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October 2017

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Autumn Festivals: How the World Honors the Dead

A huge part of why I travel is just to experience something different.

I am always craving the unfamiliar. I want to be surprised by how different life, beliefs, and values can be across the hundreds of cultures around the world.

But on the other side of the coin, I also love finding things that remain consistent. It is interesting to see what is universal across all or most of humankind.

Halloween, which is very American in its modern celebrations (despite originating in Europe), is actually very similar to many other autumn festivals around the world in that it holds a very common theme: death.

When you take away the silliness and child-centered traditions, Halloweens true purpose has always been about honoring those who died before us. This theme is tied to autumn months all around the world.

Where can you see examples?

Mexico – Day of the Dead

The most well-known example is Dia de los Muertos, which translates to the Day of the Dead. It is celebrated widely in Mexico and other Hispanic cultures. It is a three-day event. On the first day, it is believed that spirits will return to earth to be close to their loved ones. On the second day, families visit the graves of their family members to leave flowers and fruit. The third and final day is giant party.

India – Fortnight of Ancestors

In India, 16 days are devoted to the deceased for “Pitru Paksha” around the time of the autumn equinox. According to Hindi legend, a spirit does not fully crossover into heaven until three more generations pass away. The three generations of spirits still waiting in limbo can visit their descendants during the Fortnight of Ancestors.

Hong Kong – Double Ninth Festival

The legend behind this festival is a bit dark, and, like many ancient myths from oral traditions, the story has several versions. The basic tale is of a man that is warned of an impending danger to his village and flees to a mountaintop. When he comes back down, he finds all his neighbors dead. The festival began as a way to honor those who lost their lives that day, and now it honors all who have passed on. Families in Hong Kong will visit the cemetery to clean their family’s tombs and leave flowers and small offerings.

Italy – All Saint’s Day

What we know as Halloween today descended from this holiday which honors Christian saints. It is celebrated in all Catholic communities, and many believe it borrows ancient Celtic traditions from the pagan holiday, Samhain.

Nepal – Gai Jatra

Rather than honoring all their ancestors, this festival is primarily for remembering those who passed away in just the last year. Cows, sacred creatures and the national animal, are lined up and paraded down the street in an effort to bring joy and luck to grieving families. Food is shared among the entire community.

Madagascar – Famadihana

We’ll end on this tradition, which is a bit strange from my western perspective. Once a year, the people of Madagascar retrieve the corpses of their ancestors from the family crypts. Their remains are wrapped in cloth and brought to a large party where they are paraded around and danced with.

As much as I love the spooky fun of Halloween, I can’t help but compare it to these festivals around the world that seem to have a deeper meaning. Do you think something is missing from our western culture that could be fulfilled with a holiday like these? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

 

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Travel Mistakes: Our Best Stupid Stories

Traveling is a rollercoaster. There are so many great experiences, unforgettable moments, and times of complete wonder and joy.

Maybe you’ll even experience these highs most of the time.

But we all make mistakes and do stupid shit from time to time. We’ve definitely had a few mishaps during our travels, and we think you can learn from them – or at least be entertained by these stories.

Have a laugh at our expense!

Mistake: We missed our flight by 24 hours.
Travel lesson: Double and triple check your flight information!

We had a good time during our recent trip to Guangzhou, China – but we were also ready to leave by our departure date.

We skipped to the check-in line. We were three people from the counter when suddenly Simon looked a little concerned. He had a slight worry.

What day was our flight again? It might have actually been yesterday.

It was yesterday.

We tried our luck pleading for a little mercy. Kristin cried. Simon shouted. We ended up paying $885 for a new flight that didn’t leave until two days later.

So how had this happened? The flight was departing at 2am. While we do understand that 2am actually means “morning” not “very late that night” we just hadn’t thought about it hard enough. Stupid.

Surely everyone will miss a flight in their travel lives right?

Mistake: We booked flights to a place we didn’t actually want to go to.
Travel lesson: “It’s Monday and we’re bored” isn’t actually a good reason to book a random flight without any research or discussion.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a luxurious week in the Maldives!

