Why Working as a Digital Nomad is Not for Me

Why Working as a Digital Nomad is Not for Me

During my four-month trip to Asia, I worked remotely as a freelance writer and blogger, earning the bulk of my income from freelance writing.

While I worked several freelance writing jobs, my main gig was as a Category Expert for Answers.com. Commissioned to write between 10 and 20 articles each month, I hustled hard to reach my monthly quota. Some months I would churn out one or two articles a day, other months I would ignore my workload for weeks and then lock myself in a hotel room for 72 hours, stopping only to eat, sleep and shower.

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Over time I came to resent the weight of my laptop- the physical weight, as well as the emotional weight. The emotional weight manifested itself in a myriad of emotions: the guilt of not working harder, the regret of working so much on the trip of the lifetime and the resentment of knowing I had to work to continue traveling.

And while I loved having a consistent stream of income on the road, working as a digital nomad sucked the fun and excitement out of travel for me. No longer could I disappear for days. No longer could I flit about with few possessions. The pressure to work, work, work began to smother my enjoyment of travel.

Something about being a digital nomad didn’t jive with me but it took me a long time to pinpoint what  it was. I finally realized that it’s not the physical discomfort of long-term travel; I can happily live out of a bag, sleep in a $7 hostel and wear the same clothes for months at a time.

What bothers me most about long-term travel is the lack of community. The disconnectedness you feel when you realize you’ll never see anyone in the hostel again, that the main social interactions in your life are drunken make-outs and two-day friendships.

Working on the road taught me I don’t want be a digital nomad. In five years I don’t want to be sitting in paradise with a Chang and a laptop, surrounded by strangers. And while that lifestyle works for some people, the idea of such a transitory existence fills me with dread.

In Asia I learned all of the beautiful surroundings in the world will never make up for what really matters in life- relationships with other people. While I’d love to be an expat again, I don’t think a long-term solo trip while working remotely will be in the cards.

Other travel bloggers have touched on the same feeling:

When you are travelling, you are what you are in that moment, your most immediate self. The people you meet see only that version of you, and it’s hard to maintain your wholeness in this fragmented and transitory existence. – Hannah Loaring, Furtherbound

 

You see, when you’re sick with two kids, in a foreign country, you become aware of how fragile the relationships you have really are. There isn’t anyone to bring me chicken soup or to help Drew watch the kids, or to just stop by and see how we are. - Christine Gilbert, Almost Fearless

 

So on my big trip to Europe, India and possibly Asia, I’m not bringing my laptop. I’ll be traveling off of the money I saved while living in Michigan. I’ll be seeing lots of friends and spending as little time as possible as a solo traveler (I hate to say it but I’m really over solo travel for the moment.)

And I’ll be doing long-term travel my way.

Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go

Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go

I’ve been back from Asia for a month now, living at my parent’s house in Michigan.

I am by far the happiest I’ve ever been at home. Readjusting last time after a long spell abroad was more difficult- I felt listless, bored and irritated with the return of bad habits like snacking and scrolling through Facebook on my phone.

But this year is different. I’m even enjoying winter this year despite the polar vortex‘s best efforts.

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This stems from something I learned while studying yoga in Bali- in order to survive a grueling, ninety-minute yoga session, it’s best to be present.

Don’t focus on the clock; suffer through discomfort to achieve your personal best. Don’t compare yourself to others; strive to be present, just you, on your mat.

This mindful little mantra of “staying present” not only applies well to yoga, but also to life in general.

I remember reading about Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea of happiness when I was 16 in her memoir Eat Pray Love. She wrote of “diligent joy”, or the idea that happiness is something you fight for every day.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort,” she wrote.

Seven years later, I’ve finally realized this is true. And in addition to striving for “diligent joy”, I also strive to practice gratitude, another lesson I learned on my yoga retreat in Bali.

Not in the mood for class?

Be grateful to be practicing yoga in Bali with some of the world’s best instructors.

Be grateful for the crickets that chirp, the soft rain that falls down on the thatched roof, for the lush greenery.

Be so, so grateful that you have been given this opportunity to be here.

