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!

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Resources, Travel, Trip Planning

Budget Report: how much does it cost to travel for 5 months?

How much does it cost to travel

“How much does it cost to travel?”

This is by far the most common question that I get asked about travel. I had always read that “you don’t have to be rich to travel” but how true was that really? Let’s find out!

About this report

I decided to break this down by country. Since most of the countries I visited don’t accept American cards, I payed cash for almost everything. I tallied these numbers by looking back on my bank statements and adding up the cash withdrawals according to the dates I was in each country. On my next trip, I’ll keep better track of expenses by category for you guys so we can find out how much they were individually. 🙂

The numbers below include everything you might pay for back home. Food, lodging, entertainment, midnight snacks, transportation, toiletries, clothes etc.

Before I left for my trip, there were a few purchases I had to make that will be included in the total, but aren’t associated with any particular country.

Flight to Bangkok: $414

Flight home from Tokyo: $861.66 (if I had planned better, I could have bought this further in advance and lowered the cost big time!)

Travel insurance: $110

Keep Costs Low

There was also a considerable amount of prep-work that I did before I left, in an attempt to keep costs down. If you’re ever planning some long term travel, I recommend you do the following to keep costs low:

  • Open an account with a company that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. I use Capitol One 360 – this saved me a few bucks every time I used an ATM OR made an online purchase in another currency.
  • Open an account with a company that will reimburse you for your ATM fees. Since I come from a military family, I use USAA. If you’re non-military, take a look at online banks such as Charles Schwab for this perk.
  • Buy one way tickets. My ticket to Bangkok was actually round-trip, even though I didn’t catch my flight to come home. Buying a one way ticket keeps you from having to pay ticket change fees, and from eating the cost of paying for a seat you might choose not to be in once you get on the road.
  • Give up the booze. I started doing this before I left and once I was on the road. Not buying alcohol can literally save you hundreds of dollars!

The final numbers

6 flights, 9 buses and 10 trains later, I present to you: the final costs! How much do you think it will be?

Cost Breakdown by Country

  • USA, San Francisco: $1,329.37
  • Thailand: $666
  • Laos: $641.24
  • Vietnam: $714.37
  • Cambodia: $323.92
  • Malaysia: $136.57
  • Singapore: $527.18
  • Hong Kong: $323.44
  • Japan: $1,978.49

Total Cost: $7,498.40

Is that higher or lower than what you expected?

When I looked at this number, I felt a bit shocked. It seems high (thanks Japan)…but when I think about how much my cost of living was in America – it was actually cheaper to travel!

In Chicago, my apartment expenses started at $600/mo. Once you add in groceries, transportation, entertainment, girls night out, a Netflix subscription, and impulsive video game purchases, life on the road was more affordable – and so much more satisfying!

Looking back on the trip, there’s a lot of things I would do differently to save even more. All in all though, this was still the trip of a lifetime and absolutely priceless!

If you have any questions about the costs, or ideas on how to save even more – leave me a comment!

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Thailand, Travel

The Best Of: Thailand

The Best of Thailand

Oh, Thailand, how I miss thee.

Cities visited: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen, Random Jungle Roads on a Motorcycle

Thailand will always be special to me unlike any other country can be. It was the first country I visited outside of the US (I’m not counting Canada because it’s like “America lite”- sorry Canada). Landing in Bangkok, Thailand immediately rocked my world.

Out of everywhere I visited, I spent the most time in Thailand. I literally left the day that my entrance stamp expired. The customs officer even commented on it – I told her that I wanted to stay as long as I could! I love Thailand! She smiled.

Thailand and I had a lot of firsts together. I visited my first cat cafe, taught English even though I didn’t have a college degree (and hated it), tried all kinds of interesting foods, took a cooking class, bathed baby elephants, saw more temples than I needed to, took my first sleeping train, rode a motorbike through the jungle, and ate crazy amounts of Pad Thai.

I also sweat my ass off EVERY. DAY….. WORTH IT!

Thailand was the perfect way to enter my travels into Asia, making Thailand one of the best of the best!

Photo viewing recommendations: If you’d like to view the story behind each photo, click on the photos and look through them like a slideshow. The story is in the captions!

I know in my heart that someday I’ll return to Thailand – I would even consider living there. Next time, I’ll appreciate it even more. In contrast to the other countries I visited, the Thai people were the nicest, the food the most delicious, and the fruit the freshest.

