place to stay in Kuala Lumpur?

Look no further than the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur.

It is conveniently located just five minutes away from the nearest metro station, and a 10 minute walk away from the city’s famous Petronas Towers.

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The DoubleTree by Hilton KL offers its guests countless amenities and perks, but my personal favorite is the warm cookie they greet you with upon check-in… and this dessert tray wasn’t half bad either.

There are several room options ranging from basic twin bed guest rooms to king bed terrace suites, but honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of them! I stayed in a twin bed deluxe room, and had everything I needed.

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In addition to its many other features and services, the DoubleTree by Hilton KL also offers its guests a delicious complimentary breakfast and boasts five in-house bars and restaurants.

Read more about my experience at the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur, and view the full photo gallery here.


OTHER FEATURED ACCOMMODATIONS

The Best Beach Spot in Hoi An (& How to Get There)

If you're heading to Hoi An, you're undoubtedly planning to spend some time by the beach… but with such a lengthy coastline you might wondering where exactly to go.

Well, when you look at the map, you’ll see you've got two main choices - Cua Dai and An Bang beach... but if you look a bit closer, you’ll see a littleeee spot between the two called Coconut Beach - a name I had hardly seen on the "go to the beach" sign by the main road.

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Located at the northern end of Cua Dai, just by the Boutique Hoi An Resort, this quiet little beach spot was my favorite escape from the hustle and bustle of Hoi An.

In the three weeks I was there, I can count on one hand the number of other foreigners I saw on the beach here, making it the ideal spot for me and my sometimes reclusive tendencies.

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By some stroke of luck, Andrew found this cozy little spot for the first time one afternoon while I was getting some work done at Hub Hoi An.

He was on a mission to find a cool spot at the beach, and discovered this absolute gem.

Coconut Beach was our go-to spot for the rest of our time in Hoi An. 

Prior to finding Coconut Beach, we spent our beach time by the two major beach accesses, and they were both always packed with tourists... more so An Bang than Cua Dai.

Andrew and I much preferred the local vibe, and peace and quiet of "Coconut Beach."

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Though it lacks the restaurants, bars, and shops found at the major beach spots, it does have a charming little snack bar bungalow.

At this little family owned bungalow, you can pay a small amount to rent beach chairs for the day, buy beer, icecream and other snacks.

The ladies who owned it were so friendly, and their kids were adorable.

As the sun went down that first day, we had successfully befriended the shop owner’s daughters. Though they didn’t speak much English, they played in the waves with us, and laughed hysterically every time Andrew intentionally wiped out in one.

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This is also a fishing hotspot, so the beach is lined with several bamboo boats. In the early morning, and as the sun goes down, lots of local fishermen could be seen heading out into the water and preparing their fishing nets.

Each time we came to Coconut Beach we were greeted with warm welcoming smiles… which is always nice when you’re in a new, unfamiliar place. By the third time we went there, the ladies stopped charging us to use the chairs, so we just had to pay for our beach beers.

Though there isn’t as much going on, I found the cozy “Coconut Beach” to be much more enjoyable than the larger beach accesses. If a quiet beach beach day is what you’re after, definitely head to this lesser known area of Hoi An’s coastline.

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LOCATION


A Day At the Tracks - How to Get to Hanoi's Train Street and When to Go



The first time I visited Vietnam, I travelled from Hanoi to Hue on an overnight train.

I had no idea that, shortly after leaving the station, the train passed right through the narrow streets of a lively, residential area – Hanoi’s Train Street.

Unlike most areas in Vietnam, you don’t have to worry quite as much about getting run over by motorbikes here… Though it’s still possible, most people are more concerned with the speeding train that passes through the area multiple times a day.

Keep reading to find out more about our day at Hanoi’s Train street, how to get there, and when to go.

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Every day, multiple times a day, residents of this teeny tiny street, located in the midst of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, stop what they’re doing, clear the tracks, and make way for the passing train. Before and after that, life carries on as usual.

This summer, instead of passing through on an overnight train, Andrew and I decided to go explore this unique neighborhood for ourselves.

