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I’ve noticed that the more I travel and the busier I become, the more impossible it becomes to keep up with my travels in real-time. Well, never fear monthly recap posts are here!
What I was up to this month
This month I had an entire week off for the National Day holiday! One of my blogger BFFs, Chris from Aussie on the Road, came to stay with me for almost a week, and together we explored the hutongs and hiked a really off the beaten path section of the Great Wall.
Then I headed to the TBEX travel blogging conference in Manila, where I got to learn from the best, hang out with tons of friends, attend a full-day e-book writing course, and drink way too much alcohol.
While I had a lot of fun these first two weeks, the second half of October was extremely stressful with the Early Decision and Early Application deadlines for the US college admissions season. My desk job became so toxic I actually almost quit.
Where I Went
- A section of the Great Wall not officially open to tourists!
- Manila for TBEX
- An awesome hutong food tour in Beijing
- … Then I spent 2 weeks locked in my office
1. Hiking the Great Wall (Again)
Last month a few friends and I hiked Gubeikou, a wild section of the Great Wall. Well, not to be outdone, Chris and I ventured to Huanghuacheng, a beautiful stretch of the Great Wall that’s partially submerged in a lake.
Due to a little bit of confusion with our driver, he ended up dropping us off on the wrong side of the lake. Chris and I had no idea we weren’t at the official entrance until we were asked to pay a random farmer $1 for a very unofficial ticket. We kept hiking until we found a rusty ladder we could use to climb up onto the wall… like I said, unofficial.
The two of us hiked up a mountain on the wall for about an hour, hoping we would hit the real tourist section. It wasn’t until I pulled up Apple Maps on my phone that we realized we were on a small individual section of the Great Wall, and we had almost hit the end of it.
Yeah, that’s right. Chris and I were literally the only people on that entire section of the Great Wall. Seriously. We had the wall to ourselves.
It wasn’t until we headed down that we ran into a group of Mongolians sneaking onto the wall up the ladder. Best. Day. Ever.
2. TBEX in Manila!
Overall TBEX Asia this year was completely different than last year in Bangkok. I was way less nervous this time around, mainly because A) I feel a lot more confident in my blog B) I was friends with a ton of people there C) I’m no longer a newbie. That’s a relief considering I’ve been blogging for almost 5 years…
Despite shivering in the arctic conference center (seriously Philippines… why do you blast your air conditioning like that?) I actually really enjoyed all of the sessions and learned so much! My favorite session was Gary Arndt’s lecture on authority and social proof, but I also really loved Evo Terra’s opening speech and Cailin O’Neil’s talk on Snapchat!
Both the opening and closing parties were a blast, along with the Travel Massive affair where I drank waaay too much. Let’s just say there was a reason we were all getting sick by the end of the week. Too much socializing (and alcohol), too little time!
To sum it up: great sessions, awesome food, crazy parties and amazing times with incredible friends!
3. An Awesome Food Tour in Beijing’s Hutongs!
What could possibly be better than exploring Beijing’s hutongs? Exploring while EATING in Beijing’s hutongs.
I’m a huge fan of food tours and cooking classes while I travel, but after living in Beijing for over a year I realized I’ve been a horrible tourist in my own city. Just because I live here doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hike the Great Wall, have staycations in fancy hotels, and embark on culinary adventures. That’s why when UnTour contacted me to test out their Beijing hutong food tour I didn’t even have to think twice before I said YES.
Honestly, this food tour was incredible. I learned so much about Beijing’s culinary history while exploring hutongs not too far away from my place. I tasted Mongolian lamb on a spit, pork dumplings, Chinese kabobs, honey yogurt, spicy chicken wings and DONKEY BURGERS.
Seriously, the donkey burgers were so good I took Chris to visit less than a week later. Oh, and our guide got us drunk on baijiu too, so well done!
I had a great time this Halloween… from what I can remember.
This year I was way too busy to think up a good costume, so I stole a children’s Halloween costume my company was using as a wall decoration. I decided to be the Slutty Pumpkin from How I Met Your Mother, and I got lots of compliments on my cute little pumpkin hat.
I met up for dinner and drinks in costume with blogger/YouTuber friends Lena and Lauren, along with Lauren’s husband, and one of my coworkers. Lena and Lauren had incredible pop culture costumes as well, with Lauren creating a poop emoji out of her hair, and Lena dressing as a pineapple looking for her pen… if you know what I mean.
Fun Fact: Lena and I also made a video discussing our love lives if you want to check it out.
