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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!
It happened. For the first time in 17 months, I missed a monthly recap! I KNOW.
How did this happen? Well, I was two weeks late with month 16, and then when month 17 rolled around, I was on a two-week trip to Sumatra. With all the business of the last few weeks, I figured I might as well just combine 16 and 17 together and make an epic, two-month recap!
Where I Went
I spent two weeks in Sumatra, Indonesia! I visited Lake Toba on Samosir Island, trekked with orangutans in the jungles of Bukit Lawang, and then traveled to Pulau Weh for some diving.
After Indonesia, I spent the last few weeks in Beijing, house-hunting for my boyfriend Chris, and getting my blog/ life together.
A lot of things went really well these last two months, and I honestly can’t wait to share them with you all!
1. Orangutan Trekking in Bukit Lawang
Bukit Lawang is famous for its orangutan trekking, but I have to say, I was a bit nervous. While I was excited to see the orangutans, I had never trekked before, especially not in the jungle. I was just getting over a major cold, and we’d be camping in the jungle on a two-day trek.
However, once we got started my fears slowly subsided. Sure, the trek wasn’t easy. We slipped and fell into gooey piles of red clay mud, scraped ourselves on trees and branches, and were eaten alive by mosquitos. We trekked all day through a dense jungle, sweating through our clothes as we hiked up and down literal mountains.
But despite all of that, the effort we went through to see these orangutans made it all the more rewarding.
It was incredible.
We saw nine different orangutans, two of which were babies. We ate fresh fruit surrounded by nature. We bathed in the river, played in a waterfall, and even river-rafted all the way back to town.
While it was one of the most exhausting days of my life, I can’t wait to go back!
2. Scuba Diving on Pulau Weh
If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with scuba diving and want to get my Divemaster in the next few years. It’s been over a year since I’d been diving, and I couldn’t wait to get in the water! At Pulau Weh, a small island off the coast of Sumatra in Aceh province, I had two full days of scuba diving and I couldn’t be happier.
This trip was a firm reminder that I need to spend more time in the ocean and less time behind a desk. Maybe sometime soon I’ll relocate to an island for a few months! It will be off-the-beaten-path in Asia with incredible diving, of course.
3. I PAID OFF MY STUDENT LOANS
I DID IT. SERIOUSLY! I’M DONE!!!!
Okay, I’ll stop screaming at you in all caps now.
But seriously, I finally paid off $20,000 USD of student loans (plus interest) in 1.5 years of working as a college counselor in China! Now for the next six months of my contract, I’ll be focusing on saving as much money as possible while I try to grow my blog in my spare time.
The best part is that I didn’t have to make myself miserable to save this money. I drink Starbucks and craft beer. Sometimes I go out to nice restaurants and bars. I buy new clothes and things for my apartment, and I travel internationally during all of my holidays.
I’ll definitely be writing a post soon about how I was able to save this much money in such a short amount of time, and how you can do it too!
4. Blogging Wins
After five years of blogging, I finally feel like I’m on the right track!
Firstly, I hired someone to help me redesign a few elements of my homepage. While my blog name is the same, my tagline is now “Asia off the Beaten Path”, which I really think represents the spirit of Adventures Around Asia. She also helped me create a beautiful opt-in image for my Ultimate China Survival Guide!
This Giant 6,000+ word survival guide comes in two forms: one of which is hosted on my blog, and the other which is a downloadable PDF. This PDF has even more information, with directions to a secret section of the Great Wall, three customizable itineraries, and more!
Finally, I have a few surprises up my sleeve in the next month or two! I’m currently developing an e-course with Teachable, and I’ll also be speaking at a travel blogging conference on the basics of email marketing!
5. Chris and His Family Moved to Beijing!
My boyfriend Chris FINALLY moved to Beijing, along with his brother, his brother’s girlfriend, and their baby. While it’s been a bit hectic getting them settled, it’s been so nice to have them all here.
Chris and I are no longer long-distance, which is amazing. I’ve also had a great time bonding with Chris’ family with and without him (more on that later).
