Teaching in Japan: Part 1

My first week in Japan

by Rachael Hornsby

After months of saving for flights, researching jobs, and attempting pretty unsuccessfully to learn some basic greetings in Japanese, I was eager to get over to Japan and find out for myself what it was like. I packed up all 25kg of my life in my snazzy new Tesco suitcase, said goodbye to all my friends and family, and left my lovely England once again so see what the homeland of sushi and sumo was to have in store for me.

Having caught the travel bug teaching in Thailand for a year, I had decided to set my sights on a new Asian adventure, and since everyone I’d met who’d been to Japan had loved it, and there are such great TEFL opportunities there, it seemed like an ideal place for the next step of my journey. Rather than choosing one of the many jobs I perused online, I decided to play it safe and follow a friend to a job and location I knew she had loved, and took a position teaching kindergarten in Kurume, a small city on the island of Kyushu in South West Japan.

After a long flight from Heathrow, and a short stopover in Seoul, I finally landed on Kyushu in Fukuoka, a city closer to North Korea than it is Tokyo. It was evening when I arrived, so my first sights of the island were just of big city lights on the drive from the airport with my colleague, with my main impressions being ‘why is everyone driving around in tiny white toy cars?’. My hotel on for the first night was pretty much like any other hotel, apart from the shower that only reached as high as my chest (the first of many ‘tall girl Japan problems’), and of course the infamous Japanese toilet, with its innumerous temperature, direction and pressure settings for your post-business ‘shower’- even more impressive than my beloved ‘bum gun’ in Thailand.

After a little tour of the not-too-exciting Wednesday night down town Kurume, my friend took me for my first Japanese meal to a gorgeous little yakitori restaurant. We sat at the bar eating sticks of meat and fresh salmon sashimi (my first ever!), surrounded by a strong aroma of tasty barbecuing and annoying cigarette smoke (it’s still legal to smoke inside here).

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Salmon sashimi, part of my first meal in Japan

I moved into my adorable little apartment the next day, which made me feel yet more like a giant (I get through my door ways with about an inch to spare above my head). The flat has all traditional Japanese sliding doors separating the rooms. The bedroom floor is all tatami (Japanese straw mats fitted together). The furniture is low to the ground, and the bath is deep, almost cube-shaped (my first few bath times were a bit of a floating somersault act!). It was one of the most stereotypically Japanese buildings I’d see yet, and I half felt as if I was moving into museum exhibit of what a period Japanese house should look like! I was also given a little moving in guide, complete with an ‘earthquake preparedness’ check list, which told you about how to get ready for an earthquake- it sounded just like the stuff we were learnt about in geography at school, so felt weirdly unreal, like I’d jumped into a textbook. Little did I actually know how soon this information would actually become relevant!

Other new essentials handed to me by my school included my inkan, which is a little bamboo stamp with my name on the end that I use instead of a signature for all my important documents (they could only fit the Japanese kana for my first name on- レイチェル, ‘Reicheru’), and my company car (woop!). I got off to a slightly awkward start driving. Having never driven an automatic car before, my foot tried to find the clutch and slammed the break down on my first drive, with a truck behind somehow avoiding crashing into us. But luckily Japan drive on the same side of the road as the UK, so after getting to grips with their road rules I was soon buzzing around town with ease down the city’s tiny roads the width of driveways. (Although I still sometimes set off my wipers instead of the indicators, as they’re on are the opposite side to my car at home. Some habits are hard to shake!)

My little automatic car ❤

The timing of the school year in Japan means that new teachers are lucky enough to experience the infamous ‘sakura’ season (the blooming of the cherry trees) almost as soon as they land. In my first week the blossom seemed to suddenly appear everywhere at once, making, for example the carp-filled canal below our building look even more picturesque. The way the blossom it is anticipated and celebrated in this country, helps you really make the most of it and appreciate the beauty. It’s a great example of the stunning nature of Japan that drew me here, and the people’s special relationship with nature that I think we should all try to emulate. As wishy washy as that is, they still know how to celebrate like any country here- with a good helping of friends and alcohol, specifically, in my experience, day drinking their way through cool boxes full of beer and sake under the blossom!