As you’ll see from reading my “challenges” section, my coworker and I really needed to blow off some steam. After an incredible blue cheese burger, I guzzled a few pints of beer, drank some cheap mojitos in the street, and danced the night away at Kokomo in Sanlitun.
However, things took a turn for the worse after midnight. Firstly, my apartment complex decided to lock the side gate, forcing me to walk a solid 10 minutes to the main gate in another hutong. Rather than suffer through below freezing temperatures in my lace tights and little leather jacket, I decided to drunkenly climb a 9ft fence in high heels.
I survived, but barely… Those $3 street mojitos almost killed me with their FAKE ALCOHOL, leaving me hungover in bed all day on Sunday. Thank god McDonalds delivers.
1. Awful Pollution and Cold Weather
Last year’s October was beautiful, but this year winter came early. Poor Chris enjoyed a beautiful trip to Beijing complete with pollution, chilly wind, and torrential rain. After that first week, the weather didn’t get much better.
The free government heat that my apartment relies on doesn’t turn on until NOVEMBER 15TH and it is BELOW FREEZING outside. Thankfully I bought a little radiator (in November) for $8 USD, so I’m no longer freezing to death.
Also, the pollution has been hazardous for the last week on and off. Thanks Beijing!
2. Major FOMO and “Facebook Depression”
Why, why, WHY is TBEX always in October?! October is literally the worst time for me to be gone from work, but somehow I was able to steal a couple days to head to the Philippines.
Why am I complaining, then?
Well, when most of your friends are travel bloggers who don’t have desk jobs, the FOMO is real. Anyone who doesn’t believe that “Facebook depression” is a thing should just have a look at my Facebook newsfeed, filled with beautiful photos of all of my friends traveling all over the world. It’s enough to make you want to quit social media forever.
After TBEX most of my friends embarked on all-expenses paid FAM trips around the Philippines. Literally half my Snapchat and Facebook news feeds were filled with all of my friends playing at the beach and lounging in luxury hotels. Meanwhile, I’m surrounded by hazardous pollution, shivering in my office, staring at admissions essays.
The worst part is that literally EVERYONE kept asking me which FAM trip I was going on, even when I was back in Beijing. Explaining that you have a desk job can get really, really old when you have to do it 15+ times a day.
3. MY JOB.
Speaking of my job… Remember this post I wrote about how my college counseling job is hiring? Yeah, they still haven’t hired anyone. It’s been 9 months since we’ve had a 3rd Western Counselor, which has saved the company over $30,000 USD. Who’s picking up the slack? My coworker and I, of course.
This last deadline (November 1st) was so bad that I actually almost walked out the door. I had four students that all decided to write their supplemental essays at the absolute last second. Theoretically, this could be fine if the essays were reasonably good. The problem was that I was getting a lot of “Why do you want to go to [Insert University]” essays from kids who knew literally nothing about the school.
I know the deadline is tomorrow, but don’t worry, I’ll teach you how to research a university instead of editing the 20 other essays in my inbox…
I had students (and counselors) texting me essays at 11pm. Kids posted outside my office, jumping on me every time I left to go to the bathroom or get a cup of water. I literally worked 10 hours straight with zero breaks two days in a row. Seriously, I had food delivered to the office and ate it while working.
Meanwhile, I still had to have four hours of meetings with younger students every day for literally no reason.
I’ll write another post further explaining what happened to my cushy job, and why I decided not to quit, but for now just know my life has been hell these last few weeks. Thankfully, my company gave me a measly raise and will also be giving me a bonus if I complete the application season without dying/ running away/ setting my computer on fire.
4. The Panic Attacks Have Returned
You can thank my job for that one. Apparently working 10 hours straight with no breaks isn’t healthy. Last Friday I had a panic attack at work and started sobbing at my desk. Then I realized I didn’t have time to cry and snapped myself out of it.
Later that night when I got an email from my boss saying they wouldn’t be hiring any of the candidates I proposed, I literally EXPLODED.
I decided I was going to quit my job and then proceeded to have a meltdown on the phone with a friend for an hour and a half. He had to coach me through a visual exercise of a beach just to get me to calm down. It probably didn’t help much that he was relaxing on said beach while traveling through the Philippines…
I want to blame all of these issues on my job, but in reality, it’s a combination of both my job and my blog. I would probably be able to handle all of the work at work if I didn’t have to come home and work some more. Last Sunday (November 1st) was the first day I’ve had off since I can remember… Granted, I did edit two admissions essays from home and answer some blog emails…
Managing my blog and a full-time job is REALLY hard, and I never want to disappoint anyone. My blog inbox is out of control, I have a million blog posts I need to write, I have to re-brand my homepage, write an e-book and set up my new email program…. I can’t even think about my to-do list without wanting to shut my laptop and run away forever.
