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Travel, Trip Planning

Updated Travel Itinerary – 6 more countries!

I’ve been traveling for almost two months!

It’s time to update my travel itinerary!

I’ve enjoyed San Francisco, had good and bad experiences in Thailand, and am now working my way through Laos.

I’m having a blast! Not once have I regretted selling all my things, leaving my job, or being so far from family. It’s not all fun in the sun, I’ve said that a few times, but for the most part, this is a wonderful lifestyle for me.

Up to this point, I’ve been sticking to my original itinerary of spending about a month in each place, but there’s so much more I want to see while I’ve over here so we’re jumping to warp 9!

Here’s the new plan:
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Inspiring Stuff, Travel, Trip Planning

Teach English without a college degree.

Teach English abroad without a college degree

The future of Thailand’s youth is in my hands – mwahahaha!

Okay, so maybe that’s a little serious, but to a degree its true. They are allowing me, a non-degree-holding person to teach English without a college degree. There’s a pun in there somewhere.

When I first looked into traveling abroad, the most common way of funding your travels, or creating a life for yourself in another country, is to teach English. “Well that should be easy enough” I thought. I speak it every day, I had to learn it myself at one point, and I feel I have a thorough grasp of how to make the English language my bitch.

What isn’t advertised is that you need a college degree to do this. It seems to be assumed that everyone has a degree. The schools themselves aren’t so strict about it, but rather the country. For example, to get a working visa in China, you need a college degree. To be employed in Japan as a non-Japanese citizen you need a college degree. Luckily, I can tell you how to teach English without a college degree.
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Travel, Trip Planning

A guide for the Bangkok to Chiang Mai sleeping train.

I’ve always wanted to take a train!

In the United States, we have the Amtrak. While renowned, it’s both expensive and a shit way to travel. Often delayed, the Amtrak also boasts prices that are almost equal to that of flying.

My aunt recently took the Amtrak out west for a tour with a friend of hers and brought up something I didn’t even think of. The rails in the United States – the actual infrastructure – is maintained by supply companies who allow Amtrak to ride on their tracks. They don’t care if the cargo is a bit bouncy. While riding Amtrak, you are the cargo! My aunt said that the whole ride was incredibly bouncy due to the imperfections in the track. Who would of thought!

Knowing I was going to have to take a train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, my head was spinning with all the potential things that could go wrong. What if it was a terrible ride? What if it was hot? What about being crowded? What if they didn’t have enough tickets or if something was wrong with mine and I couldn’t take the train? Wish I had some weed right about then.

I figured it was better to play it safe, so I went to the ticket office at Hau Lamphong a few days before I wanted to leave. The station is huuuuge and very beautiful inside.

I wanted in line with the locals and finally made it to the ticket attendant, leaning close to the window so I could get some of that beautiful A/C, and tried to explain what I wanted to do. Turns out, I was in the wrong line and was redirected to the “Ticket office for Foreigners”, which is to the left of the main ticket sales area.

This makes me feel like I’m being charged more, but what can you do? The staff members in the air conditioned office were very friendly and helpful. They explained that I have a few choices as to how I want to ride the train.

Third class. No A/C, in a seat and the cheapest. I couldn’t sit for 13 hours in a seat, cooking. My thighs would start to stick to the seat…ya’ll know what I’m talking about.

Second Class. A/C, you get a seat that converts into a bed. You can choose either an upper or lower bed.

First class. Much like second class, except that you also get meals.

I opted for Second Class, lower bunk. The total ticket cost was about $25 USD/800 Baht. If you need to, they have a dining car where you can purchase meals. I ate dinner before boarding and was fine until breakfast in Chiang Mai.

PRO TIP: I was in a co-ed car. If you’re a woman and you would like to ride in a car only for Women and Children, you can request that! 

