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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.

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What I Was Up to This January

I spent the entire month of January in Australia, but I can’t really say I stayed put. While most of the month involved me working and living at Chris’ home in Ben Lomond NSW, I did take a few trips!

We spent the New Year at Green Valley Farm, by far the world’s most interesting theme park. I also took a quick trip to Bellingen and Coffs Harbour to enjoy the Bellingen market and Coffs’ incredible beaches.

Finally, I spent the end of the month down in Sydney and Newcastle, where we stayed with Chris’ friends and family, did the touristy sights, and went wine tasting in the Hunter Valley!

Where I Went in January
  • Ben Lomond
  • Green Valley Farm
  • Coffs Harbour
  • Bellingen
  • Newcastle
  • The Hunter Valley
  • Sydney

We look fabulous!!


Here are a few of the absolute best moments of January!

New Years at Green Valley

While this New Year’s wasn’t wild and crazy (I’m always disappointed by party-heavy New Years anyway), I still had an amazing time with Chris’ family and all the nieces and nephews.

Green Vally Farm is literally the world’s most interesting theme park with hand-crafted rides made out of metal that look like they’re going to kill you. There’s also a pretty awesome waterslide and a zoo with a few giant ostriches.

We spent our afternoons going down the giant waterslide a million times, then cooked fabulous dinners in the cottages and dorms we rented for the three days we were there. In the evenings we played Cards Against Humanity and drank plenty of beer.

On New Year’s Eve, the group of us got decked out in glowsticks and glow crowns, and the boys decorated their beards with glitter. It took us weeks to get all of the glitter out of Chris’ beard, but it was worth it!

so cute!!

Petting a Baby Kangaroo

As an American, of course, I get super excited when I see kangaroos in Australia (unless I’m driving, and then I’m nervous). When I discovered that Chris’ neighbor had adopted a motherless baby kangaroo, I knew I needed to go check it out.

Chris, his brother, the nephew and I went to go see the baby kangaroo one afternoon and we were lucky enough to run into his neighbors while we awkwardly peered over their fence.

Chris’ neighbors were super nice and brought out the baby for us to pet and play with. They even let two-year-old Elliot and I have turns bottle feeding him!

Coffs Harbour!

A Weekend Trip to Coffs and Bellingen

When in Australia, you have to go to the beach. Chris and I took a weekend trip down to Coffs Harbour and Bellingen, which are about 30-minutes apart from one another. We were lucky enough to stay with one of Chris’ mom’s earliest students who opened up her house and let us use her guest room while we were there.

We had a wonderful day at the beach and met up with Chris’ high school friend Stewie and his wife Laura. We also had a great day at the Bellingen Market, a giant monthly market full of food, crafts, clothes, and more.

While in Coffs and Bellingen, we had some amazing healthy food (I may have had rainbow bowls for brunch twice) and seafood right on the beach. If you’re ever in the area check out Cafe Treeo, Latitude 30, and Cedar Bar!

Wow the beaches in Newcastle are nice!

Wine Tasting at the Hunter Valley

Do you want to know what’s great about wine tasting in Australia? It’s FREE.

While the pours are a bit smaller, I definitely prefer it this way because you can try tons of wines without having to pay a premium to try them.

Since Chris and I were staying in Newcastle and wanted to drink without worrying about driving, we opted to take a tour of the Hunter Valley through Tastes of the Hunter Valley with the awesome Suzanne, who picked us up in Newcastle and drove us all the way down to the Hunter Valley.

Chris and I shared the wine tour with a bachelorette party and a group of girls celebrating a birthday (yes, Chris was the only guy on our 20-person tour) and had a great time sampling wines, beer, and spirits.

Our favorite wines were at Capercaillie, where we ended up buying a bottle of pinot grigio and sparkling red to bring back to the US and split with my parents.

Meeting Chris’ Friends and Family

While I’d already met most of Chris’ immediate family at Christmas, I did have the opportunity to meet up with a ton of Chris’ friends and extended family members this January. I met Chris’ high school and college friends, blogging friends, and even one of his mom’s students from her first year of teaching.

I also was able to stay with Chris’ aunt and uncle while we were in Newcastle, and I got to see tons of family photos and videos. Chris’ friend Magro also let us stay with him and his wife Nicole while staying in Sydney.

One of my favorite meetups was my very last day in Sydney. A large group of Chris’ friends met up with us at Four Pines Brewery on Manly Beach. They had great food and excellent beer (especially the alcoholic ginger beer), and I even got to take the ferry past the Opera House on the way there!

Not much Internet out here


Not everything this month was perfect. There were a few downsides to the last few weeks.

Stupid Optus

Living in the Australian countryside, the only way to get home internet is via 3G. This means the internet is limited and expensive. So when Chris spotted a deal where we could pay $10 for 50GB of data on his phone, we immediately jumped on it.

However, when the time came around for us to get our data, it just didn’t arrive. Chris spent hours on the Optus help chat with absolutely nothing to show for his time. We then resorted to harassing them on Twitter, which got their attention but still didn’t lead to anything. After about 3 days of help chats and feisty tweets, they finally gave us about half the data we were supposed to get, which was enough for us to finally give up.

Seriously Optus, how hard is it for you to just add data to our account? Even if they accidentally gave us double data or something, it’s not like it costs them anything to give us internet.

The Internet is not a finite resource!!!

This experience made me really happy to be heading to the US where the internet is unlimited and we have more than one choice for data (Optus is the only thing that works where Chris lives which is weird because most of the country can only get Telstra. They’re both awful).

At least this was waiting for us in Bellingen

Driving the Waterfall Way

Driving from Ben Lomond to Coffs Harbour and Bellingen was horrible. I’m a pretty decent driver, but it had been over a year since I’d driven a car, and I’d only had limited practice driving on the left side of the road.

While I had become comfortable driving on country roads and giant highways, I was not ready for the teeny tiny windy cliffside roads at 60 mph (100 km/h). Not to mention, Chris’ dad kindly let us borrow his car, however, his car is very wide, and I was constantly worried about getting smashed by semis coming one way, and scraping and/or falling off a cliff on the other side.

For those of you who’ve never driven in Australia, I also have to mention that Australia’s speed limits are crazy-high! Expect to be driving over 70 mph on the highway, and 60 mph on tiny, windy country roads with enough space for two cars to barely pass by one another and no center line.

Australia, your speed limits are dangerous!

Who knows where Im headed next!

Trying to Pack for a Year

While I’m used to moving overseas, I had no idea what to do with myself when I tried to pack for a year in the US, Africa, and who knows where else. I don’t have a medium-sized suitcase, so I decided to take a small carry on suitcase and a travel backpack.

I actually have no idea where I’ll be heading after a few months in Tanzania (probably Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia), so it was almost impossible to know what to pack. Should I bring my dive goggles and a sarong? Do I need my elephant pants?!

I also found it painful to put all of my cute winter clothes and shoes in crates. What if I get cold in Seattle? Should I really not even bring one pair of boots? Am I alright with just one light jacket??

