Author Archives: Tara

October Update – Summer Travel and Shanghai Life

Hello blog world!

It’s weird to me that I haven’t blogged in months. I’ve been on loads of trip that I’d love to share, yet I’ve written nothing. I don’t know what’s going on with me, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things and start writing some more. Since my last post, I’ve travelled to America twice, Budapest, Prague, Bratislava, Vienna, and Myanmar. I’ve gotta tell someone about them!!!

I have plans to post stories about my trips, photos that will make you want to visit, itineraries and tips, and more. Somebody keep me motivated, please! hahaha Until I gather all my thoughts for you, here’s an update on what’s been going on with me, as well as a new mindset I’m hoping to keep in the future.

++Summer (June-August)

It took me a while to get home this summer. I was super devastated that I couldn’t get my visa and passport back until June 18 and then had to book my flight immediately after. Because I booked so last minute, it costed me a fortune. You possibly read my venting about this here. And five days before going home I lost my phone in Shanghai while I was out one night. The phone was two years old though and had just been shattered to pieces the week before. Oh! and the battery was fried after I plugged in a speaker… That phone needed to go anyway.

Being home this time around was great. The previous summer I enjoyed myself, but I was overwhelmed by not prioritizing how I spent my time. I thought I could do everything and see everyone in 2 weeks and that it would be fine. I was wrong.

This summer I took a different approach. I made time for the people in my hometown that I’m closest to, mostly just giving myself the time to catch up with each of them once individually and once again in a group setting. This allowed me to spend more time with my family, and I’m so glad I did it this way.

After two weeks at home, I went to DC for a week. It was a really nice time, and I got to stay with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while that I met working in China my first year.

Next, I left from DC and flew to the Czech Republic. This began my two week trip around four European capital cities with one of my favorite people in the world. We had such an amazing trip, but just before we were going to fly out of Budapest (spoilers for my later posts*) I lost my brand new iPhone 7 plus – or more likely it was stolen, but that’s a story for another time.

Flying home to Shanghai wasn’t bad. I was, for the first time, eager to begin the new school year. I feel a million times more confident in my teaching skills now, and my schedule is lighter than it has been in the past. My apartment is perfect, and I’m actually able to enjoy everything Shanghai has to offer now. All good things!

++The New School Year (September – October)

As I mentioned above, I had a lot to look forward to this school year. My job at my new campus is great; the work load is infinitely less, my students are brilliant and easy to manage, and my coworkers are super cool and helpful. Honestly, the first month went super smoothly.

For the October holiday, Lisa from Adventures of a Dream Catcher and I took a trip to Myanmar. We visited Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake. I think I bought more souvenirs on this trip than any other trip I’ve been on in my life. haha

Then I came home for one of my best friend’s wedding. I was a bridesmaid so unfortunately I couldn’t take many pictures, but it was lovely. The wedding was outdoors in the middle of October, but the weather was surprisingly perfect. I’m still recovering from jet lag after traveling for 8 days, working for 3.5, flying to the US for 3 days, and returning back to work immediately. But really, it was all worth it to be a part of her wedding and to see my family even if it was for just a day and a half.

It’s great to be back in Shanghai though, knowing that I can breath easy for a bit as things calm down and I welcome in the holiday season. October begins my favorite part of the year. I’m so excited!

Look out for my next post to find out my new mindset and approach to time-management!

Until next time ♡

This Week’s Rollercoaster: From Drama to Big Commitments

This past week and a half has been filled with some really high highs and some super low lows.


I just blogged about the typical highs and lows that an expat in Shanghai experiences, at least some of what I have in the past two years.


I’ve finally adjusted to living here. It has taken quite a while, but I’m finally happy here. 2017 in Shanghai has been pretty good to me. I’m already sad to think about leaving in 2018. *spoilers*


So if you’ve read any of my recent posts you might be thinking, “Wait, Tara, I thought you were officially leaving Shanghai and doing something else with your life?”


Well, after my friend Nicole visited for nearly two months, I became super sad about leaving. I showed her all the things I love about Shanghai and realized how much I really do love this place. I decided I was ready to leave. New plan: study Chinese full time as a student in Shanghai.


I went into the “HR” of my workplace and asked for some documents to get my student visa. They were shocked to find out I was planning to stay in Shanghai, so they offered me the only open position they had left. I will still be working for the same school next year, except I will be at a different campus.


AND I get to live off campus in a real life apartment, in the city I might add!


We signed our lease on Sunday! This was quite possibly the highest high. But let me list them all for you.




+ Signed a lease for an absolutely gorgeous apartment right in the center of some of the best places in Shanghai and just a short walk from the metro. Will definitely have to post about it once we are settled in!


+ Signed my contract for work next year, making paying for this fancy apartment much more affordable. (And not to worry, I’ll still be learning Chinese, just part-time instead!)


+ Had my favorite salad for dinner today!


+ Got ahead on my grading, comments, and reports.


+ Went to an Alice in Wonderland themed bar with Lisa from Adventures of a Dream Catcher.


+ Saw Benjamin Francis Leftwich perform over the weekend after discovering him only a few months ago on Spotify. It was an amazing show!




+ The dress for my friend’s wedding that I had made and was supposed to pick up on Sunday was not finished. I’ve only ever yelled at one other adult in my life, and I’ve never once made a public scene. When the lady told me she hadn’t finished my dress, I was upset. It’s really inconvenient for me to head to that part of Shanghai, and this dress if for a wedding. Odds are they’ll need to adjust it again once I try it on, and then I’ll have to return for a fourth time now.