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Blossom at a park on my drive to school

At the Hanami (the picnic held under the cherry blossom trees) I had my first experience of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. This is done at different events throughout the year in Japan, and put simply it is someone serving you a cup of tea, but it involves a precise process carried out by professionally trained tea ‘makers’ (no idea what the term is for that!). Ours took a quarter of an hour or so, and I could write a whole blog post on all the elaborate steps, but basically we knelt beside a lady in a kimono who was preparing the tea with a little traditional stove, were given a sort of swan-shaped sweet to prepare out palette, and after its long preparation, were each served a bowl of bitter green matcha tea, before watching whilst everything was methodically cleaned and put away. (I have since found out there are many different ‘schools’ of tea, with their own unique ceremonies, and this is just one specific style). The whole thing was so slow and delicate it made you feel quite peaceful, giving a nice contrast to the noise and energy of the party, but afterwards I still had a bit too much sake (not wanting to be rude and turn down drinks from my new acquaintances of course!) and ended up cycling home along a slightly wonky line…

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My first week here was crammed with many more episodes, including starting my job at school, taking a trip to a stunning nearby temple town, and trying my first 100 yen sushi. And my first month here was even more eventful when the island was rocked by its strongest earthquake in on record…

Work from your mobile phone?

I know the title of this post may seem a bit ‘scammy’ , but it really isn’t!

If you’re a native English speaker from the USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada, you could teach English from your mobile phone and make up to 22USD per hour plus bonuses. 

This is my main form of income. 

It funds my international travels and gives me the freedom to work from anywhere I want (with wifi). 

Teach English online

Im not going to sugar coat online teaching.  It’s convenient, pays well and rewarding…. but it is hard work.  You need to be high energy, passionate and dedicated.

If you’re looking for easy money or passive income, then stop reading.

However, if you feel like you’re a good candidate, then you’re in the right place. I am more than happy to talk you through the steps and help get you past the Palfish interview stage and increase bookings :)

I’ve helped several teachers in the past, so I know what it takes.

Interested? then….

  1. Private message me on Instagram and I’ll take you through the steps.

@tefltravelling


OR

2. Download the Palfish App and insert my invitation code – 45012005

You can then get in contact with me via the teaching app.  It has fantastic messaging facilities.

This is 100% free.  Just like any other job, there are no fees etc.  You pass the interview, you get the job!

Simple. 

I’ll look forward you to helping you get started and welcoming you to our community.

#TRAVEL – SOUTH KOREA: THE DMZ

The North Korean way of life is perceived negatively throughout most of the western world, but many of us are equally fascinated by it. North Korea is located north of South Korea (SHOCK); the two countries have been separated since the 1950’s, and now a 150 mile long & 2 1/2 mile wide barrier runs between them. This barrier is known as the DMZ or the Demilitarized Zone.

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Anybody visiting or living in South Korea (it’s highly unlikely you’ll see many South Koreans there though) can visit the DMZ as part of a tour. The majority of the tours depart from Seoul and most companies offer both morning and afternoon options.

When I visited in 2015, I used a company called VIP Tours. They were very helpful and provided a great service. I’d recommend them!

You can check them out here VIP TRAVEL

VIP Tours and most other DMZ Tour operators offer several different options, two of the most popular being:

1) DMZ TOUR

The cheapest and most common option allows you to visit several interesting places –

The Bridge of Freedom – A park full of statues and monuments, built to console the families of both the North and South Korean people.

Dora Observatory – From here you can look into North Korea. On a clear day, it’s very impressive.

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Dorasan Station – A brand new railway station built to connect South Korea and North Korea. However, in 2008 the North Korean government stopped the service accusing South Korean government of a confrontational policy. So now it stands empty.

DMZ Theater & Exhibition Hall – Full of artifacts and information on the Korean war and the DMZ itself.

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The Third Infiltration Tunnel – My favourite part of the tour! In 1978 a tunnel was uncovered. The tunnel was built by North Koreans trying to pass under the border. The tour allows you to travel deep underground and see for yourself.

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2) DMZ & JSA TOUR

The second option allows you to visit all of the above AND the JSA or the Joint Security Area. The JSA is where North and South Koreans discuss diplomatic engagements and negotiate.  This option does cost a bit more and require a but more time, but a good experience for those who are interested.

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If you are interested in the Korean war and/or are curious about mysterious North Korea, or maybe you just have some time to kill in Seoul, I’d definitely recommend checking this tour out!

If you’re going to South Korea, make sure you take your guide to ensure you don’t miss anything –

5 Reasons to Teach English in Vietnam

I first moved to Vietnam to teach English in 2016. I fell in love with the country during a backpacking trip 2 years prior….. I had to return.

I moved to the capital city Hanoi. It was an incredible experience that I will always cherish.

Here I am again, in 2020, back in Vietnam (now in Ho Chi Minh) as an online ESL teacher.

Falling in love with Vietnam once more, I am inspired to tell you some reasons why you should relocate to this amazing country.

So…Here are 5 reasons why you should be an English teacher in Vietnam!

Save Money

The cost of living in Vietnam is very low & the salary is quite high. Not only can you live very comfortably, but saving is achievable with little effort.

Travel Vietnam & beyond

Vietnam is a beautiful and diverse country. Whether you spend your time in Sapa, Hoi An, or the southern island of Phu Quoc , you won’t be disappointed!

