What it’s Really Like to Travel for Work Every Week

Next Monday I will take my last flight of 2018 home to Chicago for the holidays. That flight will be flight number 70 for me this year. SEVEN ZERO. Seventy flights, seventy different planes. I traveled 30 weeks out of this year for work, 4 weeks out of this year for planned vacation, and 4 weeks for family/friend visits in between it all. That is nearly 38 out 52 weeks spent away from home. I know some people travel way more than this, but this is the first year I’ve had to cope with a schedule like this.

I thought about writing about travel tips or airport routines but I wanted to focus on something more important. What I actually want to talk about is the toll this travel has taken on me this year. I never thought that I would be on a plane this much, and if I did, I’m sure I thought it would be infinitely more glamorous. In the past, traveling was always an exciting event. Airports were fun to explore, and the rush I would get when the plane would take off would last me until my destination. Unfortunately, only a small percent of my trips this year invoked those feelings – my vacations. The rest of my trips were for work and decidedly un-glamorous.

My work travel is slowly killing me. In the past, I would travel once or twice a month which I think is my ideal. I get a chance to go and visit new clients, explore a couple of new cities, great. But for most of this year, I have been shuttling back and forth every single week. A lot of San Francisco with some Denver, Seattle, LA, and Salt Lake City sprinkled in. Monday morning fly in, work, work, work, Thursday night fly back. This is pretty typical for consultants, but because the first year or so at this job I didn’t travel this much, I didn’t realize how much this type of schedule would drain me.

I don’t want this to be a depressing post, but I do want to be honest about what it feels like to travel for work all the time. The first issue I have is physical. It’s much harder to get into a good routine of working out when your schedule is never consistent. I can’t join a gym or commit to new types of training since I would never be able to participate. Eating well is a nightmare since while I’m traveling, I can’t cook for myself so I have to spend increasing amounts of time getting my hands on foods that are actually good for me. Just the plane ride itself can be hazardous since they are known incubators of disease and can also do a number on your skin and hair since the air is so cold and dry.

The second, and far more damaging issue with this way of life, is the emotional part. It is lonely, living this way. The actual traveling part is always done alone. I go through security alone, I sit at the gate alone, I fly alone, I uber alone, I eat alone. Then when I get to the client, that’s obviously all work. I get some social interaction, but being a consultant is having a lot of either work conversations, or small talk conversations that don’t really mean anything and are more draining to participate in than refreshing. Evenings are usually, once again, spent alone. There are occasions where I’m able to meet friends that are in that city, or there are work dinners, but nine times out of ten – I spend the night alone.

Doing this every once in a while wasn’t so bad. But every week? It starts to wear you down. I grow more and more resentful of my trips because they take me away from spending time with people I love. Earlier this week my Monday morning flight ended up getting delayed by two and half hours and I broke down in tears in the bathroom because if I had known this before I left my apartment, I could have spent those two precious hours in bed with my boyfriend instead of wasting away at the airport yet again.

There are, of course, two sides to every story. Travel really wears me down, but I do have an insane amount of air miles, credit card points, and hotel status that I can take advantage of now. I’ve barely paid for any of my vacations out of pocket because I have so much status to use up. I also have my airport routine down pat and most of the time it only takes me ten minutes or less from the curb to the gate area. Sometimes, I even get upgrades and then I really feel fancy. But all of that feels hollow compared with what I’m sacrificing.

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way, and I can only imagine how much more guilty and awful I would feel if I had kids or something that I was leaving behind each week, but I also have met a ton of people that cope with this lifestyle just fine. They leave every week, are home on the weekends, and that’s just their life. Part of me knows that eventually, I too, would get used to this, it would just become my norm and I would figure out how to feel less lonely. But part of me also doesn’t want to. I don’t think I want to be one of those people that is everywhere but lives nowhere. Maybe this lifestyle is easier for people who already have an amazing community built up at their hometown, but I feel travel pains ever more acutely as my social life in Calgary hangs by a thread since I’m never there to nurture it. When I travel, I feel like I’m missing out, and when I return, it’s obvious that I have and that feeling is killing me. And it’s not missing out on parties, or dinners that gets to me, it’s missing all the small moments – watching a movie with a friend on a weeknight, laughing with my boyfriend while we cook dinner together, going to a gym class where I see the same people every Tuesday. None of those things can happen for me with this life, and THAT is what is killing me. THOSE are the things I’m becoming more and more attached to, and I’m coming to the realization that I don’t want to live a life that means giving those up all the time.

