Travel

An American Christmas & a happy new year!

It’s all over?!?!

I’m not sure if I’m happy, sad, relieved or distraught. I’ll be honest here, Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. Like, ever. EVVVERRR. I start listening to Christmas music as soon as the wind gets a bite to it (and sometimes even in Summer!). This year though, Christmas felt a little funky.

Since I got back from Asia, a few things have felt a little funky. For better or worse, I find myself looking at my life and the world around me through a different set of glasses than before. Everything from laundry to scrambling eggs to city infrastructure to dating, and yes, even Christmas.

This year, my Christmas was just out of a fairy tale. A beautiful tree, surrounded by family, presents galore and cherry waffles. I got an array of amazing gifts that I’m more grateful for than I have been for any gift I’ve received in the last 27 years.

I kept thinking about what it would be like in Asia – not just weather wise either. Do they have a tree to decorate? What about presents? As Americans, chocolate is a pretty common gift for us to give. What about in Asia – do they give mangoes or sticky rice? What is an Asian Christmas like?

One of the most glaring differences between Americans and Asian cultures is our consumerism. Needing to buy more, bigger and better all the time – I didn’t get a glimpse of this anywhere except Japan. Even then, most products either had “this” or “that” (vs. just “this”) as a choice. Not this, this, this, this, this OR that. Some of  you might remember  the wall of ranch I found in Krogers (overkill guys, waaaay overkill).

Some of you might wonder: “Isn’t Asia a heavily Buddhist country? Do they even celebrate Christmas?” Naturally as a huge Christmas nerd, I had the same question! While I was in Japan, I asked my Japanese host about this. She said “the country is mainly Buddhist, but we’re flexible, so we’re Christian in December! Japanese like presents.” (haha, her words!) The family I stayed with in Vietnam also has a beautiful Christmas tradition. So, just like America, not everyone celebrates Christmas, but most people do in one way or another.

15392898_219509765165533_4495465823154354833_o
Children with Santa from the school I worked with in Vietnam

 

If  you’ve ever seen Family Guy (an adult cartoon) there is an episode where a child from Mexico receives a “ball in a cup” as a gift – and he is just so excited about it! The joke being that his family can’t afford anything better than that, and that the ball in a cup is one of the best things he’s gotten in his life so far. For me, that joke used to be stereotyping-racist, but funny. Now, it’s ‘oh-shit-just-got-real’ not so funny anymore.

When I looked at all my presents I got this year, I thought of families in Asia. By American standards, the southeast Asian countries are poor. The children that I taught at the school in Thailand would have probably killed to have a Christmas like I did- this made me feel guilty. Like I was unworthy.

Why should I get all this stuff while there are people out there who aren’t getting anything? People who would ask Santa for medicine, clean water, or bread instead of Furbys, Pokemon games, and designer jeans.

Even in America, there are plenty of people asking for the same things. The homeless, the mentally ill, elderly people, orphans and so many more. While I always knew this, it was just a concept or a fact. Having now seen extreme poverty first hand, it’s become much more real to me.

So, instead of sitting around feeling guilty about my status, I’m putting that feeling to work! For my new years resolution, I’m going to take an active role this year to help those less fortunate in any way I can. Monetary donations, volunteering, donating food, supplies – or something – every month for the next year. I challenge you to do the same!

If you’re not able to (or ready to) contribute in a physical capacity, at least challenge yourself to have a conscious appreciation for what you have in your life. The fact that you have a device to read this post on and an internet connection is a good place to start 🙂

Happy New Years everyone – welcome to 2017, the year of appreciation.

 

 

 

Travel

6 things you’ll want to know about working in a food truck.

Food trucks, those grubby ol’ things?

Yes, food trucks. It’s been a hot topic for me lately, one I wanted to share with you!

BUT FIRST!

We’ve got a lot to catch up on guys! I can’t believe it’s already been over two months since I got home. It seems like just yesterday I was eating breakfast at cat cafes.

After arriving home, I fell into the deep hole of post-trip depression. Not to say I’m entirely out of the rut, but I’m making the climb. I found myself back living at my parent’s house, unemployed, and poor.

After having so many amazing ‘checks’ on my record – a great job in the heart of Chicago, traveling through Asia, breaking through barriers I never thought I’d be able to break through – it felt like suuuuuch a step back to be where I was. In a basement. At my parents house. In Ohio. Surrounded by Trump-Pence signs, lots of white people, and McDonalds.