Also,it’s important to note that flights and buses to neighboring countries like Laos, Thailand and Cambodia are easy to find for less than $50, so spread your wings!


Food

Vietnamese food is famous around the globe. Pho, Bun Cha, Banh Beo, Bun Bo Hue… the list goes on.

Most Vietnamese dishes are incredibly cheap and easily accessible (durr you’re in Vietnam).

Social!

It is very likely that your time in Vietnam will leave you with ever-lasting memories and hopefully an expanded social circle.

Weather!

If you’re seeking some sun & a warmer climate, then Vietnam could work for you.

If you have any questions regarding teaching or travelling in Vietnam, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ll be more than happy to help!

Buy your Vietnam Travel Guides here!

Also, if you’re interesting in teaching online, drop me a message.

I’ll help you get started, ensure you pass the interview stage and maximize your bookings.

Have a fantastic day!

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong


Hong Kong is one of the most famous places in the world. In February 2016, I was lucky enough to visit for a few days, and experience some of what ‘Asia’s World City’ had to offer.

Here is a list of my TOP 5 Things to do in Hong Kong –

The Peak

The Hong Kong Peak is normally described as “Hong Kong’s #1 Thing To Do”. I can see why. The Peak provides visitors with a panoramic viewing point looking down at Hong Kong City and the ocean. I don’t think I’ve drunk a coffee with a view like it before!
The best way to get to The Peak is by using the infamous ‘tram’ service. At some points during the journey, you will fear for your life – I am not exaggerating when I say that the tram will travel almost vertically, but just hold on tight & you’ll be fine!

The Cable Car & The Tian Tan Buddha

The cable car ride to the top of the mountains is optional, but really, unless you are down to your last dollar or have an extreme fear of heights – there is no option. This was my favorite part of my trip to Hong Kong and I would recommend anyone visiting to do it. The price is HK$130 for standard & HK$180 glass bottom (roughly $16/$23 USD).
The cable car to the Tian Tan Buddha is a steady, but fantastic experience. The higher you get, the more of the unusual landscape of ocean, buildings, and mountains will be revealed.
Soon enough, the outline of a giant Buddha will begin appearing and the buildings in the background will fade away.
At the Tian Tan Buddha itself, you can explore the immediate area of historical monuments, temples, and stores… just be careful of the cows. You could also choose to walk the 268 steps up to the Buddha itself.
The photos really speak for themselves…

Markets

I’m not a “shopper”, but damn, the street markets in Hong Kong made me want to buy a lot of shit I didn’t need. “Temple Street” and “Ladies Market” (not just for ladies) are just two of the night market areas in Hong Kong that boast everything from food to clothes to even wild stock.
It is easy to spend hours meandering around the bright colorful stalls, browsing the wide (and I mean wide) variety of products on sale. The hunger-creating smells of nearby street food and restaurants are the only thing strong enough to entice you away.

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Not just a city

The most surprising element of Hong Kong to me was it’s natural beauty. It really is more than just a city. Hong Kong has no shortage of mountains, islands, and beaches. Most of these can be accessed by public transport for little cost. If you’re in Hong Kong for more than a couple of days, I’d highly recommend venturing out of the city and seeing some of this spectacular terrain. It’s worth mentioning that 2 of the most popular islands to visit in HK are Lantau and Lamma.

Promenade

The most stereotypical selfie taken in Hong Kong is taken at the promenade. The promenade is a spectacular area at both night and day. I can see why many joggers choose to run along the waterfront and I can see why tourists flock to get a photo of the stunning electronic landscape across the water. It’s completely free, so it’s worth walking along it if you get the chance!

I hope this gave you some ideas of what to do in Hong Kong or provided you with some nice flashbacks of your time there. Is there anything you think should have made my list?


Feel free to comment below!

If you’re going to Hong Kong, buy your travel guide below. It has everything you need and more!

Teach from Self Quarantine

Hi everyone!

I hope you’re all staying safe during these uncertain times.

This is a short post about a job opportunity for those who are currently staying at home and need to make some extra cash.

Here are the details –

#jobopportunity

Online Teaching!

Work from your mobile phone 📲 teaching English to students in China from anywhere you want 🌍 & earn up to $22 per hour plus bonuses 💰💰💰.

If you’re a native English speaker with a degree from the USA, UK,  CANADA, AUSTRALIA, IRELAND or NEW ZEALAND, you will be able to qualify for a demo (the interview) stage.

If you would like more details, please comment below or private message me on instagram – @tefltravelling

I hope I can help you out.

Sending you all good vibes!

Teaching in Thailand vs. Teaching in Japan

Teaching in Thailand vs. Japan

by Rachael Hornsby

Having started my TEFL adventures in Thailand, I have now spent a year teaching there, and another 6 months teaching in Japan (with a year back in the UK in between). If you might be considering either of these countries to teach English in, or are deciding between East and South East Asia in general, here’s my brief take on how these countries have compared so far for me. Enjoy!