First I was just unhappy. As I said, I don’t get angry easily.


BUT THEN, this woman had the audacity to tell me that it was MY FAULT. That she said, “Maybe it would be ready by Sunday,” and that I didn’t read the date on the receipt properly. Now, just so we are clear, there was an illegible date scribbled on the receipt and she had told me Sunday. Not only did she tell me it was my fault, she then proceeded to insult me by telling me I don’t know how to read numbers. Then I got angry and yelled like I’ve never yelled at anyone.


They tried to insist that Chinese people write all numbers the same as the rest of us, except for the number 9, and that I just don’t know how to read Chinese numbers. I was infuriated.


What a load of crap.


That’s just a blatant lie. I’ve lived here and worked here with Chinese people and Chinese students for two years. I’ve never heard anything so absurd. UGH.


+ I went to get my favorite salad two different times last week and they didn’t have it. The definition of heartbreak.


+ I got in a slight disagreement with my mother about my plans for next year, she’s someone who has never understood my desire to live abroad. I felt rather attacked, but ended up talking myself down because after all, it is ultimately my life and my decision. And truly, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love my family or miss them dearly. That doesn’t make me a bad person.


+ Work decided to tack on some extra work to the end of the school year, as if we didn’t have enough work to do at this point.


+ I found out I can’t go back to the States until mid-July due to the visa process. It’s not a huge deal but means less time with family, and possibly having to change my original travel plans.


+ Came home from work to find that the water had been shut off without warning, something that happens frequently in our apartment building.


+ I almost thought I couldn’t go to the Benjamin Francis Leftwich concert, but luckily that one ended up working out. Just had to change a few plans.


+ Rainy season in Shanghai seems to have finally arrived. All the downpours and humidity. Joy.


But honestly, the highs have absolutely outweighed the lows by a million times. I ultimately had a super killer weekend, and I am so excited to begin this new chapter of my Shanghai life.

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Category: Expat Life

The Highs and Lows of Expat Life

Hello blog world!


I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I last posted. The past week all I’ve been able to think about is writing a post, but I haven’t been able to think of something that would be worthwhile for anyone to read. My mind has been overrun with work stuff lately as it’s exam time for the students, and I haven’t had the extra time (or energy) to sit down and think of what to write.


As I finished my work this evening at Starbucks (writing comments for student reports and graciously using their internet for the cost of a highly caffeinated beverage: 35 RMB), I started thinking about what I could write about. All I’ve wanted to write about recently has been emotional posts in regard to most people I know back home and their complete inability to even try to understand why I’ve chosen the lifestyle I have – it’s been a long, emotionally draining, irritating week, but I have amazing news and will share that here!


From that last sentence alone, I’m sure you can sense that there was a very low low and a very high high this past week. I started thinking about this during my mobike ride back to my apartment. And there came my idea. Want to know what it’s like to live as an expat? Think it’s all rainbows and sunshine? I assure you it’s not, especially in Shanghai during the rainy season. Rainbows don’t even exist here. They’re nothing but a wishful thought from a fairytale, in fact I’m pretty sure they’re just a myth to this part of the world.


In all seriousness, expat life in Shanghai isn’t that bad. However, it is, without a doubt, a rollercoaster of emotions. This is the hardest part about living abroad. Generally there’s not enough routine. At home, everyone has been settled in for so long. They know the area like the back of their hand, not to mention every single person living in the area and their business.


As an expat, you have to find a new place to call home, a new bar to frequent, a new favorite restaurant to go to when you’ve got nothing better to do, a new fitness routine (which may cost a fortune if you want to take classes or get a membership somewhere), a new place to get your groceries from, a new favorite place to do work, etc. This list goes on for ages.


After a chat with a friend in a café today, he mentioned he was talking to someone from Paris who has lived in Shanghai for two years, as long as both him and I have been here. She mentioned to him that being here in the beginning was really hard. Living in Shanghai, there seems to be a big adjustment period. It’s not culture shock, it’s just redefining your life. It’s not always easy to settle into a new groove here.


When I lived in France, it took me a few weeks to feel comfortable and happy enough to stay longer, like I could live there, though it was my first experience abroad. Shanghai took me a year and a half. A YEAR AND A HALF! I think for me it may have been longer than others, but still. I think this French lady has a point.


Settling into a place and establishing a routine really does offer sanity. Don’t take routine for granted. Spontaneity is great. Everyone needs a break. But there needs to be a balance. Until you find that balance in a new country, expat life can be even more difficult.


And even once you find your way, something happens and you hit a low or a high. There’s just no consistency here. And that my friends, that is the hardest part in my opinion.


Enough rambling for now. I’m sure your curious about these extreme highs and lows we experience. Let me just tell you some from my own personal experience. Some may be universal, plenty are location specific, and others are personal to me and my situation. Some are relatable, some comical, and some just downright hurtful.


The Lows


+ Your friends and family often don’t support your decision.

This is one I deal with a lot. Well too bad, it’s my life. I don’t tell you that I don’t support your choices just because you have different interests than I do. But of course I’m the bad guy for finding something I’m passionate about and chasing it. It’s one thing when people don’t support you. It’s another when they verbally (or via text) attack you, your character, and your priorities based solely on this one life decision.


+ Poor internet.

Just as you’re about to submit the work you spent hours on, just when you want to take an online class, or even something as simple as sending an email or uploading a picture to instagram, the internet will inevitably fail. Bye bye sweet fiber optic high speed internet. Hello DSL. Did I travel back in time? What is this?


