The Freedom Life: May 2018

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What's it really like to live life as a digital nomad and professional travel blogger? Welcome to my monthly recap the Freedom Life! #digitalnomad #travelblogger #travelblog #locationindependent #africa #travel #safari

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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 Month

This month I went on safari in the Serengeti! Towards the end of May, the entire Shadows of Africa team came to Arusha, and we all went on a one-week FAM trip to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. We spent most of our time learning a new email system and looking at hotels, BUT I did get some incredible game drives as we traveled from A to B!

Where I Went in May

  • Arusha, Tanzania
  • Ngorongoro Highlands
  • The Serengeti

Highlights

While this month wasn’t all perfect, there were definitely a few amazing experiences!

Serengeti safari

Baby lions!!!

1. My First Safari on the Serengeti!

While I had the chance to go on a one-day safari in Nairobi National Park in April, it was nothing compared to a few days on the Serengeti. I saw a pack of hyenas at sunrise, a leopard resting after a kill (which was hanging from a tree!), tons of tree climbing lions, a bit of the wildebeest migration, and a giant African elephant literally right next to our car.

As I said last month, the rainy season in Tanzania has been the worst they’ve seen in 20 years. This meant the wildebeest migration was behind schedule, and the grasses were so high it was very difficult to see any animals a lot of the time.

However, it also meant all of the animals were clean, fat, and happy. It also meant an insane amount of lions in trees. Seriously, it was incredible! Lions love a good view, and with most of the savannah covered in chest-high grass, the best place for all the lions to hang out was in TREES.

Usually, you’ll never see tree-climbing lions in the Serengeti. You’ll have to make a special trip to Lake Manyara or Uganda for that. How lucky am I?

Oh, and I’ve officially seen all of the big 5 now!

Melia Serengeti Lodge

Wow Melia is gorgeous!

2. Staying in Some Fantastic Lodges

Tanzanian lodges and tented camps are insanely expensive (seriously, $300 per person per night for a tented camp???), so it was incredible to be able to stay in some beautiful places during our trip that I normally wouldn’t be able to afford.

Oh, the perks of traveling with a safari company that sells these lodges constantly!

I was definitely impressed by Melia Serengeti Lodge, which had beautiful rooms, and a plunge pool overlooking the Serengeti savannah. I could enjoy a glass of wine with a great view, and the food and staff were incredible!

Oldeani Mountain Lodge

My room at Oldeani Mountain Lodge!

I also loved Oldeani Mountain Lodge just outside Ngorongoro. We stayed in a beautiful villa covered in bougainvillea flowers, ate an incredible multi-course dinner, and enjoyed their Explorers Bar, which is still one of the coolest bars I’ve ever seen.

Finally, I had my opportunity to stay in a few tented camps. My favorite of the bunch was Kisura Serengeti Camp. Not only do they have an incredible location right in the middle of the Serengeti, we saw HYENAS right by our car and a Maasai guard had to chase them off! Apparently, there was also a leopard right near our camp on a big rock hidden in the greenery. No wonder they don’t let you walk to your tent without a guard!

The Freedom Life

This lake ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE. That’s how much it rained

3. It Stopped Raining!

This year was a CRAZY rainy season, and according to literally everyone, it was the worst they’ve seen in 20 years. Thankfully, in the middle of May, it STOPPED RAINING. Yaaaaaaaaaayyyy!

The roads are still a mess, but at least the sun comes out during the day, and the walk to work is noticeably more pleasant as the mud has been replaced with hundreds of butterflies! I feel like I’m in the Secret Garden every time I walk to work.

Shadows of Africa

A good chunk of the Shadows team!

4. Meeting the Whole Shadows of Africa Team

At the end of May, the entire Shadows of Africa team came to Arusha for education and a FAM trip. Chris has been talking about his coworkers for so long, it was great to finally meet them!

The office was much more lively with everyone in town, and it was great to be able to have lots of people to talk to. I also loved being able to learn more about the business, and soon I’ll be helping Chris sell safaris!

The Freedom Life

Chris at the international students day festival

5. Downtown Movie Dates

Living up on the hill has been a bit isolating. We can get to town, but getting back has always been a problem. So this month, Chris and I picked two nights to spend in town. We booked a budget hotel, went grocery shopping at the good cheap grocery store, went out to dinner, and saw both Avengers and Deadpool (for only $3 per ticket!).

Spending some time in town was definitely necessary for both of us. I guess I’m just not ready for the rural lifestyle yet. Five years in China will do that to you.

cute hyena

Who knew hyenas were so cute!