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After spending some time walking along the tracks, we grabbed a seat on a couple of little plastic stools outside the Railway Hanoi, a cozy cafe in the middle of Train Street. It was the perfect spot to have a Bahn Mi and have a couple local beers. We shared conversation with fellow travellers aross the tracks while watching life unfold on Train Street.

We saw residents chatting on the tracks, families preparing meals, laundry being hung out to dry, tourists trying to snap that perfect photo, roaming roosters pecking at our sandwich crumbs, and children racing up and down the tracks.

It was all fun and games until the smallest one stepped on a loose railway tie and got a nail through her foot.

Basically, we saw everything but the train. 

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Getting There

Train street is located between Le Duan and Kham Thien. You can easily walk there from Hoàn Kiếm Lake or the Old Quarter in about 20-30 minutes.

If it’s too hot to walk, or you’re short on time, use the Grab app to catch a ride there!

When to go

You can wander down train street at any time of day, but if you want to pay a visit to the Railway Cafe, or catch a glimpse of the passing train (which we sadly did not), you’ll have to plan your visit carefully.

The Railway Hanoi is open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. everyday but Tuesday. It’s the perfect spot to have a bite and people watch while you’re waiting for the afternoon train to pass.

From Monday to Friday the train passes through twice - once at 6 a.m. and a second time at 7 p.m.

On Saturday and Sunday it runs more frequently, passing through at around 9:15 a.m., 11:35 a.m., 3:20 p.m., 5:45 p.m., 6:40 p.m., and 7:10 p.m.

Note that these times are all approximate. The owner of the Railway recommends you arrive at least 30 minutes prior to ensure you get a good (and safe) spot to view the passing train.

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Have you visited Hanoi’s Train Street? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments below!


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WHERE WE STAYED IN HANOI - GOLDEN CHARM HOTEL

MORE VIETNAM DESTINATIONS - HA LONG BAY - HANOI - HOI AN


Why I Loved Teaching English in Korea... And Why I Left



If you’ve been following this blog, you probably already know that my round the world travels began in 2015 when I quit my jobs, packed up my life in North Carolina, and moved to the big city of Seoul, South Korea.  

For over a year I’d talked about teaching abroad.

I took a TEFL course after graduating college, and I’d started considering where I wanted to go… but even to me, the thought of actually DOING it seemed absurd. So absurd that even I kind of doubted that I ever actually would… until I did. Twice. 

Teaching in Seoul was a great experience and Korea was an amazing, highly underrated country.

Here’s why I loved it… and why I left.

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Throughout my time in Korea, I taught literally hundreds of students ranging from Western age 4 to 14. I wasn’t properly prepared, trained, OR certified to do so, but I quickly found myself teaching MUCH more than just English.

I basically taught everything, but IN English… basics like the ABC’s and phonics to subjects like science, debate, social studies, art, and even cooking. Though some of these posed a real challenge for me at first, they also made me get creative and put my teaching ability to the test. 

I really enjoyed teaching and living in South Korea. I was able to learn about a new country, got involved with local organizations like Teach North Korean Refugees, and learned a little bit (but not nearly enough) of the language. I discovered a passion for education, language, culture, (food), and a deep love for the innocence, hope, and joy that comes with spending time around children.

Unfortunately, for all the positive aspects of this experience, there were several negative ones too.

 

The education system in Korea is extremely intense and competitive. From a very young age many kids are involved in numerous extracurricular activities. They go from their regular elementary school to academy after academy, and, when they finally come home, they study even more, sometimes with an in-home tutor.

As a teacher at one of these private academies, called hagwons, I found myself going through multiple textbooks a month with my kindergarten students, giving scantron tests to seven year olds, and memorizing speeches with kids who, months earlier, didn’t even know the English alphabet. At school and at home, many of them never have time to just play and be kids.

In a parent teacher meeting at my third (and last) school, I had a mother tell me that, lately, her child didn’t want to study at home… that he seemed to be getting burnt out on phonics. This came as a surprise to me because this kid loved phonics at school…. Every day he would literally choose to practice writing new vocabulary words over having playtime with his friends. 

After spending hours at school (then going to whatever afterschool classes and extra-curricular activities he was involved in), I can only imagine that, once he got home, he wasn’t too keen on studying anymore. After all, he was only 6… and already learning about the silent k in “kn” and that “ph” actually makes an f sound.