The dosh

It’s of course not all about the money, but, in terms of bare numbers, in Thailand my teaching wage was 30,000 baht per month (around £ 700), whereas in Japan I earn 250,000 yen (~£2000). In both cases it is pretty much the standard amount for an inexperienced teacher.

My Thai wage obviously wasn’t a lot in UK terms, but the cost of living is so low in Thailand that it’s PLENTY to live on. My rent was about £80 (although my friends’ were cheaper!), and I could eat out every night for as little as 25 baht for a Pad Thai (about 50p!). Thailand and S.E. Asia as a whole is SO cheap that my Thai wage managed to take me on tonnes of adventures, such as tripping around Vietnam in my school holidays, and numerous weekends around Thailand, to Chiang Mai, Bangkok etc.

Living expenses obviously all cost so much more in Japan. My rent is 45,000 yen per month (over £ 350), (although I know in big cities like Tokyo it can be MUCH higher), and bills and food add much more on to that. Again, I seem to have spent a lot of spare cash so far in Japan travelling, and unfortunately just exploring mainland Japan can be really pricey- a bullet train to Tokyo from my island of Kyushu is about £170 (as opposed to a train I took to Laos from Southern Thailand for £15!).

In short, the main difference is, if you are strict with your money, and don’t go off travelling every spare minute (it’s just so tempting!!), your savings in Japan will stretch much further if you take them elsewhere, especially to other economically rich countries, like if you wanted to pay off debts in the UK (with the pound plunging, at this rate you could go home with a small fortune!). My friends have also taken extra tutoring jobs on the side if they really wanted to fill up their wallet, although this might not be allowed in your contract. And if you’re really looking for the big bucks, jobs where the company actually pay for your flights or accommodation, like ones in South Korea, might be an even better bet.

(*WRITTEN OCTOBER 2016! The pound is changing so much these days, so god knows how long these currency conversions will be accurate. A couple of days!?*)

Culture

If you’re not hoping for a culture shock, then you’re in the wrong game! There are obviously hundreds of wonderful/fascinating/infuriating sides of Thai and Japanese culture, but here’s a few:

Although there are reasons not to get on the wrong side of Thailand (in a rare case some people I knew had a pretty rough time being deported…), the country generally really does live up to its reputation as the “land of smiles”. From the random people I’d find to help me when my moped got a flat tire (more than once!), to the chatty monks on the train (let them talk to you first, don’t just go barging up to one!), it’s a great place for restoring faith in humanity. It’s also VERY laid back. The famously slow pace of pretty much anything there can drive many people absolutely up the wall- a train that should take 2 hours, ends up taking 5 hours, etc.-, but you will start to adopt the local “mai pen rai”, care-free attitude, and pretty much all of my friends left Thailand a less uptight person than when they arrived (who couldn’t do with giving themselves that gift?).

Japan is in some ways the opposite of Thailand’s laid back attitude. From the notoriously prompt trains, to the meticulous dividing of household recycling, everything is fantastically organised and reliable. I’m constantly amazed at how efficient things are and by the different things Japan has come up with to get stuff done! As in Thailand, people in Japan are exceptionally polite and friendly, and the hospitality in Japan is second to none, to the extent that I admittedly found myself feeling a bit aggrieved without it in on a recent trip to Hong Kong, making me appreciate Japan even more. The level of politeness did at first it come off as a bit oppressive (train carriages are often silent, etc.), making it seem hard to ‘break in’ or really socialise, but of course with a little more patience you get to meet more people, and make amazing new friends. I think you could say Japan is more like the UK in that way!

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“mai pen rai” life on Koh Samet vs. ingenious conveyor belt sushi

The job



As far as the job goes, each school can differ widely depending on the age you’re teaching, whether it’s private or government, etc. etc., but there are a few general trends, which seem to be mainly extensions of Thailand’s “mai pen rai” culture vs. the super efficient Japan.

Although I had textbooks for some of my classes at my Thai school, this wasn’t that common, and it tends to be a “do it yourself” kind of attitude to the curriculum/ teaching in general. This can obviously be a bit scary if it’s your first time teaching, and can be frustrating if you feel like you’re not getting the help or direction you’d like, but it’s also great as it gives you freedom in what you want to teach, allows you to experiment with your teaching style, and is a great challenge to get you tuck into the job. You also pretty much never know what’s going on- most weeks I’d turn up to work with all my lessons planned, only to find out at least 1 was cancelled for some random reason I didn’t know of, like the day we found ourselves ushered onto a school bus first thing, with kids all prepared wearing traditional outfits, and we spent the morning sitting in front of monks in a temple listening to them chant!