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The darker the line, the more I’ve done the route.
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One of the only flights I did for fun this year – my boyfriend flew me over the rocky mountains
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Vacations are More than Relaxation

Long time no see, huh? For the last three weeks I was on vacation in Italy and Greece, and unlike in the past, I did not post while I was away. I even have some posts pre-written that were planned to be released while I was away but for some reason, I never felt the sense of urgency to actually post them while I was traveling. This time, I decided to treat this vacation as a vacation from all things – I did not work, I did not workout (apart from a couple runs), and I did not indulge my normal blogging schedule.

I was able to completely focus on my vacation and actually relax. I have kept such a rigid schedule the past couple years and I think I finally needed a vacation from all of my normal commitments, even the self-imposed ones. For the past year, I was consistently adding more and more commitments to my life whether they were social, self-improvement initiatives, or work-related. And after this trip, I realized that many of them are draining my life, more than adding to it.

Vacations, in general, are always great for me to take a step back and remind myself of what is actually important to me, but this time it was more than that. In a rare change of pace, this last trip was a trip more about the people than the places. I got to see one of my absolute best friends, as well as spend a Greece trip with my family like we used to. Spending so much quality time with people that are so important to me made me rethink my priorities a bit. I’m still working through this whole thought process but the basic idea is that I’d like to flip my thinking about how to plan my life.

I won’t go into it too much here because I still haven’t thought through it all, but the short story is that this vacation was more rejuvenating than most for my perspective and while I apologize for missing three Wednesdays, I don’t regret it at all. In fact, I’ve actually been thinking on going on a longer hiatus from my blog, and leaving it to someone else, but more on that later.

I’ve rambled a bit now, but this post only had one intention, and that was to explain my absence from the blogosphere to the few hundred of you that read my posts every week and to reiterate the point to our overworked populations that sometimes it’s ok to go completely off the grid and just feed your soul (although I definitely fed my stomach as well). I will return next week with some regular content, until then, let me know if you’d like more explanation on my change in perspectives and I’ll be happy to accommodate.

Where is Your Passport?

I was going to write about my personal travel bucket list this week, but a few days ago a colleague brought an extremely troubling statistic to my attention. He told me that only 10% of Americans have valid passports. I was confounded by this and immediately looked it up. That’s way too low, right? Well turns out that even though the number isn’t quite as dire as 10%, there are still only 41% of Americans that have valid passports. Not horrible, but definitely not great. That means that out of 325 million people nearly 170 million of them don’t have a passport and have thus probably never been outside the country.

I recognize that I may find this surprising because I grew up relatively privileged, with a passport since birth so that I could travel to Greece to visit my dad’s side of the family. I used to think that the people who didn’t travel simply didn’t because they were too scared or too unsure about how to plan or afford it. And while I do understand that there are financial and emotional burdens to undertake in getting a passport and in overseas travel, I also know that those obstacles only account for a fraction of the 170 million who don’t have passports. This number has to include people who don’t even have a base desire to go anywhere outside their home country and that is unimaginable for me.

Obviously, I am a travel nut. I love to see new places, experience new things, and explore different cultures. I think an inordinate amount about dropping everything to become a travel blogger and am constantly updating my bucket list (and by ‘updating’, I mean ‘adding to it’). It is incomprehensible to me that there are people out there who have no desire to see other places. Even my most homebody type friends have at least one far away place they’d love to see someday.

The reason I believe this is important to discuss because I learned some of my most important lessons about myself and about the world from travelling. Travelling to different places is an exercise in perseverance, and most importantly, in empathy. Depending on the place you’re going, there are certain obstacles to overcome: language, transportation, etc. which all enhance problem-solving and personal creativity by figuring out ways to survive that you wouldn’t normally have to use at home. However, the more important skill, in my opinion, is the practice of empathy. It is easy to sit at home, watch the news, and believe everything you see about the rest of the world. But it is quite another to actually travel to a place, and experience it for yourself.

