Tieks: My Favorite Travel Flats + a Giveaway!

Tieks: My Favorite Travel Flats + a Giveaway!

On most of my backpacking trips, I packed only two pairs of shoes: flip flops and running shoes.

Which of course meant I had nothing to wear in dressier situations. In Asia I was even turned down at several clubs for not having proper footwear. (Like at the Skybar in Saigon. Ugh.)

So on my most recent trip I decided to pack a pair of black Tieks (that I won in a travel blog giveaway, funny enough) to accompany my flip flops and trainers.

And I was so glad I did.

For one, having a pair of stylish, comfortable shoes in Europe is a must (please never wear tennis or hiking shoes in public in Europe, mkay?). And secondly, they take up almost no space in your backpack.

So this year I ordered another pair of Tieks in burgundy- perfect for a wine lover, non?

Tieks

Tieks

Why Tieks are perfect for travel:

a. They’re stylish, and look good anywhere from European cobblestones to Southeast Asian clubs.

b. They’re comfortable, thanks to the padded sole.

c. They’re well-made, with soft but durable Italian leather. And they last- they don’t wear out quickly like most ballet flats.

d. They’re extra portable because they fold up into themselves! (See first image).

And okay fine, I love the box they come in. And the myriad colors. (I not-so-secretly would love the leopard. Next pair.)

Tieks

But Tieks aren’t just good for travel, they’re also great for everyday life– I wear both my burgundy and black pairs to the office all the time.

Tieks_Venice Tieks also make great gifts for those you love very, very much- hey, they ain’t cheap! My best friend pictured above in the ballerina pink Tieks I gave her for Christmas. Photo taken on our trip to Venice last year.

Tieks_Venice_Canal

TIeks_Venice_carnevale

All this being said, I wanted to give a $100 Tieks gift certificate to one of my readers, for you to try out on your next trip. To enter all you have to do follow me or Tieks on Twitter or visit the Ashley Abroad or Tieks Facebook pages. Easy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway will run until 12:00 AM. on Sunday, April 26. You only have three days! On Sunday I will announce the winner on my Facebook page so stay tuned.

Which color Tieks would you choose? Comment below!

A note of caution- Tieks are made of real leather so don’t get them wet. They definitely can handle some moisture but won’t do well in two feet of snow! Also order down if you’re a half size- I’m an 8.5 and I wear an 8 in Tieks.

My Two-Week Itinerary for Malaysia

My Two-Week Itinerary for Malaysia

While I didn’t know much about Malaysia before visiting, I quickly came to love it.

I journeyed to Malaysia overland from Thailand, and instantly the landscape changed: better, cleaner roads, no billboards, women in colorful headdresses, verdant rice paddies and wild, red-earthed jungle.

Second only to Singapore, Malaysia is the richest country in Southeast Asia, making public transit a breeze and the level of English impressively high. The high level of English made meeting locals much easier than in other parts of Southeast Asia, save Singapore.*

Melaka_Market

Malaysia is also extremely diverse, but I soon found that Malaysia is less of a melting pot and more of a stew. Malaysia is composed of three main ethnic groups that rarely intermarry: Malay (60%), Chinese (23%) and Indian (7%). Interestingly enough, these ethnic groups grow up speaking different languages, practicing different religions and eating different food.

For example, when I referred to a group of Chinese-Malay girls I had met as Malay, they retorted, “We’re not Malay! We’re Chinese.”

Malaysia isn’t a typical fixture on the Southeast Asian backpacking trail. It’s fairly expensive for Southeast Asia and the alcohol isn’t cheap.

That being said there are pockets of the backpacking scene- Reggae Mansion in Kuala Lumpur, for example, as well as the Perhentian Islands.

If all you want to do is party, Malaysia is not the place. But if you’re interested in fascinating culture, hundreds of years of history and some of the best meals of your life, I’d whole-heartedly recommend Malaysia.

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Here are my recommendations for a two week Malaysia itinerary if you have limited time. I’ve also noted a few things that weren’t worth the hype (in my humble opinion) so you won’t waste your time.

Note- the recommended accommodation is geared towards budget-conscious travelers like myself, so if you’re not interested in hostels or guesthouses then skip that part!

Penang

Penang

It’s no secret that I loved Penang– between the beautiful Peranakan mansions and the splashes of street art all over the city, I fell hard for this little colonial city. I would highly recommend between 2-4 days there.

Eat:

Eat at hawker centres such as CF Hawker Centre and Red Garden Food Paradise for a wide variety of food and a mostly local experience.

Make sure to try Penang’s most famous local dish, Char Kuey Teow, saucy, stir-fried noodles with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs and Chinese chives.

Also if you’re craving Indian head to Little India for dinner- I ate very well there!

Stay:

I really liked Roommates Penang, the self-titled “coziest guesthouse in Penang” for its central location, glacial AC, historic Chinese shophouse facade and reasonable price (RM 28, or $7.70 USD for a bed in the standard dorm). It could use a common room though.

Do:

While in Penang visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, an opulent mansion that will teach you about Peranakan history, the Clan Jettiesthe historical docklands where Chinese-Malay clans have lived for more than a century and see all of the street art around Georgetown– I loved Ernest Zacharevic’s work in particular.

Cameron Highlands

Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Cameron_Highlands

Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Cameron_Highlands_1

While I personally didn’t really get The Cameron Highlands (truthfully I found them a bit boring), a lot of people love them. I will admit that they are a good place to escape the heat and take pictures of verdant tea fields, so head there if you’re dying to cool-down (totally reasonable in Malaysia.)

Kuala Lumpur

Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Kuala_Lumpur

KL decidedly doesn’t have the best reputation- it’s not a beautiful city by any means, and is terrible for pedestrians, with lots of highways and shoddy sidewalks. That being said I loved my time there and found the contrast of colorful colonial architecture and 70s skyscrapers kind of charming. Plus, the food is AMAZING.

Eat: Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Curry_laksa

All of the street food. I spent a week there eating solely from dirt-cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurants and couldn’t have been happier. I’d particularly recommend trying curry laksa, chicken rice (of course) and fish head bihun.

Stay:

Backpackers, get theeselves to Reggae Mansion.

I’ve stayed at 60-70+ hostels in my travels and NO JOKE, the Reggae Mansion is my favorite ever. It has three storeys, spotless cubby bunks (a must for privacy), great AC, a movie room, a hilarious owner and a rooftop bar where you can party, try karaoke and smoke shisha. My travel buddy and I stayed an entire week.