*added note* The internet will fail right in the middle of your Spotify jam session, as it has just done for me. Great song too. It started 10 minutes ago. Only about a minute through the song. Awesome.


+ VPN failure.

This often coincides with the last one. Though even if the internet is working, odds are your VPN is not. Goodbye sweet social media, gmail, and 90% of the blogs you read. Oh, and if your default for when nothing else works is to watch Netflix? You can forget about that too, because Netflix won’t let you watch with a VPN anymore.


+ Paying for things you don’t want just so you can use the internet somewhere with a slightly more reliable connection.

Maybe you’re sensing a pattern here. Internet is a struggle in Shanghai. Sure, I could just not use it as often. But you try abstaining from all internet usage. It’s not easy, especially with work and a blog that you want to keep up with.


+ Getting elbowed or cut in line.

This is something that no matter how often it happens or how much I anticipate it, it still makes me mad. How is pushing and shoving and having a complete disregard for others not rude? I know the culture is different here, but that’s one thing that even though I understand where it comes from, I just can’t control how I feel about it. It’s one thing that is always frustrating to me.


+ Nearly crying tears of joy from eating a salad.

This one sounds happy, right? And probably a bit confusing? You know that you’re lacking green veggies in your life when you are overjoyed after taking one bite of a salad that tastes, well, good! And then when you go back to pick up one for lunch only to find out that they only carry them for four hours a day and you’re too early or too late. Bring on the crocodile tears and seemingly unwarranted whining.


+ Not seeing blue skies, rainbows, or sunshine for a while.

Due to the pollution, this is a big problem in Shanghai. It takes a toll on your happy attitude. My eyes welled up with tears in the cab in London last summer. It was raining and I saw a rainbow. I also got a sunburn in Scotland. Yeah, that’s talent. Though I suppose a vampire would also burn in Scotland. That’s what happens when you don’t see sunlight for a year.


+ Getting out of the shower to find that your hair has turned into one solid helmet of… grease? Calcium? Some other kind of build up…?

This happens a lot in Shanghai as well, and not just to me. I’ve known friends to pay loads of money to go to a salon for a treatment to remove all the build up. I’ve been fortunate enough that the DIY Pinterest remedies have worked for me, but it’s still annoying. And it happens rather suddenly. You get out of the shower and realize your hair moves as one, and no matter what you do it doesn’t seem to get any better. Not a pleasant way to start your day.


+ Even though your family gives you a hard time, you still miss the crap out of them.

Sometimes homesickness comes out of nowhere. You don’t know how long it will last or how hard it will hit you or how soon it will be back, but in those moments it’s not a great feeling and you start to question your own decisions.


+ Feeling removed from the rest of the world.

It’s weird. I still try to keep up with current events, but I feel so removed from all the things that are happening, specifically in the U.S.A. I still love America, but I don’t identify with it the way I used to. I feel very disconnected and don’t have much desire to live there again any time soon.


+ Saying goodbye.

Life abroad has an expiration date for most people. For some it’s just a few months, others it’s nearly a lifetime. Either way, the people you meet are most likely not on the same timeline as you. They come, they go, and you learn to let go of the people but hold on to the memories.


+ Dating.

It’s nearly impossible. Enough said.


The Highs


+ Getting to travel!

Weekends, holidays, summer vacation. Yeah. It’s pretty nice, and it’s what keeps me going. To me, this makes it all worthwhile.


+ Seeing your favorite performers in your new home.

This one is always exciting to me. It makes you feel less far away. It may take you back to a time when you were home and listening to them or watching them perform live. It closes the gap, making that disconnect disappear momentarily.


+ Trying new things.

Good or bad, it’s always quite an experience. I haven’t loved every experience I’ve had, but I’ve never regretted taking a chance on something new. It’s exciting!


+ Meeting people.

This is one of my favorite things, whether I’m home in Shanghai or away in a new city chatting with people at a restaurant or hostel. I love meeting new people. I love wandering into a bar on a street with lively night life and being asked by total strangers to join them in a friendly game. This brings me so much happiness.


+ Getting paid.

I don’t put a lot of pressure on money. I save a lot because there aren’t a lot of things that I feel like money can buy that could bring me happiness (except food and travel). However, I’m a million times better off financially in Shanghai than I ever came close to in the States. Living an affordable life in the States often means making a lot of sacrifices. It can be manageable, but with the impending doom of student loan debt always hanging over your head, financial stability seems like nothing but a farfetched dream.


+ Finding new places that you really like makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.

You’ve suddenly found an apartment, bar, restaurant, coffee shop, or park that you adore. You’ve now claimed this as your place to live, party, eat, work, or relax. It’s now part of home and you couldn’t be happier to have this place that brings you inner peace knowing that you’re not just some tourist.


+ Having amazing students with amazing parents who show you how much they appreciate you.

I feel that in a lot of work environments people are not told of how much their effort is appreciated. If you enjoy positive reinforcement, it’s hard to feel like what you’re doing is worthwhile if it seems like nobody is noticing. The best part about teaching abroad is the constant love and appreciation these students and parents show for the teachers.


These are just some of the highs and lows that I’ve experienced lately. I know I’ve forgotten loads that I experience often. Are you an expat? What highs and lows have you experienced? Any of the same ones as me? Anything different? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Watching A Map For Saturday

My Thursday morning started just as any other Thursday morning does for me. I was excited that it was nearly the end of the week, yet completely unmotivated to get up and get moving. Typical.