I also have some “special” Australian gifts which made TSA a bit confused. There may or may not be a giant crystal and a boomerang in my carry on…

Packing is never fun. Trying to pack for a year when you don’t even know where you’re going is almost impossible.

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For the last few years, I’ve been working hard to help my readers find jobs in China. Whether it’s teaching abroad, working as a college counselor, or teaching drama, the one thing that’s really shocked me is the quality of resumes I receive from many applicants.

When it comes to teaching abroad, you can’t just send any old resume. You need to make a resume that’s professional and tailor-made for the job you’re applying for.

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Resumes are the first point of reference any company or school has when it comes to working with you, and you’ll want it to be perfect.

Today Mary Walton, writing and resume expert from the blog Simple Grad is here to talk to all of you about how to create the perfect teach abroad resume. She’s written for big sites like Huffington Post and Forbes on the subject, and has some expert advice for anyone who is planning on teaching abroad!

Try the Free Teach Abroad Mini Course!

teach abroad in China!

How to Write the Perfect Teach Abroad Resume

The following is a guest post written by Mary Walton of Simple Grad

Teaching abroad can be an amazing experience, so it’s no wonder that you’re looking to make your mark teaching English in a new country. However, you’ve got to write that resume first. It’s the first impression you’ll make on your possible recruiters, so you’ve got to make it count. Here’s how you can write the best EFL resume that shows you off in the best light.

Do your research!

Look Up Requirements For Your Chosen Country

You know what’s required of you when you write a resume in your home country. You’ll have to remember when writing this one that different countries have different requirements. For example, you may be required to include a picture of yourself, your marital status, or your age. Take the time to research resume conventions in your chosen country. That way, your resume is much more likely to be considered.

Remember: Not everyone is fully fluent in English

Write For Non-Native English Speakers

This sounds obvious, but you need to remember that the person reading your resume isn’t likely to be a native English speaker. That means that you need to write your resume with them in mind. The best way to do this is to lay out information clearly, and ditch jargon wherever possible. It’s also a good idea to avoid abbreviations, such as Mgr for Manager, as this can be confusing. The easier your resume is to read, the better.

I want to teach cute kids!

Include A Career Objective

Once you’ve included your contact details, you’ll be required to include a career objective. This is usually one to three sentences long and should sum you up as a candidate for the position. For example, you could write “To obtain a teaching position teaching English to Elementary students in China” or “To use my five years of ESL teaching experience to benefit students in Dubai”.

Getting my Master’s Degree!

Highlight Your Education

“In many international markets, your education is incredibly important,” says resume editor Peter Lawson at Academized. “You’ve got to highlight all your achievements in your education, so show off the qualifications you have.” If you have any specialised teaching degrees, such as a TEFL degree. The best way to list them is to list your highest degree first and work backwards from there.

Try the Free Teach Abroad Mini Course!

Just a few of my high school girls

Lay Out Your Resume Well

A good resume is one that a recruiter can read through quickly, and find exactly what they’re looking for. You’ll need to lay yours out so it’s easy to read, especially considering that English may not be the reader’s first language. For example, you’ll need to use headings to separate out each section of your resume and help readers pick the information they want out. Also, using bullet points is a good way of distilling information down to just what the recruiter needs.

My Beijing office!

Use Tools To Help You

There are plenty of tools online that are designed to help you write a good resume. Put them to use! Here’s a few you can use as you’re writing:

  • Resume Service: This resume writing service can edit an existing resume, or create a new one from scratch.
  • Via Writing: Check out this blog to help you improve your grammar skills.
  • State Of Writing: There are lots of writing guides that can help you with resume writing here.
  • Grammarix: Easy online grammar checker.
  • Cite It In: Use this tool to cite any sources you use in text correctly.
  • Easy Word Count: Check the length of your resume with this tool.

Skill: I speak Chinese

List Both Hard And Soft Skills

To be an effective EFL teacher, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate both hard and soft skills in your resume. These will show that you have a wide range of skills that will benefit your students. Examples of hard skills include:

  • Teaching experience
  • Proficiency in languages other than English
  • Computer skills
  • Writing/editing skills

Examples of soft skills are:

  • Communication
  • Patience
  • Being adaptable
  • Crisis management

proofread, proofread, proofread!

Proofread And Edit

Finally, you’ll need to proofread your resume before you send it out. It’s easy to make simple mistakes in your writing, but if you don’t check for them first it can make you look unprofessional, so your resume may be passed over. Build time into your writing schedule for editing and proofreading, and recruit a friend to help if you can.

These tips will help you write the EFL resume that’s bound to get you noticed. Again, remember that this is the first impression you’ll make as a teacher. You want to come across as capable, professional, and ready to do the job.

Try the Free Teach Abroad Mini Course!

You got this!

About the Author

Mary Walton is a professional editor, online tutor, and the owner of Simple Grad. Based in Santa Monica, she lived in Australia for 10 years and gained her degree in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. Her current freelance role allows her to travel around the world, and by sharing what she’s learned, she hopes others will start to love learning just as much as she does.

Follow Mary on Twitter and Linkedin!



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If there was one piece of advice I heard over and over when planning my trip to Japan, it was “stay in a ryokan!!!”

After hiking through Japan’s Kumano Kodo Iseji route for two weeks, I became obsessed with the traditional Japanese ryokan guesthouse. I loved sleeping on a futon laid on a tatami mat floor and soaking in a large tub or onsen every night. The incredible food and family atmosphere was so great that I didn’t even mind shuffling along a cold hallway in the middle of the night to use the communal toilet.

When it came time for my trip to Tokyo, I knew I wanted to stay someplace a bit different. Who needs a generic hotel when you can have your own modern Tokyo Ryokan experience?

That’s when I found Andon Ryokan.

Have you slept on a tatami mat floor?

Andon Ryokan: A Blend of Old and New

Andon Ryokan is the perfect combination of Japan’s traditional ryokan guesthouses and all of the modern conveniences you might find in a friendly hostel, along with the architecture and styling of a boutique hotel.

Andon Ryokan definitely lives up to the incredible traditions of the ryokans I experienced in Mie Prefecture. You’ll sleep on a futon laid out on your tatami mat floor, and you’re given the world’s most comfortable slippers to wear around inside. (Seriously, where can I buy these?!)

Just like a traditional ryokan, Andon Ryokan will serve you a delicious breakfast. However, in addition to the Japanese set breakfast, you can also order Western favorites like eggs and bacon or french toast! I had two breakfasts while I stayed at Andon, and both were delicious.

Check Prices on Booking.com!

I love this jacuzzi!

A Modern Onsen Experience

Andon Ryokan even has its own onsen on the top floor. But rather than a traditional onsen, Andon has a jacuzzi!

Next to the jacuzzi is a shower where you can follow the Japanese custom of cleaning yourself before entering the onsen. Then you can soak in the nude to your heart’s content.

Andon Ryokan knows that many international guests aren’t so comfortable with public nudity, so they developed a booking system for the onsen. Just sign up your name and room number and you can have the onsen all to yourself for 30 minutes! It may not seem like a long time, but in that hot water 30 minutes is definitely enough.