Do:

As a lover of Islamic art and architecture I enjoyed the Islamic Arts Museum. The Museum was very peaceful with few tourist and had centuries-old qur’ans, traditional clothing and tiles on display- well worth a visit.

Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Batu_caves

If you’ve never been to India you might enjoy the Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan that was built in 2006. Personally I found it a bit crowded, dirty and crawling with macaques. But if you’re interested in Hindu deities it might be worth a stop.

Note- ladies should cover up with a shawl and long skirt or you’ll have to rent a sarong at the gate.

Melaka

Melaka

While I didn’t adore Melaka quite as much as Penang, I still enjoyed the beautiful riverside city. Melaka was colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch AND British, so naturally has lots of history.

Eat:

The Jonker Walk Night Market is a bustling market with tons of great eats- I had really good turnip cakes and pork buns there.

The best food I tried in Melaka was satay celup, which I had at Ban Li Xiang. If the idea of dipping food-on-a-stick into a vat of bubbling peanut sauce appeals to you, head there.

Finally I really like The Daily Fix, an adorable hipster coffee shop. I especially loved the vintage decor and free wifi.

Stay:

No recommendations here- I ended up staying in a charmless guesthouse as I wasn’t able to find an appealing hostel.

Do:

Walk the riverfront at sunset, visit historic St. Paul’s Church and stop by Cheng Hoon Teng, a beautiful Chinese temple where I worshipped with my hosts.

Despite my interest in colonial history I wasn’t a huge fan of A Famosa, the only remains of a Portuguese fort, or the Dutch graveyard, where most of the graves are actually English.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Obviously, this itinerary is just a suggestion and I haven’t been everywhere in Malaysia by any means. If I could go back I would visit the Perhentian Islands or Langkawi for beaches, Borneo for jungle and orangutans and Sipadan for some of the best scuba-diving in the world.

*(And while I’m all for speaking foreign languages, I speak three fluently after all, the level of English in a foreign country DOES matter if you care about meeting locals. You can’t speak every language unfortunately!)

Have you ever been to Malaysia? Where would you recommending going?

Roommates Penang and Reggae Mansion generously hosted my stay for two nights each. As always, all opinions are completely my own.

How to Balance Blogging with a Full-time Job: Advice From the Pros

How to Balance Blogging with a Full-time Job: Advice From the Pros

For the first two years of my blogging career, I churned out 2-3 posts a week rather easily. But once I moved to Denver and started a full-time job, I floundered. How on earth do people have the time or energy to do this after work? I wondered, with barely enough energy to watch Scandal.

While I’ve since figured out a blogging strategy (schedule posts on Sundays, draft posts during lunch at work) I still struggle to get posts out as consistently as I once did. Which is why I wanted to start this series on “Balancing Blogging”, and hear from bloggers who balance their blogs with full-time jobs, teaching abroad, au pairing or school.

Today we’re hearing from bloggers like me, who balance blogging while working full-time. I’m so excited to share with you all of their wise advice so take it away ladies!

How to balance blogging with a full-time job

Image Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase

Balancing_Blogging_With_Fulltime_Job

Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Welcome, Whitney! So have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

I’ve always blogged and worked. Or blogged and studied (back when I was a student).

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

I wish I had some sage advice but if truth be told… it is a challenge. The difficulty lies in balancing work responsibilities, blogging, AND having a social life. Not to mention finding the time to create NEW content. I’m not going to have a lot to blog about if I’m always stuck behind a computer screen… that’s for sure!

I think the secret is utilizing the time that you already have. I don’t want to sacrifice all of my evenings or my sacred weekends but I do have time. My employer gives me an hour-long lunch break. During the winter when I tend to hide indoors a bit more, I can easily squeeze 30 minutes of writing on my break.

I also try my hand at multi-tasking. For example, in between loads of laundry I usually end up editing photos or adding the finishing touches to a post. It’s all about time management and finding the “lost time” that we can reclaim. Some of my best ideas come to me during my morning commute. Since I have the luxury of riding transit this means I’m free to jot notes on my smart phone that I can fine-tune later.

It’s not going to look the same for everyone but I guarantee that you have time hiding somewhere. You just have to look for it!

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

I’ve always blogged and worked, but it was much easier to do when I lived in Paris and my job involved me being offline and outside, often running around the city. Back then, it was enjoyable to come home and spend six hours on the computer crafting blog posts, after being out all day for work.

These days, when I have a job that already requires working on a laptop 8+ hours during the day, it’s difficult to come home and spend even more time staring at my computer screen. I want to see friends, read a book, just turn my mind off — and that really makes blog productivity go down.

 

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

Small steps. I used to get all my blog posts done in one fell swoop — choosing photos, editing them, writing and rewriting — and most posts took around 6-8 hours (because I take a lot photos and am a perfectionist, an exhausting combination).

Now I try to do a little bit each night after work — so I’ll take a few days to organize and cull photos, a couple more to edit them, and a day to write the post. My output may be smaller, but this way I make sure I don’t burn out while still making progress on the blog.

 

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

When I first launched Let Us Wanderlust in September 2013, I’d left behind my career in Australia to pursue a life of travel on the road. I spent six months travelling full-time all across Canada and around the US and would blog about my adventures 3-4 times a week, using my 7 inch tablet to write posts, edit pictures and engage on social media.

With constant lack of wifi and no computer, it was a real challenge at times, but the memories I managed to capture over those six months were well worth the struggle!  Since returning home to Australia 9 months ago, I have settled back into the 9-5 work routine and I blog three times a week.

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

Balance is something I am in constant pursuit of in all areas of my life, including the amount of time and energy I invest in my blog, so I don’t purport to have all the answers here! In fact, my word for 2015 is balance, as it’s something that seems so hard to strike but is so worthwhile striving for.

My best advice is to be as organised as you can when it comes to blogging. I carry a notebook/phone with my at all times (even when at work!) so I can jot down post ideas as they come to me, I write posts in advance (not every one, but I try my hardest to strive towards that!) one weekend a month or on a day off from work, and I use a planner to help me plan out my post schedule.

I have played around with various online editorial calendars but nothing works better for me than a planner and post-it notes – I can move posts around without my planner looking like a hot mess! Being organised and having a plan really helps me find balance between blogging, my full-time job and all the other things I’m doing in my life. It also allows me to take a step back from the online world as much as possible so I can just enjoy my life with the people I care about. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters most to me.

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog? 

I had more time to write when I was still a grad student, but I ever since launching my blog back in 2012, I’ve put quality over quantity.

