I cannot believe that only a month ago I was ringing in 2016 on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. It seems like I’ve lived a lifetime since then! January was such a full month – I not only had some fantastic adventures but I also got so much work done on various projects that I look back on the last 31 days with nothing but pride and happiness.
After finishing up The Yacht Week down south on the 3rd, I headed up to Chiang Mai for two weeks, where I met other digital nomads, wrote in the city’s many amazing coffee shops, and managed a few adventurous days in Chiang Rai and Elephant Nature Park. Then I headed to my 27th country, Vietnam, where I wandered the streets of Hanoi, trekked through rice terraces in Sapa, and forged some lasting friendships in Hoi An.
Returning to SE Asia, of course, was the biggest general highlight of the month. It was here that I first met several full-time travelers two years ago that made me realize that such a lifestyle was possible, so returning to chase that dream for myself was enlivening. I felt so inspired that I had no problem digging my teeth into some of the work I’d been itching to do this year, and new location-independent income ideas and connections sprang up by the dozen.
Here’s a look at the breakdown, the highs and lows, and of course, the cash-ola spent.
Countries Traveled To: 2 (Thailand & Vietnam)
Places Traveled To:
- Thailand: Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai
- Vietnam: Hanoi, Sapa, Hue, Hoi An
Distance Traveled: 5,407 km (3359 miles)
- Plane: 3412 km (2120 miles) on 4 flights
- Train: 1278 km (794 miles) on 3 trains
- Bus: 657 km (408 miles) on 5 busses
- Boat: 60 km (37 miles) on 1 boat
Total Money Spent: $2619 (down from $3282 last month)
Even though I went up in every other category, I spent over $1000 less on transportation costs this month compared to December, which bumped down my overall spending to something close to my budget of $2500. I love knowing I could have done this month for a lot less, because the remaining Yacht Week costs from the first of the month were the only major expense I had.
SE Asia really is, in my opinion, the best place to travel if you’re on a budget. So many great destinations that are all so. so. cheap! Don’t believe me? Read on.
Accommodation: $868 (up from $830 last month)
This is only higher due to the first three days of the month, when I was still paying for Yacht Week. The rest of the month, I never spent more than $15 on a room! In Chiang Mai, I found the perfect AirBnB for my two weeks there – comfy double bed, armoire, simple bathroom, lots of light, desk and lightning fast wi-fi for only $10 a night! And in Hanoi, I stayed in the nicest hostel dorm I’ve ever slept in for $8 a night, with free breakfast.
Don’t believe me when I tell you how cheap it is? Check out this tour of my hotel room in Hue, which cost me $10 a night. (And if you aren’t following me on Facebook, you should. I post lots of fun stuff like this!)
Transportation Costs: $524 (down from $1532 last month)
Flights around Asia can be had for a steal. Sometimes, they are even cheaper than traveling over land! When looking to get the overnight train from Da Nang back to Hanoi in Vietnam, it was going to be more than $40, but I found a Vietnam Airways flight for $29, including a checked bag. Score!
A new discovery this month for me was SkyPicker, an online flight booking tool that finds hidden airline fares, and is particularly good for combining budget airline flights to help you find the cheapest route to a destination. I used them a couple times this month and they were able to find fares I couldn’t find elsewhere.
Food: $370 (up from $344 last month)
Ah, a return to SE Asia and a return to the epic street food! I ate so much amazing food for so cheap this month, it was ridiculous. I only managed to spend more than last month because of the $100 fancy dinner I ate my last night in Chiang Mai with a digital nomad friend, and it was worth every penny!
Entertainment: $643 (up from $456 last month)
I did have a few big expenditures here, including an Intrepid Tour of Sapa and diving on New Years Day in Koh Phi Phi, but I’m happy with the amount of fun I paid for this month. Like I’ve said before, these are the experiences I travel for, so I try not to feel bad when this number is high.
Necessities: $215 (up from $120 last month)
My new passport in Hanoi cost me $110, but otherwise I spent the standard amount on necessities this month.