1. Chris Broke His Arm
If you haven’t already read the epic saga of Chris’ broken arm, let me fill you in on the basics:
Chris and I were diving on Pulau Weh, and on our last dive, Chris came up a bit earlier than me and decided to head up to the roof of the dive boat to get a little sun. As he was taking off his wetsuit, a giant wave hit the boat and he fell from the roof, hit the side of the boat and toppled into the water.
We rushed him to the island medical clinic, but without an x-ray, it was impossible to know how bad the damage was. We were flying home to China the next day and decided to make a sling out of my sarong and wait until we were back in Beijing.
To our surprise, Chris’ arm was horribly broken and he needed surgery in order to fix it. Faced with the prospect of a $4,000 USD surgery in China (because of course, he didn’t buy travel insurance), Chris decided to fly back to the socialist paradise that is Australia where he could get the surgery done for free.
Chris is finally back in Beijing, where his arm is healing. Stitches are out and he’s on the mend. Thankfully Chris is Australian, so he was able to afford the surgery, but things could’ve been pretty bad if he’d had to do it here in China.
Morale of the story. BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE.
2. That One Time We Almost Missed Four Flights
On the way back from Pulau Weh, Chris and I had a solid 26 hours of transit: one ferry and four flights on two different airlines. I don’t know why we thought this would be a good idea, but with only two weeks in Sumatra, we wanted as much time on the island as we could get, especially considering the insane amount of travel days we had on this trip!
Well, long-story-short: our ferry left an hour early and we almost missed it, which would’ve meant missing all of our flights. Then our second flight from Sumatra to Jakarta was late, causing us to almost miss our international flight back to China. Then the NEXT flight was late, resulting in our third Amazing Race moment in less than 24 hours.
We did all of this with a broken arm.
2. House Hunting Sh** Storm
With Chris in the hospital, it was up to me to help his brother’s family find an apartment in Beijing. While Chris’ brother’s company did provide a few agents, none of them were very helpful, so I decided to find one on my own. I searched for apartments on a popular housing agency app and contacted a real estate listed for an apartment we liked.
Later that day, the agent showed us three apartments right in the neighborhood we wanted. Two of the three were perfect, however, while we were trying to decide between the two, the agent informed us that the third apartment was completely against renting to foreigners.
The Bed Situation
Chris’ brother eventually signed a lease with the other apartment, with the promise that they’d buy a washing machine and a bed for Chris. (Apartments in China are supposed to come fully furnished.) However, when the bed arrived, it was absolutely horrible.
An average bed goes for about $300 in China, but this bed could not have cost more than $100. The whole thing was an Ikea nightmare, but worse because three load-bearing screws would just not go in. Also, the “mattress” they ordered was basically a thick straw pad.
Then The Landlady Tried to Kick them Out
Two days later, the group of them went to the police station to register as new tenants. Remember, this is really important because if you don’t do this you might get arrested like me. While they were at the police station, the landlady noticed that the group of them were all on 6-month tourist visas and freaked out.
How can you have a year-long lease if you only have 6-month visas? Aren’t you supposed to be working as a teacher here? Why are you on a tourist visa??!!
Thankfully the policeman was nice and didn’t deport Chris’ brother for working on a tourist visa. However, the landlady was having none of this. She gave the group three days to move out of the apartment and said she’d refund all of our money.
While there’s no way we can register them at the police station now (the policeman basically told them to never come back), it’s totally possible to register them as a guest in someone else’s home. Chris has been registered as a guest in my apartment for the last few months. Hey, I’m not even on the official lease of my apartment!
The main issue now is just calming down the landlady so we don’t have to find a new apartment. She seems to be coming around now that she knows we can register them elsewhere, but she still changes her mind every few hours.
I’ll keep you updated.
Oh, Chinese Bureaucracy
Let’s be honest, this whole situation is crazy. Chris and his family may or may not have to vacate their apartment in three days. We can easily bypass laws and rules because the registration system of foreigners is a complete joke.
However, had this been America, an investigation probably would’ve been launched into the legality of Chris’ brother’s job and the company he works for. Granted, none of this would’ve happened in America because the police don’t force foreigners to report their accommodation to the police… yet.