A few minutes after trying to reassure her… since she seemed concerned… she then expressed that she felt he wasn’t learning enough in comparison to a kid in their neighborhood. This competition between parents is not an uncommon occurrence.  

Parents are highly concerned with their kid’s success… and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what some of them fail to understand is that more textbooks don’t necessarily mean more learning. Unfortunately, in my experience, the administration at many hagwons will cater to these parents and allow them to call the shots…. Making it feel more like you’re working at a business than a school. If the parents want more books, then you’ll find yourself cramming more material into your already rushed lessons.

The heavy emphasis on fast, textbook learning is stressful on teachers and students, and, overall, it isn’t doing anyone any favors. In my experience, kids who may have been incredibly book smart lacked skills like creativity, critical thinking, and were unable to work as a part of a team. They were afraid of making mistakes… a harsh reality that likely comes from not getting nearly enough time to play, explore, and just be kids.



I worked at three different schools during my time in Korea, and while the overall job was pretty similar, each one’s administration and organization was exponentially worse than the last. The expectations became higher, the pay and resources become lower, and my stress level absolutely sky rocketed.

At my final school I took a significant cut to my salary. I initially didn’t mind because the working hours were (seemingly) much shorter. I quickly found out that less working hours doesn’t necessarily mean less work.

Though I was supposed to be out by 5 pm every day, I found myself staying anywhere from one to two hours later, just so I had time to finish correcting books, writing comments, and preparing for the next day. This happened multiple times a week, but was never considered overtime, and I was never compensated for it, since it wasn’t technically “teaching hours,” (just the time it takes to prepare for teaching, which, in my opinion is almost more important… but, anyway, I digress)…

I was doing a lot more. Making a lot less. And dealing with a lot more bullshit.

This school was the most unorganized by far. The constantly changing administration had zero clue what they were doing, and frequently sprung things on teachers with little to no notice. They didn’t take into consideration the time or effort that went into doing the job and doing it well, and were constantly raising their expectations and our work load.

Though my students were tough to handle at times, they were nothing compared to the stress I felt working under such a disorganized and inexperienced administration.

 

“Comparison is the thief of joy” is a pretty adequate quote explanation of the situation I found myself in here…. because even though the school and its management were an absolute mess, I still really loved teaching and all the little monster students in my class… (even the one little bundle of energy and enthusiasm who couldn’t sit still, colored on the walls, and plugged the sink, intentionally flooding the hallway a few times).

If I hadn’t had my previous schools to compare it to, I probably could have stuck it out here… but, I DID have those comparisons… and I knew that this school was seriously ripping teachers off, and taking advantage of the ones who didn’t know any better.

 

Despite the negative circumstances I left under, I still love Korea - it was my first overseas home away from home, and the place where I met the love of my life. I loved teaching, and will never forget my students or the close connections I made.

Moving there and documenting the travels that followed allowed me to rediscover my love of writing, and uncover new hobbies like photography and video. Due to my draining, toxic work situation, I found myself with little time or energy to dedicate to these personal passions… so finally, after having two different directors, and three different co-teachers in a three-month span, I decided enough was enough and put in my notice. 

After roughly three years of teaching in Korea, it was time to move on…

 

I took a few weeks to detox in Vietnam, took advantage of some pretty big partnerships while I was still in Asia, then made a quick stop through Thailand before returning home.

I decided that it’s time to pour more of my time and energy into fulfilling my own goals and less fulfilling every unrealistic whim of ungrateful, parent-pleasing, hagwon bosses. It’s time to be closer to my family and friends… and to be around for the things that are important.

 I loved Korea, but it was time to leave.

It’s time to begin new adventures and take on new challenges… So that’s what I’m going to do.

 

So, what’s next??

Well, stay tuned, y’all… cause I’m moving to Europe!


*Disclaimer - My perspective of teaching in Korea and my decision to leave was entirely dependent on my personal views of education, and the experiences I had in my work environments. Other individuals may have vastly different views depending on their experience and the type of schools they worked in.

For example, teaching in the EPIK program is very different from teaching at a hagwon, and each hagwon varies greatly. Other factors like the neighborhood you live in, the status of your housing, and personal relationships with coworkers and other staff also come into play.

