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...

Paradise Found: Phu Quoc

I <3 Maggie!

I <3 Maggie!

I'd suggest that anyone go to Phu Quoc to recover from a breakup. Or to recover from... The common cold, general malaise, seasonal affective disorder, boredom... Make up any excuse you can and go! Plus, once you're in Vietnam the hopper flights can drop as low as $50 round trip from Saigon! 

My Buffalo-Boston-Creative-Soulmate Maggie (and ultra-talented jewelry designer) visited me for 10 days and we treated ourselves to an island getaway to Phu Quoc. This little island has its high season from November through March, but felt relatively quiet while we were there (March), which was perfect. The weather was also consistently perfect.

For accommodation, we went from luxe to luxury, choosing to treat ourselves to 2 different non-hostel resorts. We recommend them both for their own reasons:

puppy at MyPlace Siena

puppy at MyPlace Siena

MyPlace Siena is a quiet little boutique resort in between the city center and the airport (10 minutes to each). The rooms smell of cedar and the grounds feature gardens and fountains; it feels like a tiny slice of paradise. The rooms are priced reasonably (approx. $40 usd) and a simple (delicious) breakfast is included. I was in heaven here thanks to the menagerie of sweet pets that freely roam the property: 3 cats, 1 puppy, 1 dog, frogs and lizards. We rented a motorbike through the resort for under $7 per day and kicked off the vacation exactly as we had planned - stress free! We checked out after 3 nights to be closer to the beach, but it's important to note that MyPlace is building a swimming pool which will be a perfect addition!

phu-quoc-cassia-cottage-digital-nomad-blog

Next up was Cassia Cottage - this resort has created the ultimate island wonderland. Their infinity pool overlooks a pristine beachfront with lush seating options. At check-in we were greeted with a hibiscus juice and given a tour from Mariz. There are 3 pools in total and the resort was renovated last year, offering guests the option to stay in traditional garden cottages or luxury premium suites, we chose the former. Rooms are around $150 / night and are worth every penny. Included is wifi, unlimited breakfast (omelettes, croissants, VN foods...), aircon, pool, beach...

Other musts while on the island:

Rory's: The island was quiet during our stay, but Rory's always had a crowd! This beachside bar is where people flock to watch the sunset and get white-girl-wasted. If HJ is there you're sure to laugh your ass off. He's the Asian bartender with the Australian accent, and no, HJ doesn't stand for Hand Job (I asked...).

Winston's: I've decided to become a vegetarian (yes it's true); however I went out with a savory bang. The burgers here are stateside quality and the buns have a lovely sweet, pastry-esque appeal to them. We also met Winston, an expat from the States (duh), who had great recommendations for the rest of our trip.

Gecko Bar: A solid option for a cheap (delicious) Vietnamese bite. We had pho and veggie + noodles here, and a few bottles of their finest Dalat red (of note, Dalat red wine is wine from Dalat, VN, it is not fine, it is not even nearly fine...).

Sau Beach: Day 1 we motorbiked here - DO IT! Beautiful white sands and plenty of cheap VN places for a bite to eat on the main drag. However, resorts like Paradiso charge if you use their lounge chairs (150,000 dong each), so make sure to bring your own towel. We did park the motorbike for free there though, which may or may not be allowed.

Peach Coffee: Yummy and affordable, vegan and vegetarian options (See what I am doing now? Subliminally weaving my new agenda in!), fresh juices, smoothies, and on the main drag.

Photo cred shared between Maggie + me for this post. See more from her here!

Where in the World

Last night it dawned on me that there is a 1 in 7.4 billion chance that I will ever see my ex again. That's some deep shit.

flowers for the woman at UPS who SAVED MY LIFE!

flowers for the woman at UPS who SAVED MY LIFE!

I'm ok with it and I am also crying less. And talking to boys. No comments on that topic though. Seriously. I am not putting a dude on this blog again unless there is a fucking ring (but not a blood diamond ring). It's pretty apparent that my "picker" is broken, so perhaps I stop that stuff altogether for a bit. But there is that whole sex part. Dang...

More importantly, what is next? WHERE? Making travel decisions with your partner takes both of your interests into account. Like motorbiking north from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. But as we all know, I am a terrible driver (Exhibit A, Exhibit B), so in the absence of boyfriend the simplest way to keep myself alive is sans motorbike. 

The luxury of being able to work as a digital nomad does not escape me. I have paying clients, a low cost of life, and until the end of April until my visa expires. But I feel frozen in making a decision. Typically decisive and rash, all of a sudden I cannot even identify what climate I want to be in. Part of me wants to hop on the next flight to Buffalo and hole up in the spare room at my mom or dad's. But a bigger part of me has decided that this "trip" will not be about a failed relationship.

Peace, respect, love? I'll add them to the list...

Peace, respect, love? I'll add them to the list...

As luck would have it, opportunities keep coming up. A roommate (Gary ♥) told me to watch for signs from the universe; more specifically, 3 signs to guide any one decision. Since then, I landed a part time gig with an awesome yoga brand, I have an offer in Portugal, and my awareness for coworking spaces and the digital nomad community has expanded. I was also kicked off one Facebook Group for nomads after cracking a Chaturbate joke. It's all a learning experience, and my brand of humor isn't for everyone, apparently. 

Next week one of my favorite people in the world, Maggie, is visiting me. We are taking to the islands, blogging, working remotely, hiking, and I get some soul-achingly-necessary girl time. 

I am drenched in the opulent luxury of choices. And I feel really fucking lucky.

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