I know some of the long-established bloggers advise newbie bloggers to write at least four articles per week, but even as a student I didn’t have that much time to spare. Still, in my first year of blogging, I tried to stick to a writing schedule that had a photo essay planned for Mondays, and a longer piece of travel advice, stories, or other musings due on Thursdays.

When I started working as a medievalist in the fall of 2013, I had to cut back the number of weekly posts. However this also resulted in me feeling less pressured into my strict schedule corset. Today, I rarely ever post twice a week, but I only share meaningful pieces created out of real inspiration unsuppressed by the need to “just get something out there.”

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

Honestly, I still haven’t figured this out entirely, but since my hours at work are quite flexible, I’ve often found myself writing for my blog in the mornings while having breakfast — morning coffee and creativity just go so well together!

This is probably the best balancing advice I can give: Find a day, or a time of the day, that fits into your work schedule, but that also leaves you with enough time to think and be creative. Also: Try to get away from the computer screen every once in a while, especially if both of your obligations involve working on a PC. Sometimes I feel like all the technology is sucking the life out of me, and I can’t think of anything to write while staring at a blinking cursor on an empty page any longer — but I don’t stress myself out, or force myself to write.

Instead I just read random fiction, go for a walk, or just people-watch in a café. Clearing your head and giving your eyes a computer screen break really does wonders for creativity sometimes and it will absolutely pay off for your day job and your blog!

 

Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

I’ve always blogged and worked. I had a different blog before Pies + Travel that I basically never updated. Once I started traveling more consistently with my partner, I knew I had to get serious about blogging so I created Pies + Travel for my ongoing travels, but also to highlight a few pie recipes I had from my 50-pie challenge and bits that I love about Atlanta. It’s been fun so far and I really love connecting with people all over the internet and the world.
I like the posting frequency I have right now since it’s perfect for my work schedule. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to blogs, just be yourself and do what you love.

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

In some capacity I’ve always blogged and worked, it was just much less than I blog currently. I guess the crazy profession of a marketing copywriter demands an alternative creative outlet more often now, which is something my blog provides. Or, it could be I have less free time and therefore the pressure to get it done wins. Nothing like good ol’ time constraints to light a fire under my bum.

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

Weekends are obviously key for getting an arsenal of posts on deck for the upcoming weeks that you can schedule. During the regular work week, I maintain social media accounts for my site and often find myself typing away on new posts during The Real Housewives at night (this is a judgment-free zone). The hubster and I have a minor obsession with traveling, so I’ve tried to utilize the down time at airports or on planes to whip through some words. Sometimes the people watching and Bloody Mary’s distract me. I can’t help it!

Blogging and working full-time isn’t a perfect science. I try not to be too hard on myself when work gets busy and I can’t muster up creating what I think is a worthwhile post. I just do what I can, when I can.

Helpful tip: I’m running my 2nd half-marathon this month insert < AHHHHH!!! here> and find that during training runs, I often think of great topics to write about. So I have an ongoing “Post Ideas” document on my Google Drive where all of my crazy ideas are housed. It’s been great in a pinch when I know I need to write something and I’m not feeling inspired.

 

Thank you to all the ladies who contributed to this post! There were so many contributors that a part two is coming soon. Also needed- bloggers who balance blogging with au pairing, school OR teaching English abroad!

. . . . . . . . . . .

What about you? Do you have any sage advice on how to balance blogging with full-time job?

Solo Travel in Melaka: My Favorite Experiences

Solo Travel in Melaka: My Favorite Experiences

On my four-month world trip I did very little solo travel. Which frankly was fine- after two months of traveling solo in Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia, I was burnt out on being alone.

So I felt torn when my travel buddy, Dylan, wanted to go to Singapore when I was dead-set on Melaka. I was concerned about both traveling alone and traveling alone as a woman in a Muslim country.

But despite my doubts I booked my bus trip to Melaka and vowed to meet up with Dylan in Hanoi.

Melaka

It turned out my worries were for nothing- traveling solo to Melaka worked out perfectly and I came to adore the historic and food-obsessed city. Melaka was ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British- how could I not find it interesting?

Here’s a little recap on the my favorite experiences in Melaka.

Melaka_Tourism

Eating Everything the Jonker Walk Night Market

In typical backpacker style I spent my first day in Melaka combing the streets in search of a hostel with a thirty-pound backpack. Always a good time.

So by the time I’d found a room, I was ravenous- hence why I ate all of the following at the Melaka Night Market.

Melaka_Food_Market

Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_turnip

The best thing I ate was this little barbecue pork bun. So tiny but so tasty.

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Melaka_Food_Market

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I’d highly recommend visiting the Melaka night market- I loved not only the food but also the bustling energy and ample photo opportunities.

Strolling the Magical Riverfront

The riverfront in Melaka was oh-so-romantic, dotted with old-fashioned street lamps and shuttered, red-roofed buildings.

Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Melaka_riverfront

Melaka_Riverfront

While romantic riverfronts are uh, less enticing when you’re on your own, I still enjoyed snapping photos at sunset and savoring the cool river breeze, always a welcome feeling in crazy-humid Malaysia. Melaka_Riverfront_Night

Meeting a Local Girl and All Her Friends

Melaka

As you guys may have noticed, what interests me most about travel is local culture, something that can be hard to experience in Southeast Asia. So I was thrilled when Grace, a Melaka-native, reached out to me via Instagram and offered to meet me for coffee.

At coffee we clicked instantly, and soon I met all of her sweet and welcoming friends. Why can’t that happen in every city that you visit solo?

Trying Satay Celup for the First Time

On my second day in Melaka I told my host that I wanted to try satay celup, and suggested we go to Capitol Satay, a local satay joint I had read about.

“Uh no, that’s just for tourists. No one from Melaka goes there.” Melaka_Satay

So instead we headed to Ban Li Xiang, a restaurant on the outskirts of town. Ban Li Xiang, 万里香, which apparently translates to, “food so good you can smell it a thousand miles away.”

Here are the steps of eating satay celup, the perfect food for all of my fellow peanut sauce addicts:

  1. Walk over to refrigerator filled with various foods on a stick: quail eggs, eggs, liver, prawns, beef, chicken, etc. Melaka_Satay_Celup
  2. Wait for the large vat of peanut sauce in the middle of your table to heat up.
  3. Plop sticks into the peanut sauce, and wait for them to fully cook. IMG_0690
  4. Devour sticks, dripping in peanut sauce.
  5. Have waiter come over and count the sticks, and pay based on how many sticks you ate.