Japan, on the other hand, is a lot more organised in its approach. In my job teaching at a private kindergarten, I have tonnes more support, like a curriculum, weekly meetings, many of my lessons already planned for me etc. In comparison to Thailand, my job feels so much more coherent, although I’ve heard that other jobs for the larger companies can be even more structured. In a way this means you can’t use as much creativity in your teaching, and aren’t being pushed quite as hard. And I do sometimes miss the manic spontaneity of Thailand (in my first month here, I was actually thrown into presenting an assembly without notice, and secretly loved it!). I also have to work evenings this time, like many other language schools, but I do have a lot more free time in the day that I don’t have to spend planning lessons, and generally feel a lot less ‘at sea’.

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Thai assembly 

Things to see and do



You obviously can’t spend all your time gallivanting around if you have a teaching job, but you can pack plenty of sightseeing into your free weekends and holidays if you fancy (and why ever not?!). In Thailand you’ll find more elephants, street markets, and idyllic beaches, and it can be more of a wild party scene if you land a job near a tourist area (I’ve had more ‘buckets’ of cocktails than I’d care to remember…). Japan has more impressive mountains and hiking  (being made up of volcanic islands), there are hot spring baths and karaoke bars everywhere, and you can go skiing in winter (which I’m 99% sure you can’t do in Thailand!). It also has its share of good nightlife (especially in the big cities), and even has gorgeous beaches and great scuba diving spots down in balmy Okinawa. Basically, Japan and Thailand are both popular tourist destinations for good reason- they both have beautiful scenery, endless temples, fascinating festivals etc. etc. So, unless there’s something you’re absolutely itching to do, like climb Mount Fuji or rave at a full moon party, you’ll find plenty of weird and wonderful ways to keep you occupied in both!

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Beach in Koh Chang vs.  Hike in Nagasaki

Getting down and dirty

Thailand is by no means a third world country, but Japan is miles ahead of it when it comes to things like infrastructure and sanitation, and feels even more developed than the UK in some ways. Japan is probably the cleanest place I’ve ever been, and they have technology for everything, from heated toilet seats to shoe vending machines (probably the name for it!) at the bowling alley. Thailand, on the other hand, can take a little getting used to for a Westerner. Rather than having heated toilets, we had to flush the loo using a bucket in our Thai school, and if you’re doing things on the cheap (which you might as well!), then you’ll find yourself, for example, sitting on plastic chairs at a food stall in street, with stray dogs wandering around you whilst you eat your dinner. There are also more critters around in Thailand- I often found cute baby geckos living in my shoes, I was never without at least 1 mosquito bite (although I am especially attractive to the buggers!), and my town happened to be overrun with mafia-like monkeys.

The things in Thailand that seem so alien at first really don’t take long to feel normal, and to be honest I’m grateful for the experience of living with a tiny bit less luxury, for helping me appreciate how lucky we are at home, and showing me what I can actually live without. So if you want this type of challenge, I’d have to recommend Thailand, but if you want a more easy transition (dealing with a brand new Asian culture can be enough in itself!), then go for Japan. I myself am glad I did both in the order that I have, since I can appreciate the wonders of Japan even more!

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Critter friends in Thailand vs. Super sleek Shibuya 

The language

Both Thai and Japanese are a world away from English, and I can’t profess to be much of an expert at either, but here goes. The Thai language has 1 ‘alphabet’ (or set of characters,) and uses lots of different tones. These can be seriously hard to pick up (“ma” can have a whole host of meanings depending on your tone), but luckily Thais often understand what a farang (foreigner) is getting at without them. They often drop unnecessary words from sentences (as in Japan!), so I wasn’t too paranoid about having bad grammar either. The little Thai I learnt came in very handy and was really appreciated, especially in tourist spots (I was all but given applause just ordering pineapple in Krabi!). To be honest you can get by with very little Thai if you wish, and it’s surprising how many Thais speak some English anyway, even in remote parts of the country.

Japanese seems harder to me. This may just be because I’ve put more effort into learning it, and so have realised what a mountain it is to really learn a language. Thailand’s “alphabet”, once learnt, can get you reading any Thai for good (I’ve been told!). Japan, however, has 3 sets of characters, and I can read the 2 basic ones (very handy for things like Western food menus), but the 3rd set of Chinese characters feels like it may take me an age to tackle (I’m sure Japanese people can’t even read them all!), and I still can’t read that much when I’m out and about. Unlike Thai, Japanese isn’t tonal, so once you’ve learnt words or phrases, it’s pretty easy to catch them and pronounce them, but Japan also seem to have many more ways of saying one thing, depending on different situations or who you’re speaking to. This can make it more daunting when trying to use it yourself, or frustrating when you don’t understand something you thought you knew! Basic English also seems less widespread here, so there are certain things I’ve simply had to drag a Japanese speaker along to help me do, like buying a phone contract, but you manage!