Well, us, actually.

It was Monday, after a grueling work day. Bangkok was raining because that’s what Bangkok likes to do 6 months out of the year. We were annoyed at the crowded trains, smoggy city, and congested traffic.

A beautiful beach, very very far away, sounded like the only thing anyone could ever want.

Maybe we’d heard somewhere that it was a little expensive, or a little conservative. Whatever! We’ve been to the Middle East. We’re from two of the most expensive countries in the world. No need to look into those concerns.

But as we approached departure day, money was a bit tight.

Kristin made a radical suggestion: “Maybe we should make an alcohol budget to keep us in check while we’re there, hmm?”

This quickly uncovered three important things:
1. We couldn’t afford the Maldives.
2. Alcohol is illegal in the Maldives.*
3. We really, really didn’t want to go to the Maldives. AT. ALL.

So the day before our flight we decided: We’re not going. We booked a one-way ticket to the South of Thailand instead – still beautiful and tropical, but also cheap and boozy.

*You can get very expensive alcohol at very expensive resorts in the Maldives, or you can go to “floating bars,” which are boats that serve alcohol far enough from land to be considered international waters.

We opted for the South of Thailand.

Mistake: We decided, on purpose, to be homeless for the night in Iceland in late December.
Travel lesson: When choosing between a hotel room or an arctic blizzard, choose the hotel room.

We’ve told this story before, but it was way too stupid not to include on the list. Did we mention that we made this decision on purpose with full knowledge that it was ICELAND and WINTER. There are just no words. Our only defense is that our flight was in the early morning and this half-baked plan would “save us money.” REALLY???

Iceland in the winter is freezing! Don’t go homeless! 

Mistake: Trying to find a last-minute hotel in China. Twice.
Travel lesson: China is a difficult country. Even if you aren’t a planner, make a plan.

Okay, so maybe the first time this happened it was forgivable. We were new to China travel and thought we could just rock up anywhere without a problem.

But China isn’t like the rest of Asia. Everything becomes strangely and inexplicably difficult there. The first few taxi drivers refused to take us anywhere. The next few wouldn’t even talk to us.

Somehow we ended up lost in the Forbidden City for two hours, still carrying our bags. It was raining.

And from there, somehow, we ended up on a Chinese-speaking tour bus with no seats for us. How does one accidentally join a Chinese tour with no seats left? I honestly can’t remember. I also can’t remember how we eventually escaped the tour bus. I do remember that everyone on that bus was eating corn on the cob and the smell was overwhelming.

We did eventually overpay for some inconveniently located hotel, and you’d think we’d have learned our lesson…

…but only a few weeks ago, there we were again: grumpy, sweaty, and homeless in China. Carrying around our heavy backpacks for SEVEN HOURS before admitting defeat and just going back to the same hotel we had checked out of that morning.

This summed it up.

Mistake: Getting an unwanted kiss from a taxi driver in Beijing.
Travel lesson: There is no lesson here. Creepy men suck. Creepy men, please stop being creepy.

Kristin spent a day at the Temple of Heaven alone and quickly learned that some taxi drivers are much friendlier to solo foreign women than they are to foreign couples.

One in particular seemed very excited to practice his English, and he quickly covered the usual subjects: Where are you from? What do you do? How long will you be in Beijing?

But the next part of the conversation took an unexpected turn when he shouted:

“I LOVE YOU!”

Kristin laughed a bit nervously and said nothing.

“SAY YOU LOVE ME, TOO!”

“Oh, er, okay, I love you.”

The rest of the ride he was happily singing “I love you, you love me too, hehehehehe!”

When Kristin tried to pay him at the end of the ride, he didn’t lean forward to take the money. Instead, he waited for her to lean forward, then grabbed her head and kissed her.

Creepy men, PLEASE stop being creepy.

 

Mistake: Our motorbike was stolen in Hanoi, but not really.
Travel lesson: Ask your hotel where to safely park before leaving your bike anywhere overnight.

What is the worst thing you can imagine first thing in the morning when you’re on holiday and suffering through a horrible hangover?