And along with a great tan, I’ve tried to take that lesson of practicing gratitude home with me. Cranbrook Winter 2014 LR

Be grateful for the snow. Be grateful to be sitting fireside with a glass of pinot noir and an addictive TV show.

Be grateful for a winter walk with a friend, watching my little dog trip over snow-banks.

Be grateful for Starbucks dates with my sweet little sister.

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Cranbrook Winter 2014 LR1

And in accordance with my new year’s resolutions I’m making an effort to see my friends more. As my fellow Instagram addicts may know I spent last weekend in Chicago in a flurry of dinner parties, craft beer at the bar and catching up with friends. It was wonderful.

I’ll write about this soon, but I’ve realized my priorities have changed; I now know I need a community, a group of friends, people who I know and love and care about.

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Chicago Beer

Along with many other lessons, Asia taught me long-term nomadic life is not for me.

I guess what it all boils down to is this; I’m really happy and I’d like to stay that way.

A Big 2014: Goals for the New Year

A Big 2014: Goals for the New Year

Wow, 2013. What a year. To be honest this resolution post has changed so many times I wasn’t even sure I should publish it. So many things I thought I wanted to achieve: becoming a certified translator, attaining professional fluency in French, moving to San Francisco, I have crossed off the list to make way for other goals.

To be honest, and this is strange to admit on a travel blog, I’m perfectly content at home and the idea of travel does not appeal to me in the slightest right now. (Ask me again in another two weeks and I might have a completely different answer, mind you.) (more…)

So for 2014 I’ve come up with four points I’d like to focus on in the new year: career, health, spirituality and friends and family.

Career: In 2014 I want to make big strides in my career. Right now I’m weighing my options: diplomacy, marketing and hotel management are all on the table.

To be honest I’ve put my dreams of becoming a freelance writer on hold for now; this would take a while to explain, but essentially in this day and age it’s so hard to be paid fairly in a world where information is largely free (thanks, internet).

And I’ve learned I’m the kind of person who needs a certain level of stability in her life- four months in Asia taught me I’ll never be a full-time nomad. I learned that I’m much more of an expat than a backpacker- constant travel burns me out and ironically extinguishes my love for travel.

 

Health: My time in Bali was such a blessing as it gave me the chance to get back in shape, both mentally and physically. It also gave me a newfound and surprising love for yoga (surprising mainly because I used to be the most inflexible and imbalanced person on earth) and a desire to continue working on my health. In 2014 I want to keep doing yoga and try out some new workouts like Crossfit, Art of Strength and running a 5K Color run!

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Spirituality: Bali also sparked something in me that I’m still struggling to understand, but all I know is that I have a drive to integrate spirituality into my life. In 2014 I want to make time for one big spiritual trip: the Camino de Santiago, studying yoga at an ashram and Burning Man all come to mind.

Friends and Family: In 2013 I learned that my happiness plummets when I’m not around friends and family for an extended person of time. So in 2014 I want to spend a lot more time with loved ones who are spread out across the globe. I’m so lucky to have such wonderful, supportive friends and family so in 2014 I want to make an effort to spend more time with them.

 

Not that that’s out of the way, how did I do in 2013?

Well here the goals I set at the beginning of 2013, a progress report midway through the year, one final recap of those goals I set.

And I’m pleased to say that overall I did pretty well actually!

1. Learn fluent French.

3/4 Check. I’d say I’m conversational and would need to go back to become fully fluent. Still, I made a lot of progress.

2. Get back in shape.

I am so much happier when I am in shape and so in 2013 I need to work out often and eat cleanly. 

Check! Though I still would like to tone up and lose a little more weight I’m feeling a lot better.

3. Build this blog.

I want to continue to build this blog to become not only a way to make connections with other bloggers and travelers but also to become a source of income. My measurable goal is a PR of 3 and $500 a month by June so that I can use some of the money to take that long-awaited trip to Southeast Asia.

Check! This blog has truly become something I see myself maintaining long-term… thank you so much guys for reading!

4. Freelance.

My current goal is to have a travel piece published at least once a month.

Eh, sort of. While I have a great job as a French Category Expert with Answers.com that keeps me traveling I didn’t get my work out in 2013 as much as I had  hoped. But I did have an article about Peranakan cuisine published The Culture-ist and had interviews and articles featured on lots of other blogs and travel websites – see my featured page.