I’ve been frustrated at times by my lack of skill at both languages, but really learning either can take years, and many TEFL teachers get by fine speaking very little, if any. It will of course enhance your experience whatever amount you manage to learn, so you might as well give it a bash, and if you really want to get the hang of it, just get yourself a local boy/girlfriend (seems to work every time!)

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Japanese vs. Thai (Jibberish vs. nonsense??) 

“Konichiwa, Japan!” or “Sawadee Ka, Thailand!”??

The beauty of a TEFL job is you get to spend months in a country that many people only spend a fortnight visiting on holiday, which teaches you so many beautiful/ ridiculous things about a place, and so there could be a billion more ways I could use to compare these two amazing countries (I could write a whole post on types of beer! Actually I might do that…). But in super brief, Thailand and Japan are like riding a Tuk Tuk vs. taking the bullet train. One is a bit more of a slow, bumpy ride, and the other is more sleek and a bit more predictable, but they are both brand new experiences, that can be equally thrilling (you’d be surprised how fast a Tuk tuk can go!), and will take you to places to never expected! Both countries are amazing, so if there’s anything at all drawing you to one or the other, just pick that one and GO! You won’t regret it.

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Tuk tuk or bullet train?

Troubles Abroad: Life Without Peanut Butter

Ants on a Log. Fluffernutters. Classic PB&J. And who didn’t make a pinecone-peanut butter bird feeder as a kid?

We put it on bananas, slather it on french toast and of course eat it straight off the spoon.

No matter what country I’m headed to, you can be certain I’m tossing a couple jars of skippy in my rucksack. Whether it’s for a familiar snack, a quick spoonful of energy, or to tide me over til I figure out the grocery situation, peanut butter exists for me in the gray area between “luxury” and “necessity” when backpacking.

It’s one of those things you don’t realize how much you miss until you wake up with a craving for a nice PB&J. All of the sudden the idea of collecting all THREE ingredients at the same time seems an unbeatable obstacle. Decent peanut butter, fresh sandwich bread, and a jar of grape jelly just never seem to exist in the same place at the same time once you cross the ocean. If a simple sandwich is such a challenge, you can forget about chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in the summer heat or that big bag of Reese’s cups come Halloween.

Getting peanut butter while living abroad can be a challenge—you can try to make that jar from home last as long as possible, but soon you’re scraping the bottom and praying someone will pay international shipping on a care package full of Jif. Still, sometimes it’s not as far away as you think, so long as you know where to look.

Below is a bite-sized guide to finding Peanut Butter abroad, compiled from both my own PB-hunting adventures and those of my fellow expats:

North America:

Canada & United States: In US & Canadian supermarkets it’s hard to miss—peanut butter is spotted taking up a good chunk of the aisle, with various brands, sizes, and flavors.

Mexico: While not as popular as in the rest of North America, PB is still fairly easy to find in Mexico, especially in big-box stores like Walmart, where Peter Pan and Great Value can be found at a decent price.

Asia:

China: IF a store has it, it’s often found in the sauce aisle near the mayonnaise. Since neither mayo nor PB are popular, they can be hard to spot—and smaller stores don’t care it at all. It’s hard to find western brands, but Chinese peanut butter is decent (if a bit dry).

Indonesia: This one’s tough, guys—despite boasting world-famous peanut sauces and peanut soups, I’ve yet to actually locate a jar of PB in Indonesia. If they’re out there, they’re hard to find.

Japan: Right where it should be, near the breads and jellies. You can even get the giant tubs at Costco in Japan!

Korea: Often found near the bread in the bakery section, surrounded by nutella & banana spreads. Korean peanut butter is actually pretty good and comes in both crunchy and creamy.

Laos: While difficult to find in the store, PB is a surprisingly common topping for roti pancakes (one of the best street desserts you’ll find in SE Asia). You’re best bet at finding it in the stores is near the nutella or by the actual peanuts.

Malaysia: Finally, another country that appreciates PB! Malaysia is one of few SE Asian countries that actually offers variety, often located near the sauces and seasonings.

Philippines: Boasting world-famous peanut spreads that rival American brands, the Philippines are a Peanut-Butter Oasis. Thinner than what North Americans are accustomed to, Filipino PB is a bit grainy and just as sweet.

Thailand: Perhaps one of the easiest countries to find PB in, Thai stores carry multiple US brands including Jif and Skippy, conveniently found near the Jams & Jellies.

Vietnam: Vietnam carries store-brand and local peanut butters which will often be found near the soups & seasonings, and while delicious they are often quite oily and runny.

Central & South America:

Argentina: So far, no one I know who has travelled through Argentina has been able to locate PB.