For example, for many people, all they know about countries like Afghanistan are that they are war-torn terrorist hotbeds. But if you look at travel blogs and videos from people who have visited, they will rave about the food or the kindness of the people. I truly believe every single place on this planet has SOMETHING to offer and it’s a terrible waste that there are so many people out there who have no desire to experience something new.

I am probably at a loss with this concept because I don’t really know too many people who do not have a passport. I know I sound like a spoiled brat, but I honestly can’t imagine having never experienced anything outside my own country. If you or someone you know doesn’t’ have a passport,  I would love to know what their reasons are for not having one or for not travelling. Since nearly 60% of Americans don’t have one, there’s gotta be a reason, right?

 

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Me in Peru exactly a year ago where your passport is needed for everything as it’s your only form of ID

 

How to Vomit in Your Own Hands

Great title, right? Unfortunately, on my trip to Mexico, I got intimately familiar with what getting sick on the road is like.

Those who know me know that I hardly ever get sick. Like, I barely even get the common cold. Consequently, I’ve been lucky enough to evade any travel sickness for quite a while now, so I guess it was only a matter of time before it caught up with me.

On my trip to Mexico last month, I had a slight bit of food poisoning. And when I say slight, I actually mean 24 hours of being violently ill. As the title would suggest, it was not the most glamorous affair, but I did learn a few things.

First off, I learned what food poisoning feels like (or at least, I think I do). We never could trace back my sickness to exactly what had upset my stomach but the symptoms were all there. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Graphic, I know, but bear with me. When you eat something that your stomach deems unacceptable, your body completely rejects it and tries to rid itself of the substance however it can, hence the unpleasant symptoms. For me, the nauseous feeling was intensified because it was hot and muggy, and when the sickness actually hit me, we were on perhaps the roughest bus ride I’ve ever been on, and thus my nausea could no longer be contained, and I threw up what little I had eaten that day, into my own two hands.

This brings me to the second thing: you should always travel prepared. I’m not saying you need to be like Mary Poppins and pull a whole hospital out of your bag, but you should always take a couple of key items, whether or not you commonly get sick. First and foremost: TISSUES/NAPKINS. I got in the habit of carrying napkins around with me when I was in Shanghai for a year because many places do not provide toilet paper in public bathrooms. Thank goodness the habit stuck, because I had some napkins in my bag to help me clean myself up while I was still on the bus.

Another great item is disinfecting wipes. I say wipes because a bottle is just extra liquid for your TSA approved bag, and also because on the whole, I am against hand sanitizer. I think it’s silly, it kills the immune system, and it dries out my hands, so I am NOT a fan. HOWEVER, if you throw up in your own hands, or do something equally disgusting, it might be nice to have a couple stashed nearby so you can at least feel semi clean until you get yourself to a real bathroom with real soap.

Lastly, bring some standard meds with you. We’re talking painkillers, Alka Seltzers, and any and all manner of indigestion drugs you think is applicable. When you’ve got food poisoning, there aren’t many drugs that can help at the moment, but they will help mild discomfort and might help after the fact as well.

While I was sick, I did a couple of important things — Once we got back to our hotel room, I immediately stripped to my underwear and got a cold washcloth to keep myself from overheating. My amazing boyfriend went out to get me some more cold water, coca cola, and plan crackers (or tortilla chips in Mexico’s case). The Coca-Cola I mixed with water to drink to settle my stomach. Ginger ale is ideal for this, but Coke is a reliable brand pretty much everywhere in the world. The plain crackers were so that my body wasn’t running on empty, but they are also such a mild food that they wouldn’t irritate my stomach any further.

By far the worst thing about food poisoning is that no matter how badly you try and take away the nausea, your body will insist on ridding itself of whatever you ate/drank and you have to let it run its course. At the start, I would try and prevent the vomit for as long as possible, but there was no way around it. Once I let myself be sick whenever I could feel it rising, things progressed a lot faster. Eventually, your body will be spent and there will be nothing else to get rid of. I was able to go to sleep and woke up the next morning feeling weak, but markedly better.

To recover, you must still be gentle. I continued to sip only water or coke mixed with water, and only ate plain foods the next day. The day after, however, I was able to eat and drink normally.