Is it being told that you owe some bike rental company $1,500?

We had parked our rented bike in front of the hotel the day before. It was surrounded by many, many other bikes, so this seemed like a good call at the time.

But the next day we were accused by the hotel staff of allowing the bike to be stolen. There was apparently a parking garage under the hotel that we should have used, but there were no signs and no one had told us.

After we became quite angry, the bike was conveniently found. Maybe a little suspicious?

Be careful where you leave your bike in Vietnam

Mistake: Buying five jugs of Sangria in Oman.
Travel lesson: Yes, you can find sangria in Oman. Don’t get carried away when you do.

Don’t misunderstand – drinking five jugs of Sangria is good fun. This was a great night.

It was also a very, very expensive night. And our first night in an expensive country. We had to watch every penny from then on out.

By our last day, we had basically nothing left. We couldn’t afford to go anywhere or do anything – we just hung around our friend’s apartment and waited for our flight the next day.

(For more about that eventful sangria night, see our post on our best drunk stories.)

Oman is expensive! Don’t end up pennyless. 

Travel mistakes are never fun in the moment, but in time they become your favorite stories! We’ve found that it’s weirdly disappointing now to return from a trip that went smoothly from start to finish.

But let’s always make new mistakes and learn from the old ones.

Hopefully you’ve learned something from our mistakes – now we’d love to learn from yours. Any stories to share?

 

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Mythological Monsters from Around the World

October has always been my favorite month. I love the crisp weather (not that we get much of that in Thailand), the comfort foods, and, of course, Halloween.

Ghost stories, haunted houses, magic, and spooky myths – all things I adore.

Back in America, I am used to stories about witches, werewolves, and vampires – but now that I’m traveling the world, I’m much more interested in discovering new creatures and fabled beasts that go bump in the night around foreign lands.

Here are a few to get us all in the Halloween spirit:

Banshee (Ireland) – Catching a glimpse of this old, witchy woman is not a good omen – her presence guarantees the death of a family member. Her hair wild and the color of fire, and she has a painfully loud shriek. Sometimes she might disguise herself as a young, beautiful girl before revealing her true appearance.

Chupacabra (Puerto Rico) – Like vampires, this little monster has a thirst for blood. But isn’t about to bite your neck, it actually targets goats. In fact, its name translates from Spanish to “goat sucker” – a terrifying thought to small farming communities. Its appearance can vary, from reptilian to resembling a monstrous kangaroo.

Manticore (Iran) – This beast has the head of a man and the body of a lion. Sometimes it has dragon-like wings and a tail. It definitely has more of a taste for human flesh – its name means “man eater,” and it was often blamed for missing people. People say it never leaves any remains when it feasts, not even bones, clothes, or possessions.

Nandi Bear (Kenya) – Imagine an overgrown hyena with massive muscles, and you’ve got the Nandi Bear. Folklore blames it for the deaths of both man and other animals. They say it eats only brains, leaving the rest of its victim’s body behind.

Revenant (Central Europe) – These spooky creatures are similar to ghosts or zombies – they are deceased humans who have returned from the dead. They are still made of flesh like a zombie, but they have human consciousness like a ghost, usually choosing to haunt places and people they know.

Rakshasa (India) – These demons were accidentally created as the gods slept, and they immediately began feasting on Brahma. They were banished to Earth, where they still try to satisfy their appetite by attacking and eating mankind.

Which creature do you find the scariest? Have you heard of any other mythological monsters during your travels? Share below!

 

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Things to Avoid in East Asia

We enjoyed sharing our favorite places around East Asia the other week! This region is filled with beautiful, exciting, and interesting places. But, in our opinion, not everything commonly recommended to tourists is worth your time. So here’s the other side of the coin – seven places you could go without seeing in East Asia.

Penang Hill, PENANG, Malaysia

After hours on a bus, we arrived at a lackluster location. The cable car was expensive. The view was average. It’s a waste of a day – and years later, my friends still blame me for dragging them there. Don’t make the same mistake! Head to Monkey Beach instead.