I had to start getting back on my own two feet. The best way to start would be to find a job.

We all know working sucks. I bet only 1 out of 100 of you reading this (ha, I wish there were 100 of you reading this lol) truly love their job. Isn’t that unfortunate? So many people across the world spend their lives working somewhere they hate, or worse, somewhere they are just going through the motions with no feelings at all.

I didn’t want that to me be.

Starting the job hunt, I was picking from the top of the tree. I only applied to jobs that I thought I’d enjoy doing. Hopefully I’d get one of these before I found myself in the position of applying to everything and been desperately forced to accept a job I would hate.

Scrolling through hundreds of job listings across various fields, I was focused on certain aspects of a role before I applied to it. No uniform. Not a corporation. A small team of less than 50 employees. Accepting of dreadlocks and tattoos. Offered the chance to have new experiences – maybe travel a bit. Somewhere I could learn new skills. And, last but not least, somewhere that aligned with my personal hobbies and goals.

I finally found it – Mohawk Freestyle Grill!

img_0621

Working on a food truck

Food trucks sometimes get a bad rap. There’s a lot of mystery around them. People might think they’re dirty, or worse, that the food isn’t as good as if it was from a restaurant. While each of these might be true for some food trucks, it isn’t true for all of them and it certainly isn’t true for us at Mohawk Freestyle Grill.

Most misconceptions (not just about food trucks) are conceived and birthed from a lack of knowledge and experience. I’m here to help shed some light on the mystery of food trucks!. 🙂

1. The food is better than restaurant quality – love really is an ingredient.

Okay guys let’s think about this.

Restaurants: Often times a chain corporation, usually employ about 50 employees. In restaurant kitchens, there’s usually a manager but often times it’s not the owner of the business. I can tell you that the kids in the kitchen are as invested in your meals up to as much as they are getting paid.

VS

Food trucks: Only employ a handful of people. This means that these few select employees are always on the job, becoming experts at what they do. Additionally, the owner is almost always on the truck – either cooking the food or taking your order.

14469687_10155280774219112_5677719160717812108_n

Aaron Hanover, a classically trained chef, is the proud owner of Mohawk Freestyle Grill – but he’s not the only food truck owner who takes pride in his truck and aims to REPRESENT! at every event. Having the head honcho on board all the time raises the standards of the truck, making sure that delicious food is coming out just the way it was meant to.

2. The food truck-ers are a strong community.

Most food trucks have teams of 2-8 people. In terms of company size, this industry is one of the smallest I’ve encountered across my 20+ jobs in my lifetime. While in a big corporation it’s easy to just become a numbered machine, food truck employees don’t have that luxury. Most of them are honest people just like you and me, trying to make a living doing what they’re passionate about.

Working in a food truck, you’re in the front lines. Being there in the grit of it allows you to see how your success is the truck’s success. You really can’t help but to feel a sense of pride and ownership. They look out for each other and help where they can.

3. You’re going to touch butts.

Yeeppppp, there’s definitely going to be some of that. A food truck is not a big space and sometimes it can get real personal when you’re doing the dance of “it’s 8 pm at a high school football game, why are we getting slaughtered right now?”

There are brushes, grazes and excuse me’s sometimes, and that’s just part of it.

4. It’s not always like that Bob’s Burgers episode (but sometimes)

I looooove Bob’s Burgers. As in, it’s pretty much always playing in the background at my house.

One episode, Bob buys a food truck and they take the show on the road. While getting the truck ship shape, they accidentally blow it up because they turned the grill on while the engine was running – a big no no because of how they had to wire it!

ouA6U

When I met Aaron for the first time he told me that he did a lot of the work in the truck himself. I immediately pictured this scene in my head. While we haven’t had any explosions, we’ve had to get creative with our problem solving. Yes, that door latch is made of Velcro. You gotta do what you gotta do!

5. We’re all in this together – buy local!

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from my experience so far is that we’re all in this together.

When we come to an event to serve good food, we’re serving it to our neighbors, our friends, our family. When you get a meal from a food truck, your supporting the people you see there – not some guy in a big chair, or on a golf course.

While the world is a small place, we can make it a little smaller by helping each other out. Here comes the hippie: buy local and help support your community!

img_0582

6. It can be incredibly inspiring

I talked earlier about how I felt that I had fallen, or taken a step back when I got home and set up shop in Ohio.

