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After five years of living in China, and two years of This Beijing Life, things have changed. I left my job as a college counselor in China, and now I’m living a life on my terms. I’m my own boss, I travel when I want, and live where I want. I’m FINALLY living my dream of location independence.
I hope you’ll all follow me along on my new journey: The Freedom Life.
What I Was Up to This January
I spent the entire month of January in Australia, but I can’t really say I stayed put. While most of the month involved me working and living at Chris’ home in Ben Lomond NSW, I did take a few trips!
We spent the New Year at Green Valley Farm, by far the world’s most interesting theme park. I also took a quick trip to Bellingen and Coffs Harbour to enjoy the Bellingen market and Coffs’ incredible beaches.
Finally, I spent the end of the month down in Sydney and Newcastle, where we stayed with Chris’ friends and family, did the touristy sights, and went wine tasting in the Hunter Valley!
Where I Went in January
- Ben Lomond
- Green Valley Farm
- Coffs Harbour
- The Hunter Valley
Here are a few of the absolute best moments of January!
New Years at Green Valley
While this New Year’s wasn’t wild and crazy (I’m always disappointed by party-heavy New Years anyway), I still had an amazing time with Chris’ family and all the nieces and nephews.
Green Vally Farm is literally the world’s most interesting theme park with hand-crafted rides made out of metal that look like they’re going to kill you. There’s also a pretty awesome waterslide and a zoo with a few giant ostriches.
We spent our afternoons going down the giant waterslide a million times, then cooked fabulous dinners in the cottages and dorms we rented for the three days we were there. In the evenings we played Cards Against Humanity and drank plenty of beer.
On New Year’s Eve, the group of us got decked out in glowsticks and glow crowns, and the boys decorated their beards with glitter. It took us weeks to get all of the glitter out of Chris’ beard, but it was worth it!
Petting a Baby Kangaroo
As an American, of course, I get super excited when I see kangaroos in Australia (unless I’m driving, and then I’m nervous). When I discovered that Chris’ neighbor had adopted a motherless baby kangaroo, I knew I needed to go check it out.
Chris, his brother, the nephew and I went to go see the baby kangaroo one afternoon and we were lucky enough to run into his neighbors while we awkwardly peered over their fence.
Chris’ neighbors were super nice and brought out the baby for us to pet and play with. They even let two-year-old Elliot and I have turns bottle feeding him!
A Weekend Trip to Coffs and Bellingen
When in Australia, you have to go to the beach. Chris and I took a weekend trip down to Coffs Harbour and Bellingen, which are about 30-minutes apart from one another. We were lucky enough to stay with one of Chris’ mom’s earliest students who opened up her house and let us use her guest room while we were there.
We had a wonderful day at the beach and met up with Chris’ high school friend Stewie and his wife Laura. We also had a great day at the Bellingen Market, a giant monthly market full of food, crafts, clothes, and more.
While in Coffs and Bellingen, we had some amazing healthy food (I may have had rainbow bowls for brunch twice) and seafood right on the beach. If you’re ever in the area check out Cafe Treeo, Latitude 30, and Cedar Bar!
Wine Tasting at the Hunter Valley
Do you want to know what’s great about wine tasting in Australia? It’s FREE.
While the pours are a bit smaller, I definitely prefer it this way because you can try tons of wines without having to pay a premium to try them.
Since Chris and I were staying in Newcastle and wanted to drink without worrying about driving, we opted to take a tour of the Hunter Valley through Tastes of the Hunter Valley with the awesome Suzanne, who picked us up in Newcastle and drove us all the way down to the Hunter Valley.
Chris and I shared the wine tour with a bachelorette party and a group of girls celebrating a birthday (yes, Chris was the only guy on our 20-person tour) and had a great time sampling wines, beer, and spirits.
Our favorite wines were at Capercaillie, where we ended up buying a bottle of pinot grigio and sparkling red to bring back to the US and split with my parents.
Meeting Chris’ Friends and Family
While I’d already met most of Chris’ immediate family at Christmas, I did have the opportunity to meet up with a ton of Chris’ friends and extended family members this January. I met Chris’ high school and college friends, blogging friends, and even one of his mom’s students from her first year of teaching.
I also was able to stay with Chris’ aunt and uncle while we were in Newcastle, and I got to see tons of family photos and videos. Chris’ friend Magro also let us stay with him and his wife Nicole while staying in Sydney.