Brazil: Similar to Argentina, PB seems to be a near-impossible find.

Chile: Walmarts in Chile have Great Value (store) brand PB.

Costa Rica: Peanut Butter is often found in the “imported foods” section of the grocery, with many familiar brands.

Peru: While there are rumors that some expats have been lucky enough to find a jar of Peter Pan, American-style peanut butter is almost non-existent in Peru, and unfortunately I’ve never heard the local style described in a manner even close to edible. Your best bet is to look near the condiments.

It’s always exciting delving into foreign cuisine, but sometimes you just need those familiar tastes of home.

-Ashley

Top Ten Films to Inspire your Inner Traveler

Top Ten Films to Inspire your Inner Traveler

Sometimes inspiration can come from unexpected places. So don’t expect to see The Beach or Into the Wild on this list—great movies for sure, but I want to share the ones that really keep me going.

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“There’s this theory: Given an infinite universe and infinite time, all things will happen. That means that every event is inevitable, including those that are impossible. That’s as good an explanation for all this as anything else.”

More or less a roadtrip movie, Interstate 60 (2002) stars Jason Marsden on a quest to find an answer to his life as he travels down an unknown highway said to be where all the “roads not taken” converge. Guided by a Magic 8 Ball, he faces life-changing forks in the road in the peculiar towns he finds along the way. Genuinely creative and amusing, it’s a great upbeat-tale that stresses the importance of choosing your own path despite how unpredictable life can be.

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“You truly love each other and so you might have been truly happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, no matter what the story books say. And so I think no man in a century will suffer as greatly as you will.”

If I need to tell you what this movie is about then you definitely need to go out and see the world, ’cause you’ve probably been living under a rock. The Princess Bride (1987) naturally appeals to your sense of adventure, offering tales of love, greed, revenge, and honor. A diverse cast of perfectly flawed characters draws you in and makes you yearn for a taste of their world where you play the hero, conquering the Cliffs of Insanity, surviving the Fire Swamp, or even out-swimming the Shrieking Eels.

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“That’s what everyone thinks. But kind people find that they are cruel; brave men discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves, most men run away screaming.”

Of course, no list of inspiring movies is complete without a fantasy quest and you really can’t beat The Neverending Story (1984). Atreyu embodies what all travelers aspire to be: fearlessly stepping into the world alone and defenseless; finding the will to keep going when the whole world is falling down around you; trusting a new adventure is just over the next hill. Staying home and reading about another’s adventures is simply no comparison for getting out there and exploring on your own (even if it means trudging through a literal Swamp of Sadness).

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“I miss everything. I miss my friends, I miss my dog, I miss my family, my house. Everything. I even miss the things I hated at this point.”

Essentially another roadtrip movie, Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) takes place in an alternate afterlife peopled entirely by those who committed suicide. While the hero sets off on a journey to find his ex-girlfriend, he and his companions struggle to deal with perpetually broken headlights, lose everything of importance to a blackhole under the passenger seat, encounter insignificant miracles and desperately seek to regain their ability to smile and see the stars in the sky.

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“Ironically the loneliness gave me the chance to get to know someone.”

The Teacher’s Diary (2014) is a Thai love story about a school teacher who is moved from the city to a floating boat-house school in the middle of nowhere, where he discovers the journal of the former teacher and slowly falls in love with her. While not actually about travel or backpacking, this movie is really jam-packed with nostalgia for me, as so many of the situations the hero finds himself in are reminiscent of some of my first experiences teaching abroad, as well as my experiences in Thailand itself. If you want insight into teaching in rural Thailand, this is the movie to watch, and if you like sappy love stories and cute kids you won’t find a better film!

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“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Set in the 1950’s, Stand By Me (1986) follows four kids who set out on a quest to find a dead body. Traveling across the county on foot, they each learn to deal with the various troubles in their lives including loss, abuse, and neglect. This movie does a fantastic job portraying the strength of friendship and the importance of overcoming obstacles together. Beyond that, the time period helps inspire me to disconnect; those boys have the adventure of a lifetime with no cellphones, internet, or even cameras—just rucksacks, sleeping bags, and an old radio.

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“With enough time and enough money, you could spend the rest of your life following the summer around the world.”

The Endless Summer (1966) follows two surfers from California on a round-the-world trip as they seek to live a perpetual summer of warm waters and great waves. Along the way they teach locals of different countries how to surf while experiencing new cultures themselves, all set to a stellar soundtrack. I’ve seen this document more times than I can count and the idea of a truly endless summer is all the motivation I need to keep exploring.

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“Hello, and welcome to Amsterdam’s finest and most luxurious youth hostel. We feature one medium sized room containing 70 beds which can sleep up to 375 bodies a night. There is no bathroom. Nor is there one nearby.”