I have both lived, and heard my fair share of horror stories when it comes to teaching in Korea, but still believe there are plenty of great companies to work for.

For legal reasons, I’ve chosen to not fully disclose any names or specific situations I dealt with, but if you are considering teaching in Seoul and have any questions or concerns about the interview process, contracts, or specific schools, feel free to contact me for the full, unedited scoop.

Sustainable Tourism in HaLong Bay aboard the Au Co Luxury Cruise



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Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, HaLong Bay is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and a popular tourist destination in Vietnam for domestic and international visitors alike.

For years, waking up in the crystal blue waters of the bay on a junk boat amidst the limestone cliffs was at the top of my bucket list, and, in 2017, I finally made it there. According to statistics from the Halong City People’s Committee, so did about 7 million other tourists... with a majority of them flocking straight to the port to board their cruise in the bay.

As you can imagine, this mass tourism can have detrimental effects on the environment in HaLong Bay, however, I don't think tourists should let this dissuade them from visiting. There are companies who care about preserving the beauty of HaLong Bay, its wildlife, and the local communities who call this place home... companies like Bhaya Cruise Line.

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About Bhaya Cruise Line

In 2007, Bhaya's first ships set sail, and just over ten years later, with four different fleets and several cruise packages to choose from, it is already become the largest cruise operator in HaLong Bay. It is also one of the Bay's most reputable cruise companies.

In 2017, Bhaya launched several sustainable tourism initiatives designed to protect and preserve the environment, and to help local communities.

This summer, I had the pleasure of exploring the beauty that is HaLong Bay a second time aboard Bhaya's Au Co Luxury Cruise. I was very impressed with the ship, the staff, the off the beaten tourist track excursions, the food(!), and with Bhaya's overall dedication to leading the way for sustainable tourism in HaLong Bay.

Want to learn more about the Au Co Luxury Cruise, Bhaya's social and environmental initiatives, or how you can get involved?

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The Cutest Homestay in HaLong Bay - HaLong Ginger Homestay



 
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HaLong Ginger Homestay

If you're planning a trip to northern Vietnam, chances are taking a HaLong Bay Cruise is high on your list. Most people go straight from Hanoi to the bay and almost immediately board their cruise, however, if you have the time, I highly recommend staying at least one night in mainland HaLong beforehand.

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Why stay a night in mainland halong bay?

The journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay can be a bit exhausting. If you're a morning person, maybe you won't sweat the early morning wake up call, but I personally was SO tired once I had finally arrived and it was time for the cruise - (Seriously... barely survived happy hour... mostly due to my extreme exhaustion).

This time around, we opted to head to HaLong Bay a day early. This allowed us to rest up, while also giving us just enough time to explore. We got an early morning bus from Hanoi, and were dropped off right at the door of our adorable homestay in HaLong. Once there, we dropped off our bags, ate some lunch, and went to hike Bai Tho Mountain.

If you're not already convinced to stay a night, check out this incredible view of the bay from Bai Tho Mountain, and then get ready to book your accommodations in HaLong.

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Where to stay

Sold on staying a night in the mainland?

Skip the fancy hotels and resorts, save a few bucks, and book a stay at the HaLong Ginger Homestay instead... a cozy, convenient, affordable, (and totally instagrammable) little homestay...

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other featured accommodations 

How to Get an Epic View of HaLong Bay - Hiking Bai Tho Mountain



 
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The first time I visited HaLong Bay, I, like most travellers, got picked up early in the morning from my Hanoi hotel, and was driven straight to the pier to board my cruise (...with one tourist trap restroom/souvenir/food pit stop along the way).

*Pro tip: don't buy anything but snacks here (and don't even buy those unless you absolutely have to)... Seriously. All of the souvenirs are sold at ridiculously high prices, and most of them can be found in the markets you'll likely visit at some point during your Vietnam travels*

Anyway, this time around, I decided to spend some time in HaLong Bay prior to our cruise, and I'd highly recommend you do the same. Not only was I well rested the day of our cruise, I was also able to explore and enjoy more of the area. The highlight was hiking Bai Tho Mountain and getting the most incredible view of HaLong Bay. Keep reading to find out how you can do the same!

