RTW and back: An interview with Amanda of A Dangerous Business

amanda dangerous biz rtw nzmuse

Like moi, A Dangerous Business blogger Amanda Williams doesn’t aspire to a life of perpetual travel. In fact, she actually cut short her RTW trip when she realised she was no longer enjoying herself and finished the second leg separately after returning home to recharge for a bit.

(I don’t think I ever mentioned it here, but T hit a real low point about halfway through ours – on one particularly hellish Italian train ride, I was just about convinced I would have to dispatch him home and finish our trip by myself, which would have made the whole American road trip thing tricky…)

Here’s how she describes herself: I’m just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a “normal” life with a desire to discover the world beyond my Midwest bubble. My adventurous nature and inability to say “no” have led me to some pretty amazing adventures around the world, from swimming with sharks in Belize to hiking on glaciers in New Zealand to playing a concert on the Great Wall of China. I’m here to prove to people that traveling (and especially traveling as a woman) doesn’t have to be scary, lonely, or out of anybody’s reach.

What made you decide to embark on your extended trip? What’s the story there?

I’ve always loved traveling, and for the past few years I envied those “permanent nomads” who flit from place to place and get so see so much of the world. I was nearing the end of graduate school, and so taking off on a long trip right afterwards seemed like perfect timing!

How did you fund the trip?

The way most people do – I saved up money! That, and by the time I left I was making a decent amount of money from my blog and freelance writing, so I knew I would be able to work and earn a little money on the road, too.

What do you wish you knew before leaving? Any advice for would-be RTW travellers?

I wish I would have realized how burnt out I would get by traveling so quickly. By the end of 3 months in Europe, I was exhausted. I should have scheduled in more down-time for myself.

What is the most surprising thing you learned on the road?

I learned that the long-term travel thing really isn’t for me. I LOVE traveling and I love experiencing other cultures and picking out the little things that are the same and different from my own. But I was really missing home after about 2 months. Traveling non-stop for months on end just isn’t for me!

amanda dangerous biz rtw nzmuse 2

What was your favourite destination (or since I know this can be impossible to choose, what’s one place you would return to in a heartbeat?)

Sooooo difficult to choose! London is probably my favorite city in the world, but I also fell in love with Berlin on my RTW trip. Also, Vietnam! I went there during Part 2 of this trip (I ended up going home after 3 months in Europe, and did the Southeast Asia part of the trip separately), and really loved it.

You cut your RTW trip short after realising long term travel isn’t your thing. What was it like returning home?

It actually was a relief to book that ticket home after 3 months in Europe. I didn’t view it as giving up or anything – I just knew it was what I needed. It was DEFINITELY the right decision. And of course my family and boyfriend were really happy to have me home early! Plus, it gave me time to recharge and plan the Asia part of the trip.

Where are you at the moment? Do you plan to stay put – is this your ‘forever’ city?

I’m back in Ohio right now, building up my freelancing business and trying to carve out a career for myself that will allow me to work from anywhere in the world. This definitely isn’t my “forever” home, but it’s home for now. It makes a great base to take shorter trips from!

What’s still on your travel wishlist? Any confirmed trips coming up?

As for my travel wish list… it’s still huge! At the top are South Africa, Colombia, Norway, and Mexico. And as for upcoming trips, I’m doing some US/Canada exploring this summer, with trips to Niagara Falls and Alaska coming up in the next month. Beyond that, I’m currently considering a trip to New Zealand in November (it’s my favorite country ever!), or perhaps going back to Europe for some conferences. As always, who knows where I’ll end up!

Also see: RTW and back with Two for the Road and RTW and back with See You Soon

Link love (Powered by Subway and antibiotics)

nzmuse link love roundup

I’ve had it up to here with winter birthdays. I wasn’t expecting much for my first at home in three years, but I never expected to find myself at the doctor’s that very night – thankfully I didn’t have anything much planned.

Seriously. I might start marking the occasion on January 6 instead. Or something.

This June was the warmest on record in years but I find that frankly unbelievable. Every year winter feels colder and longer, and so far this one has been bloody tough for me. After all, we followed summer around the world last year, and now we’re back in a crappy freezing Auckland rental – any single-digit temperature mornings are one too many in my books.