Having Indian Brunch

One morning the girls insisted we go out for Indian brunch. While I had just spend six weeks in India and even the idea of dahl made me feel nauseated, I reluctantly agreed.

But I’m glad I did- this brunch was bomb.

Melaka_Girls I loved the food- both the chai and roti prata were on point. IMG_0702

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Like the satay celup restaurant this brunch-place at Limonbongan cafeteria was on the outskirts of Melaka, as all the good food spots are. Hard-core foodies- definitely rent a car when in Melaka!

Worshipping a Buddhist Temple

While I’m not religious, worshipping a Chinese Buddhist temple was fascinating. The girls taught me how to pray there step-by-step, something I never would’ve known on my own.

First you touch the balls inside the dragon’s mouth for good luck.

Melaka_Chinese_temple

Melaka_Chinese_temple_Interior

Melaka_Chinese_temple_Ritual Then you take a container filled with sticks and shake them a bit, and pull out the longest one. Each stick coordinates to a fortune which you then look up in a book. Melaka_Chinese_temple_Fortune My fortune was the questionably translated fortune below:

Business just kept to what it is to be, not to go too far

Work harder for your merit and future undertaking

Be sincere in your household affairs

Marriage afraid of being cheated

Do not interfering other people’s affairs when you are out

Be cautious when you are driving

Illness, seek doctor treatment quickly

Health will be at risk during old age

 

And after you read your fortune, you burn it. I wasn’t entirely sure of the reason why, but I followed suit anyway. When in Melaka. Melaka_Chinese_temple_Fortune_Burning

Despite my apprehensions I truly had an amazing experience in Melaka- I adored the architecture, food and of course the people. Thanks to Grace and her group of friends for showing me around- it made my visit to Melaka that much better!

Have you visited Melaka?

How to Become an Au Pair in France

How to Become an Au Pair in France

One of the biggest reasons people visit my blog is to find out how to become an au pair in France. So today we are hearing from Marianne, an American au pair who is currently working in Brittany, France.

Here she walks us through every single step of the au pair application and tells us about her living situation in Brittany.

As many of you may know, I was an au pair in Paris, France back in 2012-13, so this is a post I’m super excited to share with you. Take it away, Marianne!

How to Become an Au Pair in France

When I started researching how to become an au pair I found that there were few resources on the internet, other than a couple blogs (some good posts I found were on Ashley Abroad, iminparisgonoles and relokate) that had really helpful pages on how to become an au pair in France.

So now that I’ve actually successfully completed the process, I thought I’d explain the process for those who’d like to do it as well. In this post I will address exactly what was needed from me, as an American, to become an au pair in France.

Just so we’re all clear, an au pair is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family’s childcare and housework in exchange for free room and board as well as a small amount of spending money.

1. Set up an account on an au pair website

First, set up an account on an au pair website – there are many of these sites that pair au pairs with families but the most popular is Au Pair World. It’s kind of like a free OkCupid for au pairs and families.

You can go with an agency where they’ll do all the work for you and match you up with a family themselves, but this is rather expensive.

I decided to make an account on Au Pair World. You can add photos, description, specifications, age, etc. Fill this out thoroughly because the more information you put, the better.

You can also search through families’ photos and bios as well as contact them directly. My family contacted me directly but this will vary case to case.

2. Find a family

My advice as far as picking a family: get to know them. Send emails back and forth, Skype with them, seriously think whether you could live with this family for a whole year.

How well do you feel like you can talk to them? Are they in a location that you like? This is your time to be picky because you don’t want to get there and find out that you’re unhappy in the situation.

In my case I almost agreed to be an au pair to one family merely because they were the first family to express interest in me. But when I skyped for the first time with my current family, I knew they were the ones. Even though we spoke to each other through garbled English and broken French, we could relate to each other and we found a way to communicate.

How to Become an Au Pair in France

3. Figure Out Which Visa You Need Based on your Nationality

If you are a citizen of the EU/EFTA (this link will tell you whether or not you are one) then follow these instructions. However if you’re not a citizen of the EU (like myself, if you’re from the United States) then continue with my steps.

4. Apply for Your Passport

This is kind of a given, but make sure you have a passport otherwise you won’t get very far. You can get the form online and apply for the passport in most post offices. They’ll even take your picture there!

5. Translate Your Diplomas

You’ll need to get copies of your diplomas (a good idea is to include both high school and college if you went to both) translated into French. I used OneHourTranslation because it was the cheapest translation service I could find ($.072 c. per word!) and they have it translated in under an hour.

Other services are much more expensive. I’ve heard that some people have just plugged the diplomas into Google Translate and they were fine, but this wasn’t something I wanted to bet on so I went with onehourtranslation. I ended up spending something like $10 to translate both my High School and College Diplomas.

[Editor’s note- I used Google Translate and it was totally fine. But of course I understand if you’d rather use a more reliable service.]

6. Make an Appointment With A Doctor

You will need to get a signed medical certificate that states that you are in good health. You can get a copy of the health certificate on the AuPairWorld website here.

Call your doctor and ask for a general physical, then bring the certificate you downloaded and printed out and have them sign it. If you don’t have a doctor – you can get a physical at most Planned Parenthood centers.

The only thing is this is a bit tricky – you can’t have the signed date be any more than three months away from the date you’ll be arriving in France.

How to Become an Au Pair in France

7. Ask Host Family To Register You In A French Language Course

To receive an au pair visa in France means the visa you will apply for will be a long-stay student visa. In order to receive a student visa you must be enrolled in a French language course. These are fairly easy courses of all levels, designed for people who are learning French as a foreign language.

Make sure that your family signs you up for a class otherwise you won’t be able to get your visa. 

8. Sign the Au Pair Contract and Send the Documents

Once you have found a family, they will send you over the au pair contract to sign. Scanning and emailing will work just fine, no need to actually post documents overseas.

Make sure you are very detailed in the description of your duties in the au pair contract. You want to make sure that you won’t end up being a maid for the family, or doing things that you may not have agreed to.

Be very clear and ask your questions now. Then when you’re done, scan and email the documents back to the family. Make sure you include all the following documents:

  • Au pair contract, signed by both parties
  • A copy of your diplomas, translated into French
  • A health certificate signed by a doctor, saying that you are in good health.
  • A photocopy of your passport
  • Motivation letter written in French (one page, totally okay to write in English then translate with Google Translate).

9. Host Family Takes Documents to be Approved

The host family will take the necessary documents to be approved. Once approved see #9. This can be a pain as the DIRRECTE may ask for additional documents to be sent.