Purely a teen comedy, Eurotrip (2004) follows four friends from Ohio who spend the summer before college backpacking Europe on a quest to find the main dude’s penpal/love-interest. This movie came out when I was in high school, and seeing those kids just take off for London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and even the Vatican with no rules or schedules really just clicked in my brain. It was one of the first times I remember thinking I could totally do that.

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“I took the trip because I wanted to get something out of my system…but it doesn’t work, because I think the one thing that’s changed about all of us, we take this trip, is that a normal life really doesn’t seem that attractive at all anymore. I can’t imagine not traveling again.”

A Map For Saturday (2007) is a documentary by Brook Silva-Braga following his nearly year-long backpacking trip in the early 2000’s. It gives astonishing insight into the life of a backpacker, the amazing types of people you encounter, the realities of hostel life and the highs & lows of long-term travel, as well as the realities of going home again. Whenever someone says, “I could never do what you do,” I tell them to watch this movie. For many, it’s the push they need to finally give up everything & hit the road.

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“Chester Copperpot! Don’t you guys see? Don’t you realize? He was a pro, he never made it this far. Look how far we’ve come. We’ve got a chance!”

One of my all-time favorite movies in existence, The Goonies (1985) is truly the perfect adventure story: outlaws, pirate ships, hidden treasure, wishing wells & first kisses. Sure, they may not travel the world but the Goonies have more adventure in their small town than most people have in a lifetime. Friendship, perseverance, understanding, and courage…I get more inspiration from those kids than any other movie I know, and not just from Mikey’s “Our Time” speech.

If you’ve got any films that inspire you to explore, feel free to share!

-Ashley

7 Must-Have Apps for Travelers

Yeah, traveling often means surviving without a phone or computer from time to time, but on those occasions you find yourself in a cafe with a decent wifi signal or are spending enough time in a country to warrant splurging on a local simcard, you’ll be grateful to have the following essential traveler apps!

PrintAndroid: http://tinyurl.com/nxmuq72
iOS: http://tinyurl.com/jqzas8g

At first glance Momondo seems like your run-of-the-mill flight/hotel app, but take a closer look. Momondo allows you to sort through your results and narrow down options more easily than most mobile apps. While apps from Hostelworld and Hostelbookers are great for booking ahead, Momondo is great for when you’ve arrived at your destination but not yet booked your lodgings. Simply tap “Near Me Tonight” and you’ll quickly be presented with a map showing all available options, with prices, reviews, and amenities. This app has honestly replaced all other booking programs on my devices.

PrintAndroid: http://tinyurl.com/hnyhcj4
iOS:  http://tinyurl.com/jzfhba3

While we all have our favorite map and GPS apps, we’re often at the mercy of WiFi and cell reception to actually make use of them. MAPS.ME offers a simple solution: detailed maps for cities and countries around the world that can be downloaded and utilized offline.

PrintAndroid: http://tinyurl.com/jf9x3kr
iOS: http://tinyurl.com/bcjfox2

Okay, I know we all love streetfood and stumbling upon a new favorite hole-in-the-wall, but sometimes you get a craving or just want to try something new—Foodspotting is the ultimate solution. Rather than just little blips of restaurant locations popping up on your map, actual dishes do. It’s a visual guide to the food around you and allows you to review and vote for the dishes you’ve tried. I never thought I’d need an app just to find dinner, but this one is seriously addicting!

PrintAndroid: http://tinyurl.com/npxntkm

aMetro lets you hit the ground running in a new city, as it contains subway, bus, train, and station maps from around the world. A simple idea, but super convenient!

Unfortunately, aMetro isn’t available for iOS, although a decent alternative for iPhone users can be found in metrO ( http://tinyurl.com/zulf2jk ).

PrintAndroid: http://tinyurl.com/j42pg2p
iOS: http://tinyurl.com/z3n2fwx

SkyScanner’s mobile app is one of the must user-friendly flight searches out there, and I especially love their “search everywhere” option that allows you to see the cheapest international flights available. Sure, you didn’t plan to visit Macau, but it was only $60!

PrintAndroid: http://tinyurl.com/8tdwjoo

iOS: http://tinyurl.com/a3yodtr

Google Translate prevails as the best translation app available, supporting over 100 languages and allowing users not only to translate written words, but photos as well. Many languages boast voice input and the app can also read text back to you (which can really help users learn foreign pronunciation!).

PrintAndroid: http://tinyurl.com/hyxpol5
iOS: http://tinyurl.com/jncrbu3

TravelSafe is an essential app that you hope you never have to use, containing a database of emergency contact numbers for police, fire, & rescue numbers for more countries than most people can name, much less visit. The only app on this list that isn’t free, that $0.99 is well worth the peace of mind knowing help is only a few taps away.