Turtle Temple, Hanoi, VIETNAM

The Turtle Temple in Hanoi is one of its most famous attractions. It’s also hugely disappointing! Despite being described as a “must see,” there really isn’t much to it. It’s in the middle of a lake, so all you can do is look at it from a distance. It’s also very small, so the view (and your photos) won’t be that impressive. True, the story behind it is pretty interesting, and we’d recommend looking that up if you enjoy history and myths. But it’s not worth a visit unless you happen to be walking in that area of the city anyway.

Chiang Rai, THAILAND

This little town is a typical stop on Thailand’s tourist trail, but it’s only because of the White Temple. While this attraction is very unusual, it’s also quite small – you’ll barely spend any time on it, and there isn’t anything else in town to explore or even a good nightlife scene. Instead, rent a scooter and head to the nearby mountains for stunning hikes and waterfalls.

The Symphony of Lights, Hong Kong

This is probably the most disappointing, hyped up show we’ve ever seen. How did it become world famous? We could barely see the lights! There was no rhythm with the music, and the lights came from random buildings in no particular order. It’s worst if it’s raining, but even with clear skies it’s very hard to see the weak powered light beams – are they powered with AA batteries?

The South of Laos

Yes, the whole region. Avoid it at all costs! The people are rude, and there’s nothing to see. Its transportation systems are torture. After crossing the Cambodian border, we made the mistake of trying to head north by bus. The North is actually rather pleasant, but by the time we got there we were already tired of the whole country. We had been warned this would happen, but we ignored the advice. Don’t make the same mistake.

Sukhumvit 11, BANGKOK, THAILAND

Bangkok This used to be a favorite destination for our nights out! But it has changed over the years. Several bars have closed down, they no longer serve cheap drinks from vans on the street, and what’s left has very little personality or edge. You’ll mostly find expensive restaurants and a couple of average pubs full of tourists.

If you’re looking for a night out in Bangkok, we’ve got you covered. 

A Guangzhou Boat Cruise, China

This experience was so dreadful! We paid a lot of money to go up and down a river we’d already walked along several times for free. There was no worthwhile view. The particular cruise we chose sold bowls of small tangerines and warm cans of beer – nothing else. We thought we’d eat dinner on the boat. Instead we were starving for the whole trip, and trapped on boat hoping we’d get back to land before most restaurants in the city closed.

East Asia really is stunning with so much amazing stuff to see and do. We would recommend it to anyone! But if your ever in the above areas, consider our warnings.

We’d love to hear your opinions, too! Do you agree or disagree? What attractions or activities let you down?

 

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6 Unusual Temples in Southeast Asia

Temples – they are some of the most frequented sights on the tourist trail in Southeast Asia.

After living here for several years, we have to confess that we usually skip temple visits when we’re traveling. After awhile, they start to blend together and we’ve started to think that many just look the same as the last.

Not everyone agrees with us – and that’s fair. There is definitely some stunning architecture to be seen. If you are a spiritual person, they can also be a very peaceful environment (when the crowds aren’t too heavy).

But even if you are in the same boat as us, we don’t necessarily recommend skipping every temple. Here are some that we find truly interesting and unique:

Angkor Wat – Cambodia

This complex is huge, and if you are committed to seeing the whole thing it would take all day (even if you usually breeze through places with impressive speed). Aside from its size, what sets it apart? The age of the buildings (dating back to the 12th century!) is so apparent, it feels like you’ve stepped into a different world. It’s almost like magic. The surrounding temples are also very unique – some resemble castles, some have mysterious faces carved all over the walls, and some look as if they are being swallowed up by the jungles around them.

Bagan Temples – Myanmar

Also ancient, and also massive, Bagan can be toured in so many fun ways. One of the most popular (but also expensive) tours is a hot air balloon ride. It is surrounded by plains and fields, allowing you to completely escape your modern life.

Shwedagon Pagoda – Myanmar

You’ll also find this shiny, gold temple in Myanmar. It’s makes up a prominent part of the capital city’s skyline, especially when it’s brightly lit up against the all the other darker buildings. It’s a beautiful sight while exploring during the day, and when it’s a backdrop to your night out.