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 Getting to HaLong Bay from Hanoi

Since we were going a day early, our transport to HaLong Bay wasn't included or supported by our cruise company, and when our Airbnb's contact fell through at the last minute, we were stuck trying to arrange transportation to HaLong the night before. I was stressed at first, but after a quick google search came across TravelerTick.com, an extremely easy to navigate site with lots of routes and transportation options.

A limousine bus from Hanoi to HaLong bay cost us $19 per person and we were picked up and dropped off at the door of our accommodations (something other bus and shuttle services claimed they weren't able to do).

With only 5 other people on board, we had loads of room and an extremely comfortable ride. 

Visit their website for more information about transportation routes and prices.


Hiking Bai Tho Mountain

After checking in to our homestay, we put on some sneakers and headed to hike Bai Tho Mountain. I'd seen loads of pictures of this spot when planning my Vietnam trip and absolutely had to check it out for myself.

To get there head to Hàng Nồi road. Walk down the street (almost to the end) until you see the "Good Store."

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This is where it gets interesting...

To get to the mountain trail you have to go through someone's house. The entry way is just to the left of the Good Store.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the woman sitting outside (presumably the owner of the house) who knew exactly what we were there for. She showed us through the house... past a bird cage... a chicken coop... a bunch of dogs... and to a very much locked gate... (surrounded by barbed wire... with a large hole... that we then climbed through to begin our ascent up the mountain trail).

Side note: this trail is technically closed for tourists, and since it's located in her backyard, she is capitalizing on the opportunity - (can't say I blame her). The "Admission cost" is 50,000 VND per person (roughly $2), but its well worth it for the view you get at the top.

The hike will take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on how quickly you go (and how many photos you stop to take along the way).

To be honest, I hadn't anticipated it being quite so strenuous and hadn't packed any water. All I had were a bag of dried mangoes (that I gave to a German girl who had stopped along the way with low blood sugar).

*Pro tip - DON'T BE LIKE US. Bring snacks and water!*

When you get to the top there are quite a few good spots for photos. Snap away (and recharge with your snacks and water).

Though the sunset views are surely incredible,  I would recommend going earlier in the day, as making your way down might be a bit tricky after dusk!

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Where TO STAY IN HALONG BAY

If you're looking for a cozy place to stay in HaLong Bay, I'd highly recommend the HaLong Ginger Homestay. With several options ranging from a queen sized en suite and dorms to adorable garden cottages, there's something for everyone. You can even book the whole house if you're travelling with a large group! 

During our stay, they were renovating the space beyond the two triangle cottages for their cooking school. Though the property is already beautiful, it will look even better once this construction is finished!

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 To book your stay contact homestayginger@gmail.com or view their options on AirBnb.

Sign up for airbnb and get $40 in travel credit!

 
 

 Looking for more Vietnam tips?

A Plant Lover's Dream Come True - Seoul's Cactus Greenhouse and Plant Delivery in Korea

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Are you a plant lover? More specifically - are you a low maintenance plant lover? You know... the type of person who loves having pretty, green things alive in your apartment... but isn't so great at the keeping them alive part? 

Since moving back to Seoul, I've basically turned my studio apartment into a mini greenhouse, and it has made this little hole in the wall feel much more homey...  (not to mention the fact that it has also significantly improved the indoor air quality).

Unfortunately, due to my forgetful nature (and frequent weekend getaways), most plants and I have a pretty short lived relationship. Therefore, I have boundless love and the utmost respect for plants of the low maintenance variety - I'm talkin' succulents, air plants, and cacti. I love em... and, so far, the ones brightening up my spot in Seoul seem to love me too.

If you're also a fan of these low maintenance beauties, then you'll definitely share in the excitement I felt when I found out that 1) Plant heaven is a place on Earth... and it's in Ilsan, and 2) you can get plants delivered to your door in Korea.

First things first...

 

Ilsan Lake Park's Cactus Greenhouse

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That's right... A green house filled with my favorite little (and big) green (and red and white and orange) prickly little, self-sustaining friends. For only 1,000 won, you can wander around the greenhouse enjoying these beautiful plants for as long as you'd like... Well, at least 'til closing time.