After weeks of having to split up for our onsen time, I really loved the fact that Chris and I could actually soak in an onsen together for once.

Usually, the onsen finishes up about 10 pm, but on the weekends this jacuzzi stays open past midnight, making it the perfect way to end your day. The best part? It’s completely free if you’re staying at Andon.

Sign up for one of their courses!

The Conveniences of a Hostel

One thing I absolutely love about hostels is their affordable community activities. Andon Ryokan’s lobby is full of posters detailing sake tasting, origami courses, calligraphy classes, and more. If you’re a solo traveler, or you’re looking for something to do or a good way to meet people, Andon’s events are actually really affordable and are offered almost every day!

Andon Ryokan has great community spirit. Travelers of all ages congregate in the lobby area where you can treat yourself to complimentary coffee and green tea. At breakfast we were surrounded by other travelers, chatting about their Tokyo adventures.

Here you can also purchase very affordable passes for both the metro and the bus system. We purchased a 3-day metro pass and used it religiously every day.

Boutique Hotel Art and Design

Andon Ryokan is more than just a traditional ryokan. The entire property has a unique design, with metal accents, art installations in the stairwell, hand-made comic books attached near the toilets, paintings on the bathroom walls, and a funky hot tub room design.

I really loved how in this ryokan, old meets new in every single aspect. You might sleep on a tatami mat floor, but the window and shelves in your room are all made of futuristic industrial metal.

One interesting fact we learned while staying here is that Andon means “lantern” in Japanese. Because of this, the entire ryokan is dimly lit with interesting light accents. In this way, the rooms are supposed to look as if they’re lit by lanterns just outside.

A cool design is something you just don’t see in Tokyo’s budget hotels, which is why I was so impressed that Andon managed to incorporate this while also offering affordable accommodation.

Andon Ryokan’s Beautiful Rooftop

While I didn’t spend much time on Andon’s rooftop considering it was December, I did go up and have a look on my last day. Wow, is this rooftop stunning.

On the very top of Andon Ryokan, you can have your breakfast with a view. Here you’ll look out over all of Ueno with a perfect view of the Tokyo Skytree. While you do have to climb a pretty precarious set of ladder stairs to get up there, the views are something you definitely can’t miss.

I spent a lot of time in this lobby

Family Atmosphere

I absolutely love it when you can get to know the owners of a hotel or hostel. At Andon Ryokan, you’ll definitely spend time chatting with the owner, Aya, who takes the time to help you choose a metro card or learn the bus routes.

From talking with her, you can really tell that she cares a lot about the traditions of Japan and sharing them with international visitors. She negotiates great deals on metro and bus cards for her guests and loves showing off the local neighborhood, right near Asakusa.

While at Andon Ryokan, you’ll also probably meet Aya’s daughter, who cooks a mean breakfast and regularly brings her adorable baby to work. You’ll see her cleaning rooms with her baby asleep on her back, or hanging out in the lobby, letting all of us coo over how cute her daughter is.

Loved the comfy sandals

Andon Ryokan: Bang for Your Buck

Finding an affordable hotel in Tokyo is a struggle. Even hostel dorms can go for $40-$50 a night, and tiny budget hotels are all at least $80-$100 a room.

After a very, very forgettable night in the world’s smallest budget hotel room in Nagoya, Chris and I were looking for something that actually provided a unique experience without costing a month’s salary for a three-night stay.

When we stumbled on Andon Ryokan, we were both very pleasantly surprised. While the rooms are indeed very small (welcome to Tokyo!), this hotel provides all of the conveniences of a fancy hostel, with the traditions and perks of a ryokan, and the design of a boutique hotel. Oh… and a private soak in a jacuzzi?!

Chris and I were sold.

Check Prices on Booking.com!

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We can all be a victim of our own expectations sometimes, and for me, that was my trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka in a nutshell. I had been dreaming about visiting Japan for YEARS, and my bucket list was out of control.

Living in China, I could practically taste Japan it was so close. But every time I tried to buy a ticket, the prices were astronomical due to the Chinese holidays. When I finally had a chance to visit after years and years of dreaming, I was so excited I could hardly contain myself.

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The Japan Plan: Mie, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka

My plan was to spend two weeks hiking the Kumano Kodo Iseji first and then spend almost three weeks exploring Japan’s most popular tourist cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

I had dreams of geisha spotting in Gyon, hiking Fushimi Inari, wandering around Harajuku, eating my way through Osaka, checking out the Golden Pavillion, munching on conveyor belt sushi, rocking out at the Robot Restaurant, grabbing a drink at Golden Gai and getting drunk food at Piss Alley, petting deer in Nara, exploring Himeiji Castle… you name it.

My Japan bucket list for these three cities was neverending. I’d read so many blog posts, my Pinterest board has years-worth of pins, and I was beyond excited.

Hiking stunning mountain passes

Hiking the Kumano Kodo Through Mie Prefecture

While I was super excited to visit the touristy side of Japan, I was beyond nervous to spend two-weeks hiking through Mie Prefecture along the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route. I’d never done a long-term hike before, and the idea of a 170 km pilgrimage was more than a little daunting.

At first, I suffered a bit of culture shock, trying to adjust myself to Mie Prefecture’s strict traditional customs. I dove head-first into the waters of Japanese culture, and it definitely took a few days to get used to all of the new traditions. Chris and I joked that we constantly felt like barbarians… bulls in a China Japan shop.

Praying at a Shinto Shrine

Exploring a Different Side of Japan

But after a few days of hiking with our new Japanese friends, we felt like pros!

We learned how to bow appropriately at Shinto shrines, give a proper offering, and how you’re supposed to walk on the edge of the path because the center is reserved for the gods. We learned how to properly wash at an onsen, and how to take off our shoes backward while stepping up onto the clean floor.

We spent every night sleeping on a tatami mat floor and learned how to make the bed ourselves. We memorized countless Japanese phrases and said “konichiwa” and “ohio gozaimas” to everyone we met with a bow.

Locals showing us around Uo-Machi Fishing Village

We ate fresh sashimi, cheap tempura udon, and traditional ryokan breakfasts and dinners. We spent our evenings with ryokan owners who didn’t speak a word of English and rented a few rooms out of their lovely wooden homes. We met the owner of a sake brewery that showed us the farm where he grows his own rice.

We listened to a woman sing a traditional Japanese folk song while sitting on top of a mountain pass with a view of the ocean. We had a Japanese BBQ at a campsite by a crystal-clear river and listened to old records with an Airbnb host in his tiny speakeasy attic room.

In short, we had an incredible, immersive experience, and it completely ruined Japan’s tourist trail for me.

I had to battle for this photo

How Mie Prefecture Ruined Japan’s Tourist Trail

Going off the beaten path FIRST is never a good idea. After the magic of the Kumano Kodo Iseji, I really struggled to enjoy Japan’s most famous sights.