By the time I had found enough energy and arrived at work, I was told that I could use first period as office hours because my students would be in their homeroom classes working on a project they’d be presenting in the afternoon.

WOOHOO! *insert cheesy, celebratory bell kick* Boy, was I excited! This meant I had one extra planning/grading period, and that the end of my week just got better! Extra time = extra productivity (or so I thought… *spoilers*).

I almost never have time to check my email first thing in the morning, but this time, I did. In my inbox I had a new email about a post from Nomadic Matt. *cue lack of productivity* Apparently it’s the 10th anniversary of a travel documentary I had never seen but needed to. After reading his post, I decided to download it. But first, I needed to get my grading done for the day. If only I had done that right away instead of diving into a sea of travel blogs.

Fast forward to the end of the school day, I actually had some downtime to begin watching A Map for Saturday. I found myself getting weirdly emotional during this. I wasn’t crying or anything, but it was just so relatable! The documentary does a phenomenal job of capturing the feelings of a traveler. It is more centered around long-term backpacking, but as someone who has lived abroad for two years and travelled on holidays, it still hit home.

The basis of this documentary is that a young guy, Brook, who has a well-paying job in New York, decides to quit his job and travel the world for 11 months, something that was far less common 10 years ago. He films a lot of what he experiences on his round the world trip, with the focus being on the people he meets.

It adequately describes the feelings one goes through before, during, and after a lengthy international trip. And because of this, I’m feeling mighty contemplative tonight about what to do with the upcoming year of my life.

Several things really stuck out to me while watching A Map for Saturday:

People’s Perception of Americans

I’ve experienced this myself while traveling. It certainly changes a bit with each president, but it’s not uncommon for someone to have a certain reaction when you say you’re from the U.S. The current face of the country does make a difference in some ways, but in other ways it doesn’t at all. Americans stereotypically have this arrogant sense of pride. I feel like we are known for thinking we are the best, and that is half the reason people refuse to travel and leave the States. If I had a dollar for every time someone back home has asked me, “But why would you want to leave the US?” It’s one of the most annoying questions to get.
A friend of mine that I met on a trip last summer is Canadian, and people often just assume he’s American. He told me that as soon as he says he’s from Canada, he immediately notices a difference in the way others treat him overseas. In this documentary, people admitted they pretend to be Canadian so they won’t have to admit they are actually American! Maybe if I find myself getting into awkward political conversations this summer, I’ll follow their lead and say I’m from Canada. (Haha)

You’re Never too Old to Stay in Hostels

One of the travelers featured in this film was a 73 year old man. He is officially my idol. I found him to be so inspirational. He has seen more of the world than most people ever will and he refused to let his age or health issues keep him from exploring. I can only hope that when I’m 73 that I’m still getting around as well as he was in this, and that I’m half as cool as him still travelling the world.

10 Years Later and It’s Like Nothing Has Changed

At least where I’m from in the U.S., the mentality towards long-term international travel is just as it was 10 years ago when Brook created this. People don’t like it. They’re afraid of it. They don’t understand it. Honestly, it’s easy to feel like you’re being judged for your decisions. A lot of people in America still don’t travel internationally, and if they do it’s for luxury or work. You won’t typically see people leaving the States to go stay in a hostel and immerse themselves into a new culture. People like luxury hotels, cruises, and tours. Americans seem to prefer what’s more accurately referred to as a vacation, a word that has nearly been deleted from my lexicon over the past two years. I don’t value vacation the way I do travel, but that’s not something I have in common with most people I know in the States.

I, too, Am Afraid to Go Home

Of course I miss my family, especially my niece and nephews. But honestly, I’m more afraid to go home than I was to begin my journey overseas. I’m afraid of how much of a challenge it might be to leave the country again. I’m afraid I’ll be pulled into a normal full-time career and not be able to get the time off I desire. I’m afraid I’ll forget what it’s like to just go into something so unfamiliar with some nerves, but mostly confidence because I’ve learned it’s really not so hard to just get up and go somewhere you’ve never been. I’m afraid I won’t feel like I’m growing as much as a person because you learn so much about yourself and the world when you travel. The life I live now is so different than my life back home. And quite frankly, I don’t want to go back to a normal life. These feelings are present in the documentary and helped reassure me that I’m not alone.

Watching this documentary genuinely made me happy. It’s such an honest reflection of what it’s like to be traveling. There are so many highs and lows, hellos and goodbyes, perfections and imperfections; in the end, you never return the same person you were before. Yet home, home still seems to be the same. People have grown a little older, maybe gotten engaged or married, had a baby, or started a new job, but things still feel the same. It’s a really odd thing to experience. A Map for Saturday captures this feeling quite well.

If you’ve never seen this before, I definitely recommend getting it. And if you’re curious to know what Brook is up to now 10 years later, check out Nomadic Matt’s interview with him.

Have you seen it before? Did you just download it so you could check it out? Comment below and let me know what you think!

10 Reasons I Love Living in Shanghai


Living in Shanghai certainly has its ups and downs. I go through phases about how I feel about it. However, when I stop complaining about the little frustrations that I experience, I can really see all the reasons to love Shanghai.

It also helps that I’ll be leaving Shanghai in a few months (most likely for good), and I’m feeling a little sad about it. It’s bitter sweet, and it has me thinking about all the things I love about this place.


10 Reasons to Love Living in Shanghai

Delivery – EVERYTHING Gets Delivered

Pretty much whatever you want. You can have groceries, McDonald’s, KFC, or anything on baopals/taobao (think Amazon or eBay for China). I’m so spoiled. I rarely have to run errands anymore.