Being sick on the road is perhaps one of the worst things that can happen. Luckily, I was only down for 12 hours, had someone to take care of me, and we were staying in a hotel instead of a hostel so it could’ve been much worse. I remember the epidemic that swept my Shanghai study abroad group that put the majority of us down during what was supposed to be a field trip to Yunnan province. I escaped then, but I wasn’t able to escape forever.

Have you ever gotten sick while traveling? How did you handle it? I hope I don’t make a habit of this, but being prepared never hurt anyone!

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Mexico Travel Guide

At the beginning of the month, I got to go to Mexico to thaw myself out after experiencing my first winter in Canada. As neither my boyfriend or I had ever been to Mexico, we obviously went as touristy as possible. We hit Cancun, Tulum, and Merida in the span of about 8 full days.

CANCUN: As soon as we landed in Cancun, we were not fans. Cancun is great to go to if you’re looking for a timeshare or if you’re looking to just party. Neither was high on our list. We stayed in a cute little apartment on the Ocean which was really nice but all the places near the water are enormous resorts, and it kinda kills the vibe of the place. Luckily, our first full day wasn’t spent at the resorts, it was spent on a tour to see Chichen Itza!

 

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The gorgeous view from our Cancun Apartment

 

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Fresh fruit and coffee by the ocean for breakfast

We spent all day driving, experiencing Mayan culture, and visiting the archaeological site as well as the Ik Kil Cenote. We did use a service for this tour, and honestly, we don’t really recommend it. It’s easy enough to get around on your own if you work out the bus system and you save yourself the sales pitches to buy souvenirs and the overkill talks the guides provide. We did learn some cool stuff, but not enough to offset the lack of independence.This day was pretty much the highlight, as the next day we just hung around the beach and the resort since it rained off and on in the afternoon.TULUM: But the next day we were off to Tulum. Tulum was AMAZING. So amazing, that we want to come back to Mexico to only go to Tulum. We stayed in a beachside cabana right on the ocean and it was absolute HEAVEN. The beaches were much better than Cancun as well:  Softer sand, clearer water, and way less people. Furthermore, all the hotels in Tulum are cute little cabana style spots, rather than huge all-inclusive resorts. You can rent bicycles to get around, and the general atmosphere is much younger and relaxed than Cancun. Tulum also has it’s own killer set of Mayan ruins right near the water so it really doesn’t get much better than that.

 

 

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The Great Pyramid of Chichen Itza (and my personal 4th wonder of the world!)

 

MERIDA: Unfortunately, we only booked a few days in Tulum, before we were off to Merida. Merida is the largest city in the Yucatan, and has a much different vibe than Cancun or Tulum. Merida was probably the only genuine look we got at what most of Mexico probably feels like. It was a much larger city which means crowds, music, and more historical sites. The city operates as most cities do, but also has a quaint collection of Spanish colonial buildings and little museums to explore. We originally chose to visit Merida to use it as a jumping off point for the ruins of Uxmal.

 

 

 

 

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Uxmal is another set of Mayan ruins, similar to Chichen Itza, except for the fact that the site is probably triple the size, the ruins are a lot better preserved, and the area is infinitely less crowded. We spent the whole morning exploring the ruins and we were just in awe by what this civilization was able to create hundreds of years ago. However, our Uxmal day, was the day I got some food poisoning, so I wasn’t able to enjoy it to the fullest extent and I was basically down for the count afterwards (more on that later), but our last day in Merida was just spent wandering the Spanish colonial buildings, and people watching in the main squares.

 

 

We returned to Cancun to finish out our trip, and we were originally going to visit Isla Mujeres to go diving, but it rained on us again and we were confined to the hotel.

All in all, I absolutely adored Tulum as a beach getaway and I would love to explore more of Mexico. We heard great things about Mexico City, but didn’t make it all the way there. I highly recommend sticking to local shops within the towns of Cancun and Tulum as they are way less expensive and have better traditional Mexican food than the restaurants geared towards tourists. However, we did find a phenomenal breakfast spot next to our hotel in Tulum called Ojo de Agua with incredible Acai Bowls and coffee.

The easiest and cheapest way to get around the peninsula was definitely by bus. There are bus stations in every town and it’s pretty simple to get a ticket for less than $20 to get to a whole other city. However, I do recommend brushing up on your Spanish before you try this, as most local places will speak very limited English. Also, make sure you have peso coins with you at all times as the bathrooms in public spaces often cost 5 pesos to use.

