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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 November and December
While I’ve historically been pretty good about my monthly recaps, November is one of those exceptions. I was SO busy during November and December (and I had so many writing obligations) that I just didn’t have time to write a monthly recap. By the time we were halfway through December, I figured it would be best to just combine the two… sue me.
Like I said, these last two months have been CRAZY. From leaving Beijing after five years of living in China to hiking 170 kilometers along the Kumano Kodo in rural Japan, to celebrating Christmas with Chris’ family in Australia… it’s been a wild ride.
Where I Went in November and December
- Beijing, China
- Nagoya, Japan
- Kumano Kodo Iseji Route
- Tokyo, Japan
- Kyoto, Japan
- Osaka, Japan
- Ben Lomond, Australia
Here are a few of the absolute best moments of November and December!
1. Hiking the Kumano Kodo
Hiking Japan’s Kumano Kodo Iseji route for 2 weeks was one of the craziest, hardest, most incredible things I’ve ever done. I hiked 170 kilometers through mountain passes and tiny towns, along highways and through fishing villages. I prayed at local temples, climbed an actual mountain, and pushed myself to my absolute limits.
There honestly isn’t enough room in this recap for what the Kumano Kodo meant to me, so I guess you’ll just have to check out this giant 4,000-word post for all of the stories and details.
2. Enjoying Traditional Japan
Aside from the hiking and adventures, one of my favorite parts of the Kumano Kodo was experiencing a more traditional side of Japan away from all of the tourist sights. I slept on tatami mat floors in local ryokan guesthouses, ate homecooked meals, and chatted with locals from Mie Prefecture.
It was an amazing experience, and I highly suggest staying in a ryokan while you visit Japan. You can find some great ryokans on Airbnb!
3. Geisha Spotting in Kamishichiken
Geisha spotting was at the top of my list for my time in Kyoto, and I was all ready to go looking for Geishas in Gion until Chris received an Instagram comment from @rachlitravels telling us to check out the oldest district, Kamishichiken, instead.
WOW am I glad I heeded this girl’s advice. I spotted 10+ geishas and maikos within 30 minutes! The best part? The street we were waiting on has multiple tea houses and a geisha house, meaning all of the geishas walk to and from their appointments.
Unfortunately, I was in Kyoto in December, so it was a bit dark to get great photos, but I’ll definitely go back in the summer to see them when the sun is still up!
4. Fushimi Inari at Sunrise
I was a bit underwhelmed by the massive crowds at the Golden Temple, so I decided I was going to beat the crowds at Fushimi Inari at all costs! Luckily I was staying at a guesthouse only one stop on the JR Nara Line away from Fushimi Inari, which made it super easy for Chris and I to get there bright and early.
Fushimi Inari is absolutely stunning in the early morning, and the entire experience felt magical. While this temple is famous for its red torii gates, most people don’t know that the gates extend in a giant loop up the side of a small mountain, and you can spend over an hour hiking through them.
This experience really brought back the magic of the Kumano Kodo, and while I didn’t have the whole place to myself, I’m definitely glad I got there when I did. As we left the tourists were swarming in!
5. Christmas in Australia
This December I spent Christmas with Chris’ family in Australia. Chris’ family is huge and takes their Christmas holiday very seriously. Overall, I had a great time with everyone, and I especially loved picking out fun presents for the kids!
This Christmas was my very first warm-weather Christmas, which took a bit of getting used to. However, I did experience the magic of a white Christmas in the form of a giant hail storm!
I also had the opportunity to cook apple and pumpkin pie for everyone, which was really fun. Australia doesn’t have canned pumpkin so I had to make the pumpkin pie completely from scratch! While most of Chris’ family were a bit scared of the idea of pumpkin pie, those that dared to try it were all very pleasantly surprised.
Not everything this month was perfect. There were a few downsides to these last two months.
1. Leaving Beijing Behind
While I was excited to head to Japan and start my new adventure, leaving Beijing was definitely bittersweet. This city has been my home for the last two years, and I haven’t lived outside of China since I graduated college five years ago!
I already miss my friends, my coworkers, my bars and coffee shops, my local veggie seller, all the Chinese food, and the convenience of ordering everything from food to electronics through an app. I also miss the low cost of living! Why are taxis and food so expensive?!