Paying via Phone. And Getting Paid!

China has mastered the whole paying with your phone thing. I can use my phone to pay for groceries, taxis, my bar tab, dinner, hitting up H&M, anything ordered online, bike rentals…, the list goes on. I also can get paid for tutoring and transfer money to others easily with my phone. This is perfect since I tutor my life away and since they don’t really split bills in China. Everyone just sends money. Easy peasy!


Literally the best thing ever. Who needs texts or calls? My phone bill is so cheap here. I just use wifi or data and WeChat. WeChat is super popular in China, but it should be used everywhere, in my opinion. It has a newsfeed, video and phone calling, stickers, voice messages, and it’s what makes paying by phone so simple! WeChat is the best.

You Don’t Need to Speak Chinese

So most people don’t speak English, but it is so incredibly easy to get around without speaking Chinese. Don’t stress about coming to Shanghai and not knowing the language. It’s super accessible with the help of a few good apps.


Taxis are cheap, but the metro and the bus are dirt cheap. It’s so easy to get caught up taking taxis because of how cheap it is, but the metro and bus are the way to go. AND Shanghai is in the process of expanding the metro system. It’s going to be massive by 2020.

Always Something to Do

It really is a lovely city. If you’re bored, you can easily find something to do, from comedy shows to open mics to ladies’ nights to trivia nights. Any day of the week there is something going on.

Expat Community

Shanghai has a pretty phenomenal expat culture. It’s one of my favorite things about going out here. You never know who you’re going to meet or what language you’ll get to practice. Some of those people will have been here for just a few months, others for years. When you work away from the city, it’s easy to forget how much diversity exists here. Adventuring in the city reminds you of that.

Global Culture

Again, this has a lot to do with the giant expat community. You can find restaurants and bars owned by people from all over the world. But there are also big events that take place and bring in people from many different countries. One of my favorite experiences in Shanghai so far was watching the only improv group in Korea perform in Shanghai. I don’t speak any Korean, yet I laughed until I cried. I’d never have had an experience like that in my hometown.

Going Green (or at least trying)!

Shanghai is actually making an effort to reduce the pollution. Recently a smoking ban has been put in place, several bike share programs have been implemented, and they have restricted who can drive a taxi (now more people are taking the metro or renting bikes due to the inconvenience of getting a taxi now that there are less).  It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. And I’m proud!


The frequency that this city changes is just insane. Shops come and go, buildings are constantly being popping up, and it seems like the construction is so quick (coming from Ohio where the one highway has been under construction for 9+ years -since I’ve been driving and probably before).


Shanghai is a great city with so much to see and do. Even though I’ve never been much of a big city girl, I’ve grown to really love this place. Sometimes I surprise myself with how fond of it I’ve become, but then really, there are plenty of reasons to love it here!

What Travel has Taught Me – Lesson 1: Relax

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With every mile I’ve travelled, I’ve learned something new. Traveling teaches you so many things about the world and the people who inhabit it. But apart from that, traveling teaches you about yourself. You grow as a person and never return exactly the same.

The thought of traveling or moving abroad can be super scary, so I’m here to tell you that, out of all of things traveling has taught me, the biggest thing I can say to anyone is to just relax.

I have a friend who is temporarily moving to Shanghai for work,  and it has finally hit her that she’ll be living in China for the next two months. Messaging her has reminded me of how I felt before my first big international trip.

First and foremost, I was excited. It was a couple weeks before my 21st birthday and I was finally getting to study abroad in France, something I had dreamed about since I was a kid. But I was stressed. I had so much I had to pack, a long checklist of things I needed to take care of before leaving, a list of people I needed to see before I left, all while balancing my normal everyday life and responsibilities. I was nervous I wouldn’t get it all done.

Then I got emotional – and with plenty of reason. The week before I left, my grandfather suddenly passed away. Then, my boyfriend of two years decided it would be a good time to break up. Plus, I had a two day retreat I had to run for the student organization I was President of. And I still wasn’t packed!

It felt like a nightmare.

For a second, I actually considered cancelling my travel plans. I thought that I needed my friends and family more than anything at that time and I was overwhelmed. Staying home didn’t seem like a bad idea for my sanity.

What I didn’t know then was that taking that trip at that specific time in my life was actually the best thing I could have done for my sanity. I changed on that trip. I learned that when everything around you seems like it’s crashing down on top of you, it’s not the end of the world. Nothing ever is. I didn’t need to be in control of everything. Things will never play out perfectly, and when that inevitability occurs, you just have to take a deep breath and relax. Nothing is ever as bad or as scary as it seems.

Since that trip, I’ve travelled quite a bit. With each new country I travel to, I realize that there’s no reason to be nervous, stressed, or afraid. You don’t have to be fluent in the local language or have a strict itinerary planned before your trip. You don’t have to pack everything you can think of (because you probably won’t use half of it anyway), and you don’t have to spend all your money on accommodation and tours.

Pack light but efficient. Book your flight and accommodation.  Exchange a little bit of local currency. Notify your banks. Breathe easy, be flexible, and go.

It’s important to realize that while it seems like everything changes, living a few days, weeks, months, or years somewhere else is not all that different. You’re still a human being alive in a community of other humans who are also just being alive. The culture will be different, but it won’t be so different that you can’t function. Things might not go exactly as planned, but everything works out in the end. Don’t let stress or fear control your trip, and definitely don’t let it ruin your trip.  You simply just have to be. That’s it. So relax and enjoy!