I couldn’t figure out what it was. I lived in China for five years, so I’m no stranger to tourists and crowds. But I will say that the level of international tourism in Japan really did shock me, especially after having so much of Mie Prefecture all to myself.

Everyone always writes about how much they love Japan, and it’s no different for me. I LOVE Japan. I couldn’t get enough of Mie Prefecture, and I’d love to go back and rent a little house in Kyoto.

But when it comes to Japan’s tourist trail, I really think the Kumano Kodo ruined it for me. Here’s Why:

Kumano Hayatama Taisha!

1. Meiji Shrine Ruined by Ise Jingu and Hayatama Taisha

To be honest, I was a bit shrined-out after hiking the Kumano Kodo, but I decided to head to Meiji Shrine anyway since I was already in the area.

When I first arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes. No one was bowing at any of the torii gates, people were walking down the center of the path, and there were just SO MANY PEOPLE inside. After two weeks of painstakingly following all of the religious practices and Shinto traditions, seeing the crowds at Meiji shrine was actually shocking.

Wash your hands before you pray

For me, Ise Jingu and Kumano Hayatama Taisha, are just as beautiful and majestic as Meiji, but without all the crowds. However, my favorite shrine was actually the small, local shrine my Airbnb host took me to one morning in a quiet, farming neighborhood.

Shinto shrines are absolutely beautiful, but the most stunning aspect is definitely their connection with nature. Because of this, they’re best observed in quiet. It can be hard to appreciate the spiritual aspect of the shrine’s connection with nature when you’re surrounded by tourists clambering for a photo.

The BEST tuna sashimi in Mie

2. Tsukiji Fish Market Ruined by Mie’s Sashimi

One of the things I was most excited for in Japan was the fresh seafood. However, after weeks of hiking along Mie Prefecture and eating incredible, affordable fish, it was hard to see why I should have to pay over $30 USD for a small plate of sashimi at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

While I expected the cities to be a bit more expensive than Mie Prefecture, it’s a bit shocking to see the prices in action. The conveyor belt sushi in Tokyo was extremely expensive compared to the fresh sashimi donburi bowls I had on Mie’s coast, and nowhere near as delicious.

Eventually, I just gave up on having fresh fish all the time and opted for more affordable meals of ramen, udon, and curry, all of which were great. However, I couldn’t help but miss my affordable, incredible fish in Mie.

Chilling on the Elephant’s Back

3. Mie’s Hiking Ruined Nikko Too

Nikko had always been on our Tokyo itinerary with its beautiful mountains, temples, and waterfalls. But after two weeks of hiking literal mountains, a trip to Nikko just didn’t make sense anymore.

What was Nikko but a more-crowded Mie Prefecture? What temples were we going to see in Nikko that we hadn’t already seen in Mie? What waterfalls could be better than the ones we spotted along the Kumano Kodo?

I’d paddle boarded down a crystal clear river, hiked to the top of the Elephant’s Back with a view of the ocean, slept on tatami mat floors with stunning lake views… what could Nikko offer but the same scenery with more people?

WOW the crowds at Harajuku

4. The Crowds EVERYWHERE

After two weeks of walking through Mie Prefecture’s countryside, strolling through towns where we bowed and said hello to each person individually, the tourist crowds were a shock to my system.

Asakusa, the Golden Pavilion, Harajuku… every place we visited was packed wall-to-wall with tourists. I made the mistake of visiting Harajuku on a Saturday, and I could barely even move there were so many people on the main street. I can’t even imagine what the area is like in high season. I..

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Whenever I travel, I always try to choose hotels and hostels that are unique or have a story. I’d much rather stay in a family run guesthouse, or a quirky boutique hotel, than a generic chain resort. Sometimes the place you stay can be a destination in and of itself, and I may or may not have a few hotel properties on my bucket list.

When I first read about the Park Hotel Tokyo’s artist rooms on I Am Aileen, I knew I needed to book a stay when I finally made it to Tokyo.

Sure, it might’ve taken me almost a year to get here, but it was worth it! Not only did I stay for three full nights, I got to experience two different rooms, including my absolute dream room: Geisha Goldfish!

Hello Tokyo Tower!

Park Hotel Tokyo’s Artist Rooms

If you’re going to stay in the Park Hotel Tokyo, you have to book an Artist Room. These incredible rooms have all been decorated by different artists and have their own unique theme. Some rooms only took a few weeks to create, while others took almost a year of work!

Loving the Zodiac room!

My Artist Room Experience

Chris and I had the chance to stay in both the Zodiac and Geisha Goldfish rooms, both of which were incredible. On check-in, we were asked to choose which room we’d like to stay in. I was a little bummed that my favorite room, Geisha Goldfish, wasn’t available, but I was happy to stay in one of their other amazing rooms.

However, after hearing that Geisha Goldfish was my favorite, Park Hotel Tokyo gave me the opportunity to switch rooms after the first night!

After looking through Park Hotel’s photobook of the rooms, Chris and I settled on the Zodiac room for our first night, which is Park Hote’s most popular artist room.

How many Zodiac animals can you see here?

The Zodiac Room

Created by artist Ryosuke Yasumoto, the Zodiac room is absolutely stunning. You really have to see the work in person to understand how much detail goes into this room. Not only are all 12 Zodiac animals present, the walls also contain a cat and weasel who “missed out on being chosen” for the Zodiac.

Hello little mouse!

While I usually gravitate towards more colorful art, I loved the 3-D pop-out animals that are found around the room, as well as the Japanese poems written on the walls. The view of the Tokyo tower from the large window certainly didn’t hurt either!

Isn’t it beautiful??

The Geisha Goldfish Room

After the first day, Chris and I switched to my favorite room: Geisha Goldfish. The colors in this room are absolutely breathtaking, with pinks, reds, and oranges. I absolutely love how artist Aki Narita painted goldfish on the walls and ceiling to make it feel like the goldfish are swimming all around you.

I have a big soft spot for goldfish in East-Asian art, and I even have a tattoo of a Chinese watercolor goldfish on my shoulder. I’m also a little obsessed with geishas, and may or may not have spent hours reading up on the traditions and differences between a geisha and maiko before I went to Kyoto…

The amount of detail is crazy!

The amount of detail in this room is absolutely breathtaking. From the geishas playing a string game to the fact that the geishas behind the bed appear perfectly in the mirror, this room definitely had a lot of love and work go into it.

Check Prices on Booking.com!

The Yokai Room!

Exploring the Other Artist Rooms

On my second full day, I had the opportunity to take a tour of the other artist rooms. While most of the rooms were full, I did get a chance to see a few others, from the minimalist Zen room to the bold Samurai room, the artistic 100 Poems, and the quirky Yokai room.

The Yokai room was definitely Chris’ favorite, and we loved spotting the kappa monster after learning about his tricky ways while hiking the Kumano Kodo! I loved that this room had small monsters and portals hidden where you’d least expect them. Find little paintings in the closet, on the window seat, and in the bathroom. There’s also a super secret painting hidden in this room, but you’ll have to ask one of the staff to show you!