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) – Thailand

This temple is partly a spiritual place of worship, and partly an art exhibit. This little twist gives it a completely new aesthetic that you won’t find anywhere else. Everything is white and sparkling. Dramatic sculptures are everywhere, from hands desperately reaching out of the ground, to dragons, to skeletons.

Sri Mariamman – Singapore

If you love lots of color, lots of art, and lots of detail, you will be delighted with this Hindu temple. There is so much to look at, it’s almost hypnotizing. The temple is bursting with life and energy.

Prambanan – Indonesia

Not only is this the oldest Hindu temple in all of Southeast Asia, its towering buildings are quite photographic. It is known for beautiful dance performances held at sunset at the neighboring park, with the temples as the backdrop.

Did we miss your favorite temple? Have you ever seen one that was just bizarre? Share it below and tell us why it was so interesting!

 

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Mid-Autumn Festival: A Chinese Celebration of Gratitude

We spent this past week in China and caught the beginning of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations. This is the second largest Chinese holiday and you’ll find decorations and traditional foods everywhere if you’re in the country, especially round red lanterns strung up in the trees and very dense cakes called moon cakes.

This time marks the fall harvest and, like many cultures around the world, this is a time for expressing gratitude and enjoying time with family.

This festival has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years, with its first written records coming from the Shang dynasty. It is always celebrated during the full moon of the 8th month of the lunar calendar.

In ancient times, the Mid-Autumn Festival also honored the gods or mythological figures honored in each region, such as gods of the moon, the local mountains or the great dragon who was believed to control the weather – therefore creating a bountiful harvest season.

A Mid-Autumn Festival Story

My favorite parts of any holiday are the myths and stories behind them.

In China, where stories were told orally for generations, the myths tend to vary per region. Here is one version:

It was believed in ancient days that there were once 10 suns that took turns lighting the sky. As long as only one sun rose at a time, Earth was safe and warm.

But one year, all 10 suns rose at once, which was understandably a disaster.

A very talented archer, Hou Yi, saved all of humanity was shooting down 9 suns, leaving us with only the one we have today.

In reward for his quick thinking, Hou Yi was given an elixir that would grant him immortality.

But Hou Yi loved his wife very much, and he did not want immortality if it meant she would eventually die and he’d have the rest of eternity without her.

A student of Hou Yi knew about this elixir and wanted it for himself. One night, when he knew Hou Yi was away, he broke into his house to steal the vial.

Hou Yi’s wife tried to fight him off, but in the end she took the elixir herself to keep it from the disloyal student.

She could no longer live among mortals and was carried up into the heavens. Hoping to stay as close to Hou Yi as possible, she chose the moon as her new home.

After Hou Yi discovered what had happened, he would often spend time looking at the moon and thinking of his wife. During the full moon, he’d leave out her favorite foods and drinks in honor of her. Others felt compassion for him, and began the same practices, which spread throughout the country.

An Alternative Version

The first story was very sweet, but not all depict Hou Yi in the same positive light.

Another version says he was crowned king after shooting down the nine suns, and later given the immortality elixir.

Unfortunately, he was a prideful and cruel king, and his wife knew he should never be made immortal. To protect the country, she took the elixir to keep it from him.

She flew to the moon, and the mad king died of anger. The people celebrate the wife and the moon as their heroine.

How to celebrate:
Share a mooncake with family or friends. This symbolizes unity and a strong bond between loved ones.
Have a glass of cassia wine. It is the traditional drink, and a favorite of the archer’s wife.
Watch a dragon dance. These are common performances around China during this time of year.
Pray for love. Whether you are hoping to begin a new relationship or preserve an existing one, the time is right for this kind of intention.

I’ve experienced two Mid-Autumn Festivals in China now. Have you ever been? Which story do you prefer – the romantic one or the one with a darker twist?

 

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Traveling & Working Online

We’ve recently talked about some of the job opportunities you can find abroad if you are looking to live overseas long-term. But there is one big, obvious option we didn’t address – and that’s working online, which leaves you completely location independent.