While working on a food truck may not have the same glamour that a “big-girl-downtown-Chicago” job does, the last few months working under Aaron has been incredibly inspiring. He and his wife put in long hours, extraordinary effort, and are fierce in their passion to make this dream come true.

I’m learning new skills that I’m able to practice at work or at home, like how to properly cut onions or clean a pineapple, making my personal hobby of cooking more satisfying. In a way, I feel like I’m doing an apprenticeship to learn a great, long-forgotten, craft. Maybe I’ll even open my own food truck someday!

Closing meditation exercise –

Now, before we part ways we’re going to do a little meditation exercise together. Read carefully!

You want to go online and look for food trucks in your area.

You want to eat out of the food trucks and support your community.

You are getting very hungry…….

Happy munching!

signature_final

Travel

Who won the giveaway?

Congratulations Bitsy! You’re the winner of our adventure clutches giveaway!

A few weeks ago, Zoom Goes held it’s first giveaway. Thank you Bitsy for entering, being a Zoom Goes supporter – and congratulations on your win! Send us a picture of you sporting your shiny new clutches!

ZoomGoes Giveaway

In keeping with my full transparency policy, the giveaway was an activity designed to help build my email subscription list. I’d say it was successful at bringing my list up to 32 subscribers! Thank you everyone who participated, don’t worry we’ll be having another giveaway soon (and because you’re on the list, you’re automatically entered, ba-zing!). In the meantime, welcome to the Zoom Goes tribe!

Traffic and Social Media Report

As part of our mission to grow Zoom Goes, we’d also like to share with you some numbers for where we are right now regarding traffic and social media followings. For us, this is a good record of a baseline. For you, I hope you’ll find it insightful if you’ve ever wondered about starting a blog of your own!

Without further adieu (all numbers represent the month of September):

Email list subscribers

We started the month of September at 9 email subscribers. Today, we’re at 32! While the giveaway definitely worked, it wasn’t entirely self-serving.  We’re so happy to hook someone up with something they love! Congrats again Bitsy!!! 😀

Blog Traffic

Unique visitors (individual people who visit the site): 351

Views (if you click on the home page, and then another page, that’s 2 views): 1,170

This is a great baseline. I look forward to seeing what our numbers will be for October! Grow baby, grow!

Facebook

Facebook is my primary referrer for traffic and sharing content – I think it’s a generational thing. Simply put, all the other platforms are complicated. Hashtag this, hashtag that….we all know who I’m talking about.

facebook_page

Instagram

Oh hey Instagram, we were just – uh….So, how’s it going lately with those hashtags and the giant world of an internet filing system?

Hashtags are a giant part of how Instagram operates and how your content gets found by the people you want to find it. And there’s no real manual on how to do it! During my research into hashtags and Instagram, I found that it was actually a little bit of a mind game.

When trying to get your posts viewed, you have to think “if I were looking for this exact thing, what would I search for?”

Sounds simple right?

 

ZoomGoes | Instagram

Pinterest

Surprised to see Pinterest at the party? Okay, maybe I’m just projecting my own surprise on to you. When I found out that people were using Pinterest to promote their blogs I was bloggled (see what I did there?)! Wasn’t Pinterest just for recipes and awesome dreadlock beads?

Turns out that’s not the case – I get pretty decent traffic from Pinterest referrals. If you’re not following me there, you should! If you’re trying to promote your own business, etsy store, recipes or anything else online make sure that you put Pinterest to work for you.

Zoom Goes | Pinterest

Twitter

 

Twitter, can you talk right now? Do you have enough characters? Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter is more about conversation than information. Still though, it’s great for little announcements, reminders and pics!

There’s a lot of “twitter talks” that happen regularly. Users tweet about travel, hobbies, awards and more. Similar to Instagram, these talks are all categorized with hashtags. #TravelTalks for example. I’d love to get more involved in these!

twitter

Income report

Last, but not least, is what everyone is interested to know about – income! How much money did my blog make in the month of September?

Google Adsense: $0.51

Amazon Affiliates: $0.00

In the Amazon Affiliates program, I get a commission for any items that sell using a referral link that I place in my site. So far, I’ve only done three of these – The Rose Cup, Bandelettes (the biggest seller) and Packing Cubes. Usually, there is a spike in this number when do a product review, but I only do those when I’m truly moved by a product. I don’t want to do it just for the money, ya know?

I’m laughing a little! I know, I know – it’s pennies, but that’s okay! There’s more in it for me than the money – you guys!