Leaving Beijing was also a huge hassle, as you can probably guess. I may or may not have gotten a little sassy with the guy at China Post when he told me I couldn’t ship liquids, electronics, medicine, or cosmetics. He wouldn’t even let me ship a plug adaptor, some Chinese herbal medicine tea, or a makeup brush. It was beyond ridiculous!
2. Getting Lost in a Logging Forest
While the Kumano Kodo definitely had its ups and downs, the day I got lost in a logging forest was definitely my lowest point on the trip. Firstly, we awoke to a giant downpour. I forgot my hiking boots back in China, so my running shoes were soaked through in minutes.
Not only were we completely soaked despite our “waterproof” gear, but we then lost cell reception, meaning we had no access to our online navigator map. We started following a trail that we THOUGHT was the route, due to the pink ribbons hanging in the trees. These ribbons had marked the trail previously, so we assumed it was marking the way. Nope. Definitely not.
After getting lost in a logging forest for over an hour, we were so far behind that on our second mountain pass we had to descend down slippery rocks in the dark… and I slipped.
Yeah, that day was not a good day.
3. Spraining My Ankle
Just over halfway through the Kumano Kodo, I sprained my ankle hiking down an extra mountain called Binshiyama. I then had to hike the remainder of the 170 km with two walking sticks as crutches. My ankle was so incredibly painful, and it even caused me to miss a mountain pass because our guide was afraid I’d get stuck up there due to the pain.
While missing a small portion of the Kumano Kodo was devastating, I did hike an extra mountain, so I guess it all evens out.
4. Too Many Tourists in Japan
After two weeks of hiking the Kumano Kodo, I didn’t easily adjust to Japan’s tourist trail. Things that I was so excited for: Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, the Golden Pavillion, Himeji Castle, Arishiyama… all felt like crowded tourist traps.
Lesson learned, never go off the beaten path FIRST. Thankfully, I eventually realized that Japan is a little more “on the map” than I’m used to, and if I want to beat the crowds I’ll have to use the skills I’ve learned in China: wake up early (Fushimi Inari), or go somewhere a bit different (Kamishichiken).
5. A LONG Journey to Australia
Getting to Chris’ tiny town of Ben Lomond in Australia was definitely a journey. Firstly, our Airbnb in Osaka needed us to leave at 10 am, meaning we had a lot of time to kill before our 6:45 pm flight. But with a lot of luggage and nowhere to store it, we figured we’d just head down to the airport early.
We got to the airport around noon and had to wait until around 4 pm to check in. Then we embarked on a 10-hour red-eye flight to Australia, which would be great except I’m HORRIBLE at sleeping on planes. After that, we had to wait a few hours for the train, which took us 9 hours from Sydney to Armidale, about 45 minutes from Chris’ hometown.
By the time we actually got to Chris’ house I was so tired I thought I was going to die.
The life of a freelancer is definitely full of ups and downs. In October I was boasting about my highest blogging income to date, but then this November, I had one of my worst blogging incomes on record, with only $340 coming in (and only $146 staying in).
However, December was much better. I had a nice bit of income that came in from a partnership with a tourism board that really helped me out. Let’s just hope I can keep my monthly income over the $1,000 mark every month!
Here’s My December Income Breakdown!
- Blogging Partnerships – $1,448
- Freelance Writing – $0
- Affiliate Sales – $185.80
- Teaching Referrals – $0
- Travel Consulting – $0
- Online College Counseling – $100
Total Revenue – $1,443
Total Profit (Minus Blog Expenses) – $1,268
When I left my job as a college counselor, I paid off my student loans and had just over $20,000 saved up. I’ve been a bit worried at how rapidly my savings have been declining, but with this last month being a good one, and a big payment for all of the work I did this fall for my past college counseling job (not included in this post), my savings are right back where they should be!
Total Savings – $19,260
Best Blog Post
This is a tough one, but my favorite blog post of the last two months has to be The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done: Hiking Kumano Kodo Iseji. If you haven’t read this epic post about my hike through rural Japan, get on it now!
That said, I’m also very proud of the Ultimate Guide to Kumano Kodo Iseji. It’s definitely the most helpful post I’ve written in a while. There’s almost no information online about how to hike the 2-week Kumano Kodo Iseji route, which is why I was so excited to publish this.