I would definitely recommend Mexico to anyone (even though I was probably the only one who hadn’t been at this point), and I unquestionably recommend getting away from the resorts. They are decent as a place to relax, but as far as getting the best bang for your buck or experiencing anything truly Mexican, they just can’t provide any truly unique experiences. The Yucatan is intensely built up for tourists so just be aware that people will try to sell you timeshares, tours, and guides at every turn and you don’t always need them. We will ABSOLUTELY be returning to Mexico and I am so disappointed it took me so long to visit in the first place!

If you have any Mexico recommendations, please share! I can’t wait to go back and experience more of the country.

How Not to Overpack (You know you’re guilty of it)

Let’s start by running some numbers:

  • Seven Weeks Vacation = 1 40 liter backpack
  • Two Week Vacation (Colder climate) = 1 40 liter backpack
  • One Week Island Hopping = One medium sized tote purse
  • Three Weeks to visit home = One standard roller carry on & small backpack
  • One Week Business Trip = One standard roller carry on & Laptop Purse

I think you get the picture. Over the past couple years I have become a MASTER packer. I know there are people out there who are even more streamlined, but I’m improving all the time. I refuse to take any more than I need and if I am flying somewhere, I’ll be damned if I have to check my luggage. Therefore, I’ve learned how to take exactly what I’ll need, fit it all in a small space, and have much smoother trips.

First tip: As I stated above, try to plan with only carry-on luggage to work with. You’ll automatically reduce the amount of things you can bring since you just won’t have the space to fit all of it.

Second tip: Research the climate of your destination, then make a list of all the activities you’ll be doing while there. If this is a business trip, you know you’ll be indoors working. But if you’re on vacation, will you be hiking? Swimming? Skiing? Once you have all your days planned, you can start working out how many clothes you’ll really need.

Third tip: EVERYTHING you pack needs to go with one or two pairs of shoes. Shoes are heavy, bulky, and are the biggest culprit when it comes to overpacking becuase they take up so much freaking space. For example, if I’m going to a warm climate, I pack a pair of sandals and a pair of trainers. For a cold climate, a pair of heavy boots and a pair of light boots. For business, I pack a pair of heels and my workout shoes.

Fourth tip: Ok, once you know what you’ll be doing on your trip, and which shoes you’ll need, you can plan your clothes. Since you have all your activities noted, you know exactly what kinds of clothes you need, and since you have your shoes picked, you limit the clothes to what goes with those shoes. The key here is to only pack MAXIMUM one outfit per day. I say maximum because I rewear pants, bras, and shirts (if I don’t sweat), and it’s actually surprisingly cheap and easy to do laundry on the road. Don’t sit there and say “well I want options for each day”. You’re killing me. You’re gonna bring all this crap and you’re gonna end up wearing the most comfortable outfit anyway. My only exception to this is that I like to have one reasonably nice outfit to wear just in case of a party or nice dinner. (The shoe rule still stands though!).

Fifth tip: Lay out all your clothes on your bed to make sure you’ve got everything, including socks and underwear! Then, to make everything fit in a small space, I recommend rolling all your clothes. I’m sure you’ve seen this tip before, but it really does make a big difference in space saving. If you’re an even bigger packing nerd like me, roll your clothes by category and put them all into packing cubes to stay organized (example ones here).

Ok you’ve got clothes and shoes but here are some other things you’ll want to bring no matter what:

  • Pack Towel (lightweight towel)
  • Toiletry kit (make sure all your liquids fit according to TSA rules) & toothbrush!
  • Comb or Brush
  • Headphones (but bring earbuds, over the earphones are bulky)
  • Book, journal, or Kindle.
  • One set of sleepwear (if you really need it)
  • Scarf (light or heavy depending on destination)
  • Travel necessities – passport, wallet, phone, medicine, etc.