Challenges

Most of you have probably read my epic post about the challenges of adjusting to expat life in Africa. Well… we had some MORE new and exciting challenges this month.

While I do feel a bit happier and more settled in Arusha, there are just some things that have been very difficult to deal with since we’ve been here. Let me fill you in.

black mold

Just some of our black mold

1. Black Mold Poisoning

Pretty much right after I wrote that post about my expat challenges, Chris and I noticed a pattern of mold growing on our bathroom and kitchen walls. I’d been feeling really sick with crazy headaches, a sore throat, itchy skin, upset stomach, and complete lack of energy, so we decided to do some research on the mold growing in our house.

Unfortunately for us, it was toxic black mold. Great.

We told our landlord who sent someone to clean it with bleach, but it just keeps coming back. Our house is made of porous concrete with very small windows, so everything is constantly wet. Seriously, if I don’t put my pillows out in the sun every week they smell like a damp dog. If I leave a book on the floor it’s wet in the morning.

Really I don’t think there’s anything we can do about the black mold except for hiring a professional which probably isn’t going to happen here. Most people have been telling us to move, but we only have a month left and we’ve already paid our rent so… that’s not going to happen either.

The Freedom Life

If only I could just stay here instead…

2. EVERYTHING is Covered in Mold

In addition to the black mold, we’ve been having horrible problems with regular mold too. If we don’t touch something for a few days, it’s completely covered in mold.

My makeup bag, Chris’ backpack, our suitcases, shoes, hats, belts, dresses, headphone cases… literally EVERYTHING.

Just yesterday we noticed the entire support beam of our living room is completely covered in grey fuzzy mold, but we can’t reach it to clean it. We literally live in a mold den.

Unfortunately for me, I think I’m allergic to mold because I’ve been really struggling in our house. I have headaches, a sore throat, and I feel tired all the time. I’ve been taking antihistamines and bought nasal spray, but I’m still feeling the effects of the mold.

I really, really need to get out of this house, but I don’t think there’s anything we can do except complain to our (very nice) landlord and clean up the mold with bleach when we see it. Especially since we’re leaving in a month.

The Freedom Life

This is what we’ll be riding around in for now

3. The Car Catastrophe

As you probably know from my post last month, Chris and I were super excited to rent a coworker’s car. However, that actually never worked out.

When the rain cleared up for a few days, we drove the car from the office to our house. We arrived home and started to cook dinner when we realized there was a problem. The girl we hired to clean our house and do our laundry (you have to wash everything by hand here) had left our gas burner on ALL DAY and our house was full of gas. Seriously, had I not stopped Chris to chat about ingredients, he would’ve lit the burner and caused an explosion!!

I’m not even kidding, we literally almost died… or we at least would’ve had a very unfortunate trip to the hospital.

We obviously couldn’t stay in the house, so we took the car to town. The owners had left the car on a completely empty tank, so we went to the gas station, filled the car up, grabbed dinner, and then headed back to the house.

safari Serengeti

I wish our road was this good

However, on the drive back we realized the car was completely unable to make it up the hill to our house. I tried EVERYTHING. I switched gears, completely flooring it. But the car was completely useless! We had no cell service and were completely blocking the entire road at 10 pm. Great.

The road to our boss’ house is a bit less steep, so we then tried this hill instead. However, Chris had to get out of the car and push us over every single bump while I floored the gas.

When we asked the owner about the car, it turns out they usually solved this issue by turning the car on and off again like a computer. That would’ve been nice to know…

But the day after we took the car, it poured down rain for a week straight, the roads were ruined and the car was stuck at our boss’ house again. We still haven’t driven it.

baboon tarantula

THIS was behind my head!

4. Our New Involuntary Pet Tarantula

One night Chris and I were watching a movie on the couch when Chris told me to get up in a panicked voice. I had no idea what could possibly be in our house this time. Was it a whip scorpion again? A regular scorpion?

Nope, this time it was a GIANT BABOON TARANTULA. In the panic, we LOST HIM in our house and couldn’t find him anywhere.

We searched high and low and couldn’t find him ANYWHERE until Chris pointed directly behind my head in a panic. I SCREAMED louder than I’ve ever screamed in my entire life and ran to the bathroom. Apparently, the tarantula had been literally a few inches RIGHT BEHIND MY HEAD on a curtain.

Obviously, there was no way we were killing him. He was way too big to kill with bug spray or even a book, and we didn’t want to risk getting him angry. Besides, our biologist neighbor would probably kill us if he found out we hurt a beautiful tarantula. So we decided the best way to get him outside was to sweep him out.