My Most Popular Post
In January, my most popular post was 5 Lessons I’ve Learned in FIVE YEARS Years of Blogging. In this post I got very real about making my blog a business, filling you in on all the struggles I’ve had, fumbling around for the last five years. I’m finally starting to figure things out, though, which is great considering the insane amount of time I’ve put into this website.
Last month, you all loved the epic story of Chris’ broken arm: We Didn’t Buy Travel Insurance, Then Chris Broke His Arm and We Almost Missed 4 Flights. While you got a little taste of this epic saga above, be sure to read the whole thing for all the juicy details!
It’s no surprise, my best Instagrams of the month are from Sumatra! This one was taken on Lake Toba, just up the hill from our guesthouse.
This next snapshot was taken by Chris in Bukit Lawang on one of the many bridges crossing the river. We were shocked at how beautiful Bukit Lawang is and even extended our stay an extra day just to enjoy the town.
When I went to Bukit Lawang for Orangutan trekking I had no idea the town would be so scenic. I added an extra day to my trip just to spend time in this incredible river town. I really want to go back and spend a week here swimming in the river, hiking though the jungle… and maybe I’ll do a 3 day orangutan trek next time!
Song of the Month
If you follow me on Snapchat, you know I love to play music while wandering through the hutongs. Yes, I do play music out loud on my phone while I snap.
Well, last week Chris and I may or may not have gotten a bit too into this song, and we filmed a few snaps of us dancing in the street to this masterpiece as Chinese elderly locals laughed at us.
I’ve also gotten really into this new song by The Knocks and Matthew Koma!
What I’m Reading
I read some really great books these last two months! Firstly, I finished up Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding. If you haven’t read this book GET ON IT NOW. Seriously, the book just kept getting better and better.
1. Without You, There is No Us– Suki Kim
This book is incredible. It follows Suki Kim, real-life author-journalist who spent a year teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s elite. Posing as a missionary, Suki was constantly watched by both the North Korean government, and the religious teachers around her. This book is by far the best inside look at North Korea and is a must-read for everyone.
2. Wild– Cheryl Strayed
Continuing along the strong, female author line I’ve been going these past few months, I’ve been working on Wild by Cheryl Strayed. If you haven’t already seen the movie with Reese Witherspoon, Wild is the true story of a 26-year-old woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo for 100 days to deal with the loss of her mother, her divorce, infidelity issues and a mild addiction to heroin.
Things really went downhill for Cheryl after her mother died, and she spiraled out of control. But through reading her journey on the trail, you get to see a strength and resilience I only wish I had. Even if you’ve already seen the movie, this book is well-worth a read!
Best Blog Posts
I’ve been keeping track of my favorite blog posts for the last two months, and these are the top three!
When Did Travel Blogging Get So Boring? – This Battered Suitcase
Seriously, how did I JUST find this girl’s blog? In the push to make money and get more views, it feels like most bloggers just write about the same old stuff. It can be super tempting to write listicles that do well on Pinterest, or how-to’s about stupid topics and make a ton of money in affiliate sales. But my favorite blogs are the ones with personality, and this girl packs a punch!
A Tehrani Tinderella and A Persian Wedding – The Broke Backpacker
Remember that time Will from The Broke Backpacker met an Iranian girl on Tinder and had a temporary marriage to travel with her? Well, now they’re married for real! Check out their crazy love story from start to finish.
I Failed as a Digital Nomad– Eva Explores
I’ve been an aspiring digital nomad for a LONG time now, and sometimes I find myself glamorizing the lifestyle a little too much. In this post, Eva is really open and honest about why the lifestyle wasn’t working for her and gives practical tips for how not to fall into the same boat.
What’s Happening in March 2017?
At the end of March, I’ll be heading to Hainan, the Hawaii of China!! Not many Western travelers make it to Hainan, and if they do, it’s usually to Sanya. So for this trip, I’ll be working with the board of tourism to bring more international travelers to Hainan’s Lingshui!
Never heard of it? I’ll be lounging on beautiful beaches, sampling puffer fish porridge in a floating village, participating in a Li Minority festival, and much, more. The best part? Chris and Lena are coming too!
How has your New Year been? Let me know in the comments!