When you get your ticket, it will be a hard ticket – meaning that you do not get a digital copy. If you lose your paper ticket, you are totally f*cked. I was checking on the whereabouts of mine every half hour for two days LOL. When you get your ticket, they will tell you what platform you are boarding on – I was platform 5.

There is no platform 9 3/4, I checked 🙁

On the ticket, you will notice your assigned car and seat number. I didn’t notice this and just got on the first car I came across and they made me move. Derp.

Arriving at the station on the day of, you’ll pass through the general area where you picked up the ticket and continue to the platforms. Find your number (you can confirm on the digital sign board) and then find your car number and seat number. Take plenty of selfies in front of the train…I did not do this.

The seats are basic, and don’t worry, they become beds later in the evening. They will provide sheets, a blanket and a pillow that I’m pretty sure was just a bag of rice. Hey, that isn’t a racist comment you smut-thinker, I’ve just seen a looooot of bags of rice in the last few days and I feel pretty sure that’s what it was.

You’ll be offered orange juice (THE BEST I’VE EVER HAD) but be aware that it is not free…surprise! 120 Baht for two. Worth it!

Once your bed is made, you’re free to shut your curtain and do what you want. The lights on the train stay on all the time so if that bothers you, you’d want to bring a sleeping mask. It should go without saying you have headphones with you at all times.

I decided to watch Star Trek: Into Darkness and Jurassic Park before the rocking of the train lulled me to sleep.

Waking up, the sun was rising and what a beautiful, bloody sun it was.

I got to watch the scenery go by for a bit before the attendant came around and made our beds up back into seats. Shortly after, we arrived in Chiang Mai!

Getting off the train, I thought maybe there was a protest or a welcoming party happening. There was a huge line of people waiting for the passengers. It was a large line of taxi and tuk tuk drivers hoping to hawk a ride from us Farangs.

I managed to split a songathew with two couples – one from France and one from Holland. For 50 baht, I was dropped at my hostel, easy peasy.

I’m so glad that I was able to have an excellent experience on a train! America, we could take some lessons here so get your notepad out.

For those of you back home, I know travel can be intimidating, but conquering something like this is so empowering. If you’re willing to push through the fear, you can do it too!

Tomorrow, the time has come for bathing baby elephants!

For more helpful articles, find me on social media! I’d love to have you along!

Or, sign up for my email list using the subscription button on the sidebar or below welcome to the crazy train!
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xoxo <3

A complete guide to the Bangkok - Chiang Mai sleeper train. Enjoy!
Travel, Trip Planning

How to get an American passport, even if they think you’re a terrorist.

About a year ago, I applied for a passport for the first time.

The process was intimidating to me. I had asked friends and family about the experience and about what I should expect. They told me it was relatively simple and straight forward. You get your little photos, your little paperwork, and your little checkbook all together and submit it. Voila – passport in 4-6 weeks.

No one mentioned any problems with theirs or issues receiving it. I, however, was requested to provide additional documentation in the form of proof of identity. Today we’ll be going over how to apply for a passport if it’s your first time and some tips about proving that you are indeed you. Unless of course you aren’t….in that case, you don’t know me.

Step 1: Fill out the passport application.

Click the link above to be directed to the application form. Note that this is not an online application – as in, you are not applying for a passport online. You’re simply filling out the paperwork in a digital format which you will print and bring with you to a passport office. The office is where you will apply in person with all of your paperwork.

The application itself is rather straight forward, though you will want to make sure you choose the right county of your birth – I had to ask my parents. Once you have it completed, print out a copy or two.

While filling out the application, you have the option to ask for extra visa pages – I highly recommend this. Why not? You’re applying for a passport for a reason – go big or go home! It doesn’t cost anything extra to get them.

Step 2: Get your picture taken.

Or take it yourself! Passport photos have a very particular set of requirements to keep in mind if you choose to do it yourself. I was lazy and went to Walgreens and had them take it. You can get your photo taken at most post offices, UPS/FedEx, Walgreens and CVS locations. There are also plenty of little mom and pop shops around that do them too.