One of my favorite meetups was my very last day in Sydney. A large group of Chris’ friends met up with us at Four Pines Brewery on Manly Beach. They had great food and excellent beer (especially the alcoholic ginger beer), and I even got to take the ferry past the Opera House on the way there!
Not everything this month was perfect. There were a few downsides to the last few weeks.
Living in the Australian countryside, the only way to get home internet is via 3G. This means the internet is limited and expensive. So when Chris spotted a deal where we could pay $10 for 50GB of data on his phone, we immediately jumped on it.
However, when the time came around for us to get our data, it just didn’t arrive. Chris spent hours on the Optus help chat with absolutely nothing to show for his time. We then resorted to harassing them on Twitter, which got their attention but still didn’t lead to anything. After about 3 days of help chats and feisty tweets, they finally gave us about half the data we were supposed to get, which was enough for us to finally give up.
Seriously Optus, how hard is it for you to just add data to our account? Even if they accidentally gave us double data or something, it’s not like it costs them anything to give us internet.
The Internet is not a finite resource!!!
This experience made me really happy to be heading to the US where the internet is unlimited and we have more than one choice for data (Optus is the only thing that works where Chris lives which is weird because most of the country can only get Telstra. They’re both awful).
Driving the Waterfall Way
Driving from Ben Lomond to Coffs Harbour and Bellingen was horrible. I’m a pretty decent driver, but it had been over a year since I’d driven a car, and I’d only had limited practice driving on the left side of the road.
While I had become comfortable driving on country roads and giant highways, I was not ready for the teeny tiny windy cliffside roads at 60 mph (100 km/h). Not to mention, Chris’ dad kindly let us borrow his car, however, his car is very wide, and I was constantly worried about getting smashed by semis coming one way, and scraping and/or falling off a cliff on the other side.
For those of you who’ve never driven in Australia, I also have to mention that Australia’s speed limits are crazy-high! Expect to be driving over 70 mph on the highway, and 60 mph on tiny, windy country roads with enough space for two cars to barely pass by one another and no center line.
Australia, your speed limits are dangerous!
Trying to Pack for a Year
While I’m used to moving overseas, I had no idea what to do with myself when I tried to pack for a year in the US, Africa, and who knows where else. I don’t have a medium-sized suitcase, so I decided to take a small carry on suitcase and a travel backpack.
I actually have no idea where I’ll be heading after a few months in Tanzania (probably Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia), so it was almost impossible to know what to pack. Should I bring my dive goggles and a sarong? Do I need my elephant pants?!
I also found it painful to put all of my cute winter clothes and shoes in crates. What if I get cold in Seattle? Should I really not even bring one pair of boots? Am I alright with just one light jacket??
I also have some “special” Australian gifts which made TSA a bit confused. There may or may not be a giant crystal and a boomerang in my carry on…
Packing is never fun. Trying to pack for a year when you don’t even know where you’re going is almost impossible.
Saying Goodbye to “Etty” and Chris’ 9 Cats
For those of you that don’t remember, I used to live with Chris’ brother, his girlfriend, and their two-year-old son in Beijing. Thankfully I got to see them all, including little Elliot (‘Etty’) for Christmas. However, saying goodbye wasn’t very easy. Thankfully they’ll be moving to Vietnam in a few months so maybe Chris and I will find our way over to that side of the world sooner rather than later…
The second half of this is more of a joke, but Chris’ family has 9 cats they’ve taken in or rescued over the years. Most of them hang around on the back deck, and I’d spend HOURS petting them. I’m going to miss them all while I’m gone!
Interesting Experience: Weird AF Comments on a Blog Post
So this is neither good nor bad, but I just had to share. For some unknown reason, I have a crazy amount of weird comments on a guest post about the challenges of being an expat in China.
Basically, I have a ton of racist people going on and on, in very poor English, about China, how it scams its teachers, how Chinese women only like Arab men (????) and more.
To be honest, I don’t know how any of these people could even get a job teaching English because they can’t type a comprehensible sentence, but whatever.
None of these commenters are attacking ME, and are merely content to chat about how much they hate China with one another. I just stopped responding to them after a while, but they’re STILL flooding my feed with comments.