NOT INCLUDED IN MY BUDGET: As always, my monthly bills….travel insurance, health insurance in the US, cell bill, student loans, car insurance, etc. These bills add up to less than $700 a month.
Favorite Place: Chiang Mai
I’d been to Chiang Mai once before when I was in Thailand two years ago, but I didn’t spend much time in the city itself. I came back because it’s the number one place in the world for digital nomads (people who make a living online and travel) because of it’s cheap cost of living and large community of like-minded entrepreneurs. I wanted to check out the nomad scene and get some work done I’d been putting off.
I did get a lot of work done, sure – but I didn’t expect to feel so at home in this city. It has all the things I love about Thailand – amazing cheap food, friendly people, plenty of temples to explore, adventure activities galore, and lovely scenery – but without the crowds of the beaches or the manic pace of Bangkok. I connected with place on some level that is hard to put into an easy explanation. All I know is I found myself settling in so nicely to life in Chiang Mai that I really had a hard time leaving. But, I have one of those deep-soul feelings that I’ll be back someday. I just know, you know?
Favorite Moment: Riding through the rice fields on the back of a motorbike with my new friend Bong.
If you’ve been following me the last couple of weeks, you know about the amazing day I spent with a local girl named Bong from Hoi An. After becoming fast friends in a couple of hours, she invited me home to her parent’s house in the countryside. I’ll never forget riding back through the rice fields on her motorbike as the sun set, reflecting on how much it meant to spend the day with her family and see how they live. I maaaaay have cried a little bit….
Shittiest Moment: Post-Yacht Week Seasickness/Food Poisoning/Cold/Hangover/Misery.
After Yacht Week, I was a disaster. I was sick in every possible way and so dizzy that I could barely stand. It took five days to feel somewhat normal again, and the room still spins every now and then if I close my eyes. I’m assuming some combination of cumulative hangover, seasickness or disembarkment syndrome, a cold, and food poisoning, but whatever it was, it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. But luckily, I bounced back and am as good as new!
Funniest Moment: Motorbike mania in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, there are more motorbikes than people. They aren’t just used to get around, but also to transport heavy loads. I made up this game that I played every time I stepped into the street – whenever I saw someone on a motorbike carrying ridiculous cargo, I snapped a photo. I managed to get some pretty funny ones!
Weirdest Moment: Visiting the White Temple in Chiang Rai.
Wat Rong Khun is one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure. It’s a public modern art exhibit in the northernmost part of Thailand sponsored by quirky local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. He infused his masterpiece with plenty of strange and sinister details, including Freddy Kruger’s face hanging from a tree, a transformer drag queen (not sure how else to explain it) and hands grasping at you from “hell” as you cross into the temple.
It goes without saying that I absolutely loved this place. It’s unlike any other temple in Thailand!
Most Meaningful Moment: Forging friendships in Hoi An.
Meeting Bong and getting to know her, her friends and family in Hoi An was a top highlight this month. The dinner party she held on the last night was particularly awesome, because her friends welcomed me into their group with kindness and enthusiasm. They let me DJ and choose the party music, and I had them dancing to Pitbull faster than you can say “Mister Worldwide!”
There really is nothing like building a meaningful connection with someone who, on the surface, doesn’t appear to have much in common with you. Bong is one of those friends you keep and cherish for years to come.
Coolest Person I Met: Ly, my Hmong trekking guide in Sapa
Ly was one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. Read about my experience trekking with her here, and be reminded that great inspiration can sometimes come in the smallest of packages.
Best Thing I Ate: Barbecued Pork rolls in Hoi An.
Bong showed me how to eat this popular street food the first day we met. You take a rectangular piece of rice paper, place a semi-circular rice noodle on it, then add the barbecued pork. Top it with some veggies, wrap it up and dip it some spicy sauce before gobbling it up like the delicious meat-candy it is. Maybe it’s the Texan in me, but I couldn’t get enough of these!
Biggest Accomplishment: Making my first freelance $$$!