In the meantime, I’m trying to live as Asia-like as possible! Even at this moment, I’m wearing my ‘Aladdin’ pants I got from Thailand. Now, off to make some Pad Thai….I don’t care that it’s three in the morning!

I’m so excited to be bringing you the “Best Of:” series. I love looking through these photos, re-living all these experiences, then sharing them with you. Next week, we’ll be seeing the Best Of: Laos!

REMINDER!

Don’t forget we’re running a giveaway right now for an adorable set of what I’m calling “adventure clutches”. Aren’t they cute?!

ZoomGoes Giveaway

To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is fill out this form. Winners will be announced on October 6th! If you are the winner, I’ll contact you via email for your address. Godspeed, contestants!

Any context I can include to make these posts better for you? Leave me a comment!

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Resources, Travel, Trip Planning

FREE Giveaway! World Map themed 3-set of clutches by Allen Edward.

ZoomGoes Giveaway

Welcome to the very first giveaway on ZoomGoes!

Step right up, step right up for your chance to win this beautiful set of clutches!

Anyone who has ever received a gift from me knows that I suck at waiting to give them. Whenever I have something I know someone will love, I want to give it to them RIGHT NOW!

Oh, I know Christmas isn’t for 8 months, but I got you this awesome Christmas present! Don’t you love it?! Crap… now I need to buy them a Christmas present!

This post was supposed to be released tomorrow (Thursday) but I was just so excited I couldn’t wait that long! I know you guys are going to love these!

Illustrating a world map, and designed by Allen Edward, these clutches are perfect for helping your organize your travel bag or to make an “I love adventure” statement during a night out on the town!

Here’s a funny homemade infomercial:

Why am I having a Giveaway?

On Sunday, I unveiled my plans to turn ZoomGoes into a brand. This requires a change in marketing, content strategy and focus on building an audience. Real bloggers have giveaways, so here we are!

I know you’re not going to want to increase the competition for these little beauties, but why don’t you share this post with your friend? If either of you won, maybe each of  you could have a clutch and rotate Sundays for the third one.

How to Win

To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is fill out this form:

This will enter you into the giveaway, and subscribe you to my email list. Don’t worry – my Momma taught me the only good spam comes in a can! I’ll never sell your email address or do anything malicious with it, I just want to know how to contact you with kick-ass adventure inspiration!

Email list members (aka ‘my tribe’) receive the following benefits:

  • Automatic entry into all future giveaways
  • The first to receive value items such as eBooks, discount coupons on my services, and How-To guides not posted on ZoomGoes
  • Notifications of new blog entries (posted on Sundays and Thursdays)
  • Private invitations to my webinars
  • and more!

You can unsubscribe at any time if you’re not digging it (but I bet you will!)

Winners will be contacted via email, and announced on ZoomGoes.com on October 6th. If you are selected as the winner, I’ll ask you for your mailing address at that time.

Good luck contestants! Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing ZoomGoes!

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Travel

Making my intentions clear to you, my readers.

I thought I wanted to be a travel blogger, but I don’t. I want to be an inspirational blogger!

When I started ZoomGoes several months ago, it was because I was having a bit of an internal crisis. A mini-meltdown. I needed to get away, re-center myself. Swept up in a small wave of depression, I had lost my path in the woods sometime over the last couple of years. More accurately, I wasn’t who I thought I was. After building up the new me, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go.

My life was feeling so static. I felt like I’d been pushing, pulling, spinning my wheels, busting my ass – and hadn’t moved a step forward. WTF?! What was I doing? Where did I want to go? How should I get there? I couldn’t keep going on like I had been.

Finding my way by getting lost.

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About a year before I snapped, I had applied for a passport.

When searching for an escape from my rut, travel seemed like the best option. It gave me the highest chance of getting an outside, fresh, perspective. I wanted to go out and discover how people in other parts of the world do things. I wanted to develop a deeper appreciation of things that, maybe, I was actually taking for granted.

Should I be appreciating my job more? My family? My possessions? My socioeconomic status? I was putting a lot of pressure on this trip to bring things into perspective for me (more on that in another post, because I’m not quite sure where I am yet).

The transformation of ZoomGoes

As a tool to share this journey with friends and family, I created ZoomGoes. Originally, it was just that – for friends and family to know I was alive. There was no goal beyond that. Through my journey of not only traveling, but blogging, it’s grown to be something bigger.

Zoom Goes has allowed me to develop a sense of community. There are times I feel tired, burnt out, lonely, or like I’m just at the top of a mountain shouting while no one listens – that my words are going unread. That I’m not making a difference.