Overall 2013 left me disheartened about freelance writing altogether. Read this New York Times’ article for more info.

What are your goals for 2014? I’d love to hear so comment below!

What I Miss (and Don’t Miss) about Living in France

What I Miss (and Don’t Miss) about Living in France

Ah, France. The country that I called home for nearly a year. The land I tearfully left almost four months ago. There was so much about living in France that was lovely; I particularly miss all the French goodies that are difficult to procure here in Asia, like wine, cheese and bread. (Don’t even get me started on cheese.)

But life in France wasn’t all macarons and Matisse; there were certainly downsides to living in baguette-land. Without further ado…

What I miss:

Weekend Trips around Europe.

London 2013

From top left clockwise: a snowy December day in Cologne, Germany, the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, a picturesque square in Colmar, France, and red phone booths in London.

In Europe you can visit surrounding countries with relative ease, and I love how such a remarkable range of linguistic and cultural diversity exists within such a relatively small space.

During my time in Paris I made time to visit an apple farm in the north of France, Christmas markets in Cologne, the magnificent mosques in Istanbul, London‘s quirky neighborhoods, and the medieval cities of Alsace.

 

My Town.

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Saint-Germain-en-Laye

While living an hour and a half from Paris was definitely a pain in the cul, I couldn’t help but love my beautiful 10th century town. Boasting a château, an enviable market and lots of winding, medieval streets, Saint-Germain-en-Laye was always a breath of fresh air from Paris’ fast pace.

 

Speaking French.

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During my time in France my command of the French language drastically improved (meaning I could kind of talk at the end, versus knowing not a single mot at the beginning). I personally think French is the world’s most beautiful language – I still adore the sound of it.

 

Hot Chocolate at Paul’s.

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Because there’s nothing better on a chilly winter day than a mug full of melted dark chocolate.

 

The Art Scene.
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I love how Parisians are so incredibly nonchalant about art- they just love it, duh. I’ll never forget asking a French guy I was seeing at the time what he was up to on a lazy Sunday. “I’m at the new exhibition at the Grand Palais with some friends. You?”

I’m sorry, but an American guy would just never say that.

There are so many incredible museums in Paris and they’re always hosting fascinating exhibitions (my personal favorites are the Grand Palais and Pompidou). I doubt there’s another city in the world that’s quite as art-obsessed as Paris.

 

The Home-cooking.

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Still-warm baguettes, apple tarts in fall, super-fresh butter lettuce, tiny magenta radishes dipped in salt, a decadent cheese course after Sunday lunch, a Staub Dutch oven filled to the brim with choucroute garnie… I miss cooking French food so much.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.21.41 AM                                                                      Choucroute garnie: my favorite winter dish ever.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.24.43 AM                                                                                  My daily breakfast: toasted pain de campagne with goat cheese and creamy Fjord yogurt with raspberry jam. Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.25.04 AM                                                                Roast chicken thighs with rosemary… served bone-in, skin-on, of course.

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Making crêpes at home- I always made my dessert crêpe with peanut butter and jelly. You can take the girl out of America but you can’t take America out of the girl.

And I don’t just miss home-cooked food actually. I just miss all of France’s amazing food.

Confession? I think I miss goat cheese the most. Desktop11

Clockwise from left: pistachio and cream gelato from Pozzetto, tarte flambée in Alsace, GOAT CHEESE and bavette aux échalotes with fries and a glass of red wine. Heaven.

The Postcard-worthy Among the Commonplace. trocadero

This was one of my best friend’s metro stop. No big deal.

 

Learning about daily life.

I loved spending a year in France because I passed through all the seasons; from the first dusting on snow atop the ivory Sacré-Cœur to the verdant bloom of the Seine’s banks in summer.

I was also present for every holiday (except Christmas), and by living with a French family I celebrated them all à la française.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.25.56 AM                            Galettes des rois in the bakery window for La fête des Rois, King’s Day in January.

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Lily-of-the-valley for sale on May 1, French labor day.

My Friends.

Tajine June

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Wine-heavy dinner parties, nights out in Paris that ended at 7 a.m., house parties in Le Marais, afternoon tea at friend’s apartment, drinking cider on the banks of the Seine in summer, Thursday morning runs in the forest, picnics in the park… so, so many good times with such great people.