There's even a little shop where you can purchase a cactus, succulent, or air plant to take home with you. (Sadly, I couldn't take advantage of this part since I'm planning a big move soon and already have more plant babies to find new homes for than I can handle).

For me, a visit to the Cactus Greenhouse was a really cool (and cheap) way to spend our random Wednesday off. It was something different, we were able to see a new part of the city... and I love plants. If cacti and cheap activities aren't really your thing, then travelling 2+ hours round trip to and from Ilsan to look at plants probably isn't for you... but, even if you decide to skip the greenhouse, Ilsan Lake park is still a cool place to spend the day.

 

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These last few shots weren't taken in the Cactus Greenhouse, but you'll find these spots on your way there!

 

As you can see, the rest of Ilsan Lake Park is pretty cool, too!

 

 

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Getting there

Head to Jeongbalsan Station on the orange line (3).

From there, walk out of exit 2 and straight across the pedestrian overpass until you reach the park. To get to the Cactus Greenhouse walk to the right past the Rose Garden (pictured above), cross the two footbridges over the lake, and then turn left. The greenhouse will be on your right!

 

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If you've made it this far, I'm guessing you like, like me, are big on plants...

You may be wondering how I ended up with so many little green plant babies in the first place.

If you're living in Korea currently, you'll find part 2 useful.

 


Getting plants delivered to your door in Korea

I blame (and praise) G-market for my little greenhouse apartment. I have literally lost count of how many I've acquired in the past few months. Though there are lots of cute mom and pop plant shops scattered throughout the city, it can be difficult to get your new plant babies home if you, like me, rely heavily on public transportation.

Skip the hassle and go plant shopping online instead. In a few business days or less, you can get virtually any plant (or anything really) delivered directly to your door by G-Market... Korea's equivalent to e-bay or Amazon.

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Though I was skeptical about purchasing plants without seeing them first, all of my selections from the sellers below arrived quickly and (most importantly) still alive. I highly recommend purchasing through these vendors - (and no, this isn't a sponsored article, just tryin' to share the love with my fellow plant people in Korea).

I spent an entire day scouring the site for the best plant deals, so here they are!

 

 House plants, flowers, herbs, and succulents

NeoFlower - SO many options, and free shipping on purchases over ₩12,000!

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Air Plants

Tillandsia -  Lots of different sizes and options, with a low ₩3,000 delivery fee... 

(...unless you go crazy and spend 100k... then delivery is free).

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Larger house plants (with a decorative touch)

 E-Green Store - Make sure to select the option for the decorative potting when purchasing - it costs a bit extra!

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For more tips on the best places to find low-budget plants

and other trinkets to make your Seoul apartment feel like home,

get in touch

 

 

 

Accommodation Spotlight: DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang

FEATURED ACCOMMODATIONS

doubletree resort by hilton penang

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If you're heading to Penang and aren't sure where to stay, check out the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton.

With its numerous amenities, including a great location, affordable price, all you can eat breakfast buffet, and a shuttle in to George Town, making this resort your home base in Penang is a no brainer.

I had the chance to stay here over my birthday weekend, and loved it so much that I nearly pushed my flight back to Korea back another day.

The entire property, from the reception to the bedrooms, is absolutely beautiful. Speaking of bedrooms, I had the most comfortable nights sleep I've had in ages in our room's heavenly king-sized bed.... But the perks of the DoubleTree Resort definitely don't stop there...

Thoughts & Reflections of a (now) Upper 20-Something Year Old

Well, folks...

The days where I can say I've lived a quarter of a century have officially come and gone.

In the blink of a flippin' eye, 365 days have passed and I've somehow fallen over the hump and into the dreaded "upper twenties" category... Or is it dreaded?

I'm honestly not so sure... because my 26th birthday was pretty flippin' epic.

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The past year has been filled with more than its fair share of ups and downs.

I came home from an incredible two month backpacking trip... almost immediately started working two jobs... and quickly realized that settling in North Carolina just wasn't in the cards for me... at least not yet.

I returned to Asia (perhaps a bit prematurely), spent Christmas at home with my family (after passing out on the plane) for the first time since 2015, then, at the start of the spring, moved from one horrible Korean private school to another (...though the one I moved to is probably worse... more on that later).