My mug shots. If you plan to travel, you will need additional “passport style” photos for Visas.

Note: You are not allowed to smile in the photo. At least all passport photos look equally like mugshots.

Step 3: Gather all your documents.

You’ll need:

  • Proof of American Citizenship – I recommend using your birth certificate. You’ll need to submit the original, a copy is not acceptable. I know it’s a little scary to ship it off, but it’ll be okay.
  • Your printed passport application from Step 1
  • Your passport photos from Step 2
  • Current Identification – State ID, driver’s license etc.
  • Photocopy of your current identification
  • Your checkbook for the passport fee of $135 for a book.


Step 4: Submit your application in person.

Once you have everything together in a nice little packet, find the nearest passport office to you. The office will give everything a look over and make sure it’s solid then take your payment and give you an application number. You can use this to track the status of your passport application which is pretty cool!

Step 5: If they request additional proof of identification.

For some reason, my application was flagged. Maybe I look stoned in the photo. Maybe it was the dreads. I blame it on the a-a-a-alcohol (pop culture song reference, aren’t you proud of me?!).

I received a letter from the passport office asking for 5 additional pieces of information from me, that were 5 years old or older.

Items that you could submit include: 

  • A news paper clipping
  • A nursing or pilots license
  • Recording of a news broadcast I was featured in
  • A marriage certificate
  • Military identification card
  • An old state ID (this cracks me up because THEY TAKE THEM when you get a new one!)

Who the hell has these things? Is it common to be in the news and I’m just not that special? Come on guys!

At that point I’m slightly freaking out “Can I not get a passport because I don’t have any of these super obscure things?!”. I called the passport office in a bit of a huff and was eventually directed to a super nice gentleman who told me a secret they don’t often advertise.

You can submit anything 5 years or older that includes your name and photo. That includes yearbook photos, college ID cards, HR records from previous jobs if they had your photo etc.

I went a little nuts then and gathered up over 15 additional proof of identification. I photocopied every yearbook photo I had. I printed all previous paystubs and enrollment info I could find. I went to my childhood doctor and got my medical records. I’m sure when they received the packet they were like “Okay, okay Ms. Hoffman, please stop producing proof of identification.”


My first Visa! From Thailand.
Hopefully you won’t have to go through step 5, but if you do, you’re ready! I hope this post helps encourage you to get a passport so that you can leave the country and do some traveling! Flights to Mexico are super cheap…just sayin’.

For more helpful articles, find me on social media! I’d love to have you along!

Or, sign up for my email list using the subscription button on the sidebar or below welcome to the crazy train!
Love my blog? Share the love on BlogLovin’!

xoxo <3

Travel, Trip Planning

How to trick yourself into saving money.

5 easy ways to trick yourself into saving money

Trying to save money can suck.

It’s hard, sometimes you just forget/get sidetracked, and sometimes it feels like you just literally don’t have anything extra to save. Believe me, I’ve been there, man – it’s horrible.


a debateable example of a good deal
A debatable example of a good deal

Using a few unconventional tactics, I managed to trick myself into saving a lot of the time. Fake it till you make it, right? Think of it like a game.

1. Invest in yourself. Immediately.

If you’re going to spend $5 on coffee, take the $5 and spend it…on yourself. Put it in an envelope, transfer it to a special bank account – whatever – so that it’s “spent”, but set aside toward your goal. Same goes for $10 on pizza or $2 at the gas station for snacks. You might be surprised how quickly the money seems to pile up.

2. Pay attention to your pennies.

Okay, not literally the pennies (though I do know someone who does that), but pay attention to how much you’re spending. It’s easy to just swipe your card and occasionally check your balance to see where you are-ish. When you go to the grocery store and normally spend around $50 for the week, try to make it $45, or $40…or whatever number you want to set as your goal. You can save whatever the difference in the average is.