The feeling that most overpackers suffer from is fear of the unknown. The what if’s. It starts with: what if I spill on this nice shirt and need another? And then get’s crazy: what if I get invited to tea at Buckingham Palace? There are always situations that will arise that you didn’t plan for but packing too much stuff will just make your life harder. If something happens along the way, just buy what you need at your destination. If you know you love to shop, pack even less to be able to fit your new stuff and wear your new stuff as you get it. For souvenirs or gifts to bring back for friends, I opt for jewelry or small prints that lie perfectly flat against the back of my bag and take up little space.

Overpacking means you’ll literally be dragging a bunch of stuff you don’t need to a new destination and just lugging it all back home again. Next time you pack, I want you to pick up each item and justify WHY you’re packing it. If you start you’re reasoning with “what if” or “something could come up”, then leave it behind. I promise you’ll be ok without it.

If you have any tips to prevent overpacking, please share! I love travelling light and am literally always scouring packing and travel lists to make trips as streamlined as possible. Happy travels!

 

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A peek into my business trip suitcase. Something I always bring? My massage ball since I always get kinks in my back.

 

 

 

 

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Yes, I took these photos at the Calgary airport…

 

 

For Business or for Pleasure?

This year, January will end up being roughly 4 1/2 weeks, and for 2 1/2 of those, I will be travelling for work. The nature of my job means that I usually work from home, but about twice a month (this month is more than average), I have to travel to visit clients. Business trips intimidated me quite a bit at the start of my career since I was never quite sure what to bring or how to act, HOWEVER, I’ve been on enough of them now that I think it’s safe to say I have them on lock.

Step 1: Prep

Travelling is already stressful, but once you add in the fact that you’re seeing a new office or new client site that you’re not familiar with to do your job, then you can really drive yourself into severe overpacking mode trying to prepare. If this is your first time visiting this place, bring all the tech you’ve got*. Every HDMI cord, adapter, charger, extension cord, etc. because you might not have the leisure of walking into a modern facility. My clients are split on this, some are very modern and can provide all these things, and some barely even have a conference room, let alone wifi connection.

In terms of personal items, obviously bring business clothes, but try and limit your outfits so that they all go with one or two pairs of shoes. Shoes are the real culprit when you’re trying to fit everything into a carry-on. Also, try and bring one casual (but still classy) outfit for dinners with colleagues or if you want to do any exploring on your own (this is usually my travel outfit). For toiletries, start keeping a stock of deluxe samples and small bottles to use on these trips since hotel toiletries can often leave a lot to be desired.

Step 2: Logistics

As I alluded to above, I recommend travelling with only carry-on luggage. I may one-day change my tune about this, but today is not this day. First off, travelling with only a carry-on means you can’t overpack too much, and secondly, it means the airline cannot lose your luggage. I do not trust the airlines to handle my bag and I cannot imagine anything worse than arriving on a work trip with none of the things I need to do my job.

Other logistics are pretty straightforward. Unless you work for a HUGE company, you probably won’t be getting picked up in an Escalade and staying in five-star hotels. So if you are responsible for your own bookings, Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott affiliates are usually safe bets for accommodations, and you can probably get away with booking Economy Premium flights at most.

Step 3: Arrival

Alright, you’ve arrived at your destination safely, and with all your stuff, so how do you act the first time? This obviously depends on why and where you’ve travelled, but the biggest tip I can give for this is to walk in the front door with confidence and start introducing yourself to everyone right away. It honestly took me a few trips to work up to this since I was so scared to do anything wrong I would wait until my boss introduced me. This is fine but it did not do my credibility any favors. Like always, confidence is absolutely key.

Step 4: Small Talk

You will inevitably have to make small talk. Whether it’s right at the start, at lunch, at a break, it WILL HAPPEN. I absolutely LOATHE small talk but you have to find some way to make it work for you. Because I work in a field where almost everyone is substantially older than me, I will either ask what they do for fun, or I will ask about their kids because EVERYBODY with kids loves to talk about them. If you can get the other person really going on a topic, it is less work for you!

If you can make the four elements I’ve listed here as breezy as possible then you are home free! Oh wait…you still have a job to do right? But honestly, that is the easy part. You already know how to do your job, the hard part is doing it in a new place surrounded by new people. If you can make the travelling and transition as easy as possible, there’s really not much else to worry about.

If you have any questions about business trips or any tips of your own, please message or comment below! I am always looking for ways to make these less stressful!