I attended the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, gained a new best friend, and fell in love with what might be the greatest human on the planet - (this is not an exaggeration... I'm tellin' ya... he's a gem).

As my 25th year of life came to a close, I dove headfirst into an attempt at vlogging, scored my first big name hotel partnership, and, early in the morning on the Eve of my birthday, headed to Malaysia with Andrew (the aforementioned gem) to explore Penang and write a review for the DoubleTree Resort (coming very soon).

Flash back a little over a year ago - I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the last leg of my Asia adventure before returning to the states indefinitely (lol). After weeks of hostels and cold showers, I splurged on a hotel with an epic view of the Petronas Towers (and hot water... and room service).

I decided to write a review on the property, despite my stay there not being sponsored - (I later would write several other unsponsored reviews... because practice makes perfect, ya know).

After posting one of my photos taken at the Kuala Lumpur hotel on Facebook (a good ole' GoPro, screen-grab selfie), an old high school classmate commented saying "I thought this was a Hilton ad."

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I laughed then... but, flash forward... less than 13 months after my indefinite departure from Asia and, plot twist.... I'm still not making Hilton ads.... but I am back in Asia... and I did score a complimentary birthday weekend stay at a Hilton hotel in Penang, Malaysia.

The irony does not escape me.

Long, sentimental post short... life is unexpected. It's tough... rub some dirt in it... get a helmet... no pain no gain... or whatever motivational quote you can most easily identify with. Despite it's inevitable challenges, hard work eventually pays off. In all this hard work, I've found that the (aka my) key to a happy, fulfilled life (coming from a barely upper 20-something year old) is finding a challenge you enjoy... and to always, always, always keep going for it.

This time last year, when I was back home slaving away at two restaurant jobs, my dreams of travel writing (and Asia) seemed, again, like a far away pipe dream... over 7,000 miles away  to be exact.

Looking back, somehow, the daily little baby steps have amounted to one big step in the right direction.

I'm not an expert or a professional (like.... at anything... honestly).

I do, however, have one thing... and lots of it. Passion.

My trip back to Malaysia was filled with a handful of brilliant, inspiring little creative sparks (and lots of much needed R&R)... and all together, this rekindled a fire - a burning desire to keep setting foot on new ground, to keep creating, keep meeting people, keep making mistakes

...to keep learning from them and getting better... becoming better at my hobbies and becoming a better person.

The great Albert Einstein supposedly once said, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving," and I couldn't agree more.

Now, I don't know exactly what the next year of life will bring... but I do know one thing... I cannot wait to find out.

A BIG thank you for all the birthday wishes, and an even bigger thank you to all the people who support and push me towards fulfilling my goals and dreams all the other days of the year.

Here's to another year of life, (albeit a year in my upper twenties)...

...365 days of experiences, changes, and growth... one baby step at a time.

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Saturdays in Seoul (ep. 1) - Bongeunsa Temple + The Great Korean Beer Festival

Welcome to "Saturdays in Seoul"

A new lil’ vlogging venture…

...and, this time, my boyfriend Andrew is along for the ride.

Though we still have quite a bit of work to do as far as our coordination goes, (in more ways than one... watch 'til the end to see what I mean...), overall, we had a great Saturday and are really excited about creating more of these to document the rest of our time in Seoul.

 

*No Andrews were harmed in the making of this video*

 

WHERE WE WENT

 

Bongeunsa Temple

In episode one, Andrew and I start our day at Bongeunsa Temple, a calm oasis in the middle of the bustling city. It's my favorite time of year to visit the temples in South Korea... because the rows of lanterns are already hung for Buddha's birthday, but the hoardes of tourists aren't lined up to snap photos with them... yet...

Avoid the crowds and head there early, or stop in at night to see the lanterns all lit up.

Getting There

By cab: 봉은사 

By metro: Bongeunsa Temple Station, Exit 1. Cheongdam Station, Exit 2.

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Great Korean Beer Festival

After exploring the temple, we wandered over to the Great Korean Beer Festival, conveniently located by the COEX mall just across the street. If you missed it this weekend, don't worry - this year's beer festival is everyday from 12 p.m. until 10 p.m. through May 6th. 