I’m Only a Partial-Mess
Okay, enough with the negativity already! I’m a big girl and I’ll get through this. I just need to make it to January 1st without dying/ running away/ setting my computer on fire, and I’ll be fine. I also negotiated a raise and bonus with my company, which makes the insane workload slightly more manageable.
Overall the first half of my month was really fun, and I just need to keep treating myself to evening binge-watching of How to Get Away with Murder, mornings at the gym, massages, and Nutella.
My Most Popular Post
For all of you bloggers out there, this post on how to survive your first TBEX is the post for you! I went over my top pieces of advice for making the most out of this travel blogging conference, which many of you heading to Manila and Alabama greatly appreciated!
I’ve also been getting a LOT of questions about VPNs in China, which meant my post on how to circumvent internet censorship in China has been doing pretty well. Seriously, if you’re heading to China do NOT forget to download a VPN!
This is the very first month I’ve had over 1,000 likes on an Instagram photo! While it feels a bit weird to be obsessing over likes, it is great to see people actually engaging with the photos I post. I’ve also gotten some really great travel advice from other awesome travelers in the comments!
Overall, your favorite photos are all from Hua Shan (big surprise!) but my trip to the Great Wall was a close second!
Just casually hanging out on the PLANK WALK OF DEATH on Hua Shan. Yes, I completed the world’s most dangerous hike and walked along a rickety plank with a flimsy harness I had to unclip around each bolt. The best part? People go both ways!! Thanks to @jeanholysmithereens for taking this incredible photo!
Song of the Month
I’ve been rocking out to this song, which sounds a bit different in the video than it does on Spotify. I have to say, I’ve felt a little bit like the girl in the video for the last two weeks. The only difference is that I’m not going to be complacent about it (and I was just on a big jet plane three weeks ago).
What I’m Watching
A few months ago I participated in the Travel Blog Monetization Summit which has now been reformatted into a blogging course with a bunch of new material. Since I bought the summit pass I now get to see all of the new course videos which have been super helpful for me! (Not that I have time to implement any of the changes right now.)
For all you bloggers out there, I really suggest you check out their free course which expires November 15th, then purchase the full course if you think it’s a good fit for you!
Outside of blogging stuff, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the latest season of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X. Actually, I’m obsessed with every season of Survivor, and I’m going to be on the show one day. You’ll see!
What I’m Reading
I’m ALMOST done with the final Game of Thrones Book. Seriously, you all have permission to harass me if I’m not finished by next month.
As for blog posts…
The Ghosts of Vacations Past -Aussie on the Road
Boracay just never really seemed like my place. Why spend a week surrounded by touts, hordes of tourists and expensive bars when there are so many other island paradises in the Philippines (like Siargao!). That’s why I was surprised when Chris decided to spend almost a week there after TBEX.
He had a lot of mixed feelings about the island on this last trip, specifically how he was viewed as a solo man wandering around at night. I absolutely love his beautiful description of what tourism can do to a place while reflecting on his past memories of the island.
A Letter to the Man That Never Loved Me – This American Girl
Reading this felt like someone had taken my “How Travel is Ruining My Love Life” piece and turned it into a beautiful poem. All of these feelings and emotions Camille so beautifully expressed are things I have thought and felt these last few years.
Learning to Cope With Chronic Pain – Legal Nomads
After contracting Dengue Fever a few years ago, life hasn’t been the same for Jodi. While I knew she suffered from joint issues and cold feet, I had no idea how much she’s been going through. Jodi can’t even touch cold things without experiencing spasms of pain. Even her fingerprints have disappeared?!
Jodi is one of the most talented writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I’m really proud of her for getting this personal. She talks about how hard it is to have an invisible, chronic illness, something my friend Jeremy has been struggling with as well.
What’s Next for November 2016
In addition to trying not to die/ run away/ set my computer on fire, November has a few new adventures. I’m hoping to plan something really fun for Thanksgiving. I’ll also be working away on my e-book and email courses, and last weekend I even embarked on a historical tour of Beijing’s hutongs (LITERALLY in my backyard) with Context Tours!
Also, the election is just a few days away, so I’ll probably be stressing over that. Thankfully I’m able to easily vote from abroad, and I sent in my ballot last week! Let’s hope America has its first female president and not its first dictator…
Have you ever wanted to set your computer on fire? Let me know!