 

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PC: The ever judgmental Kiki Moussetis

 

*Unless explicitly told what tech to bring beforehand

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone, NOW

If you’ve ever spent even five minutes on my blog, you’d probably figure out that I absolutely LOVE to travel. Although I can’t travel as often as I’d like, every time I do, I try to go to places that challenge me. I’ve shared travel guides for my last couple trips on this blog, but recently I started working with the website unanchor.com to release far more informative guides on their platform, and my first guide is finally published!

Ok, you caught me, this post is partially about self-promotion (yes, go look at my itinerary, here and here!), but the real reason I’m writing a whole post about this rather than just sharing the link on facebook is because my first guide is a 3-day guide to Shanghai. The thing about Unanchor is that they want to work with people who have spent a substantial amount of time in the place they are writing a guide for which means I had to have spent at least three months in the place I was going to create an itinerary for.

About three years ago (omg it’s already been three years, what is happening), I spent the year abroad in Shanghai. But I’ve also spent that amount of time in different places in Greece, as well as different cities around California, Illinois, and now in Canada. However, I picked Shanghai because China is one of those countries that is never on anybody’s bucket list and that makes me infinitely sad.

Every time I’ve ever asked somebody where in the world they’d want to go, they usually pick a place in Europe. Sometimes I meet a more adventurous person and they say countries like South Africa or Thailand, but the answer has NEVER been China. In fact, when I told people I was going to China, everyone’s first response was “why?”, and that just killed me. My goal when I travel is to get OUT of my comfort zone, not to stay in it, and how many times in my life was I going to have the opportunity to spend a whole year in China hmm?? Europe is the easy answer for Americans because it’s closer than Asia and it’s easier to handle. Everyone speaks English, and people just feel like they will be safer and more comfortable since they know more about European countries than any other continent.

When I would bring up China, people would shrug and say “well, I guess the Great Wall would be cool to see”. China is so much more than that! (although the Great Wall is pretty incredible), and people don’t even realize. Part of this ignorance is due to the fact that between our school systems and our media, Americans get a pretty shitty education when it comes to any countries outside of North America and Europe, and fear of the unknown can have far-reaching consequences.

SO, my first guide is dedicated to combating that fear. The itinerary is for three days spent in Shanghai and covers a whole gambit of Museums, traditional sites, amazing restaurants, and clubs to give people an idea of just how cosmopolitan and entertaining Shanghai really is. There is also an appendix section chock full of information to make going to Shanghai seem far less daunting. I’ve added common phrases (in Mandarin and English), how to get around using public transport and taxis, cultural norms to be aware of, the best areas to stay, and so much more.

If you’ve ever been interested in visiting China, even just as a passing thought, PLEASE JUST GO. I promise you’ll love it and getting out of your comfort zone is so much more rewarding than staying in it. Plus, you’ll always have time and energy for the easy destinations. NOW is the time to challenge yourself with new experiences.

If you want to check out the actual guide, click here. But if you have general questions about Shanghai or my time there, feel free to comment or message me, I love talking about that experience!

 

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The beautiful Shanghai Skyline; Feature photo is of Nanjing Road in Shanghai

 

Dear L.A.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas (Malibu, Thousand Oaks, Tujunga, DTLA) for about three years now (not all in a row, but close), and I can safely say I have a pretty harsh love/hate relationship with this place. L.A. is ugly, has boring architecture, the traffic is the WORST, and there really are a ton of people here trying to be famous or get discovered at every ice cream shop, club, and street corner.

However, even though I can say a million horrible things about Los Angeles, I also have a few good thoughts on this place and as I prepare to abandon it (only three more days!) in favor of the Great White North (aka Canada), I thought I’d write a little letter to Los Angeles to thank it for how it has contributed to who I am today.

Dear L.A.,

We have been through a lot together. My whole college career, internships, amazing friends. But I’ve known since the day I set foot in this town that it would be a temporary living space for me, and now the day has come for us to part ways.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you, you’re not the prettiest city I’ve ever had the pleasure of courting, but certain parts of you are incredible. I can’t deny that your proximity to the Pacific doesn’t make me justify your numerous other flaws everytime I set foot in that warm sand and get salt water in my hair.