I use to track my money across multiple accounts. I admit, it can be a little slow to update and its kind of hard to manage cash. However, it does a good job of at least giving you a good idea of where you stand.

3a. Cut back your grocery bill:

  • Look for coupons and compare different stores.
  • Only buy items that are on sale (this helps with variety too!).
  • Cook something that will last as a main course (a roast, lasagna, soup etc).
  • If something is super cheap, make it the star of the week (a banana a day can keep the doctor away, too…apples get all the glory).
  • Only buy 1 serving – one handful of mushrooms, 1 grapefruit, two kiwis, 1 can of soup…you get the idea. This cuts down on waste and decreases your shopping total!
  • Sharing meals with friends and your roommate. Offer to make pasta and have them bring sides and/or booze. Another friend is in charge of dessert. Rule of Acquisition #110, “Exploitation Begins at Home“. 
  • Make affordable ingredients shine – like cauliflower (which can be cooked like 23 different ways), rice, beans, and eggs.
  • Drink water. You knew I was going to say this at some point on this list.

3b. Cut your entertainment and social bill:

  • Find joy in the simpler things – like going to the park and people-watching. Go on a scavenger hunt. Hang out and talk with friends – you could play “this or that”.
  • Share Netflix with your folks – can’t hurt to ask! I don’t mind having my mom’s Hallmark movies all over my feed, so it’s fine. I pretty much just watch Star Trek. At least I didn’t say “Get rid of Netflix”, right?
  • Invest in things that keep you at home – games are great for this. Board games, video games, card games … plus games are good for social interaction!
  • Spend some time alone – don’t go out every night. Take a night or two to yourself and read a book, play a game, or do a hobby. This is also good practice for traveling solo!
  • Here it comes: cut back on the booze. If you must partake, do it during happy hour when it’s cheap. Never pay full price for a drink (take the difference and save it).
  • Find free things to do in your city. Lots of towns have free museum days for locals, park events when the weather is nice, and lots of live music at bars during the winter.

SanFrancisco Street Art
SanFrancisco Street Art

4. Save on travel costs too!

Just like losing weight, I think a culmination of all the little things add up to big changes.

  • Switch to a bank that has no foreign transaction fees (I switched to Capital One 360), reimburses ATM fees (if you’re military check out USAA), or has a killer rewards program.
  • Sign up for the rewards program. When I first started flying with Southwest Airlines (my favorite, they are so nice!), I signed up for their points program not thinking it would ever lead to anything. When I get back to the states in August, the points I’ve been saving are flying me from Nevada to Ohio. That’s like $400 in savings!
  • Shop around! This is a  good rule in general, but make sure when you’re booking things to check a few different sites – including booking directly through the company. Flights, hotels, rentals – all those things.
  • Ask for free things! I managed to get a better room while staying at the Extended Stay America while traveling last summer because they were slow and I asked. “Are there any free upgrades available?”
  • Kick it with the locals. This can be CouchSurfing, doing a workaway, or simply making it a point to avoid the touristy areas. Tourist stuff is always overpriced. I’m a Chicagoan, I’ve seen it.

5. Look at your numbers.

When you face your numbers it can sometimes be a bit shocking. At one point in my life I realized I was spending over $200/week eating out. HOLY EFF. I was putting it on my credit card, paying it off, then racking it back up…not good, guys, not good. I’ve worked crazy hard on my credit score over the last few years and was just shooting myself in the foot. I finally broke the cycle and started paying attention to my spending habits. I mentioned earlier, but you could also look at You Need a Budget.

You’ll have a savings account before you know it!

I hope this list has helped you! I’ll be updating it as I continue to learn tricks. If you have anything that you’d like to see added here, share it with the class in the comments!

Did you learn anything new about saving money in this post? How about any tips to add? Don’t be shy!

xoxo <3

Inspiring Stuff, Travel, Trip Planning

The real truth about my budget for 5 months in Asia.