There were a few rooms I didn’t get to see but wish I did. I love the look of the Chery Blossom room with pink cherry blossoms and gold leaf. The deep red and metallic Wabi Sabi room also looks incredible!

I love this neighborhood!

Park Hotel – Location, Location!

When I booked a stay at the Park Hotel, I had no idea what a great neighborhood I’d be staying in! Located just next to Shiodome subway station, the hotel is just a quick walk to Shimbashi, where the local salarymen all go to drink and eat after work.

Shimbashi is a spectacular neighborhood, and eating in a tiny restaurant right under the railway tracks feels like something out of Bladerunner. I loved getting delicious ramen, conveyor belt sushi, and surprisingly tasty Mexican just around the corner from Park Hotel Tokyo!

Staying at Park Hotel, you’re also walking distance from the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, which will make that early morning wakeup call to watch the Tuna Auction that much easier. Besides, you won’t have to pay for an expensive cab ride!

Eating dinner in Shimbashi

Park Hotel Tokyo is the Perfect Base

While staying at Park Hotel Tokyo, you’re right in the middle of the action, only a few stops away on the train from hotspots like Akihabara, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. Want to browse 90’s video games, hit up the Robot Restaurant, pray at Meiji Shrine, or go Lolita spotting? Park Hotel Tokyo is a perfect base.

Even getting to further-flung places such as Asakusa and the Tokyo Skytree isn’t too much of a hassle from here!

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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.

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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!

I love the Kumano Kodo!

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.

Just your average ryokan dinner

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!

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Geisha spotting in Kamishichiken

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!

Fushimi Inari Torii Gates!

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!

My homemade apple pie!

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.

Eating Creps in Harajuku

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!

That time I got lost in a logging forest

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.

I needed both of these sticks

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.

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This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info. All photos of me are taken by Chris of Aussie on the Road

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Hiking the Kumano Kodo was one of the most difficult, incredible things I’ve ever done in my entire life.

As someone who doesn’t normally do long-term pilgrimage hikes, I was pretty scared. I had no idea if I could handle two weeks of hiking, climbing actual mountains, and walking 170 kilometers with a pack.

Along this pilgrimage, I walked through tiny towns and fishing villages I’d normally pass by on the train. I climbed mountains and hiked mountain passes lined with stone paths from the Edo period. I slept on tatami mat floors in homey ryokan guesthouses stuffing my face with local delicacies, and I met so many incredible, warm-hearted people.

Hiking Yakiyama

Kumano Kodo Iseji- Really Off the Beaten Path

Over the past few weeks, so many of you have been asking how to plan a Kumano Kodo hike of your own. The Kumano Kodo Iseji Route is really off the beaten path, and there’s not much information online. But if you want to challenge yourself and see a side of Japan barely any locals even see, this is the pilgrimage for you.

In this Ultimate Guide, I’m going to tell you all of the details, logistics, facts, and information you could ever want to know about hiking the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route. My goal is that you can plan this trip on your own, without any outside help.

I’ll be honest, hiking the Kumano Kodo is not like the Camino de Santiago. There aren’t many signs, and you will rarely see other pilgrims. But if you’re looking for one of the best, off-the-beaten-path adventures in Asia, this is the hike for you.

Dressing up like Edo period pilgrims!

What is the Iseji Route?

Unlike most other pilgrimages, the Kumano Kodo consists of many different routes, all leading to one place: the Kumano Sanzan in Wakayama Prefecture. While the emperor originally traveled from Kyoto, the average pilgrim came along the Iseji route from Ise Jingu, the holiest place in all of Japan.

Currently, the most popular Kumano Kodo route is the Nakahechi Route starting in Tanabe. This 3-day route is very well preserved, full of signs, and pretty easy to plan. Chances are if you know someone who hiked the Kumano Kodo, this is the route they followed.

But for most pilgrims, 3-days is not enough. If you’re looking to get off the beaten path and really explore rural Japan, the Iseji route is the next best-preserved path and contains many World Heritage listed passes. While this route isn’t quite as easy to accomplish as the 3-day Nakachechi Route, it’s much more of an adventure!

Exploring Ise

Starting the Pilgrimage: Getting to Ise

If you want to hike the Kumano Kodo Iseji route, you’ll need to get yourself to the city of Ise in Mie Prefecture. I easily took a 2-hour JR train here from Nagoya, but you can also get there on a direct train from Osaka, or from Tokyo if you switch trains at Nagoya.

Ise is famous for its two incredible shrines: Naiku and Geku. These shrines are extremely important to the Shinto religion, making Ise the holiest place in all of Japan. While the outer and inner shrines are actually 6km apart, they are referred to collectively by the locals as Ise Jingu.

Traditionally pilgrims along the Iseji route started at Ise Jingu, visiting both the Naiku and Geku shrines. So for the start of your Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, you’ll want to visit both of these shrines too, starting at Naiku and continuing onto Geku.

Just off the highway!

What Will I See On the Route?

One great thing about the Iseji route is that you’ll get to experience so many different types of terrain. From farms and villages to the mountains and seaside… you’ll never get bored!

City and Highway Walking

For the first day, you’ll be walking through the city of Ise and along a highway to Tamaru, and throughout the pilgrimage, you’ll duck on and off of the Kumano Highway with giant trucks whizzing by you. The highway walking was probably my least favorite portion of the Kumano Kodo, but thankfully you don’t spend much time walking along it after the first day and a half.

Enjoying Uo-machi Fishing Village

Exploring Tiny Towns

About half of the route takes you through tiny Japanese towns in Mie Prefecture. While the pavement killed my poor feet, I absolutely loved this portion of the Kumano Kodo. Every single local we saw greeted us with ohio gozaimasu (good morning) or konichiwa (good afternoon) and encouraged us to keep going.

By exploring these tiny towns, I really felt like I was getting to see a part of Japan almost no tourists ever see. I spent hours walking through places you can whizz by on a train in a matter of minutes. I learned about Japan’s aging population and how it affects the countryside, I saw teeny tiny tea plantations, witnessed mobile grocery store vans and bought tea from vending machines in the middle of nowhere.

Trust me, this is why you hike the Kumano Kodo.

Hiking Mountain Passes

While hiking the Kumano Kodo, you’ll have many mountain passes, or toge, that you’ll hike. While some of the toge are super easy, other passes are very strenuous and can take an hour or two to complete. While hiking toge after toge can be difficult (seriously, we did 6 in one day!), you will feel so accomplished when you finish each one.

Many of the toge have incredible views, and the signage is also very good on these trails. Some paths are covered in Angkor Wat-esque roots, while others are lined with stone roads and steps from the Edo Period.

On these trails, you’ll really feel like a pilgrim. You’ll find ancient shrines and graves from deceased pilgrims and be surrounded by cedar and cypress trees that let in showers of intermittent light.

Overall, there are 18 toge, with 17 mountain passes and one full-on mountain.

At the top of Mt. Yakiyama!!