For me, I ended up also needing to send a copy of my current resume and proof that I took French language classes. I used screenshots from the online portal at the university I had attended, but a transcript could work as well.

10. Have Host Family Mail Approved Contract and Certificate of Enrollment

You’ll need to have your host family mail you the approved au pair contract as well as the certificate of enrollment in a French language course as you will need the originals when you apply for your visa.

My family sent it by mail and it took about two weeks to arrive. I’m not sure if you can just take a scanned, approved contract to get your visa, but it was not something I wanted to test out.

[Editor’s note- as far as I understand your family has to send over a paper copy of the approved contract and certificate of enrollment, which of course is a total nuisance and should be done by scanning/emailing- oh, France. At least that was my situation as well.]

11. Make an Appointment to Apply For Your Visa at the Nearest French Consulate

To apply for your visa, you need to make an appointment. Depending on the French consulate you go to you may not be able to make an appointment that is any less than three weeks out. I made my appointment for the French consulate in San Francisco in late June and the earliest appointment I could make was July 25th! Something to be aware of.

In order to make an appointment go to this page (this one links to the consulate in San Francisco – you’ll want to find the equivalent at the consulate that is closest to you – just Google “French consulate” and then the state you live in) and find the link to make an appointment.

12. Book Your Flight

Depending on the time of year flights will be cheaper. I primarily used skyscanner to find the cheapest tickets, obsessively checking it each day. It has a unique feature that allows you to browse by date to find the cheapest day to fly.

You can also look for flights through Student Universe. They provide discounts for people under the age of 26, or if you’re a student.

I found that the sweet spot for cheapest flights is to purchase your ticket about 6 weeks before you wish to fly. I ended up purchasing my tickets about 6 weeks before I was set to leave and was able to get the cheapest ticket through Student Universe.

Keep in mind that flights will be the most expensive during the summer travel months and much cheaper in the fall or winter months. 

[Editor’s note- always request that your family pay for your flight. While not all will, some do so it’s worth asking. For reference, my family paid for my ticket.]

13. Apply For Your Student Visa

In order to work as an au pair you will apply for a student visa, or long séjour mention étudiant. Allow for at least three weeks before you leave for the visa to arrive. Find the nearest French consulate near you and search through their information. I needed to visit the consulate in San Francisco, and on their website it’s categorized as “long stay visa for au pair.” They had details on how to make an appointment, how much the visa will cost, everything you’ll need to bring, etc.

If you’re going to the French consulate, here’s what you’ll need:

1. Passport valid for at least three months after your return to the US + 1 photocopy of the identity pages. Your passport must have been issued less than 10 years ago, be valid for at least three months after your return to the US and have at least 2 blank visas pages left.

2. Processing fees ($68) – may vary for different consulates. (This changed – their website said $68 when I checked, I ended up being charged $138)

3. One application form (English version) filled out completely and signed by the applicant. This can be found on the consulate web page.

4. One ID picture glued/stapled onto the application form

5. “Au Pair” Contract approved by the French Ministry of Labour. This contract is obtained by the host family in France at the “Direction Départementale du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle -D.D.T.E.F.P.”

6. Proof of your previous studies (your most recent diplomas) – I’d take copies of both the English and French versions that you had translated.

7. Proof of registration or letter of enrollment in a language school specifying exact dates of attendance.

8. If you are not a U.S. citizen: a valid U.S. permanent residence card (“green card”) or a valid U.S. visa with valid I-94 or valid I-20, or an Advance Parole document.

9. One residence form duly filled out (upper part only) – you’ll find this on the consulate website.

10. E-ticket or reservation confirmation showing the departure date for Europe.

11. A self-addressed prepaid EXPRESS MAIL envelope from the US POST OFFICE ONLY – NO FEDEX / UPS / AIRBORNE EXPRESS accepted.

Keep in mind that you’ll have to make the appointment for a weekday, you’ll need all of your paperwork, and you’ll expect to wait three weeks before you’ll receive the visa. My appointment was at 9:30am, so I stayed with a friend in San Francisco.

Upon arriving at the French consulate, it took maybe 15 minutes to get everything done. They will make sure you have all of the correct paperwork, plus copies of everything. They’ll keep the copies after confirming the originals. Then I was fingerprinted and they took my photo.

I was told I would receive the visa in the mail in 2-3 weeks and I received it just over a week later. It was incredibly easy, but I hear it does not go easily for everyone.

14. Once You Arrive in France, Register With The URSSAF

Ask your host family to register you with the URSSAF. Your family may give you this ahead of time but it’s not required before you leave. You’ll just need to get it done within the first eight days of being in France. This will cover your social security and health insurance while you’re in France and your host family should take care of this for you.

15. Register with the OFII

Within three months of arrival you’ll need to register with the OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration). This will make you officially a resident of France during your stay. In my case this just involved sending the confirmed OFII paperwork via the mail to the necessary administrations. The paperwork is complete when the visa office sends it back (with the visa/passport) to you. This is something very important to remember when packing, otherwise you’ll need to have a family member send it over.

I suggest bringing the paper and then handing it over to your host parents once you get to France, they will know what to do with it.

. . . . . . . . . . .

There you have it! Lots of steps and a lot of work, but with good time management and the drive to have such a unique experience, it can be accomplished. The whole process was fairly easy, considering how many things needed to be done.

 

What to Expect When You Arrive:

Expect to not be able to understand the language. Even if you’ve had French education, the actual spoken French will be very different from what you studied.

I thought that I had an alright comprehension of French and when I got to France, I found it to be very difficult to speak and understand conversations. It helped that all of the family friends that I met were very welcoming and happy to help me learn. Every family will be different so you may not have a situation that is anything like my own.

Bretagne Red Door, au pair

My situation: I live with my host family and their two children and I work about 30 hours a week, which is the max that you’re allowed to work. My host family pays for my French language classes, my cell phone, my gas for the car that they provide for me (because I drive the children to and from school), and they give me 85 euro/week. I paid for my own airline tickets.

I live with the family but I have my own living quarters. I also am welcome at all of their meals and they will purchase any food I may want. I am free to do whatever I want in my free time. On holidays that the children have from school, I have time off and I can travel freely.

My Schedule: Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri: 7:30 – 9:00am and 4:30 – 6:30/7pm, Wednesday: 7:30am – 6:30/7pm. These are average times, sometimes they vary greatly. Weekends I am free.

Other examples:

Friend #1: Works 30 hours at 80 euro/week. Two very young children. Language classes and cell phone provided by the parents.