Thank you again everyone for helping me have a wonderful first giveaway!

Do you have any questions about blogging? Leave me a comment 🙂

signature_final

Travel

The Best Of: Vietnam

The best of Vietnam, in photos.

Oh Vietnam..we’ve had some interesting experiences together.

Cities visited: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Bac Ninh, Hue, Hoi An

I had a rough time in Vietnam. From puking my way out of an abduction to being kissed by strangers for photos, I ended up leaving Vietnam early because I couldn’t take all the attention.

Despite that (or maybe because of that?), my time in Vietnam was one of the most unique experiences I had on my trip. I was lucky enough to stay with a host family during my time in Hanoi – talk about immersive education. I learned to prepare snails, squid, and other unique foods. I ate Pho for breakfast and enjoyed homemade wine at night while we played cards.

My host family took me to her sister’s house in a rural town that obviously doesn’t see many tourists. Her sister has a school there where she teaches. I taught a lesson during my visit and it was a much better experience than when I taught in Thailand.

After the lesson we went back to her house for a family feast. While I didn’t completely follow the conversation, I still felt like I was part of the family. We spent the afternoon napping, eating lychee and talking.

Her sister asked me if I had any ideas for names of her school. We brainstormed a bit and I suggested incorporating “Blooming” into the name. You know, since the kids are growing and ‘blooming’ like little flowers. She loved the idea and the school is now named “Blooming Kids”. If you’re interested, you can check out their Facebook page! I’m so proud to have been a part of that.

It’s memories like those I won’t find anywhere else!

Vietnam also had some of the craziest traffic I’ve ever seen. When you go to cross the street, you just gotta go – they’ll swerve around you. If you try to wait for an opening, you’ll be waiting forever. I almost found out what it was like to be run over by a scooter!

Vietnam, I’d like us to try again and get off on the right foot! In the meantime – keep that traffic moving!

signature_final

Resources, Travel, Trip Planning

Everything you need to know about travel insurance.

Have questions about travel insurance? You’re in the right place.

Travel insurance can, like any insurance, feel intimidating or confusing when shopping for it. Fear not, I’m here to help walk you through all of the most popular questions about travel insurance.

What if I already have health insurance? Do I really need it? Where do I get travel insurance? What does it cover? What’s the process like if I need to use it? Is it expensive? 

All of these questions were things I asked myself when I first considered getting a travel insurance policy. You might think I took one out for my trip to Asia (which I did), but I’d actually purchased travel insurance two times before that, with no regrets! Without further adieu, let’s dive in.

Why would I need travel insurance?

Travel insurance is a beautiful blend of health insurance and renter’s insurance. Unlike other policies, travel insurance will cover both you and your belongings while you’re on the go.

If you accidentally smash your tablet, drop your camera, or break your leg while traveling, travel insurance covers all of those. What I like most though is the fact that you’re location independent. Renter’s insurance might not cover my valuables if I’m in Timbuktu, but travel insurance would. The same goes for health coverage.

What if I already have health insurance?

When I was first looking into travel insurance, I was planning my first trip to Burning Man. At the time, my job offered a great health insurance program that I was a part of. Because of this, I wasn’t sure that I needed travel insurance. What was it going to cover that my regular health insurance wouldn’t?

DISCLAIMER: All information in this post is based on personal experience, and I am not a professional insurance broker.

As it turns out, there was quite a bit that my travel insurance policy would cover that wouldn’t be covered by my regular health insurance policy. Since I was heading to Burning Man, I was particularly keen on the benefit of a medical evacuation.

If something had happened to me, my travel insurance policy would have covered a helicopter evacuation – up to $500,000 USD! While I didn’t think anything like that would happen, I didn’t want to be a 3 hour drive from the nearest hospital and find out the hard way.

While the medical evacuation was the big selling point for me, there were other benefits for me too. Travel insurance would help offset any costs I might have incurred beyond what my regular health insurance would have covered. There was also the peace of mind that I wouldn’t have to worry about my health insurance not covering me at Burning Man because it is an “extreme event”. Whereas with travel insurance, they’re used to people doing the extreme!

Do I really need it?

Now this question is a bit tough because, frankly, that’s a choice you’ll have to make for yourself. My stance will always be “better safe than sorry” when it comes to your health, well being, and the risk of your valuables getting stolen or broke.

I recommend comparing any current coverage to that of your potential travel insurance provider. This will give you a clearer picture of the potential benefits.