Climbing Yakiyama

You will climb one mountain on this pilgrimage: Yakiyama. I heard scary things about this mountain, but to be honest, it wasn’t actually that difficult compared to an average mountain pass. For me, the hardest thing about hiking Yakiyama was actually the two-hour hike down the mountain with a sprained ankle on slippery moss-covered rocks.

About 2.5 hours up and 2 hours down, Yakiyama is by far the longest toge but the experience is well worth the hike. Hey, if the pilgrims could do it, so can you!

Exploring the “Monster’s Castle” in Kumano City

Tracing the Shore

The last half of the Kumano Kodo trails the shore of the Kii Peninsula. You’ll find yourself right on the beach after finishing a toge, or wandering through a sleepy fishing village in the afternoon. One of your last days will even be spent walking along the longest stone beach in Japan.

Trust me, catching glimpses of the shoreline from atop a mountain pass is almost as incredible as feasting on all of the cheap, fresh seafood you’ll eat daily.

Kumano Hayatam Taisha!

The Finish: Kumano Hayatama Taisha

The Kumano Kodo Iseji Route eventually takes you to Hayatama Taisha, one of the three Kumano Sanzan. Every single Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route leads you to one of the three Kumano Sanzan: Kumano Hayatama Taisha, Kumano Hongu Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha.

The most famous of these three is Nachi Taisha, mainly because this shrine has a giant waterfall behind it. However, most pilgrims made it to all three shrines before heading home. While this pilgrimage finishes at Hayatama Taisha, you can easily hike or drive to the other two once you finish celebrating.

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Five years of living in China was an incredible experience, but it definitely wasn’t easy. Being an expat has its ups and downs, but there are plenty of ways to overcome the typical challenges of living and working in China.

My friend Josh from Far West China has been living in Xinjiang, China with his family since 2006! So, if anyone can tell you about the challenges and struggles of living in China, it’s him. Today, Josh is here to fill you in on the biggest challenges China expats face, and how to overcome them!

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The following is a guest post from Josh of Far West China. Enjoy!

5 Challenges Every China Expat Faces

Let’s face it: living as an expat abroad is exciting but not necessarily easy. Living in China? Well, that complicates things even more. There are a number of challenges that we face and whether you’ve been here for years or are planning on arriving in China soon, it’s good to be aware of what those challenges are so you can be prepared to face (and beat!) them.

Having lived in China for over a decade, I’ve seen some expats thrive and other expats crash and burn. What’s the difference?

Sometimes it has to do with temperament and the ability to withstand culture shock. More often than not, though, it’s the stressors of the challenges that they weren’t expecting to face.

I’d like to offer 5 of the most common challenges I see expats face in China and provide ideas on how to overcome the challenge.

Gotta love internet censorship!

The Challenge of Communicating

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’re probably aware of the “Great Firewall” that censors internet access for all residents of China. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Gmail have been blocked for years and show no sign of being opened to the public anytime soon.

Living without all this social media noise really isn’t that bad, to be honest, but most expats use a VPN to gain access. Easy enough.

What’s harder is when this internet censorship affects your ability to communicate with the outside world. There have been times when I can’t make calls with Skype (even with a VPN) or my Facetime doesn’t work.

It’s happened to me so many times that I’ve had to resort to a couple different solutions:

  1. Move Your Family/Friends to WeChat: I hate to do it, but I’ve had all my family and close friends download WeChat so we can remain in constant contact. It’s the most reliable form of communication in China and allows for voice and video calls.
  2. Always Have Skype Alternatives: For those times when you have to call an actual phone number to call your bank or sort things out back home, make sure you have a backup plan if Skype doesn’t work. Just Google “Skype alternative” and pick your favorite.

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Why yes, I did order this purse on Taobao

The Challenge of Receiving Mail While Abroad

Although physical mail is slowly becoming a relic of the past, it still has the ability to cause a headache for expats in China. I still receive important pieces of mail pertaining to taxes, the house I still own in the US, my business, etc. Not to mention receiving new credit cards in the mail or Christmas cards (yes, my family still does Christmas cards).

Most expats tend to use the address of a family member or close friend as their “address” while they are abroad – and this works for about a year – but if you’re abroad for a longer period of time, you risk over-using their generosity or missing an important piece of mail.

The solution I’ve found is something known as a virtual mailbox. It’s essentially like having an email inbox for your physical mail. I have an address in my home country where all my mail is sent. All new mail is scanned and sent to me where I can either keep the digital form or ask for the mail to be forwarded to me wherever I am in the world.

It’s not a super-expensive solution and I’ve already done a lot of research on the best virtual mailbox services for travelers that you can use as you consider your options.

Who doesn’t love Lijiang

The Challenge of Taxes as an Expat

In this section, I’m going to be speaking mostly to US citizens since I know their situation the best, but make sure you do research into the laws concerning taxes in your home country.

Many expats I’ve met in China – particularly teachers – don’t give taxes much thought and many think they don’t need to file taxes while they’re living abroad.

They’re wrong.

Whether you’re a teacher on a salary equivalent to US$1,000/month or you’re a professional making a comfortable living in a city like Beijing or Shanghai, most foreign governments require you to disclose your foreign earnings. If those earnings exceed a certain limit, there are often taxes involved.

If you’ve never heard of a “Foreign Earned Income” tax credit or if you make a significant income in China, you’re much better off using the services of a tax professional when doing your taxes.

The last thing you want is your tax man waiting at the airport terminal for you when you arrive back home!

Want to Teach in China?

Finding comfort food in Beijing

The Challenge of Finding Comfort Foods

Unless you live in a city like Beijing or Shanghai, getting import foods – those “comfort foods” that remind you of home – can be a major challenge.

To make things worse, even in places like Beijing and Shanghai, no one import store has everything you might want. It sucks having to go across town to get that one item that your local import store doesn’t carry.

Again, I’m writing you as a person who has never lived in a major Chinese city, so this challenge of finding comfort foods, or any import food for that matter, has been very real!

Thankfully, over the past few years, China has grown leaps and bounds in the area of online shopping and home delivery. As recently as 5 years ago, getting something delivered to my home wasn’t even an option!

Using sites like JD.com and Taobao are a must for any long-term China expat. Make sure you open a local bank account and have a friend teach you how to use these online shopping apps. Your life in China will never be the same, I promise.

Don’t be the Jaded China Expat

The Challenge of China Burnout

If you talk to any expat who has lived in China for more than a year, every single one will have stories of those days or weeks when they just wanted to tear up their China visa and call it quits.

Every. Single. One.

It happens and that’s ok. Don’t get discouraged! The worst thing you can do is start browsing places like Reddit’s China sub, where disgruntled expats and those on the verge of burnout like to hang out and share their misery.

Instead, consider taking a short trip or treat yourself to a “staycation”. Watch some movies that remind you of home. Look at pictures of when you first arrived in China and take note of everything you’ve accomplished since arriving.

The feelings of burnout are inevitable. Once you get through one or two bouts of burnout, though, you’ll find that it’s just part of the cycle of living as an expat in China.