Friend #2: Works 30 hours at 100 euro/week for three boys. School is not paid for by the parents but cell phone is provided. During school holidays Friend #2 is sometimes required to travel and work with the family.

Would you like to be an au pair in France?

Marianne_au_pair Originally from California, Marianne lives in western France where she currently is working as an au pair and struggling daily with the French language. A lover of dogs, bicycling, bread, and chocolate, she does freelance marketing and web design, and writes at www.californienne.com. She can be reached by email at californienneblog@gmail.com.

I’m Off to the Middle East… Wait What?

I’m Off to the Middle East… Wait What?

As you may have readI’m off to Jordan TONIGHT with three friends and fellow travel bloggers: Amanda, Jessica and Julika!

The four of us met in Madrid last year, insta-bonded and have been plotting our next adventure ever since. I’m ridiculously excited to explore Jordan with them. And of course, to lay eyes on the Middle East for the first time ever, something I’ve dreamed of for years.

#GirlsGoneJordan

Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase

As a native of Detroit, Michigan, I’m no stranger to Middle Eastern food or culture– after all, Detroit is home to the largest population of Arab Americans in the country. I even consider Middle Eastern to be my comfort food- my coming-home meal is always hummus with pickled beets, lamb tips and sesame pita. (True story- I always make my brother bring it to the airport when he picks me up. I’m terrible.)

But back to the trip. The four of us aren’t just visiting Jordan as tourists. The purpose of our campaign, #GirlsGoneJordan is to strip away stereotypes about Jordan and encourage women to travel to the Middle East.

As a history nerd I can’t wait to explore such an ancient part of the world. But as a feminist and strong supporter of female travel this trip is about more than just visiting Jordan- it’s also a way to support women-based causes that I’m very passionate about.

Petra Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The four of us will be posting on social media all next week so if you want to know what we’re up to check out the links below. And of course, expect a deluge of Jordan blog posts once I’m back in the states.

Facebook: Amanda | Ashley | Jessica | Julika

Twitter: Amanda | Ashley | Jessica | Julika | #GirlsGoneJordan

Instagram: Amanda | Ashley | Jessica | Julika | #GirlsGoneJordan

 

Have you ever visited Jordan or the Middle East? Would you? And what should I most definitely eat when I’m there?

Life Out West: Months 4 and 5

Life Out West: Months 4 and 5

You guys know how serious I am about money management, especially when abroad. So check out Nutmeg, a fully managed investment portfolio that you can access online. With Nutmeg you can set financial goals and receive assistance to help you reach them, with everything from ISAs to pensions. It has been featured on The Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times so definitely check it out if you’re looking to invest!

. . . . . . . . . . .

While on my RTW trip I loved posting monthly updates as they’re so much fun to both write and look back on. So I figured why not recap my new life out west too? Read about month 1 and months 2 & 3 here. All these photos are from Instagram, @ashleyabroad– find me there for slices of daily life!

Well guys, I’ve been busy- hence the lack of posts up on the blog! And while I’ve adored skiing almost every weekend, I’m almost relieved ski season is over- it will be nice to have my weekends back.

There were lots of highlights of February and March: I was featured in the Detroit Free Press, won $300 and a hackathon at work and even flew back home to Michigan for a quick 36-hour visit.

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One highlight of February- beautiful chocolates from my boyfriend on Valentine’s Day! Chocolates > Flowers.

Highs

Going on my first business trip!

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I was so excited to be chosen to Salt Lake City to represent sovrn at The Blogger Network’s Build Your Blog Conference. I learned a few things- tons of mommy bloggers are Mormon, and expensing things is awesome.

While there were no travel bloggers present (mainly mommy, DIY and food), it gave me a taste of what blogging conferences are like, and reminded me that this year I finally have to attend TBEX.

Being featured in the Detroit Free Press

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Blogging has been a crazy journey, but nothing has been crazier than being featured in a two-page color spread in my hometown newspaper! The journalist perfectly understood my life and I was so honored to be featured.

Winning the company hackathon (and buying a 24mm lens!) 

Hackathon – an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designersand project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Wikipedia

In March sovrn threw a company-wide hackathon in which we formed teams of 4-5 people to brainstorm ideas that would benefit the company. Crazy enough, my team not only won, but took home three out of the four prizes, including CEO’s pick! We were gifted $300 each and I purchased a Canon 24mm pancake lens to replace my kit lens. So far I love it- it’s featherlight and compact, and takes great photos.

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Skiing with my family

This month my family came all the way from Michigan and Chicago to see me! We headed to my favorite ski town, Breckenridge, to hit the slopes. My whole family skies very well so I loved tearing up the slopes with them.

Breckenridge

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A sweet note in Breckenridge- a salted caramel and chocolate chip cookie after skiing!

Decorating my apartment

Okay, okay- I’ve gone a little overboard with decorating. I’m ashamed to say my savings account is around the same as it was when I moved to Colorado- blame Etsy, Ikea and Target.

But after years of nomadic life it’s so nice to have my own place. And I’ve been growing an interest in design itself- I recently subscribed to Dwell magazine and I devour Style by Emily Henderson on the daily. I can’t wait to post an apartment tour when everything’s finally finished!

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My eight-piece map of Paris in my bedroom.

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A twelve-piece map of Manhattan in my living room. Yes, I’ve gone a bit map crazy.

Cooking at home

Another joy of settled life? Cooking at home. I’ve churned out some delicious dishes recently, including bibimbap, roast chicken with oranges and black olives, curried sweet potato bowls and baked ziti (perfect for après-ski).

Also I’ve been reading a lot about food (shocker). I particularly adored Fuschia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, and now have a dream of exploring rural China and delving into different regional Chinese cuisines. #foodnerd

Also I recently added two new cookbooks to my collection, French Comfort Food and Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking (also by Fuschia Dunlop). So far I love both- as you guys may have noticed, I’m kind of obsessed with home cooking from around the world. (Saveur can you please just hire me already?)

My other recently project has been mixology, but sadly all of my cocktails come out tasting like dish soap. A work in progress.

Brunch

A simple breakfast of pain de campagne with salty Irish butter, soft-boiled eggs with bright orange yolks and a Bialetti filled with piping hot moka. My absolute favorite.

Growing Become an Au Pair

Become an au pair

I’ve been loving working on my new website, Become an Au Pair. While it’s still a fledgling site, it’s already receiving almost two thousand page views a month- not bad for nine posts!

(As always, current and former au pairs- please let me know if you want to contribute. I’d love to have you!)