We opened the door, moved our doormat, and grabbed a broom. Chris proceeded to sweep him down from the curtain and out the front door. We immediately grabbed an old blanket and shoved it under the sizable crack under our door (nothing seals in our house. Our bathroom door won’t even close).

Now the door blanket has become a constant staple in our house. No more tarantulas for us… probably.

The Freedom Life

Look at his little tongue!

5. Small Bugs Crawling All Over My Skin

When I first arrived in Arusha 2 months ago, I kept feeling like I had little bugs crawling all over my legs. At first, I thought I had bed bugs or fleas in my clothes, but I had no bites. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong!

I examined all of my clothes and my skin, and I could never see any bugs. I felt like a crazy person! But about 2 weeks ago when I was researching black mold poisoning, I saw that one of the symptoms was formication: or the belief that small bugs are crawling on or inside your skin.

Seriously, the black mold has given me a psychological condition which is STILL THERE. Since I moved into the house 1.5 months ago, every single day I feel like there are small bugs crawling all over my legs, and I just have to ignore it.

As I write this, I feel like I have 50 little fleas crawling around under my leggings. WTF.

Oldeani Mountain Lodge

Can I just live at Oldeani instead?

6. Living in Isolation

Living on the hill can be really isolating. I mean, Chris and I paid for a hotel for two nights just to go to town!

We can easily get a ride into town, but getting back is the issue. If we want to buy groceries, we usually go with the driver to a nearby(ish) grocery store while he picks our boss’ son up from school. We have about 20 minutes to grab everything we need and hop back in the car.

If we want to go into town, we usually have to wait for hours and hours to be picked up. However, no one ever answers their phones, so usually, this involves us sitting in a cafe (or a hotel lobby) for hours on end with no idea when anyone is coming.

For example, Chris and I were supposed to be picked up at 8:30 am from our hotel, however, there was an issue with one of the cars. This would be fine except for the fact that no one told us. When we eventually got in touch with someone after waiting for over an hour, we were told the driver would be there in less than 30 minutes. This “30 minutes” explanation happened again, and again until we were finally picked up after almost 5 hours of waiting.

Had we known it would be 5 hours, we would’ve gone to a nice cafe and had lunch and done work. Instead, we just sat in a lobby with dead phones and computers for an entire day.

While I’m super thankful for all the free rides (I don’t know what we’d do without them), it has been a bit isolating to be on the hill all of the time. This is a place where you really need a car.

However, now that the rain has stopped, Chris and I should probably be able to get a taxi to the edge of town and walk the rest of the way up our hill. The walk should probably only take 30 minutes. Hey, it’s good exercise, right?

The Freedom Life

These wildebeest look like a painting!

Monthly Finances

Here’s My Monthly Income Breakdown

  • Advertising – $0
  • Blogging Partnerships – $286
  • Freelance Writing – $220
  • Affiliate Sales – $38
  • Teaching Referrals – $0
  • Consulting – $0

Total Revenue – $544

Total Proffit (Minus Blog Expenses) – $324

Well, this month definitely wasn’t as high as I was hoping, especially on the Affiliate income front. However, I do have a ton of payments coming at the beginning of June (aka most of them are already in my bank account now). I also have $1,500 USD coming in at the end of the month for all of the social media work I’ve been doing for a company.

Yay for cash accounting making it look like you’ve made no money!

Total Savings – $10,598

Well, my savings did go down by a little bit this month. But when you factor in the money I’m owed from my social media work, my savings stayed about even. This isn’t too bad considering I bought my flight to Vietnam from Africa this month.

Aside from keeping my savings stable (or increasing them!), my goal is to not let my savings dip below $10,000. Wish me luck!

The Freedom Life

It’s a leopard!

May Blog Posts

My best post this month was definitely 6 Lessons I’ve Learned in SIX YEARS of travel blogging. Can you believe I’ve been blogging for over 6 years! Of course, this post was a few months late. My blogaversary was actually at the end of January… but, it’s the thought that counts right?

I actually wrote a ton of blog posts this month. Go me! No, but seriously, here they are:

And… one post for Go Overseas

Best Instagram Shots

The most popular Instagram shot this month actually wasn’t mine! I’ve been trying to share more amazing Asia content from other travel instagramers, and this month I shared a photo from @magalie_dns at the Hanoi Train Street while announcing my upcoming move to Vietnam!

If you ever want me to share your awesome Asia photos, be sure to tag me or #adventuresaroundasia


The next most popular photo includes a caption that was pretty hard for me to write. Staying fit on the road is very hard, and I’ve not been too happy with how I look in many of my recent photos. Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way, especially with the plethora of gorgeous Instagram models in all of our feeds.

