Baby Steps

I keep booking travel. And making decisions.

danang-vietnam-blog-girl-beach-american-digital-nomad

But my body and brain are resistant (LIZARD BRAIN DOESN'T WANT CHANGE). In Saigon I would hit snooze 2-4 times each morning. And although my work doesn't require me to stay in any one location, I stayed there for 2 months (aside from a short vaca in Phu Quoc with Maggie). During my time in Saigon, I lived in 2 apartments and chose to work in the same coworking spot almost every day. Building some consistency helped me normalize after the combustion I created when I broke up with my ex. 

But as visas tend to do, my Vietnam one expires in under a month. For some reason I kept avoiding making a decision about where to go next, as though the decision solidifies the fact that I now lead a solo life...

saving the planet. one coffee at a time.

saving the planet. one coffee at a time.

Enter a new Twitter-friend, Flystein. A crew of travel hackers who (for a small fee) work with your miles and travel checklist to build out a shockingly affordable package. These guys came and visited me one day at Dreamplex and we had a chat about where I would wander off to after Vietnam. They recommended I try Da Nang before I leave, so I promptly booked a flight for $46. Easy.

But still, no plans to leave this country. With no real intention in mind, I logged into Flystein and casually entered details for Europe. In under an hour, I had custom itinerary to get to London for $22. 

"I'll book it this weekend." Me (& my lizard brain)
"Book it now." Flystein

So I booked. And a flight to Faro, Portugal ($42). And a flight to Dalat ($51). And from Cape Town to Buffalo for Christmas ($220). It would seem I am now addicted to booking travel. I went to Hoi An and Da Nang last week. I'm typing from Hanoi ($35).... WHAT?!

All this from the girl dubbed as "A dumb American traveler" from an ex not-to-be-named.

P.S. Still tracking the expenses down to the penny, if you'd like to follow along! Also, I chopped 80% of my hair off. I feel really awesomely spunky sometimes and then like a troll that will die alone at other times. Amazing how closely we link our identity to our hair...

Fear

"Everything you want is on the other side of fear." 

The well known quote rings true to me, especially this week when I made another terrifying decision. I ended things with T. There have been many tears and moments of angst. And there is this magnificent peace. It's totally fucked. 

I have no regrets about my decision, even though I’m completely alone now in Vietnam. As many know, I am a list person, but I couldn't even bring myself to write a list on why it needed to end. I was that disappointed in myself for what I had put up with from a man I dated for only 4 short months. 

But there were good things too (aren't there always?). He helped me rip off the band-aid on a life that wasn't making me happy any longer. I felt safe and physically protected with him, and he was a teammate. For a while, anyway.

But this isn't a vacation. It's the rest of my life. And the little voice in my head kept reminding me of three things:

  1. We were great at planning and accomplishing goals together, but lacked joy
  2. The fights were really nasty
  3. In a tight spot he folded, and in an incident I’d rather forget, he betrayed me

So now what? When the going gets tough, Lulu crunches numbers. I used this fancy budget tracker and determined exactly how much money I owed him ($459.73) and am debating purchasing the motorbike that was custom-built for me (another $400, jury is out on that one).

making new frandz

I signed on for a shared workspace for the month (Dreamplex, $89), paid for March rent at a new place with friends ($200), have been drumming up quite a bit of digital marketing projects ($?), and decided to stay for the remainder of my 3 month visa here in Vietnam.

Things aren't a fairy tale at the moment, but the support from friends and family around the world has made me feel connected, loved and a little less alone. I'll end on these words from each of my parents:

Don’t run away from, medicate, or fuck away the pain. Be present to how life is right now. Let it burn off the stink. Be compassionate with who you are and where your life is right now. How would you talk to your 13 year-old Lulu? What would you tell her? Do you extend compassion and gentleness to yourself?
— Mom
In adventures it isn’t possible to fail. Most people won’t ever get on the boat.
— Dad

I'm Rich Bitch

Find out how to travel the world + make money - it's simple!

"gucci" sunglasses, duh

"gucci" sunglasses, duh

Bullshit. Bullshit I say. As a savvy digital marketer who is trying to define what a healthy stream of income looks like (and how much of my free time I will let it take up), I can tell you there isn't a simple source of cash flow, sitting there, just waiting for you to quit your job. Oh no.

I've been lucky with my work, I can do it just as well from this coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh as I can from a desk, in a cubicle, in a boring office building, in the 'burbs of Boston - actually, even better. But it is not EASY to find the right work and the right blend of clients with mutually beneficial expectations.