Author’s Note: WOW is Josh right on this one. I find making friends that are brand new to China reminds me why I loved China in the first place. Avoid the Jaded China Expats! 

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Conclusion | Challenges of Living in China

Every country presents its own set of challenges, even living in your own home country. Don’t try to eliminate the challenges because frankly, there will always be new ones that spring up!

The key to living in China and enjoying your experience is understanding what those challenges are and when you face them, having a game plan for how to overcome them. Whether it’s communicating with your family back home, getting your mail, doing your taxes, buying foreign goods or just dealing with burnout, know that you’re not alone.

The challenges are just one part of what makes being an expat in China so exciting!

About the Author

Josh Summers has lived in China since 2006 with his wife and two boys. He loves traveling around China and visiting other countries throughout southeast Asia. You can find him on his Xinjiang blog, Far West China, or Travel China Cheaper.

Give him some love on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


The post 5 Challenges Every China Expat Faces (and How to Beat Them) appeared first on Adventures Around Asia.

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Travelers can be some of the most difficult people to shop for. How do you buy a gift for someone who values experiences over “things”? How do you shop for someone who lives out of a backpack, or whose always saving up for the next plane ticket?

Sure, there’s plenty of travel gear you could buy, but what if you want to get someone an incredible gift they can cherish forever? What if you want to give a gift to a traveler who can’t make it home for Christmas?

That’s where Tinggly comes in.

Give your traveler something to open on Christmas!

What’s Tinggly?

If you’ve read a fair share of my posts, you’ll know I’m obsessed with Tinggly, a website where you can give the gift of experiences.

I’ll be the first to admit, giving an experience gift to someone can be a huge hassle. Many experience booking sites make you schedule a specific date in advance, which can be really tough if you don’t know the area or the recipient’s schedule.

But when you give the gift of experiences with Tinggly, your loved one has up to 2 years to choose their own experience. They even receive a beautiful gift box to open under the tree… or wherever they happen to be in the world.

See Their Experiences!

Your gift certificate is inside!

How Does Tinggly Work?

With more than 500+ experiences scattered across 100+ countries, your loved one will have too many choices when it comes to redeeming their experience gift. They can go camping in Jordan’s desert, extreme whitewater rafting in Nepal, or try a homestay cooking experience in Gambia. Seriously, there are so many incredible experiences to choose from, it’s almost impossible to make a choice.

All you have to do is choose which gift box you’d like to buy, from the budget-friendly Essential Gift Box to the more elaborate Dream Wedding or Ultimate Collection. If you want a great selection of experiences at a good price, I suggest going for their holiday Merry Christmas gift box!

Just keep in mind, there are plenty of gifts at each price point, and many of the experience gifts are good for two people, so you and your loved one can have that incredible experience together!

Check Tinggly's Prices!

Getting ready for my hot air balloon ride!

Why Tinggly is So Awesome

After using Tinggly to try a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley and scuba diving with thresher sharks in the Philippines, I only have good things to say.

Tinggly will help you avoid all of the hassles when it comes to booking an experience gift, meaning you can gift an incredible adventure without worrying about planning schedules and details. Besides, their experiences are incredible, and you have so many to choose from!

Here’s how Tinggly can help you make your gift awesome:

I chose… scuba diving with sharks

1. Your Loved one Gets to Choose Their Own Experience

Not sure if mom wants a gourmet cooking class or an Argentine tango class? No worries, the choice is hers! With Tinggly, the recipient gets to choose from 500+ experiences in 100+ countries, so you can be sure they’ll LOVE their gift.

2. No Schedule Worries

One time I tried to purchase a cooking class for my long-distance boyfriend as a surprise for his birthday. The plan was to do the class together when I visited. But finding an appropriate time without tipping him off was almost impossible. That, and I had to book the cooking class far in advance without any idea if it was even feasible to get there from his house.

After a while, I gave up and bought him a different gift instead. With Tinggly, my boyfriend could’ve had something to open on his birthday, while also letting him pick a date and activity that worked for him. No more secretly probing for schedules!

Does your daughter live abroad or travel full-time like me?

3. You Don’t Have to be in the Same Place

Many travelers and expats abroad can’t make it home for Christmas every year. If you want to actually let your loved one have something fun to open, you can have a Tinggly box shipped anywhere in the world!

Letting your traveler have an amazing experience on the road is so much more rewarding than dropping a few dollars into their account, or giving them an Amazon gift card.

4. Multiple Price Points

With hundreds of gifts at every price point, you don’t have to shell out a ton of money to get a great gift. The $79 USD Essential Collection has 300+ experiences in 80+ countries, ranging from a desert safari and BBQ in Dubai to a vodka tasting and Polish cooking class in Warsaw.

However, if you want to book a luxury experience or a romantic activity for two, there are plenty of collections to choose from that will allow both of you to go. For example, the Dream Wedding and Time Together gift boxes have a plethora of romantic experiences like a full day of relaxation at a Balinese spa for two or a two-person VIP helicopter ride on the Vegas Strip.

Whatever your budget, you can pick a themed gift box at the right price for you.

Up above Napa Valley with Tinggly!

5. Awesome Variety

The great thing about Tinggly is that their gifts really are scattered all over the world. When browsing a collection, you can easily check Tingglys map to see if there are any experiences where your loved one is living or traveling.

Heading to Vietnam? Try a 3-day motorbike experience or a relaxing thermal mud spa day. What about Japan? Choose from a secret sake brewery tour, a romatic hot spring onsen experience, or a traditional kimono tea ceremony for two.

You can even find plenty of Tinggly experiences in your own backyard. There are tons of activities to choose from all across the US, Canada, UK, Australia and more.

Browse Experiences!

and she’ll still have something to unwrap!

Why I Love Experience Gifts

Sure, I love buying things. I can’t tell you how good it feels to buy a new pair of earrings or some shiny new travel gear. But will I remember those items forever? Probably not.

When you give the gift of experiences, you create memories that will last a lifetime. Both you and your partner or friend can have a wonderful day together, and build incredible memories in the process. While “things” are awesome, they definitely don’t compare to a fantastic hot air balloon ride together.

With Tinggly, you can surprise your traveler with an incredible gift of memories that will last a lifetime. If that’s not the perfect Christmas gift, I don’t know what is.

Don’t forget to grab your Tinggly box before the holidays! 

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Have you ever given someone the gift of experiences? How did it go?

Thanks to Tinggly for helping bring you this post. I’m a huge fan of Tinggly and an affiliate, so if you’re interested in purchasing Tinggly for the holidays, I’d appreciate it if you used one of my button links above! 

The post Tinggly: Give the Gift of Experiences This Christmas appeared first on Adventures Around Asia.

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It’s been one week since I finished Japan’s Kumano Kodo Iseji Route: the thousand-year-old pilgrimage route through Mie Prefecture. This two-week hike was simultaneously the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and yet also one of the most rewarding.