Being sick also means I haven’t been able to give my present (new running shoes) a whirl yet, so I’m pretty grumpy.

Upside of being sick: lots of meaty reads for you.

This week’s links

I adored Femme Frugality’s guest post on Musical Poem about travel stirring the soul

And Leslie’s piece on her difficult first year in NYC

What it’s like to teach English in Japan (through the JET programme for NZers)

7 signs you haven’t travelled enoughvia World of Wanderlust

Jordann asks: what are your inescapable self-truths? (I have oh-so-many)

10 things our generation will be the last to see, courtesy of Young Adult Money (also: taping songs off the radio!)

Ahh New York. I love you so, grimy subways and all, and wish we had public transport a 10th as good as yours

More and more Americans are embracing extended travel, apparently

Via FQF: Can money take your passion to the next level?

So you got the job – now what? Via Life, Etc

I’ve been trying to keep up with the Hobby Lobby stuff in the US (and failing) but reading lots of good stuff in the process – like this Forbes piece on how insurance is for insuring against calamities and how the US lost sight of that, and the Daily Beast on how the Supreme Court has been skewing pro-gay, anti-women

How an arranged marriage evolved into honest-to-goodness love, recounted hilariously: “When you’ve grown up with the idea that Indian love leads to a rational, calm, reliable marriage and American love leads to a passionate, fragile marriage, then the fact that your Indian parents have fallen in American love is not good.”

Finally, appreciated Indra Nooyi’s honesty the other week when interviewed by The Atlantic: “We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions.”

How long will your car last? A fun rule of thumb

We’ve always paid cash for our cars, with the exception of our second car (a strategy I think we’re going to buck for our next car, which will hopefully last us a minimum of 10 years). Based on our automotive history, I have drawn the conclusion that every $1000 spent = 1 year of life.

Car 1: Red Mazda 626 sedan, $1500

I remember the bank teller looking at me all sideways when I said the cash I was withdrawing was for a car. “Half a car,” I hastily lied, to get him off my back. It served us for probably a little over a year before the gearbox totally gave up.

In between car: We also had a freebie white Corolla hatch worth next to nothing for a few months that helped bridge the gap between the first and second car. I don’t actually remember how it came into our lives/who gave it to us or what specifically happened to it. 

Car 2: White Toyota Levin coupe, $3000

This was all T’s car – his chance to fulfill his desire to have a ‘cool’ car, and learn an expensive lesson in the process. Thanks to this car, we also learned how dang useless the police can be sometimes when it comes to car accidents. I’m really proud of T for going to court and coming out with the result we wanted (in a nutshell: the cops at the scene screwed up, basically tried to lay blame on him rather than the other party, and we refused to lie down and let them walk over us). This one didn’t quite make it to 3 years – maybe 2, actually.

Car 3: White Mazda Familia hatch, $1800

Left in the lurch and scrambling for a vehicle, we wound up with this little thing – again, all we could afford at the time. It is, I think the only car to break down on the road and actually strand us to date. This also remains the only car we’ve ever had that was in an accident where we actually wound up getting damages fixed at the other party’s expense. Unfortunately the engine and rust issues only got worse and eventually proved too much; we farewelled the car not too long after that incident (shiny new back bumper and all). I’d say this lasted us close to a couple of years.

Car 4: Silver Mazda Familia wagon, $4500

Our most expensive car – and the newest we’d ever bought, only being about 12 years old with barely 100,000km when we got it. Also the only car that ever managed to get through a warrant of fitness with no issues at all – you get what you pay for. It was still a pretty old car though, so that lovely streak didn’t last and after one or two warrants, we were back to the stressful cycle of expensive fixes every  6 months in an effort to get it to pass. It also has a weird ghost problem (to do with the tyres/steering/alignment)  that nobody has ever been able to fix.  Nothing that’s terribly off, just an annoying niggle – the pea to T’s princess, if you like.

It’s in a sorry state right now – rubber chunk missing from the steering wheel, no handbrake, no power steering, the ongoing tyre issue, and most recent and worrying, dodgy brakes. It’s coming up on four years, and needs to retire.