 

What I Don’t Miss:

The Dysfunctional-ness.

The whole “c’est la vie”, deal with it, attitude got old quickly. As did the dog shit everywhere.

And I’ll just say it – sometimes Parisians  can be downright rude, especially in customer service situations. My one visit to the American embassy in Paris reminded me of all of this, which was efficient, 15 minutes long and incredibly pleasant. Sigh.

 

The Cost.

It’s no secret that France, and especially Paris, is very expensive. Here are a few examples of the exorbitant prices:

€68 for 8 items of dry-cleaning.

€2.80 for the smallest water bottle at McDONALDS.

€5.80 for 25 centiliters of beer (a small glass, fyi).

None of this is okay. None of it at all.

While in France I earned €125 a week and was saving up for a trip to Asia. Meaning I had to pinch my pennies the entire time and cut my hair in the sink. Yay.


The Crappy Coffee. 

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Contrary to common belief, French coffee is awful. It’s always, always burnt (unless you go to an Italian-run café or a hipster spot like Coutume) and the baristas re-use the grinds. Unless you order your coffee with steamed milk, it’s pretty terrible.

 

Having To Look Good All The Time.

Hungover on a Sunday and needing Advil from the pharmacy? Don’t even think about walking there in a hoodie and sweatpants. But if you just can’t be bothered to gussy yourself up, brace yourself for steely glares.

 

Waking Up To This.

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With a note instructing me to clean it. My life was like Downtown Abbey, except that I lived in the basement.

 

RATP.

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Confession again – for the entire time I was in Paris I bought child tickets on the commuter train and metro. (Sorry, the adult price was €8 round-trip! Like I’m going to pay that four times a week.) So on more than one occasion I was caught by the RATP, the subway police who incited terror in our hearts and fined us.

It’s still a small point of pride that I managed to convince them to let me off the hook every single time. Win.

What do you love/hate about France? Have you ever lived there?

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Why I Honestly Came to Bali

Why I Honestly Came to Bali

It’s no secret that I was unhappy for the first month or so of my Asia trip.

Okay fine. I was inexplicably miserable for the first month of my trip. I descended into a dark place where I battled depression, anxiety and an overall despair for the future. For a while I seriously considering flying home. (How anyone could have a near mental collapse in a tropical paradise is beyond me, but here I am.)

And similarly, it’s no secret that I partied a lot in Thailand and Cambodia. And countless pints of beer, excessive sun and lack of sleep and exercise do not do your health any favors.

While I turned a mental health corner in Koh Rong due to some much-needed alone time as well as tremendous support from friends and family back home via Skype (love you guys!), and have felt so much better ever since, I still wasn’t feeling 100%.

I came to Bali because I was in rough shape, both physically and mentally. I specifically ventured inland to Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali, to reboot and recharge. And I have to say - I couldn’t have picked a better place for a retreat.

From the verdant rice paddies and intricate Hindu sculptures to the streets strewn with yellow frangipani, I feel like I’ve stumbled into an exotic, macaque-addled dream world.

Bali Retreat

Bali Retreat

The Balinese leave daily offerings on the street to honor the gods – palm baskets carefully filled with rice, flowers, cookies and incense. It’s a beautiful gesture of gratitude, and Ubud feels like such an inherently spiritual place.

Bali Retreat

But of course, it’s not perfect – there are tons of fellow tourists clogging the streets, as well as relentless vendors in the street hawking wares and services. You want taxi?

Bali’s also a bit pricey compared to the rest of Southeast Asia – right now I’m paying $15 a night for a shoddy private room as well as $5-10 per meal, which are expenses that are adding up quickly.

But it’s so worth it. Ubud is exactly what I need.

One of my goals at 23 is to get in the best shape of my life, and I’m trying to do just that.

Bali Retreat

I attend yoga and pilates daily, and consume a diet of leafy salads, smoothies and grilled meats. And I’m attempting to cut out alcohol and white flours. (Okay, I slipped and had a glass of white wine last night. I’m sorry.)