5 Fun Ways to Get Fit for Free While Living Abroad

get fit for free, expat lifestyle, staying healthy, living abroad

One of my biggest frustrations when I first moved to Shanghai was finding ways to stay in shape on a budget.

I was in quite a bit of debt my first few months in Shanghai. I certainly couldn’t afford to spend any extra on a gym membership or expensive fitness classes, and I could no longer go to Planet Fitness 3+ days a week for only $10 a month. Not getting my work out in made dealing with all the other adaptations of a new life in Shanghai harder to manage.

Staying fit in Shanghai was simply not affordable for me at the time, and now that I can afford it, I don’t want to spend that kind of money on it.

If you’re living somewhere that gyms and classes are really expensive or inconvenient to get to (also Shanghai if you live where I live), or just can’t swing the extra money right now, here are some ideas so you can get fit on a budget!

Free Fitness, Health on a Budget, Let Passion Unfold, Expat Life, Expat Struggles

+ Take advantage of YouTube, Pinterest, and blogs about at home workouts.

This is what I did to begin with and continue to do now. I’m a big fan of blogilates. I always feel so great after a blogilates work out. Cassey is full of positive energy! Doing her workouts in the morning always puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day. There are loads of resources on the internet for free, but hers are the ones I’ve felt most motivated to stick with.

+ Get a group together to workout before work -or any time really.

Having a group is never a bad idea. It’s great motivation (and guilt when you don’t follow through). Last year a group of us would meet up everyday, take some workout videos out to the track on our school’s campus, and go hard in the morning before getting ready for work. We all had our own DVDs, downloaded videos, and printable workout routines that we could choose from. We mostly did Jillian Michaels but would occasionally switch it up for other resources we had to keep things fresh! This was so much fun!

+ Walk or bike from place to place.

I noticed a big difference in my health and happiness when I began walking more frequently. Take the 20 minute walk to the metro instead of waiting for the bus.  See if your city has a bike share program or get your own. It’s such a little change, yet it makes a drastic difference!

+ Create your own class.

If you or someone you know is skilled in a certain type of fitness, create a class with your friends. I’ve had a friend do yoga for a small group and know people at work who have led Zumba classes. It’s a super fun and free way to work out, plus you’re with friends!

+ Become a runner.

This is something I need to be better at. If you’re a runner, you can do that anywhere. You don’t need equipment, a room, or anything really. Just your body, some good tunes, and a determined attitude. In Shanghai, it’s important to have a good mask to protect you from the pollution. I use the iD Mask. It’s super comfortable and effective, great for outdoor fitness in the smog!

These are my favorite ways to stay in shape without spending much money, if any at all.

I’m always looking for new ideas to stay active without spending. What are your favorite free fitness tips?

A Weekend Guide to Xi’an China

A Weekend Guide to Xi'an, China - Let Passion Unfold

Visiting Xi’an was one of the most affordable trips I’ve taken in a while. Generally speaking, I am rather frugal and am careful about what I choose to spend my money on. If I’m going to splurge on anything, it has to be travel related. So of course it’s always extra exciting if I can have an amazing trip that doesn’t cost a lot of money.

This is one of the great perks of traveling around Asia where there are loads of affordable travel destinations. Living in Shanghai, though, isn’t always cheap, so it’s nice to travel to other cities and save some money.

Xi’an, however, is super affordable! For two nights at our hostel, we each only paid $11 USD. For less than $6 a night, I would have gladly stayed longer. Round trip flights from Shanghai were roughly $100. As terrible as it sounds, I’ve spent that on a single night out in Shanghai before!

So now that I’ve shamefully admitted that on occasion I can waste far too much money hanging out in the city, let’s talk about why Xi’an is worth a visit (and how affordable it really is).

Why Xi’an?

Traveling anywhere in China can be quite fascinating. The culture has been around forever, seemingly; there’s so much history to be discovered. The history of Xi’an is one that dates back more than 2,000 years. Xi’an was home to the Qin Dynasty, a fact that plays an important role in its recent popularity as a tourist city. It’s been said to be the starting point of the Silk Road, and there’s a enjoyable combination of Muslim and Chinese cultures. There is really a lot to experience in Xi’an. It feels as though you’re being transported back in time, and it’s absolutely amazing. Let your imagination take you away when you visit, and make the most of your trip!

What to Do
 1. Terracotta Army (bingmayong – 兵马俑)
Weekend in Xi'an, Terracotta Army, Terracotta Warriors and Horses, Xi'an, China

The top of the list is, of course, the Terracotta Army. This is what has brought in so many tourists in recent years, and odds are it’s one of the main things you think of when you hear “Xi’an.” Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty had this army created to protect his tomb. The Warriors and Horses were discovered only 43 years ago in 1974. Since then, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Seeing pictures simply does not do this archeological find justice. There are three separate pits filled with members of the Terracotta Army. The amount of time it must have taken and the commitment to the first emperor is just amazing. It all seems too magnificent to truly comprehend, especially when you think about how long ago these were created.

Cost: 145 RMB
Directions: Take a bus to the Xi’an Railway Station. 1-2 RMB. Hop on bus 306 which will take you to the Terracotta Army (Bingmayong – 兵马俑  in Chinese). It’s about a one hour drive and costs about 8 RMB.