I’ve had to make a lot of arrangements for this trip. All the way from the bank, post office, and final utilities, to coordinating with friends and paying potentially-sketchy internet companies on the Internet to unlock my iPhone (I’ll let you know how it goes once I’m abroad).

This usually requires giving a little context about the situation. When you ask your doctor for sleeping pills, antibiotics, and 6 months of birth control, they tend to ask what you need it for lol 😛

My typical response is “I’m leaving to travel through Southeast Asia for five months“. As soon as the words leave my mouth, I usually get a “Ohhhh I wish I could afford to do that!” “Ohh, I’m so jealous! I could never do that.” It’s a nice warm and fuzzy feeling that you too could share!

SPOILER: It’s not that expensive.


Guys, let’s have a moment together here. As friends, I have to tell you – you can absolutely go travel if you want. If you take the time to put it together, you absolutely can. It’s scary. It’s sometimes rough. It’s occasionally unstable and stressful too. Beyond all that though, it’s simply the bees knees. If you’re one of the people who says “Oh I wish I could do X”…go do it!  Make a ‘it’s all FUBAR’ plan, and go do it. Take it slow and ask questions if you have them 🙂

You can even do it if you’re super out of shape and chubby like myself, and/or have terrible, debilitating thigh chafing!

The only way to make it happen is to take the plunge!

Thanks for listening. I want you to be able to achieve your dreams. I want to empower you, be straight with you, and maybe even inspire you. Seriously, no bullshit, if little po-dunk-no-degree-out-of-shape-Zoom can do it, you can too.

Returning to the Budget:

All of you know that I’m a pretty thrifty gal. I buy used clothes and items. I’ve had the shirt I’m wearing today for at least 4 years. I don’t [often] go out drinking. I invest in video games that keep me home. My roommate and I kept a good system for groceries and cooking so I rarely have to eat out. Just having a roommate cuts down on rent and other costs of living.

My roommate and me

This allows me to save a lot of money. I save my money like a dragon hoards gold. The curse of being a yard-saler (sailor?) … “maybe I should save my money for when I find something I really, really want.” Thanks mom for only giving me $2/week to spend at yard sales – save those quarters, girl!

Show me the numbers:

There were a lot of costs I paid ahead of time. This is my number one tip to you – pay as much as you can ahead of time. 

Everything I’ve already paid:

Grand Total of Pre-paid costs: about $1,400

I just want to note that my decision to quit my job and travel was well timed around tax return season. Large chunks of cash were incredibly helpful in allowing me to pull this off. Also, I sold almost everything I own which was a nice boost.

I’ll be leaving the states with about $4,500 in hand.

I’m not sure if that’s enough for 5 months in Southeast Asia or not.

I’ll focusing on cutting costs by getting two months free accommodation by working at a Cat Cafe in Vietnam and teaching English while in Thailand. I’ve also got plans up my sleeve to make money (more on that later). I tricked myself into saving some of this. Ultimately, you learn to live with what you’ve got so I think I’ll be fine!

Here’s a quick breakdown of what I think my top costs will be.

  1. Transportation
  2. Food
  3. Lodging
  4. Entertainment
  5. Visas and other paperwork fees
  6. Re-up on supplies – shampoo, stomach medicine etc.

Naturally, my thriftiness will continue to prevail abroad as well as stateside. I’ll be staying in hostels, couch surfing, and taking my time. Essentially, a lot of busses/trains, no trinkets/souvenirs, shoddy accommodations, and street food. Also, no A/C.

It’s going to be about 122 days. Typically, most people recommend $30/day for Southeast Asia. With $4,500 that will be about $36/day. We should be good!

My FUBAR plan is a credit card with a $2,500 limit on it.

No matter what happens, I’m going to be true to my rules of the road and tell myself it’s all going to be okay – and it will.

Do you have any money saving tips for travel gear or while traveling? I’m all ears!

If you’d like to join me on the adventure,

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xoxo <3