But then, someone leaves a comment. Someone shares my post, or I get a message telling me that I’ve inspired one of my readers to have an adventure. In that moment, my fire is reignited. It is one of the best feelings I have ever felt. To me, this is more rewarding than any paycheck could be.

I want more.

I want to take the blog to the next level.

I want to deepen my community.

I want to extend my reach and inspire more people.

I want to help others accomplish what they think they can’t.

I want to empower people to adventure and live their life fully – on whatever scale that might be.

Before I get into the ‘the plan’, I want to say thank you to each of you reading this <3

If you didn’t read, didn’t comment, didn’t like or share, I’m not sure I would have the motivation to continue. It would be like talking to wall. Yes, this is something that I love, but if I have no one to share it with, what’s the point? Thank you for sharing your support and love with me!

Goals for the next year.

So, why am I telling you all of this rather than just doing it? I’ve learned over the years that communication and openness is important in any relationship! Since the one we have is so special to me, I wanted to be upfront with you about the drive behind any changes to the site 🙂

Okay, here we go! It’s about to get real. *rubs hands together*

#1 Build my audience through a social media marketing plan.

GOAL: Every month, I want my traffic to be higher than that of the previous month.

ZoomGoes

This year, I want to grow my community. Develop my tribe. Extend my family. I want to increase traffic to the blog. Not just people visiting the site – I want to attract lifers.

Lifers: People I can have a connection with who will be readers for life. 

How will this be measured? Through engagement (comments/likes/shares), page views (how many pages someone views per session), and unique visitors (individual people coming to the site).

 

#2 Become a brand.

GOAL: Develop a product or service.

Zoom Goes will be undergoing the transformation of becoming a brand – a unique identity. As such, I’d like to develop a product, or a service, that I can begin to offer my readers. My eBook, “10+ Free Things You Can Do Anywhere”, is undergoing the final editing process. It’s almost finished!

10_free_things_you_can_do_anywhere_cover by ZoomGoes

 

With my mission being to inspire others to take action on their dreams, specifically relating to adventure and travel, I hope that this book will be a good resource for my cult. As someone who loves free things (could you tell by the title?), the book will of course be free for my audience!

I’ve also toyed with the idea of offering trip-planning consultations. Possibly giving webinars or creating a podcast – something of value to you.

As someone who is reading this now, I would love to hear from you regarding any ideas you have or needs you might want met. What is holding you back from pursuing your adventure dreams? How can I help you overcome your fear? Leave me a comment and tell me your struggles – I’d like to find a solution.

With this overhaul there will be some changes happening to the site over the next few months. I’m going to beg my graphic designer BFF to make me a logo, I’m going to polish up my “about me” page and toy around with the layout of the site.

If you ever see a change you like, or hate, let me know! Feedback and constructive criticism is always welcome!

#3 Build an email list.

GOAL: Have a reliable way to communicate with my community.

Over the last few months, I’ve invested a lot of time into learning about how to have a successful brand. One of the most common reoccurring themes is “get an email list”. This lets me stay in touch with my community, share extra tidbits and resources with them, and gives them a good way to keep in connection with me too.

A feeling of trust, community and genuine connection is important to me – that’s really what I find rewarding from all of this. I will never sell your email, send you spam, forward stupid things to you, or blow your inbox up. Personally, I get enough emails and I’m sure you do too.

You’ll only ever receive notification of new posts, and other things that I’m confident will be of value to you. I’ve currently got 10 email subscribers (counting my mother) and would like to grow this by 10x over the next year.

To jump start my email list campaign, next week we’re going to have our first GIVEAWAY!

If you’d like to get a headstart, you can join my mailing list using the form below. Members of the mailing list will automatically be entered into all giveaways, receive a copy of my book “10+ Free Things You can Do Anywhere”, and be the first to get notified about service discounts along with new posts and adventure tips! Don’t worry: my Momma taught me the only good spam comes in a can. I’ll never sell your email or use it maliciously in any way.

#4 Stay focused on adventure

GOAL: Continue to have new experiences, share them here, and inspire my audience.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – adventure is an attitude. You can experience adventure on a day to day basis!

While this blog started off with a ‘big adventure’ of me traveling through Asia, it will continue with the adventure theme even while I’m stationary(ish) in the states. I commit to continue to bring you inspirational stories, terrible puns, along with tips and tricks to add some adventure spice to your own life. Just because we’re going to be domestic for the next few months doesn’t mean the party is stopping. I’m an adventure addict, it must continue.