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170 kilometers. 2 mountain peaks. 18 mountain passes. 7 fantastic shrines. 5 steamy onsens. Countless tiny towns. Fantastic meals. Sleeping on tatami mat floors. Waving Konichiwa to everyone we passed.

How do I even begin to describe this experience?

Well… I guess we can start at the beginning.

You can do it Richelle!

Am I Really Cut Out For This?

Let’s be honest. Heading into my 2-week Kumano Kodo hike, I was scared. Yes, I was excited about my upcoming adventure, but I was also afraid that I wasn’t cut out to be a long-term hiker.

I read tales of girls like me hiking the Camino De Santiago, which inspired me enough to believe I could do something similar. I packed and re-packed, trying to make everything fit into my tiny 35-liter backpack. But despite my fancy hiking boots and appropriately sized backpack, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing.

However, the more I read about the Kumano Kodo, its history, the natural beauty, sleeping in ryokans and feasting on local Japanese meals: I couldn’t help but be excited. The more blog posts I read about the 3-day Nakahechi Route, the more prepared I felt.

I was as ready as I’d ever be.

How am I supposed to hike THIS for two weeks??

Where Are My Hiking Boots??!!

The night before my hike, I sifted through my giant red suitcase, attempting to re-organize my tiny pack in preparation for the hike. I knew moving all of my stuff from China to Australia via Japan would be a giant pain, but I had everything I needed somewhere in this suitcase… right? Right?!?!

I sat on the floor of my hotel room in a panic. Nearly everything from my giant suitcase was piled around me, and yet I couldn’t find the one thing I needed: my hiking boots.

Oh my god! Oh no! 

My breathing escalated as I began throwing everything around the room like a frantic toddler.

Where are they? Where are they?!

Right next to the front door of my apartment in China. Exactly where I left them, of course.

Me and my pack

Overpacked and Underprepared

I sat on the train from Nagoya to Ise in my Nike running shoes, with my bulging 35-liter pack. Still mentally beating myself up about forgetting my hiking boots, there was nothing to do but make use of what I had with me.

I’d scanned through the official Kumano Iseji website, but I knew nothing of the actual experience. Aside from a few photos and information about the mountain passes, and a brief explanation that we’d be walking through cities and towns for the first few days, I went in pretty much clueless.

I knew I’d be navigating the route by using the official Kumano Iseji Navigator map, and I had a schedule of the kilometers I’d be hiking, activities I’d be doing, and places I’d be staying daily. But in reality, I had no idea what to expect.

Would I love walking for two weeks straight? Would I be able to hike six mountain passes in a day? Would I survive without my hiking boots??!

Starting off right with a sunrise

Starting Off With a Sunrise

On the first day, we left our ryokan guesthouse at 6 am to see the most beautiful sunrise over a seaside temple. Despite the cold, wet morning, I loved learning about the Shinto faith from our guides and soon-to-be friends, Inoue and Himi.

Ring the bell, bow twice, two claps, bow again.

We learned how to wash our hands before entering the shrine. We heard the origin story of the Shinto faith, and how the Shinto gods created Japan. We saw Ise Jingu’s Naiku shrine, the holiest place in all of Japan, and I loved it!

THIS was the experience I was looking for. Off the beaten path, cultural Japan.

Beautiful, rainy Ise

The First 5k: I’m Not Cut Out For This!

After a morning of visiting shrines, we finally set out on the first 5k of the hike.

However, as we began to walk through the city of Ise, the skies opened up and poured rain down on us. It was about 1 kilometer into this 5k hike that I realized my hand-me-down “waterproof jacket” I used time and time again in Southeast Asia, wasn’t actually waterproof.

So here I was in mid-November, freezing, soaking wet, walking through the drizzly, grey city streets. As the rain kept getting worse and worse, we finally stopped by a Family Mart to buy a cheap waterproof pullover jacket.

The promise of a nice warm bath every night kept me going

The four of us: Chris, our two guides, and I made our way through the drenched streets of Ise. My back ached from holding our hotel umbrella all day. My leggings and tennis shoes were absolutely soaked. I was 100% miserable.

What the heck am I doing here?! 

I trailed behind the speedy Inoue and Himi, as they forged ahead in full waterproof gear as if they’d done this a thousand times. I couldn’t even use my short legs as an excuse since I was taller than both of them.

What am I doing? Why am I doing this? This is the worst decision I’ve ever made.

I had no idea where we were even going, as we spent two hours getting lost in the rain, attempting to follow an online map, while also not getting our phones soaked in the never-ending downpour.

Kill me now.

Best. Day. Ever.

My Savior: Convenience Stoor Waterproof Pants

After a miserable, wet, slog through random city streets, we finally stumbled on a famous noodle joint… right by our first hotel?! Apparently, we had been walking 5 kilometers from the Naiku Shrine all the way to our second shrine: Geiku.

That’s funny, because I just thought we were walking through a wet, neverending purgatory.

But after a giant bowl of udon noodles and a purchase of wonderfully sexy waterproof pants from Family Mart, it was time to walk the remaining 8 kilometers to Tamaru.

And you know what? Despite the rain and walking along a highway in encroaching darkness: I had fun. I was actually having fun.

Who knew all it took was waterproof pants and a big bowl of steamy noodles.

Teku Teku time!

Turning a Challenge Into a Fun Adventure

That next morning as we walked along highways, through villages and towns, I started to realize that maybe I was cut out for this after all. Chris and I raced to scan QR codes and collect our Teku Teku stamps, while also taking selfies with every single signpost detailing the meters we had left to hike. With 32 teku tekus and 42 signposts, we took a lot of selfies…

At first, it seemed impossible. We’ve only walked 12 kilometers out of 170?! We still have 30 teku tekus left to go?!

But with every stamp and every signpost, we came closer and closer to our goal. It was like playing an epic game where the only adversaries were the forest, the rain, and my own two legs.

Hiking stunning mountain passes

I Can Actually Do This?!

On our second full day, we hit the very first mountain pass of our trip: Mekitoge. Until that point, I felt like Chris and I could’ve better prepared for this hike by just walking around Beijing for hours on end. Screw those Great Wall climbs!

My feet ached from the road, and my pack was rubbing against my lower back. I felt a little out of shape, but the more I walked the faster I became.

But when we entered the forest, I somehow felt more comfortable. As we hiked up mountain trails, I didn’t feel out of breath. When we hiked to the top of the mountain pass to get a good view, I felt like all of my Great Wall hikes had actually prepared me.

I felt good. For the first time on this hike, I knew I could actually do this.

This picture doesn’t do it justice

Descending Into a Magical Wonderland

Once we came down off of our very first pass, we entered into a beautiful wonderland of tiny tea plantations. The sky opened up, the sun came out, and butterflies flitted from tea leaf to tea leaf. It was absolutely beautiful.

Tiny traditional Japanese homes dotted the landscape, and we gasped in awe at how beautiful our surroundings had become. Gone were the hours of highway hiking along bland farms. We had stepped back in time and transported ourselves to the days of the pilgrims.

In one second, I fell in love with this village, the Kumano Kodo, and rural Japan.

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