As I see them, these are the options:

  1.  Sign-on for a location independent Full Time Job: Work at nifty shared workspaces and coffee shops in foreign lands. However, the reason I chose to be a #digitalnomad is traveling with an enhanced freedom - something that sitting at a computer 50 hours/week detracts from.
  2. Balance multiple clients with varying needs: This is not a bad option unless the needs for multiple clients ramp up at the same time, which can be stressful. Also, building up a client base requires a lot of groundwork (networking, dead ends, consultations, etc.)
  3. Land one part-time client, average 20 hours/week: Timing to ebb and flow based on their needs + your own travel. Maintain a few additional clients for small projects as needed. This option seems heavenly...

To note, these clients are not waiting patiently for you with a pretty cash flow. Nope. Finding these relationships requires hustle, trying different clients and roles on for size, and patience. I'm still searching.

In the interim, I've been having a blast traveling and experiencing all sorts of wild and crazy things... But don't be fooled, I am incredibly budget conscious (see financial tracker here) and look for opportunities to work at dive shops, hostels and WWOOFing to defray the costs of travel.

Just like the couple who quit their jobs and now scrub toilets to get by, my ex and I did our share of un-glamorous work to earn a buck! For example: 

earning a buck

earning a buck

  • Worked 4 shifts/week at Pai Circus Hostel for free accommodation + a few meals (I welcomed guests, he was a security guard)
  • I traded my social media skills to defray some of my diving costs for Deep Blue Seafari. My approximate rate? $11 / hour. Quite reduced from my old 80k salary.
  • The ex works at The Hideout Hostel here in Ho Chi Minh. For $300/month, free beer at the hostel and a shift meal he gives them 6 (!!!!!) nights each week. He runs bar crawls, pours bottles of liquor down backpackers throats + gets home late at night. This was less than ideal for a few (ahem) reasons... And one of the contributing factors to the break-up.
  •  We made money when we sold our motorbikes. Even after I crashed and dented the Palawan bike we sold it for 1000 pesos ($20.95) more than we purchased it for. That's money saved avoiding rental costs and *hopefully* leaves a nice little profit at the end
  • Still looking into WWOOF, HelpX and Workaway options, but slightly underwhelmed so far by Vietnam's options (more on WWOOF here)

The net-net? Although not washing toilets (yet), the diet consists of plenty of packets of ramen and as shown above, I have done plenty of sub-minimum-wage work to make this possible. It's not all fun and insta-filters!

Offal or Awful?

We have been in Ho Chi Minh City for 14 days. This is long in backpacker time, yet short for the standards of what qualifies for most as a home. When choosing the nomadic life 3 months ago, I was fairly ill-informed. But now, as we continue this journey I'm starting to determine parameters that need to be in place for the perfect blend of transience and consistency - the most important being great wifi, with a close second of having interesting, fresh and varied food options (shockingly sparse in the Philippines). Coming in third, (surprising even my introverted self) I miss my girlfriends and girly-giggle-time. The lack of this leads to an acute sense of loneliness at times. To combat this, I've started to make plans with other digital nomads I've found online, try to stay in touch with other travelers we've met + now (thanks to good wifi) can call the States pretty regularly. But still, ouch.

pho-gasm

pho-gasm

HCMC is an amazing destination for both wifi and delightful dining options, sometimes under the same roof. Fresh herbs and vegetables are bountiful as you motorbike through the city - from the inexpensive food stands to the many small markets with fairly priced options. The culinary journey gets confusing though. I've downloaded an app to assist (Vietnamese to English food item translations), but it has about 100 items, whereas the Vietnamese food options seem to range somewhere in the thousands with variations in name based on which part of the country the specific recipe originated. Based on the food nomenclature we're always one Pha Lau away from a savory coconut stew - of offal (which by the way, is delicious, and weird). Offal = Internal organs + entrails of a butchered animal, FYI.

Trying out new food every day is one of my favorite parts of HCMC. These endless options create an adventure that is at times frightening but with a potential reward of total yum! This list includes Vietnamese foods I've tried and what they most simply mean in English IMO. Most definitely not comprehensive and probably not always 100% accurate based on my specific vendor experiences, so let me know if you see any errors!

  • Banh bao: fluffy bun stuffed with meat, potatoes, etc. inside
  • Banh beo: custard-like rice in little dishes, topped w dried fish or crumbled peanuts, use a chili oil on top
  • Banh mi: delicious sandwiches on french bread with sliced meat (cured or fried) + fresh herbs
  • Bun ba hue: rice vermicelli (thin) noodle soup with beef
  • Ca phe sua da: iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk (yum)
  • Com tam: rice dish, usually served with grilled pork
  • De vu nuong: this is the breast of the goat, we went to a goat bbq place with friends, so YUM
  • Luc lac: delicious cubed beef, always a safe bet
  • Pho: obviously the most well-known Vietnamese dish - linguine-type noodle soup, delicious meat + tasty herbs