#5 Increase professionalism.

GOAL: Generate high quality, polished marketing graphics and blog images with edited content.

As stated, up until this point the blog has mainly been for my friends and family. Since it was so casual, it was okay if I had some spelling issues (spelling HAS NEVER been my strong point, embarrassingly so) or the pictures were cut off.

NO LONGER!

We’re going full pro now. Slick, professional marketing graphics. High resolution, thoughtful photos. Writing that’s undergone an extreme, ruthless editing process. Bold titles. In fact, bring in the dragons – we’re going big!

I got the mojo! 

I’ve been in the market for a DSLR for a few months. I felt it would be the next tool I should invest in to take my blog to the next level. Of course any camera worth its salt is expensive. Finally, I found a camera on craigslist that is high quality and in my budget.

I email to see if the camera is still available. I’m told it is, and that we can arrange a time for later to pick it up. A few days go by and I never get a response. Damn! Then, there’s an email from her. Enclosed is a note that says they found the camera is broken, and since it’s got no value, she’ll meet me and give it to me for free.

We meet in a public place (cragislist killers, ya know) and I get the camera, a camera bag, a lens, and various other accessories. I take the camera to a repair shop to see if they can fix the pin that is causing memory cards not to be read. In typical American fashion, they explain it’ll be $300 dollars, 8-12 weeks bla bla bla. Of course, that isn’t an option.

Determined, I decide to go to Best Buy. I’ve broken plenty of pins and card readers in my time so why not give it a go? A purchase a $40 CF card…plug it in…and it works!!

I just got a $300 camera for $40!! I’m taking this as a sign it was meant to be!

#6 Make money.

GOAL: Earn enough to invest back into the blog, and be able to focus almost exclusively on its development.

I know what you’re thinking “ahhh, I knew it was too good to be true…this is what it’s all about, isn’t it? MONEY!” I’ll be straight with you – in a sense, yes. However, there is a reason this is at the bottom of the list – it is my last priority. Like they always say: “Do what you love and the money will follow”, and I believe that.

While I think an income will be a by-product of a great blog, it’s still a priority I want to be mindful of. Why? I’ll tell you.

If I’m able to generate an income from this blog, that empowers me to reinvest it back into the source – my audience. Don’t worry – this income isn’t going to be generated through the hard selling of crap that you don’t need in your life, or through so many pop ups you can barely see the site. I want to generate it through my service to you. My own products, resources, and work.

If I just made enough to allow me to simply work a part time job rather than full time, that opens up a lot of extra time and emotional energy I could invest here. I’ll more available to provide better content. I’ll be able to afford better tools. Maybe even in a few years, an assistant to help with marketing (this takes up most of my time right now).

Ideally, I’d like to grow to the point where I can outsource marketing. I can then focus strictly on writing content, creating resources, and being available for more intimate interactions with my lifers. One on one problem solving consultations, trip planning, and anything else that I might discover I’m useful for throughout this journey.

Its showtime.

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Now that I’ve declared my intentions, I invite you to continue on this journey with me. I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t already come this far with me. I’m excited to go ever forward together. <3

-Zoom

 

 

 

Packing, Product Review, Travel

Product Review: Sanity Saving Packing Cubes

These sanity saving packing cubes will be the best organizational decision you'll ever make for trip planning.



I’ve finally unpacked! It only took me….a month.

It’s not that it was difficult – I just wanted to procrastinate. Unpacking would mean that I’ve ‘settled in’ and I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet. When I finally rolled up my sleeves, I realized it was actually pretty easy. I don’t own that much stuff anymore! I give all the credit of an expedited un-pack to these vibrant packing cubes! Can I get a round of applause, please?

Sanity Saving Packing Cubes
Everything I’ve owned for the last 5 months has fit in these.

Getting organized before you need to organize!

While planning my trip to Asia, I cornered one of my well-traveled coworkers for his ‘pro tips’. First thing out of his mouth was “get packing cubes”. Don’t tell anyone, but I had to go Google what those were later on. I’d never heard of packing cubes before! He said that I’d thank myself while I was on the road.

Since these weren’t too expensive, and I hold my friend in high esteem, I went for it. Daniel was right – I’m so glad I did.

You know how it is – especially the ladies. You have a bag or a purse that you carry around, right? Even though you don’t put anything in there except your wallet, phone and keys, over it time it magically gets infested with dirty gnomes that seem to never pick up after themselves! A few weeks later you’re all like “where did all these receipts/gum wrappers/suckers/extra keys/small animals come from?!?!