Career tip: Play to your strengths

One thing that stuck with me from my  recent training session on mentoring high school students was the strengths based approach.

It seems so logical. Focus on your strengths, rather than solely on tackling your weaknesses. Yet I realised I have not been doing this at all.

For example, an ongoing goal of mine for, oh, a couple of years now, has been to brush up on my coding skills. Yet every time I dived in, trying to dig into CSS, or even starting the Javascript module in Codecademy, it was a CHORE. I didn’t enjoy it, and I wasn’t particularly good at it. The other day I managed to break my blog thanks to a stray < in one of the PHP files. I used to think the concept of testing was pretty cool – essentially trying to break things on your site – but actually doing it on my own blog and the site I work on is bloody tedious.

(On that note, there was a great piece on Mother Jones recently about how computational thinking is the new literacy – the ‘learn to code’ movement is great and all, but programmers need to be able to think about WHAT to build, too, in order to meet needs and solve problems. I definitely felt this during my brief brush with Javascript; it was cool to write code that actually DID something active, but realistically when would I use it?)

I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the natural bent, and I don’t have the desire, since there are no obvious benefits. I’m confident in tweaking code – poking around and figuring out what pieces to change in order to get elements doing what I want them to do. Writing code from scratch – not so much. Getting to the stage where I’d be good enough to do it in my professional life is beyond my capability – and it’s probably not going to be hugely helpful to me. Even if I want to go down the full stack marketing route later on, heavier back end coding skills beyond basic HTML/CSS are not going to be as important as commercial nous and/or analytics. If there is talent besides programmers that we are crying out for in today’s work world, it’s digital analysts! (Seriously, we’re hiring right now.)

I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of clarity about my immediate career path lately (this is my third job, and I finally feel like I’ve found my ‘story’ – a cue for me to tweak my LinkedIn profile soon, actually) and the way forward is not to try be something I’m not. My strengths are in content, not design or development. Focusing on that – particularly content strategy, building on my production and management base – is the obvious move.

In the next few weeks I’m going to have to create a development plan as part of annual reviews at work (a totally new process to me), so now I’ve really got to think about what kinds of specific goals to commit to and how I can get there.

Any tips?

5 things I learned while I was 25

Today I turn 26. Here, I present some life truths I learned this past year. They are MY life truths, anyway; some may apply to you, too.

Thou shalt always wear a bra. You never know when you might have the urge to take a dip in a river.

Eyeshadow makes the best eyeliner. That’s for ease of applying, specific colours, and staying power.

Even old dogs can learn new tricks. Who knew my stance on pets would change so dramatically last year? A month hanging out with five dogs on a farm and I’m a goner. Or that I would embrace merino, overcoming my deep-seated aversion to wool. Seriously, merino is the most amazing fabric – despite all the pieces I’ve read (and written my fair share of) about various NZ companies doing amazing things with merino clothing.

I am probably always going to feel somewhat conflicted about my race. I never know quite how to feel when a shop assistant approaches me and greets me in Mandarin, or a random person (security guard/bus driver/passerby) chucks out a ‘Ni hao’, or an Asian person comes up to me on the street and starts asking me something in a language I don’t understand. Also, in a weird way I’ve finally come full circle; knowing Chinese would definitely be a boon at my job – though even if I’d been interested in learning it as a kid I don’t think I would have been very successful.

Aspiring to more is what defines me. I’ve been thinking about this (inspired by Natalie’s post) and decided that the one thing that best sums me up is I’m always looking to the future, thinking about what comes next and how to get there. And to that end, I’m also starting to think beyond my own little selfish bubble. With age, I’ve finally begun to truly understand how people become political. My top passions are still words, travel, and personal finance (and food might sneak in there too) but increasingly, urban issues are becoming a real priority for me. So much so I’m starting to wonder how I might be able to work in that space at some point down the line. I aspire to live in a world class city, and I feel like Auckland has made so many strides lately; we just have to start working on transport and housing. What we need are more sustainable choices – investing in transport beyond new roads, and bringing the standard of properties up to a basic humanitarian level.

Hitting the financial reset button

Comparing myself to others is always going to be something I struggle with. I’m old enough to realise that this is not a part of myself that’s going to change. And the best way to slay that demon is not to try and squash it, but kill it with reason.