Ugh and the food! You do so many things so well: Mexican, Chinese, Italian. You have a million dessert shops, each offering better cupcakes or ice cream than the last. And the best part? All of it is gorgeous because you know half your revenue is from being reposted on Instagram.

You’ve also taught me much about taking care of myself. Although you can get a little dramatic with all your overpriced juice cleanses and fancy gym memberships, you really showed me that it is ok to put a priority on self-care. You gave me all sorts of healthy eating options and introduced me to heaven in bowl form: acai bowls. You also made sure I never got bored exercising and offered me my choice of many boxing, yoga, swimming, and hiking prospects to stay fit.

And even though you can be way too expensive and way too superficial, you were also the place where I met some of my absolute best friends.  These are the friends that taught me to be more open minded, more social, and more generous. They taught me it’s ok to depend on others and to be vulnerable with them. They are friends that I can laugh, cry, or be silent with. The kind that truly change you as a person, shape your life, and stay with you forever, and for that, I will always be grateful.

See you again soon L.A.

Love, Melina

 

 

A Girl’s Guide to Defecting

As many of you may know from my recent blog post here, I am moving to Canada in just a couple weeks now! While I’ve moved WAY too many times in the last few years, moving to another country comes with a whole set of different challenges that you normally don’t have to worry about when you’re moving within one country. I love the idea of living abroad, and although Canada isn’t exactly as exotic as I’d like, it is still a foreign country and a new set of logistics need to be considered. So if you’re the same as me and are considering, or have considered living abroad, here are some things you should take into account:

  1. THE LAW. I know, I know, this one is obvious. But it is worth repeating here because each country has its own immigration laws and regulations, and you should become intensely familiar with those rules to avoid any mishaps. Common ways to live abroad include getting work or student visas that provide you with the correct documentation to live in a country that is not your own. If you’re a U.S. citizen, the Federal Secretary of State website is the place to start for this info. For me, I’m in a unique situation since I work from home for an American company. For this first year at least, I won’t claim that I live in Canada, and I will make sure I go back to the states at least every few months to prevent violating immigration law. If I live with my boyfriend in Canada for a year or longer, he can actually sponsor me for permanent residency and things become a whole lot easier.
  2. TAXES. The only certainties in life right? Death and taxes. Just because you move away does not mean you are free of paying your government money. In fact, it gets even more complicated because you will have to file in both countries. I make money through an American firm, but will be using Canada’s resources so I have to file twice. I’ll be honest, taxes are already complicated enough as it is, so I’ve decided to hire an accountant for this. It’s expensive but I will definitely need the help and peace of mind of putting this burden on a professional who can make sure I don’t lose too much money.
  3. HEALTH INSURANCE. Maybe you’re on your parent’s policy still, or maybe you have insurance through your work. Either way, chances are, your policy doesn’t really apply abroad. I have Blue Cross Blue Shield and they do have emergency insurance for if I were to break my leg or something abroad, but as far as getting checkups or other appointments, I have to come back down to the states if I want coverage. There are ways you can extend your coverage abroad, or buy a separate policy for extended trips, but you will have to make sure you contact your health insurance providers for more details.
  4. CELLPHONE. Ideally, you would simply buy a Sim card in whatever country you moved to and get a new plan with one of their providers. However, because I will be constantly going back and forth between the states and Canada for work, I 1.) Don’t want to commit to a Canadian plan and 2.) Don’t want to change my number. I have Verizon and they have quite a few options for people traveling abroad. For now, I have added Canadian Access to my phone at a limited capacity for an extra charge, and will add more as I need it.
  5. MAILING.  If you leave the country there are still going to be some important documents that you might not want to forward across oceans and continents. I know I will change all my subscriptions and official document addresses to my parent’s address. Make sure you obtain a PO box or an address for a person you trust for official documents and tax purposes. Figure out how to forward your mail with your current postal service or call/email all your subscription services and change your address manually.

There are obviously a billion other little things to consider when moving period, but when moving abroad, the most important thing is to make sure all your legal affairs are in order. Moving to another country is honestly a logistical nightmare and for me, I really had to do my research and talk to people that had done something similar to me to figure out how they handled all this. Information online can be vague or misleading so it is best to find forums for expats or official government instructions to get a better handle on the things you need to know. Wish me luck!

 

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Photography by the lovely Clara Yu