2. Bike the City WallsBike the City Walls, Xi'an, China, A Weekend in Xi'an

This one was super fun for me. I never would have imagined myself biking the city walls of an ancient capital city. The walls are in pretty good shape, but the bike ride is a bit rough. They stop renting out bikes after 6 pm, so it’s important to show up before then.City Walls, Xi'an, China, A Weekend Guide to Xi'an

Cost: 54 RMB to enter and get up on the city walls. 45 RMB to rent a bike for 2 hours. 200 RMB deposit for the entire group, which you should get back unless you do something terrible to the bikes!
Directions: Easily accessible from the same stop to catch the bus to go to the Terracotta Army (hint: look for stairs with a ticket box/security below). That’s the North Gate. The other gates have the bikes as well, and you can drop off at any of the locations around the wall.

3. Muslim Street Market (Beiyuanmen Islamic Street)

Muslim Quarter, Muslim Street, Xi'an, China, A Weekend Guide to Xi'anEvery one of my Chinese coworkers and parents of the students I tutor told me that the food is amazing. They weren’t lying. Do yourself a favor and read up on some of the best dishes in Xi’an.

Muslim Street Food, Muslim Street Market, Beiyuanmen, Potatoes, A Weekend in Xi'an China

These potatoes brought me so much happiness! Can’t go wrong with potatoes ♡

Going to the Muslim Street Market at night was a memorable experience with such tasty food and a lively atmosphere. Nighttime is definitely the best time to go. Come hungry and try as much as you can!

Cost: However much it takes to get full! Each item typically costs between 10-20 RMB.
Directions: Not far from the city center, you’ll want to find Beiyuanmen street -it’s located right behind the Drum Tower, which you can see from the Bell Tower. Across from the circle of the Bell Tower, there are some stairs that lead to a Starbucks and an alley of restaurants and shops. If you follow that alley to the Drum Tower, Beiyuanmen will intersect on the right.

4. View the Bell Tower at Night

Bell Tower, Xi'an, China, A Weekend Guide to Xi'an, Let Passion UnfoldYou pretty much can’t get around Xi’an without seeing the Bell Tower. It’s the center of everything, so you’ll constantly come across it. Make sure you make a stop near it at night though while it’s lit up and even more beautiful.

Cost: Free
Directions: You can’t miss it, honestly. It is the center of everything. If that isn’t useful to you, the metro stop is Zhong Lou.

5. The Shaanxi History Museum

This one I recommend lightly. If you have time and are looking for a way to spend an hour or two, go for it. There’s a lot of cool things to check out, including history of the Shaanxi people, how the Terracotta Army was made, and lots of bronze  as it was popular at that time. It is an EXTREMELY POPULAR museum and with a great reputation. The museum provides you with a lot of history (some in English), however a lot is in Chinese (naturally). Enjoy reading what is available to you and move right along. We enjoyed it overall, but were slightly underwhelmed. Some of the exhibits have an additional cost which can be quite hefty (300 RMB). We opted out of those, so maybe that’s part of the reason this museum didn’t completely blow us away. It was worth 30 RMB and skipping the line though!

As mentioned before, this museum is insanely popular, so the queue to get in is crazy long. Pro tip: Skip the line and walk up to the ticket office across from the mass of people. I don’t know if people are unaware they can get tickets at the other ticket window, but there is no line. Considering the long queue, it’s of course busy on the inside as well. You won’t be able to spend as much time reading and pacing yourself due to the crowds, so you don’t need to leave a ton of time to see it all.

Cost: 30 RMB
Directions: Off of Line 3 or Line 2 – stop: Xiaozhai. Take exit C, turn left, and walk until you see a giant queue of people under tents on the sidewalk (or about 800 meters).

Getting Around

Xi’an is surprisingly easy to navigate. We took taxis, buses, and the metro several times. We never had any issues, even with the buses! Don’t be afraid to go the cheapest route here. It’s relatively simple, so no worries! If you do find yourself needing a cab, they are still really affordable, just make sure you know the street names you’re looking for.

The entire weekend – museums, food, sites, transportation, flights from Shanghai, and accommodation cost just under $175 USD.

We had such a great time in the day and a half we had to explore. There are plenty of other places to visit in Xi’an if you’re staying longer than I did, but with limited time, these were the 5 things at the top of my list.

Choosing the Best Rental for Your Trip: New Zealand Driving Tour

Choose the best rental to tour New Zealand, Beginner Mistakes, New Zealand Rentals, Jucy Rentals, Drive New Zealand
Choose the best rental to tour New Zealand, Beginner Mistakes, New Zealand Rentals, Jucy Rentals, Drive New Zealand

When planning a tour around New Zealand, it’s fairly obvious that the most cost effective way to do it is to drive yourself (or hitchhike?). There are a ton of companies out there that you can rent a car or a camper from. So how do you choose which rental is the best for your trip?


Many of the rental companies around New Zealand are great for people who are beginners at camping this way. My friends and I had never really travelled in a campervan before. A friend of ours who lives in New Zealand recommended we use Jucy Rentals. We took her advice and booked ourselves a Jucy Chaser. The Jucy Chaser we drove was an automatic *phew* and not a bad size. It felt quite small on the inside, but it did the job for a couple weeks driving around NZ. They are also a good size for drivers who aren’t used to driving some massive vehicle through all the twisty, hilly roads around the South Island on a windy day.

Best Rentals, Tour New Zealand, Jucy Rentals, Jucy Chaser, Drive New Zealand


The rental process was easy. They arrange a shuttle to and from the airport, so we didn’t have anything to worry about! We showed up and met with friendly, helpful staff. We checked out our vehicle and got a brief explanation of different things to note on the camper. Soon we were ready to go! Our Chaser came with a TV, radio, refrigerator, dishes, stove, sink, bathroom, and two beds (sleeps 4). It had everything we could have wanted. There weren’t any sort of amenities that were missing. It wasn’t luxurious by any means, but it took care of all of the important things. It was pretty easy to set up at night and pack up in the morning, as well.