Because of the time I put into building my portfolio and approaching potential clients, I was able to land a few freelance writing gigs this month. Which means, I made an income for the first time since September! It wasn’t much (peanuts, pretty much) but it’s a start. And I made a lot of progress on the ebook I’m writing (look for that in the near future) and on another big writing project I’ve been wanting to tackle for years. I know so much of being a writer is putting in the time to practice and hone the craft, and I’m proud of myself for what I accomplished this month. Being creative on my own projects feels fucking fantastic!
My Favorite Photo: Balcony in the clouds in Sapa.
The view from my balcony at the Cat Cat View Hotel in Sapa was stunning. The clouds hung so low in the valley that it felt like I was in a treehouse! I needed to try to capture it somehow, despite the fact that I was alone. This marks the only time I used my tripod or my prime lens the entire month, but what a photo, right? It makes lugging around the gear worth it!
Posts: 16 (a new record for me!)
Number of page views: 2,565 (up from 1,483 last month – another record!)
I’m quite proud of what I accomplished this month with AAAW! I managed to write more content than ever before, and as a result I got more traffic and engagement. I really want to turn this site into something more helpful for you, the travel-loving, adventurous soul out there, to create the adventurous life for yourself you’re daydreaming about. So please, pretty please, email me or comment below if you have any questions, requests or suggestions for me!
Most popular post: The Yacht Week Thailand: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
My three-part series on my experience with The Yacht Week Thailand has been more popular than I expected, and I’m hoping it’s because it’s one of the few honest reviews out there on this event. I wrote it because I wish I’d read something like this before I did it, and I’m hoping other people use it to prepare themselves better than I did!
This is a new category for my Monthly Reviews. There are three active things I love to do – hiking, diving, and yoga – and they are all really good for me (okay, the diving is more of a fun activity but it counts as a sport!) As part of my goals for the new year, I resolved to do more of all three of them. Here’s my count for the month:
- Hikes: 3 (all in Sapa)
- Dives: 2 (both Koh Phi Phi, Thailand)
- Yoga Sessions: 0
Well I think we know which category needs improvement! I need to hit the yoga studios in Bali, stat.
Here is what I read this month:
- Rising Strong by Brené Brown – This author has written several self-empowerment books, including Daring Greatly which I’ve been recommended (but admittedly never read). She makes some good points in here about the importance of being vulnerable (a core aspect of adventure, I believe) and choosing to see failure as a positive thing, but I didn’t really like her writing style much – she’s too vague and spouts off ideas without much practicality. I wouldn’t recommend it, to be honest. There are too many other writers and bloggers saying the same thing but in a much clearer and attainable way.
- Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig – This is a cult classic travel book that people have telling me to read for years. I ended up liking it, but not loving it the way so many people do. There is a basic story line that the book follows of a father-son motorcycle trip, but the majority of it takes place in the narrator’s head as he explains the philosophical evolution of his previous personality, before he lost his mind and was institutionalized. It’s one of those books I had to read slowly, stopping every few paragraphs to make sure I understood what Pirsig was talking about, which explains why I found finishing it a bit of a chore. But there are some real gems in this here – read it if you’re into philosophy or want to be challenged intellectually.
- Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling – Because I obviously can’t get enough HP, like ever. I opened my e-copy of this book a few weeks ago to look something up (yes, I randomly look up HP facts, I’m that much of a geek) and then I decided to just go ahead and read the whole thing again, all 800+ pages of it, since I’d just read the 4th book last month and I felt like it. With the passing of my all-time favorite actor, Alan Rickman (who played my all-time-favorite character, Severus Snape, in the movies) I felt like it was a fitting tribute. And yes, I’ll probably read the 6th book next month…..because I’m obsessed.
Today I’m off to Bali, where I’ll be for 16 days. I’ve got a few days on my own before my younger brother arrives (time to get in some dives, I reckon!) and then Nick and I will pack dozens of activities into our 7 days together. I’m SO excited to see him and travel with him alone for the very first time! He’s never been to Asia, and I feel responsible to show him how amazing it is.
After he leaves, I’ve got another six days in Ubud before heading to Myanmar, my 29th country. I’ve been eager to visit Myanmar since I was a teenager because of a picture of the temples of Bagan I saw in a brochure. I can’t wait to get there. Lots of fun adventure ahead!