Where do I get travel insurance?

Just like regular health insurance, there are plenty of insurance providers out there to chose from. Your best bet would be to Google “travel insurance policies”. Most likely, the first result you’ll see is a company called World Nomads.

World Nomads is my provider of choice, I love them. They had me right off the bat by offering a no-strings-attached quote. I hate it when you apply for a “free quote” and it turns into 100 emails a day, never ending phone calls, and weird people at my doorstep. Okay might not people at my doorstep, but you know what I mean!

They have great customer service, a quick response time, and were very helpful to me when I needed to file a claim. They also offer different “levels” of coverage. This way, you can choose the right amount of coverage for your needs.

Is it expensive?

I’m happy to say that, no, it’s not that expensive! Cost depends on where you’ll be traveling, for how long, and what type of coverage you want.

Here’s what I’ve paid with World Nomads:

  • Two weeks traveling in the US: $36
  • One month traveling in the US: $73
  • Five months traveling in Asia: $110

I’ve only had to file a claim once, and that was for an urgent care visit in Hong Kong. The insurance policy was $110, and my claim was for ~$90 – and I got every penny of that! It almost paid for itself!

What if I need to use it? How does that work?

Medical

In most cases (double check with your provider), you’ll need to pay for all medical costs upfront. You’ll then file a claim with your provider to be reimbursed. I admit, I was a little leery of this at first, but World Nomads was great about getting my claim filed and approved quickly.

When you file a medical claim, you’ll typically need to present all of the following:

  • Receipt from your payment method, with the cost clearly printed
  • Diagnosis / Description of the expense (broken leg etc)
  • Signed agreement form that comes with your insurance paperwork
  • Copies of your arranged travel to and from your home country. I sent in screenshots of my flight confirmation emails to and from the US

I sent all of these things to World Nomads and they got back with me in a few days saying my claim in the amount of $88.98 was approved. If you decide to go with a different provider, simply ask them which documents are required for a claim. Make sure to ask them when you take out the policy so you get everything you need during the incident. It would suck to have to track down a clinic in Bosnia just for a piece of paper!

Items

Luckily, I’ve never had to file a claim for a lost item – but I did talk to my World Nomads rep about it when I filed my medical claim. If, for example, an elephant had smashed my cell phone I would have had to provide the following:

  • Proof of current ownership
  • Proof of purchase listing the cost of the item
  • Proof that I was traveling with the item
  • A description of how the item got damaged
  • Signed agreement form

Item coverage is another benefit of travel insurance for me. When I had my near-kidnapping in Vietnam, I didn’t think twice about throwing my backpack over the highway guardrail because I knew anything in there would be covered and replaced.

Any other questions?

I hope you’re feeling more educated and empowered now! If you have any other questions about travel insurance, I’d love to hear them.. Leave me a comment, and share this article with your friends so they can benefit too!

signature_final

Everything you need to know about travel insurance | Travel | Health | Insurance | Cheap Travel Insurance | Zoom Goes
Laos, Travel

The Best Of: Laos

The best of Laos, in photos.

Laos, the country of personal growth.

Cities Visited: Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Xiangkhoang, Vientiane

For me, the “Best of” series has been about reflection. Having been home for a bit, I’ve been processing my experiences a bit more. These pictures have been a crucial part of the process <3

While sorting photos for this series, Laos stood out for a very distinct reason. During my time there, I had a lot of experiences that were new for me. Things that pushed me in new directions, and expanded my horizons.

Normally, I travel alone. Entering Laos, I met an amazing group of people on the 2 day slow boat ride from Thailand. We discussed culture, education, Hitler and Dumbledore. Having so many cultures represented at once was it’s own little adventure. It was a delight seeing what references would be caught, what trends carry across the world (Seth Rogan, World of Warcraft), and hearing how people perceive America.

My persona of who I was as an American got reflected back to me often in Laos. Beyond the perspective from my fellow travelers, I visited my first historical museum. The COPE center educated me about the ongoing violence in Laos caused by undetonated bombs left by American bombers. I felt embarrassed, ashamed of the American involvement – an interesting feeling.

While my time in Laos was short, it was powerful… like juice concentrate! An experience I’d be happy to drink up again.

 

 

Laos, I’ll never forget our time together, especially the waterfalls and playing mermaid. Until next time….

Don’t forget, ZoomGoes is having a giveaway! Here’s your chance to enter – the deadline is October 6th, 2016. You can totally win!

signature_final