This problem does not go away while you’re traveling. In fact, it gets worse. 

The pockets of my bag were constantly cluttered with all kinds of things. Random coins from countries I haven’t been in for months, small papers, beetles, chopsticks, notes to myself, receipts in languages I can’t read – it was madness! (not Sparta)

Until you live out of a backpack, it doesn’t really sink in how many times you grab things throughout the day. When you have all of your possessions in one place, you realize that you reach for chapstick 100x/day (that might just be me though), have to touch your passport 4x/day to make sure it’s still there, and need to change your underwear 3x/day (so hot in Asia).

There is A LOT of getting in and out of your backpack. Instead of rummaging through the darkest depths of a mussed up pack, I simply pulled out the packing cube that I needed. Voila! There was my item.

Don’t just take my word for it

Within the first two weeks of being on the road, I knew the packing cubes were a smart investment. By the time I got to Singapore, I may have been taking them for granted. Until one night, I was sitting in my bunk, and this girl comes up to me (this happens to me a lot). “Can I ask you about your orange bags? Did you get them on Amazon?”

In fact, I did! She had looked at the exact same ones, and was going to purchase them herself. But, because she was only traveling for two weeks, she held off. How bad could it be for two weeks?

She wanted to know if I was glad I got them and about the quality. Were they ripping? Do the zippers work okay? Was the mesh tearing or picking? These were better questions than I had asked before I made the purchase myself lol!

I let her inspect them, explaining that I was very happy with them so far. The mesh is high quality, zippers work great and they have been soooo helpful to have along with me. She agreed they looked top notch, and confessed that she regretted not buying them. Keeping her pack organized has been a struggle, even for “just a two week trip”. She then thanked me, and went back to reading her book.

I went back to watching Harry Potter, feeling smug that I was so well prepared.

How to use the cubes

I organized my organizers because I’m a nerd like that:

  • Smallest Cube: Toiletries (medicine, deodorant, sunscreen etc)
  • Medium Cube: Scarves, bandannas, headlamp, extra sunglasses and other things I wouldn’t need to get to very often
  • Medium-Large Cube: Bras, undies, socks, bath towel, and thigh-saving Bandelettes
  • Large Cube: Shorts, shirts, skirts and dresses
  • Drawstring Bag: Dirty laundry / wet clothes

Having this system was such a time, and sanity, saver. Again, instead of digging for days, I just had to pull out the right sized bag. From there, it was always a snap to find what I was looking for!

Between you and me, my favorite one of these was the drawstring bag (though I swear I love all my cubes equally). My mom and grandma always put dirty or wet clothes in plastic bags while we vacationed. Having a dedicated canvas bag was so much better!

Much sturdier, easy identifiable when getting your laundry done, and it held exactly a weeks worth of clothes. This was when I was changing clothes twice a day too because of the heat, mind you! It was also nice to know I could shove my swim suit or bath towel in there without it getting the rest of my stuff wet.

Year Round Cube Use

As I finished unpacking, my cubes laid empty and sad on my bed. Initially, I put all of the small ones into the big one and was going to just leave them in my backpack until the next adventure (South America! more on that later).

As I got more settled at home, I noticed a distinct lack of organization tools available to me. I need a little place for my travel documents, somewhere to put all these extra extension cords, a place to keep my travel things for the next adventure….wait a minute, I’ve got cubes for that!

I bust the cubes back out and they’re now being put to work, like holding fake birds and flowers to wear in my dreads. I love getting your money’s worth out of stuff! 🙂

The cubes that aren’t being used right now are on call for my family’s trip to Amish country in a few weeks, and for my first camping trip of the fall. They better not get used to just sitting around. It’s time they earn their keep!

In closing, if you like to take little trips, or big trips, or short trips, or long trips, or have ever experienced the disorganized-shit blues, I really can’t speak highly enough of these packing cubes.

Added perk: if you lay them, your cat will come.


If you’re thinking this might be good for your next adventure, I’d love it if you’d order them using this little button below. Full disclosure: I’ll get a [small] referral bonus for the sale, but I promise it won’t be enough to go to my head and make me all hoity toity and too good to keep on blogging!

If you do decide to purchase these, please come back and leave a comment about your experience with them for other readers!

 

What gives you the biggest problems while you’re traveling?

-Zoom

These sanity saving packing cubes will be the best organizational decision you'll ever make for trip planning.