Bali Retreat

Bali Retreat

Also I’m loving my classes at the Yoga Barn. Though unfortunately they don’t offer bikram yoga (hot yoga), they have a fascinating list of classes I can’t wait to try like acro yoga (partner yoga), sound meditation healing and capoeira.

I’m also catching up on freelance work as well as getting way ahead as I have a jam-packed month ahead in December: a few weeks of diving on Gili Trawangan, and then precious time with family and friends back home over the holidays.

But I have to admit – I’m a bit lonely. As much as I’m very over sleeping in noisy hostel dorms, I miss the camaraderie of my fellow travelers. Sheesh, am I ever happy? When I’m with a big group I need alone time, when I’m alone I crave company. Ugh.

I have a lot of work to do in the next ten days, but I’m here, I’m working on myself, and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. And if in ten days I have made strides in making meditation a part of my life, finding a balance between freelancing and travel and slowing down my monkey brain (oh, and if I’ve become slightly bendier), I’ll be pleased.

Bali Retreat

Bali Retreat

Have you ever created a retreat for yourself? Where was it?

Note – I was not perked or paid by Yoga Barn for this mention – I’m just very happy with them and wanted to share with all that might be interested in practicing yoga in Bali!

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If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Asia and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook.

Thoughts on My First Time in Asia

Thoughts on My First Time in Asia

This post is a little departure from my normal posts-I wanted to record what I felt on my first night in Asia, as well as reflect on the difference between what I had expected and what it was actually like.

It’s dark and I’m sitting in the passenger seat on the wrong side of the car. I see statues on the side of the road, wooden and grouped together in threes.

“What are those statues on the side of the road?” I ask the driver and hostel owner.

“Terracotta statues. You know like in China. 2,000 years old.”

“Are these ones that old?”

The hostel owner chuckles. “No! These are made from the earth. How can they be so old?”

I laugh softly at my silly mistake. Maybe being in Japan is less like being culture-shocked, and more like being a child again. I look out the window and see the same stars in the night sky as I see back home: the three straight dots of Orion’s belt, the swoop of big dipper’s cup.

We arrive at the hostel. I walk upstairs to my room and see my bed is a mat on the floor.

“Oh. Is it normal to sleep on the floor?” I ask my Korean roommate laying on the next bed, her face aglow in the light of an iPhone.

She smiles. “Yes, that is the Asian way.”

I settle down onto my mat, and arrange my things by my feet. I feel the cool breeze coming in my window, and hear the sound of cars rushing on the highway, the summery sound of chirping crickets. Maybe I’m not so far from home after all.

As I try to fall asleep, I repeat my reality like a mantra. “I’m in a  hostel in the middle of the  Japanese countryside. I’m in Asia.” It feels too surreal to be true.

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Asia in so many ways has surprised me. Each of the countries I have visited so far, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand have been so incredibly different. From the absolute silence in the streets of Japan to the bright lights and chaos of Hong Kong to the laid-back, beachside life of southern Thailand, I’ve realized first-hand just how varied Asia really is.

The squalor of Thailand surprised me at first- after reading countless blog posts about the country I had foolishly anticipated a Gaugin-esque, palm-tree paradise. I hadn’t imagined the snarl of telephone wires, the omnipresent 7-11s, the flea-bitten stray dogs.

But finally, finally after weeks of food poisoning and near-constant anxiety for the journey ahead I feel at peace. I’ve spent a happy week on Koh Tao, filled with sweaty mornings fighting Muay Thai, quiet nights in the bungalow and productive afternoons spent working on freelance and blog work.

One thing I hate about being in Asia is that I feel like I’m not connecting with anyone who lives here. Which makes sense- I don’t speak Japanese, Cantonese or Thai. And if there’s a considerable language barrier, how will you ever be able to connect with the locals in any real way? I don’t know what it looks like inside of a Thai home or what the perception of ladyboys is or how  Thais feel about their neighboring countries. I don’t really know anything about Thailand at all.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself as a traveler over the past eight years it’s that it’s not enough for me to jump off rocks and look at temples- what fascinates me most about travel is speaking other languages and gaining the perspective of people who live there.

But we’ll see- all I know is that Asia has plenty of surprises in store for me yet.

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 What were you thoughts when you got to Asia for the first time?