Feeding giraffes at the Giraffe Center was one of my biggest highlights of the last month, but to be honest, I almost didn’t share this photo because I wasn’t happy with how I looked. I’ve definitely put in a lot of weight in the last two years and I’ve been working really hard to get back to my healthy self. Unfortunately it’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you live in countries where all those healthy recipes have ingredients that are impossible to find. Oh, and for a few weeks there I pretty much had to eat bread, rice and chicken for every meal. While being healthy is really important to me, and I’ve definitely been working on getting down to a weight I’m comfortable with, it is a shame that I feel uncomfortable sharing a photo of myself on a happy day.

I was just so frustrated with how I looked that I popped this photo into a free chinese app where you can basically photoshop yourself. I sat there for a few solid minutes using their “slim” tool to make myself look like how I thought I should. Like how all of the girls on Instagram look. But the fact that I felt the desire to make myself smaller… literally smaller… like my self worth grew as I physically shrank- is kind of scary. Being fit and healthy is great, but we shouldn’t feel the need or desire to photoshop ourselves into something we’re not. So in addition to being physically healthy I’m going to work on being mentally healthy too. When I look at this photo I want to remember a happy day, and to appreciate my smile, my laugh and remember how much fun I had. I don’t want to shake my head at how I look in a completely candid moment. Life isn’t perfect and I’m not perfect either. ❤

A post shared by Richelle (@adventuresaroundasia) on

Best Travel Product

I’m actually obsessed with these waterproof tennis shoes I just backed on Kickstarter! Wouldn’t it be nice to have comfortable shoes you can wear around town, hike in, and even swim in? These shoes are a traveler’s dream.

This is the first product I’ve ever actually backed on Kickstarter and I am SO EXCITED to get these in the future. You know it’s a good idea when their goal was $14,500 and they’ve already received $1,500,000!

Get Your Own Pair!

The Freedom Life

The Serengeti at sunrise

Best Reads of May

Here are my favorite blog posts from the last month!

Should I Stay in Norway? – Heart My Backpack

Knowing where to travel and which destinations to cover as a blogger can be HARD. I love reading Sylvia’s posts about life in Norway, BUT Norway doesn’t want more tourists and there are plenty of places that could use her help attracting new visitors. Ahh the dilemmas of being a travel blogger.

The Ultimate Guide to Cappadocia Turkey – The Blog Abroad

Excuse me while I book a trip here right now. That is all.

How Living in Goa For Five Years Has Changed Me – Hippie in Heels

I’m not the only one who left their expat home after 5 years! Rachel is leaving India and moving to Mexico. Yay for other expat travel bloggers making big changes.

The First Step to Understanding Money: Smell Your Sh*t – Hey Berna! guest post on Young Adventuress

As someone who FINALLY paid off her student loans not too long ago, I’m a huge fan of funny, practical financial advice. Just watch the youtube embed in this post. Berna is hilarious and actually super helpful.

The Freedom Life

What’s Next for June 2018?

This June is our last month in Tanzania! We’ll be spending most of the month in Arusha, where we’ll work and… not much else.

Then on the 28th of June, we’ll be moving to Hoi An, Vietnam! I’m so excited about this move, and I’ve already been scoping out cute houses near the Hoi An Old Town and the beach.

Do you remember Dom (Chris’ brother), Bronte, and baby Elliot from China? Well, they’ve been living in Hoi An for a few months now. While we won’t be living together again, we will be spending a lot of time at their house (and in their pool).

We won’t actually arrive in Hoi An until the very beginning of July because we decided to give ourselves a 2-day layover in Bangkok (yay for finding cheap flights), but I’m super excited for the move. Only one month to go!

How does expat life in Africa sound to you? Do you want more Africa posts from me? Let me know in a comment below! 

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

4 comments on “The Freedom Life: May 2018

  1. EEEP — thank you, Richelle! So happy to hear you enjoyed my crazy money talk. Excited to follow your adventures, too!

  2. I had really bad black mold in my apartment in Korea. I was constantly sick with symptoms like what you are describing and didn’t know why and then the mold started growing through the wallpaper…I tried bleaching it weekly, but it would grow back even more. My landlord blamed it on me (yeah, like I am just growing mold for fun!) and I had to pay 50% of the cost to replace the wallpaper, but my health improved so much once it was gone. It is no joke!

    • Wow! Did your school not stand up for you about this? That’s absolutely crazy that you had to pay for part of the wallpaper. We keep bleaching it too, but it keeps coming back. I think it’s because the concrete here is really porous. You can actually hammer nails into it. It’s been such a disaster I’m so happy to be leaving in 3 weeks!

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