Not everything was perfect, though. We had an issue with one of our fuses blowing multiple times. The fuse controlled our radio, TV, and outlets. Lucky for us, it wasn’t anything really important. The first time it happened, we were close to the Queenstown airport and took the rental in for a quick fix. Unfortunately, it blew again. We were a little sad to not have our radio at times, especially because we had put together an awesome playlist for the trip. (Pro tip: Bring an auxiliary cord or portable speakers to play the music you spent so long putting together!) We also had troubles with the a/c. It just never seemed to work and the air from the front didn’t circulate well to the back. It got a little uncomfortable back there some days.


Overall, we had a pretty good experience, and I would definitely do another rental like this in the future. However, we did make a few mistakes when booking. We didn’t really know what we were doing when we made our decision. We definitely could have saved ourselves a little bit of money.

Best Rentals, Tour New Zealand, Drive New Zealand, Driving Tour, Jucy Rentals, Jucy Chaser

Just hanging out on the bottom bed!

Our biggest mistake was not fully understanding  the type of trip we wanted to take. It’s extremely important (if you’re trying to be wise about money) to decide if you want to do freedom camping, or are you staying at campsites and mostly treating your vehicle as a sleep-in car rental. For us it was the latter, but we booked as if we’d be freedom camping. This ended up being more costly for us.


If you plan to FREEDOM CAMP

+ Must be in a certified self-contained vehicle. In other words, the toilet and shower are contained within the vehicle, instead of simply popping out.

+ Free to camp anywhere unless there’s a sign stating otherwise. However, it’s good to be familiar with the rules in different areas. I’ve heard it can vary around the island.

+ Responsible for properly disposing of any wastes. Please be respectful to New Zealand’s beautiful environment and use the proper dump sites.

+ Don’t forget to find a place to charge your vehicle and refill any resources you use (easily found at campsites).

+ Save money by not paying nightly rates at campsites (roughly $70 NZD a night per vehicle for a powered site at a holiday park).


If you plan to STAY AT CAMPSITES (Holiday Parks)

+ Make sure the campsite your staying at accepts your vehicle. Not all places allow non-self-contained vehicles. I think all of the ones we stayed at did, though.

+ Use your vehicle mostly just to travel and to sleep.

+ Take advantage of the charging outlets and garbage services at your site.

+ Use the campsite facilities to shower, cook, wash dishes, use the toilet, etc. Doing this means you don’t have to refill or clean those parts of your camper!

+ Save money by not paying extra for a self-contained vehicle (at least $2-300 NZD depending on which vehicle is best for you).


These definitely aren’t your only options. You can rent a smaller vehicle and get a room at some campsites, or you can get a cheaper site and use a tent!  Honestly, this kind of appeals to me. It would be significantly cheaper, and the holiday parks have everything that you need for the night. The only concern would be bad weather. I guess in that case, maybe splurge on a room somewhere?


In my opinion, the most important thing is to think about the kind of trip you want to have and decide the best vehicle for your needs. It’s not necessary to have the ability to freedom camp if you don’t plan on taking full advantage of it. I wish we had planned that out more thoroughly.

Think about how much room you’ll really need for sleeping. Do you actually want to clean up the toilet and shower when you’re done or would you rather use a campsite? Smaller vehicles will obviously use less gas. Each option has its pros and cons, so choose whichever is best for you!


Have you ever done a driving tour of New Zealand? What’s your favorite way to get around?

How to Travel New Zealand’s South Island for Free

15 places you must see on New Zealand's South Island. Visit New Zealand on a budget. Budget Travel Tips

Whoever said Disney was the happiest place on Earth clearly never made it to New Zealand. Traveling around New Zealand’s South Island for two weeks had me in a constant state of awe. Throughout the entire two weeks, I don’t think I ever picked my jaw up off the floor. I’ve seen photos and documentaries, I’ve read plenty of blogs, but nothing compares to seeing it in person. However, the anticipated expenses can be a bit daunting. Luckily, there are plenty of free things to do in New Zealand!

This is precisely why budgeting a New Zealand trip really isn’t that difficult. There are loads of adventures you can take advantage of on the island that will cost you an arm and a leg, but those things aren’t necessary in order to truly enjoy New Zealand. The best things on the South Island are free. Today I’m going to share with you some of my favorite FREE experiences in New Zealand.

1. Travel back in time with the Moeraki Boulders
 2. Take a picture of the 2nd most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere (after the Sydney Opera House) – the train station in Dunedin

 3. Enjoy all of the wonderful street art (Dunedin)

 4. Walk up the steepest road in the world (Dunedin) 5. Watch the sea lions at Allans Beach (Dunedin) 6. Relax by the Purakaunui Waterfalls 7. Hike any of the trails in Te Anau 8. View Queenstown from The Remarkables 9. Connect with the lonely tree at Lake Wanaka 10. Hike Mount Roy – Exhausting, but beyond worth it! 11. Stargaze at the Church of the Good Shephard (Lake Tekapo) 12. Check out Hooker Glacier Lake 13. Visit the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfalls 14. Watch the sunrise and sunset at the beaches 15. Don’t hesitate to pull over and take photos!

So there you have it, my favorite experiences on the South Island that won’t cost you a penny and will leave you with unforgettable memories.

What are your favorite free (or budget friendly) things to do in New Zealand?