Mostly, whenever I fall into the pit of comparison, I wind up feeling pretty depressed. Yes, we are mid 20s with no debt, but also no assets to speak of and little hope of escaping the hamster wheel of grim, mouldy rentals anytime soon. I can’t help but feel like we’re never really going to pick up pace.

When I think about the people our age I know who’ve managed to buy houses, they’ve all had advantages in one form or another. Most have had parental help – parents who paid some or all of their deposit, either using cash or equity in their own houses. Some have lived at home for years rent free. A couple have had cars bought for or given to them. Some have one partner in the relationship who earns significantly more.

For our situation to change, I think we need two things. One, steady and reasonably-paid employment on T’s part – considering his stints of unemployment add up to a couple years, plus a few more months’ worth of reduced and lost income from injuries on top of that, maybe it’s a wonder we aren’t even further behind. As this Billfold piece wisely observed last month, we really need to start accounting for unemployment in the current environment, and adjust financial advice accordingly.

Two, a steady and reliable car. Going the cheap secondhand route has not served us well. After so many years and a handful of different cars, we’re still exactly where we were on the car front as when we first started out – treading water with maintenance and repairs, with nothing really saved for a better and newer vehicle. Debt-averse as I am, I’m increasingly open to the idea of borrowing for a decent vehicle that we can drive into the ground (10 years at least?) so depreciation doesn’t matter. Vehicle financing options here are still kind of unappealing, but the other day I saw what might be the best offer I’d ever seen – something like 2 percent on new cars? – so things may be changing on that front. I’d much rather pay 2 percent on a new car than 10 percent on a used car that could have had any kind of history, and T’s experience from his stint in car sales should help us in the negotiation stage.

But for my own peace of mind, I think I need to scale back on my expectations. In some ways, this year has worked out better than I expected, but in many ways it also worked out much worse. The long term goal remains buying a house and escaping the terrible Auckland rental market for all the reasons I’ve covered on this blog before, like health, stability, pets, kids – but I’m going to refrain from setting a timeline or any hard measures, because I honestly don’t know what the next few years hold for us.

Guest post: To Shores New— Touring Europe By Sea

Europe is a pretty big place, with all kinds of different places to explore. Taking a cruise is often the best way to see it, even though flights are plentiful. Cruises are much more relaxing, much more convenient, and there’s so much food! In light of this, here are some of the best/coolest locations you can visit by sea.

Barcelona

The land of Gaudi and home of Europe’s hottest football club of the moment, Barcelona has personality in excess. From the magical La Sagrada Familia to Park Güell, there’s no shortage of cultural sights to see. The cruise port is a healthy walk away from La Rambla, a long boulevard with various stands along the way that sell flowers and all kinds of quirky trinkets. The city itself is one of the most walkable around, with a cheap and efficient tram system thrown in.

Flickr user austinevan 

Istanbul

Istanbul is an eclectic mix of the old and new. There’s the Byzantine- and Ottoman- influenced architecture, mixed in with an ever growing array of clubs, bars, and restaurants. Collectively, this results in a place that’s been called “the hippest city in the world.”

Flickr user mickpix 

Corfu

Rooted in art and intellect, Corfu is the Grecian town that Homer called his “beautiful and rich land.” Dramatic mountains and tranquil coast lines create the setting for soaking up the sun and brushing up on local culture and history. Lush trees and olive groves give the island a green glow.

Naples

In terms of sheer beauty and scenery, Naples might just top the list. Take a stroll on this Italian coast and you’ll be entranced by the city’s natural beauty, with Mount Vesuvius staring at you from a distance. Of course, the most unique sight of all might be Pompeii, where the ruins are an example of Mother Nature’s power.

Sights, culture, and sun all await you on a cruise around Europe. Now all you have to do is pack up and go. What are you waiting for?

In defence of touristy places

tourist spots i love - in defence of touristy spots

While I suspect I may lose some cred for admitting to adoring all these destinations, I don’t care. I love them anyway.

Hoi An

nzmuse hoi an

Basically the definition of a tourist town. Were it not for tourism, I’m not sure it would exist. It’s colourful, with fantastic food, a little bit of a time warp in the middle of the country.  As I wrote last year: “It’s all a show, really, but it doesn’t make it any less magical.”