Lows

Sales stresses

Working in sales can be stressful. In February I bombed my quota, only reaching about 30% of what I should have earned. Fortunately in March I bounced back, but sales truly is a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of culture.

So little time.

I’m an idea person, and I always have about 10,000 projects and cuisines and books and languages and countries I want to throw myself into. In the last six months of working a 7:30-4 with a commute I’ve learned a lot about both my priorities and time management, but I still have a long ways to go. This year I’ve learned you really can’t do it all.

Up next:

Announcement soon! But it’s very exciting, I promise.

What to Eat in Malaysia: The Best Dishes I Tried (And The Worst!)

What to Eat in Malaysia: The Best Dishes I Tried (And The Worst!)

I’m partnering with Flights.com to share all about what to eat in Malaysia. If you love experiencing new food when you travel, like me, check out this article on the 7 Best Restaurants in the World

Malaysian food, guys. We need to talk about it.

First off, it’s amazing. Malaysian food is a blend of Indian, Chinese and Indonesian influences, so uh, how could it not be good?

Secondly it’s surprising. I’ve honestly never been so surprised and delighted by a national cuisine. There were gummy textures, ingredients I’d never seen and myriad flavors and culinary influences.

So in this post I want to share with you my Malay food diary- the greatest hits, and a few dishes that didn’t quite live up to the hype.

You might be thinking, “Wow, you ate all of this in two weeks?” Yes, yes I did. And if anything I wish I had eaten more- but hey, I can always go back right?

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LOVED.

Curry Laksa // Kuala Lumpur

I would give my firstborn child if I could just have curry laksa one more time. (Okay fine, that’s hyperbole. But I would drive at least an hour.)

Curry laksa is my favorite iteration of laksa- a bowl of a curried coconut broth, thin yellow egg noodles, fried tofu and cuttlefish. This dish is also called curry mee. Whatever you call it, I freaking love it.

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Satay celup // Melaka

An assortment of veggies, eggs and meats, all cooked in peanut sauce? Delicious. Essentially satay celup is like Malaysian-style fondue but with meat on a stick and peanut sauce. Truly a new favorite.

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Chicken rice // Everywhere

My daily staple in Malaysia was without doubt chicken rice. In Malaysia I became quite the chicken rice connoisseur.

After lots of trial and error, I decided my favorite chicken rice is saucy, savory chicken accompanied by chicken rice balls, iced tea and chicken foot soup. Yum.

Penang

I especially love chicken rice accompanied by a big plate of greens (pictured below) because it makes me feel healthy, even if I’ve eaten six meals that day.

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Kuih // Melaka

One sweltering afternoon in Melaka I tried kuih, bite-sized tea snacks that are found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and several regions of China.

As a prolific snacker, I loved eating such a wide assortment of treats at one meal. I tasted nasi lemak, sambal and rice, curry puff and fried shrimp ball.

On the sweeter side I tried pulut kueh, coconut sticky rice with palm sugar, and kuih ketayap, a little green burrito dyed with pandan leaf and stuffed with palm sugar.

kueh kueh

Chai and roti prata // Melaka

While in Melaka I joined a group of Malaysian girls for an Indian-style brunch.

For only a couple of dollars we had an Indian feast- flaky, buttery roti prata dipped in a light and spicy dahl, with sweet and spicy chai to accompany.

Considering I had just spent six weeks in India eating exclusively Indian food, I wasn’t about to grab seconds, but I still loved chai and roti prata as a one-off breakfast.

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Putu Mayam // Georgetown, Penang

Putu mayam was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had- freshly steamed pandan noodles topped with palm sugar and fresh-grated coconut.

I discovered it at a market in Penang, and fell in love with the soft, gummy noodles and the flavor explosion (forgive me) of pandan, palm sugar and coconut. It was truly like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.

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Banana and peanut fritter // Georgetown, Penang

I also discovered this banana and peanut fritter at a food market in Penang. Such a tasty snack, and cooked banana with crunchy peanuts brought me back to the beloved grilled PB&Js of my childhood.

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Nasi Ulam Nyonya // Georgetown, Penang

Nasi Ulam Nyonya, also known as Nyonya herbal rice, is a Peranakan dish of fragrant and herb-strewn rice. As far as I could tell, it was simply steamed rice with herbs, lime, shallots and belacan (shrimp paste). YUM.

Here’s a recipe if you’d like to make it yourself!

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LIKED.

Penang Char Kuey Teow // Georgetown, Penang

Char Kuey Teow (Chinese : 炒粿條,炒河粉, thanks Wikipedia) is a Chinese dish of flat rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs, Chinese chives and both light and dark soy sauce.

I scarfed down lots of Char Kuey Teow while in Penang, though I must say- it’s a pretty heavy dish for such a hot and humid city! Afterwards I always felt like napping.

It reminded me of a lot of the Thai stir-fried noodle dish phat si io, as its flavor savory, heavy and soy-saucey.

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Popiah // Georgetown, Penang

Popiah is a Chinese wheat crêpe stuffed with Chinese sausage, prawns, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, caramelized onion and cooked carrot and turnip. In Singapore I literally had it daily- I loveee me some popiah.

While I didn’t like the popiah in Penang quite as much as the one I had in Singapore, it was still tasty.

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Fish head bihun // Kuala Lumpur

I’m the first to admit that sometimes I’m too adventurous of an eater for my own good. Grilled lamb hearts in Istanbul? Yes, please. Civet poo coffee in Bali? Small intestine sausage in France? Yes, please. Actually, I loved all those dishes dearly.

But sometimes my white-girl, Midwest-born and bred stomach has trouble keeping up with my food-obsessed mouth. Let’s just say fish head bihun and I didn’t work out.

Fish head bihun is essentially a rice vermicelli noodle soup with chunks of fried fish-head. While I somewhat liked the dish, after a few bites I knew I would be sick.

Soon after taking this picture I experienced the worst food poisoning I had since a fruit farm tour in the Mekong Delta. Fun.

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Pineapple cookies // Melaka

Pineapple cookies are famous in Melaka. But once I finally got my hands on one (they’re hard to buy individually) I wasn’t terribly impressed. As always, I have to admit I prefer American cookies to any other.

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DIDN’T LOVE.

Cendol // Melaka

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but cendol was downright the most bizarre dessert I’ve ever encountered. Imagine a bowl of green jelly noodles that taste like worms, topped with red beans, shaved ice and palm sugar. With a little receptacle of more green jelly noodles in case you didn’t get enough.

Frankly I’m not sure how any of these ingredients go together, much less in a dessert. But to each their own.