Feel free to entertain yourself and check it out. If you have any suggestions on what I should do (leave it, block their IPs), feel free to let me know in a non-crazy comment below.
With all my trips this past month, I’ve spent a bit more of my savings than I would like, but thankfully this month was pretty great for me in terms of affiliate income!
Here’s My January Income Breakdown!
- Blogging Partnerships – $382.10
- Freelance Writing – $0
- Affiliate Sales – $706.01
- Teaching Referrals – $0
- Travel Consulting – $0
- Online College Counseling – $150
Total Revenue – $1,238
Total Profit (Minus Blog Expenses) – $1,067
When I left my job as a college counselor, I paid off my student loans and had just over $20,000 saved up. This month I dipped into my savings a bit more than I’d usually like, but I was traveling in Australia which is a bit pricey. Literally, every time I ate out I was dropping a solid $20 USD!
This month my savings dropped by around $1,200 so hopefully I can be saving, rather than spending, next month.
Total Savings – $17,937
Best Blog Post
The best post I wrote this month was definitely Expectations Vs. Reality: Why I Didn’t Love Japan’s Tourist Trail. I was actually really scared to publish this post because everyone seems to LOVE Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. I even rehashed the post, the title, and the format multiple times. I think I sat on it for a solid month before I published!
Thankfully most people seemed to really like the honesty of the post, along with the tips I had for getting off the beaten path in those cities.
Other Blog Posts
Who doesn’t love Fushimi Inari? I woke up at 6 am to get this photo with no one in it.
It’s easy to explore Fushimi Inari without the crowds… you just have to wake up at 6am! But I’m all seriousness, get there before 7am and you won’t regret it. I left around 8:45 and the crowds were pouring in. Have your hour-long hike up a mountain under these torii gates almost all to yourself. It’s so worth it.
Apparently, everyone likes interesting churches. You can find this Chinese Catholic church in Dali, Yunnan!
Did you know that there’s a beautiful Catholic Church hidden in an alley in Dali Yunnan? I was actually surprised by the amount of Christian churches I’ve seen in China. When I lived in Ningbo there were two very beautiful ones! However, Christianity still has some issues with the government. For example, many Protestant faiths aren’t allowed to meet in China and Protestant churches are for foreigners only (some even make you show your passport!). While Catholicism is allowed, China has their own system for electing Catholic leaders that’s controlled by the government. The pope has no control here! Have you ever been surprised by religion abroad?
Book of the Month
I’ve been trying to read as many travel memoirs as humanly possible (maybe so I can write a post ranking all of them), so the next one on the list was Four Corners by Kira Salak. This novel follows Kira as she traverses the entire island of Papua New Guinae from South to North.
While the pace of the story can sometimes feel a bit weird, the adventure she experienced is definitely worth reading. She’s the very first documented woman to traverse Papua New Guinae and the first person to kayak the Niger River to Timbuktu. Let’s just say this book makes me want to go on a serious adventure.
Best Reads of January
Here are my favorite blog posts from the month!
My Life in Ho Chi Mihn City Thus Far – The Travel Lush
Justine just moved all the way from Beijing to Vietnam. I always love checking in with expats all over the world and its fun to read what life is like in other countries.
How to Overcome Doubts and Fears While Living an Unconventional Lifestyle – The Sweetest Way
Not everyone understands the digital nomad lifestyle, and sometimes that can be a bit hard… If you’re living a life on the road, you’ll want to check this one out.
Bloggers Gotta Eat: Does Winning #Sponsors Mean Losing Followers? – Oneika the Traveler
How do you balance paid campaigns with staying authentic? I even find myself rolling my eyes at people who get EVERYTHING sponsored. Where is the line between making a living, and being annoying?
What’s Next for February 2018?
After two months in Australia, I’ll be heading to the US right at the beginning of February! First I’ll be hitting up Las Vegas for a few days, before heading to California to stay with my parents. At the end of the month, I’ll be down in Atlanta for a friend’s wedding!
What Do You Think?
Chip Sangas? Yes? No?
But in all seriousness, if you have any thoughts or questions, be sure to get in touch below! Want to know more about Green Valley Farm? Want to know more about Coffs Harbour and the Bellingen Market, or wine tasting in the Hunter Vally? Hit me up!
I’m always checking for new comments, so leave me one below and I’ll get back to you.