Thanks to the internet, more and more jobs are moving online, giving remote workers the freedom to go where they please, when they please, without sacrificing a steady paycheck. If you land one of these jobs, all you’ll need is your laptop and reliable internet – the world is yours!

Types of Jobs

So what kind of jobs can you find? This list is by no means exhaustive, but to give you an idea of the variety available, here are the most common remote jobs:

-Copywriter
-Sales
-Customer service
-Virtual assistant
-Online teaching
-Graphic design
-Website development
-Software development
-Editor
-Translator
-Data entry
-Social media manager
-Technical writer
-Medical coding

While you might not be qualified for or interested in every job on the list, most people can find something that is the right fit for them if they are willing to work at it.

Where to Find Freelance Jobs

So how do you go about finding that first job? A standard place to begin is checking out websites that list jobs, create freelancer profiles for potential clients to browse through, or match freelancers directly to clients.

Some options include:

• Upwork
• Elance
• Freelancer
• iFreelance
• Peopleperhire
• Guru
• Project4hire
• SimplyHired
• CraigsList

Be aware that many of these sites will post jobs that aren’t paying much. If you are low on experience, accepting a few of these projects might help just to improve your CV or get a few recommendations.

But to really bring in a reasonable income, you’ll eventually need to calculate your rates and refuse to drop below them. This will mean skipping many opportunities, but the right ones will come with time and your momentum will build.

I’ve found that when a client likes your work, he’ll start offering more projects and tell others about you. Most of my long-term freelance clients found me by recommendation, not by a site. But these resources can be a good place to start if you know your worth and are willing to be patient and hardworking while you build up your client list.

Remote Employment

If you’re more comfortable with a stable, full-time job that comes with a salary, benefits, and other perks of traditional employment, you should steer clear of freelance roles and start searching for remote jobs instead. Of course, you’ll need to be ready to leave your current position as soon as you accept one of these offers. You can start looking at:

• Flexjobs
• remote.co
• Remotive
• Remote OK
• Working Nomads
• Skip the Drive
• Virtual Vocations
• We Work Remotely
• Outsourcely

Creating Your Own Job

Your final option for location independent work is to truly become your own boss by creating your own products or services, marketing them, and selling them yourself. This probably won’t financially support your life and travels right away – it’s a long-term goal that will take time to build. But we believe it can definitely be worth it if you’re creating or doing something you love. If you succeed, you’ll have the most freedom to create your own schedule, life, and terms.

The possibilities in this area are endless! You can think of any product or service that gives your target clientele what they want, meets a need, or solves a problem for them.

Some ideas might include:

• Writing and selling books

• Developing and leading online courses

• Consulting with clients one-on-one

• Selling a physical product (clothing, accessories, crafts, etc.)

• Creating a paid membership site (to access resources, a community, or a mixture of both)

• Creating a paid app, software, or online tool

• Building an online community (a blog, YouTube channel, or social media presence) and monetizing it

Don’t be fooled – all of these options will take a ton of time, hard work, trial and error, creativity, willingness to invest in further education (whether it’s formal training or self-taught), and stubborn persistence to succeed no matter what. You need to be passionate enough to put in the hours daily even when you aren’t earning a cent. So ask yourself and be very honest: Is this really what you want and do you have what it takes? If the answer is no (or not yet), it’s perfectly fine to go for freelance gigs or remote employment to fund your long-term travels.

Online Working Communities

Whichever path you take, it’s beneficial to become active in one of the many communities for freelancers, remote workers, or online business owners. Along with finding even more opportunities through these groups, you can also network with other professionals in your field, ask for advice, offer support, keep your ear to ground for changes in your industry (the online world is always changing – it will be difficult to keep up on your own), and have a place to vent and receive encouragement if a client treats you badly, a product launch goes badly, or something else doesn’t quite go to plan.

Facebook offers many closed groups for digital nomads. Some are only for women, some are industry-specific, and some are city specific. A quick search could find the right place for you.

Have you ever worked online – whether it was full-time, part-time, or a one-off project? What was your experience like? What advice would you give to someone looking to get started?

 

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