Halong Bay

nzmuse halong bay tourist spot

Yup, another Vietnamese spot!  I had heard negative things about the rubbish and pollution in the waters here, but it was surprisingly clean overall (note that we went during low season). This is a World Heritage site that will leave you feeling humbled and awed.

Santorini

nzmuse santorini tourist spot

The light here is like nothing else. Eat, drink, swim – try to hit the black, red AND white beaches – and be merry. Quite possibly the most romantic spot we visited. Fairly affordable, too.

Venice

nzmuse venice touristy spots

I was prepared for the worst – smelly, grotty, humid canals. But there was absolutely zero stench and while it was rather sweltering in August, I looooved the tiny alleyways, the gelato, and our overpriced gondola ride. ALL OF IT.

Queenstown

nzmuse queenstown touristy spot

Picture-perfect, even if it does get bloody cold down there. (The razor-like winds will cut you almost as deep as Iceland’s gusts.)

 

Link love (Powered by lemonade and spring rolls)

nzmuse blog link love

I got super excited the other week when I saw my bank was pushing a special June offer for its low-interest Visa, with no fees for the life of the card. Anyone in NZ knows that it’s impossible to find a credit card with no annual fees here (though there is now Kiwibank’s Mastercard Zero – I’m not sure when that launched, because I never heard anything public about it and only learned of its existence through a random Quora thread).

Alas, you cannot earn rewards with that card.  Even with account fees, and my bank’s irritating tinkering with the rewards scheme, I still come out ahead overall sticking with my current setup. (And come to think of it, what is the life of a card anyway – is that the life of the physical card, or the actual account? Because if it’s the former, then it would only be a couple years before it expired and I’d have to start paying fees on the new one.)

This week’s links

Ways to be kind to yourself, via Makeup and Mirtazapine

Alexis Grant lays out the cold hard truth: No one will pay you just to write

Kim from So Many Places tries to get her head around returning to the US – and all that entails

Cassie’s turning 30 and has a bunch of astute lessons to share

It’s a fine line … Exactly how confident are you allowed to be before it crosses the line? Via Yes and Yes

Sometimes things happen either all at once or not at all, as Lindsay observes

Athena shares her ‘why’ of personal finance

Here is a pretty awesome and free budget cookbook

A weirdly cool photography project spotlighting mixed race families (though I would consider some of them mixed nationality, not mixed race)

Finally, there are just so many amazing snippets in this piece about Britney in Vegas I have to share:

Single-named DJs pump their skinny arms as women in tight tube dresses and Lucite heels they bought online a year ago straddle mouth-breathing men on VIP couches like they just heard there was an asteroid headed toward earth or just took a handful of Ecstasy; platonic girlfriends decide to make out at no urging at all because we’re in Vegas bitchez! One does not have to go far to feel the erection of a stranger in the rear of one’s jeans. It is in these small, handsy hours of the night that Caesars’ hope for Britney was born…

The first thing you notice when you land in Vegas is all the breasts. Breasts are the shining, veiny centerpiece of the uniforms in Vegas; it’s a city built on the breasts and shoulders of women. The only thing women aren’t in this city are magicians, but they are the people being sawed and made to disappear nightly for the magician’s applause…

They refer to her not as Brit-Brit, which is her family’s nickname for her, but as an assortment of words to describe her made into portmanteaux with her name: When she’s practicing for her show, they call her Rehearsalney. When she’s caught learning choreography or participating in a new sequence, she’s Dancney. When she goes to Target, which is constantly, she’s Errandney. And when she inspires them or pulls something amazing off, which is practically always, if you ask them, she is Godney…

And yes, that does make two weeks of Britney links in a row. Not sorry.

Friday Five: Around the world in flavours

Most couples probably reminisce about their travels over photographs.

We kinda do the same thing … with our tummies.

I’d love to relive (in no particular order):

Flan in Paris

Filo pie in Greece

Deli subs in New York

Pho in Vietnam

All things Italian

An honourable mention also to a few beverages: watermelon smoothies, sugarcane juice, pink lemonade.