Before writing this post I was a bit worried about how you all might be able to replicate our trip, but this guide along with Chris’ fantastic Kumano Kodo Itinerary is really all you need!
Getting to the top of Binshiyama’s Elephant Back rock was definitely a trek. Firstly, the entire mountain consists of one long staircase. Secondly, I’d already been hiking the Kumano Kodo for a week and I was completely exhausted.
While this mountain was the reason I somehow ended up spraining my ankle, the shot from the top of the Elephant’s Back was worth it!
Today I hiked for HOURS up a mountain to reach the Elephant’s Back rock. I may or may not have almost died climbing all of the stairs up to the top, but the view from the rock was worth it! PS- walking along this rock is just as dangerous (if not more so) than it looks in the picture. Thankfully none of us died ;)
Who knew Yunnan had a lake as beautiful as Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan? Mountains, waterfalls, and lakes so clear you can see the bottom, there’s a reason Blue Moon Lake is often dubbed “Baby Jiuzhaigou”.
Who knew there was a mini Jiuzhaigou in Yunnan?? Blue Moon Valley near Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is absolutely gorgeous. . You can easily get to the valley in a day trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and watch the Lijiang Culture Show while you’re there. . I literally had no idea this place existed until my driver said it was included in my ticket. Who knew??
Books of the Month
In these last two months, I read Love With a Chance of Drowning and Worries Guide to the End of the World, both by Torre DeRoche. Love with a Chance of Drowning is another book I avoided based on the title (the last one was Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven– my new favorite book!), despite it being on every list for awesome female travel memoirs.
I decided to give this book a chance and I really enjoyed it! Torre meets a handsome Argentinian man with dreams of sailing the world. The only problem? She’s scared to death of the ocean. Not only was this book super entertaining (think storms and shipwrecks), it also gave me some serious wanderlust for the tiny islands of the South Pacific.
Torre’s next book, The Worriers Guide to the End of the World, is also really great. At first I thought this would be a self-help book, but actually its just another crazy travel story! Now in her 30’s Torre is mourning the loss of a 10-year relationship and the death of her father. She ends up getting roped into two crazy pilgrimages: one in Italy and the other in India.
Trust me, this book is no Eat Pray Love… especially the India portion. Having just completed a pilgrimage of my own, this book was a great read for me! I’m definitely obsessed with completing the pilgrimage in Italy now…
Best Reads of August
Here are some of my favorite blog posts from this November and December!
Pilgrimage: Lessons Learned Hiking the Kumano Kodo Iseji – Aussie on the Road
Hear about the Kumano Kodo from Chris’ perspective! These are the lessons he learned while hiking alongside me for two weeks.
How I’ve Paid Off $29,000 in Debt by Living in a Van – Making Sense of Cents
#VanLife… No, but seriously this post makes me want to live in a van. While van life is all the rage, living in a van while traveling actually makes a lot of sense in countries like the US and Australia.
A lot of advice to newer bloggers sounds exactly the same. Use Bluehost (affiliate link), join Travel Blog Success (another affiliate link). It’s like every blogger only writes these posts as a way to make money from aspiring writers. That’s why I appreciated this post. Gloria’s advice is not only helpful, it’s also hilarious.
5 Lessons I Learned Being Sexually Assaulted in India – Teacake Travels
I was stunned when I saw Alice’s post about being sexually assaulted while traveling in India. While I know that sexual assault happens everywhere, every day, it’s always shocking to see it happen to a friend. Thankfully Alice is a bada** who studied Ju-Jitsu and was able to get herself out of a horrible situation. I love that this blog post addresses that this is a global problem, not just an India problem. It also makes me want to start taking Kung Fu lessons again.
What’s Next for January 2017?
For the month of January, I’ll be spending some time in Australia, living at Chris’ family’s home! I’ll be (hopefully) getting a lot of work done, and in my spare time, I’ll try to spot some kangaroos!
I just rang in the New Year at Green Valley Farm, Australia’s strangest theme park, and I should be taking a trip down to Coffs Harbor at the end of the month!
I hope you’re nice and warm wherever you are, be it indoors with a fuzzy blanket, or lazing in the Aussie sun like me!