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Peranakan laksa // Kuala Lumpur

On my final night in Malaysia I had Peranakan laksa.

Laksa was one of those dishes I wanted so badly to love. I tried Peranakan laksa, asam laksa (okay, at a mall) and laksa in Singapore. I sadly always found it a little… bland. The only one I liked was curry laksa- but hey, you can’t win ’em all.

 Have you ever tried Malaysian food? What did you think?

Eating Penang: A Private Culinary Tour of Georgetown, Malaysia

Eating Penang: A Private Culinary Tour of Georgetown, Malaysia

You guys didn’t think I was done writing about Penang, did you? Because I seriously loved that city too much to pen just a one-off post.

My last day in Penang wasn’t the typical travel day- it was a private culinary tour, which trust me, is not the norm in my travels. But considering how much I love food tours- see here and here– I couldn’t resist experiencing one in a private car.

Here are the highlights of my very special last day in Penang.

Having Breakfast at a Wet Market

Our Penang-born guide, C. K. Low, picked Dylan and me up in an old-school burgundy Benz at 9 a.m. sharp. As soon as I felt the air-conditioning I couldn’t help but look forward to the day ahead of me.

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C. K. Low and Dylan enjoying iced coffees and banana fritters.

Under C.K. Low’s expert guidance we sampled everything from banana peanut fritters to char kway teow, Penang’s signature noodle dish.

I won’t go into too much detail as a Malaysian food post is coming very soon to an inbox near you. But seriously guys- yum.

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Clockwise from upper left- char kway teow, putu mayam, putu mayam being steamed, the banana and peanut fritter.

Visiting a Thai Buddhist Temple, Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram

Next we headed to Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram (Thai: วัดไชยมังคลาราม). While the Buddha was not quite as quite as splendrous as the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, the temple was certainly beautiful, peaceful and nearly void of visitors.

I also loved hearing about C. K. Low’s Thai ancestry while at the temple, as he explained the strong Thai influence in Penang.

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Visiting a Traditional Soy Sauce Factory

I’m not sure if this is normal, but I absolutely love soy sauce. So I was excited to see a soy sauce factory up close- and how beautiful are these pots?

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We also got to taste the soy sauce, which naturally, was delicious- thick and syrupy and bubbling with that addictive umami flavor. It was a far cry from La Choy, a.k.a. liquid salt.

Trying Nyonya Food at Pinang Peranakan Restaurant

Our next stop? Nyonya appetizers at Pinang Peranakan Restaurant.

From the moment I walked into the building (which dates back to 1880!) I was in love: tall airy ceilings, a red and green tile floor, a British Colonial meets Straits-Chinese feel.

While Dylan and I were much too full from breakfast for an entire meal, we ordered Peranakan top hats, or Koay Pai Tee.

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Honestly though I wasn’t over the moon about the top hats- they kind of remind me of wedding hors d’oeuvres. But on my next visit to Penang I fully intend to return to Pinang Peranakan Restaurant for a full Peranakan meal.

Spotting the Ocean

Yeah. No explanation necessary here. Can you imagine waking up to this view everyday?

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Finding Tons of Colonial Mansions

As I’ve mentioned in other posts (Penang, Macau, Singapore), I’m fascinated by colonial history and architecture in Asia.

So at the end of our tour, I asked C. K. Low if we could see Penang’s colonial mansions. And I was not disappointed. While some were a bit shabby, others were in immaculate condition. But shabby or not, I still relished the chance to see such unique and historical architecture.

Sigh. Aren’t they just dreamy?

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As we were driving Dylan, who hails from England, said, “Look, there’s a cricket pavilion!” which I never would have known. One of the benefits of traveling with a Brit is definitely their ability to identify relics of a British colonial past. (That and I’ve met some who travel with teabags, which is genius.)

All in all the tour reminded me of why I loved Penang so much- you’re never more than a stone’s throw from a colonial mansion or a really, really good meal.

Have you ever gone on a private culinary tour?

 A big thanks to Rasa Malaysia Penang Private Tour for hosting me and showing me what I should be eating in Penang.

Also after reading TripAdvisor reviews, I would definitely recommend requesting C. K. Low. He was very personable and professional, and lots of people on TripAdvisor experienced no-shows with other drivers.

Just Porter: An Amazing Backpack for Travelers (That Gives Back Too!)

Just Porter: An Amazing Backpack for Travelers (That Gives Back Too!)

It’s safe to say I’m a backpack girl. I toted a backpack all through high school and I carried both a backpack and frontpack around the world for a year. No sleek Madewell totes for this blogger.

 Courtesy of Just Porter
So when Just Porter asked me to review their new line of backpacks, I was stoked- first of all, their backpacks are gorgeous. And secondly, they support a phenomenal cause. For each Just Porter backpack you buy, Just Porter gives a backpack filled with school supplies to a child in need.
“For each bag purchased, Just Porter manufactures a give bag and fills it with school supplies then gives it to a child in need. But, Just Porter’s charitable giving goes beyond parachuting and dumping goods onto poor communities. They actually work with the communities to manufacture their Give Bags locally and purchase their supplies from the local markets. They are working at creating a sustainable solution using education and creating jobs in the areas they give.”
Which to me seems like a pretty genius business model- provide customers with a high-quality product and in return help break the cycle of poverty in developing nations? Yes, please.
The backpack I chose- the Hazen Professional. Photo courtesy of Just Porter.
So back to the backpack itself- as a self-professed backpack connoisseur, there are several essentials I look for in backpacks:
  • A tiny pouch in the top to store little things like jewelry, medication, lipbalm or an eyemask.
  • A laptop sleeve.
  • An organizer in the front pocket for things like pens, sharpies, hair ties and a little notebook.
  • A chest strap for hiking.
I’m pleased to report Just Porter’s packs have all of these features.  The only downside I could find was the lack of a water bottle pouch.
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So far I’ve used my Just Porter backpack on multiple ski trips and a business trip to Salt Lake City, but mostly to take my laptop to the local coffee shop. (Am I the only one who is physically incapable of blogging at home?)
Overall I really love my Just Porter pack, and find it incredibly versatile. I’ve used it a ton so far and definitely intend to use it when hiking the Rockies next summer. And of course I love Just Porter’s overall mission statement.
For more info on Just Porter, check out the video below, or their Kickstarter campaign.

Do you carry a backpack too? And what do you think of the Just Porter business model?

Just Porter provided me with a Hazen Professional backpack to review. As always, all opinions are completely my own.