COEX is pretty massive, and we weren't sure where exactly to go at first for the festival. You'll find this year's festival at the K-POP Square right outside of SMTOWN. Check out the food and drink selection before you go here.

Getting There

By cab: 삼성역

By metro: Samsung Station, Exit 5 or 6.

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Starfield Library

When it got a bit chilly at the beer festival we ducked inside COEX's Starfield Library to warm up (and charge my phone). If you're in the area, it's absolutely a must see.

Directions are the same as above.

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Unfortunately, the day wasn't entirely smooth sailing. When the hoodie I bought at H&M didn't warm me up, I was shivering so much I was nearly spilling my beer. Then Andrew told me it wasn't even cold outside, so I decided to stop rallying through the day and we headed home... where a full blown fever fully caught up with me. Being the complete perfect human that he is, Andrew got me soup, made us tea, and I was asleep by 10.

Despite this turn of events, it was still an awesome day, and, again, in my opinion, resulted in what may be the best video I've made so far.

Check it out for yourself!

If you liked this week's episode, be sure to give it a thumbs up, and subscribe to my channel on Youtube for future Saturday shenanigans in Seoul!

 

 

A Day at Jeongdong Theater - The Palace: Jang Nok-su-jeon Show – Sponsored by Trazy

Heading to South Korea? Not exactly sure what to do? 

Travel Crazy with TRAZY.

Trazy.com is the best Korea-based travel booking site. With activities like cooking classes, performances, guided tours and weekend trips, there's something for everyone on Trazy.com

Though I’ve lived in Korea since 2015, I still find new activities and events on Trazy.com that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. From the major cities of Seoul, Busan, and Jeju, to other destinations throughout South Korea, Trazy makes it easy to find the newest and trendiest things to do at an affordable price. 

This weekend, I had the chance to check out one of the traditional Korean shows offered by Trazy.com - The Palace 'Jang Nok-su-jeon' Show at the Jeongdong Theatre.

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The Jeongdong Theatre is known to showcase traditional Korean performances, with a touch of modern flair, and this weekend's show was no exception. Though there was no dialogue in the performance, it was still highly engaging and entertaining.

The show is about a women named Jang Nok-su. Once a lowly servant, with her talented performances, she becomes a highly revered Kisaeng (a performer who worked to entertain Kings). Then, as the story goes, Jang Nok-su, known as deadly Cinderella, comes to be the only Kiaseng to step foot into the palace during the Joseon Dynasty.

Now I don't want to give too much of the story-line away, but I will say that I highly enjoyed this performance. For one, the cast was extremely talented. Though there were occasional closed-captions (in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese) that scrolled along screens to the left and right of the stage, the overall story was told only through music, action, and expression... and, I must say, I was so impressed with the cast's ability to portray emotions and tell a story without using any words.

As a foreigner, this was a great way to experience a traditional Korean show without being totally in the dark as to what was happening and being said.

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The set, costumes, choreography, and music were exceptional. I was absolutely mesmerized by the colorful traditional clothing, and by the rhythm and movement of the musical and dance numbers performed throughout the show.

Though it definitely cannot be strictly categorized as a traditional Korean performance, overall, I really enjoyed "The Palace – Jang Nok-su-jeon" and it's fusion with modern Korean theatre. I would highly recommend it, whether you're an expat living in Korea or just passing through.

To book discounted tickets to the show through Trazy.com click here.

To find out more about the Jeongdong Theatre and it's current showings click here.

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Getting there

By cab: 정동극장

By metro: Head to City Hall Station. Walk out of exit 12 and then take your first left. Take another left and walk alongside the Deoksugung Palace Gate. Continue walking straight through the roundabout and the theatre will be on your right.

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To browse or book other activities offered on Trazy.com, click here.

6 Spots You Don't Want to Miss in Busan, South Korea

Planning a visit to Busan? Good!

Korea's second-largest city, situated on the country's southern coast, is absolutely beautiful... and, like most other Korea-related things, it is highly underrated.

From picturesque beaches and traditional temples, to bustling markets and bars, there's truly something for everyone in Busan.


Watch our busan adventures

For more information on what to do in South Korea click here