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Creating a Home Away From Home

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This article was originally published on TiplrMag.com by Laura Baldwin. Download Tiplr here.

The Lessons I Learned When Beginning a New Life on a Working Holiday Visa

Nervous, excited and eager to go; the very emotions I felt when receiving confirmation on my working holiday visa to Australia. I did plan on well, planning, but my list of things to do became suitcase items as I prepared to fly away with my best friend to begin our next adventure at the other side of the world. I almost forgot about the the almighty travel insurance which is vital if you’re planning on going on crazy road trips or participating in water sports over the next year! A few hours after landing I realised I wasn’t ready for the harsh realities that came with starting a life in another country, and the obstacles you face when creating a brand new home away from home.

Firstly, and quite obviously, there was the issue of money. Always save enough moola to keep you going without work for at least a couple of months. Most countries won’t let you in without enough money in your bank for rent and a flight home and although I haven’t been there yet, I know Canada won’t let you in without travel insurance. Research your destination, look up the cost of food, rent and travel expenses. As a naive twenty one year old who was fresh out of uni, I was a little scared and unprepared once I’d arrived in the land down under, especially when I grasped that purchasing groceries could result in asking the bank for a small loan to help you get by.

Finding your feet somewhere completely new often means beginning the uphill battle of trying to find work. Unless your parents are funding your trip or you saved enough to relax and travel for a wee while then work should really be your number one priority. I signed up to a recruitment agency and that pretty much set me up for my time in both Australia and New Zealand. You don’t have to stay with them but they’ll most likely find you decent work straight away and at least you know you’re working for a legitimate company. If you have zero admin experience, or you’ve yet to try your luck at creating the world’s prettiest double espresso soy vanilla latte, then get yourself some volunteer work at home to gain experience. That way you have both the knowledge and reference before you get there.

As nice as it is to settle, one thing is for certain, TRAVEL. Yes it’s great when you make a new group of friends and you’re having fun living together, but it can become a little too safe and comforting. There’s a reason you’ve decided to go to the country for a year and I highly doubt it involves staying in the same place the whole time you’re there. Take a walk on the wild side, rent a car or book and trip and just go for it. There’s nothing more gratifying than the feeling of taking in the beauty and culture a country has to offer.

Being from the UK I’m used to jumping in the passenger seat of a car and arriving to any destination in less than six hours. Call me moronic but I thought things would be the same in Australia, especially places in the same state. After realising a road trip to Sydney would involve sitting in a car for 12 hours I made sure to look up all destinations from thence forth. I would advise anyone to do the same if you’re not familiar with the place you’ve moved to, especially if you’re planning a weekend trip!

Entering a hostel or new flat full of people you’ve never met before can be pretty terrifying if it’s your first time traveling. Unless you’re a natural extrovert it will mean completely stepping out of your comfort zone and talking to a bunch of complete strangers. Hibernating in your bed and watching Game of Thrones back to back can seem like the easier option but don’t. Take the plunge and sit with people, they’ve been in the same situation as you before so they’ll most likely welcome you and make you feel at ease in no time. It’s crazy how this one simple step with boost your confidence in the future. I even find I’m far more confident in job interviews as I’ve mastered taking control of the initial anxiety I feel in an uncomfortable situation.

You may have made the first move and met people but if you’re not happy, don’t stay. Social media can be the pinnacle for masking your reality, and saying yes can be great unless you know deep down your gut is telling you something completely different. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself; if you’re unhappy in a place or hostel then leave! An Instagram filter may make your life look idilic, and with people telling you ‘ah you look like you’re having the best time’ it can be easy to pretend your overall feeling to a place, person or situation is one of pure delight when really it’s not. There will be another place in the amazing country you’ve moved to that will make you feel far more content and honestly, you get one chance at this so don’t waste it.

Be prepared for the unprepared! If only life was like being handed a big bowl of melted chocolate, well eventually you’d feel sick and the novelty would wear off. That’s why you’re going to have to go through difficult times and often they’ll come at the moments you’re least prepared for them. I lost my passport when I first arrived in New Zealand. I had yet to open a bank account, apply for my tax number and find a job. The latter required me to have the previous three items. I’d saved enough to live for a month but that’s how long it took me to apply for and receive a new passport, then set up the bank account and send off for my IRD number. I cried, I slept and I probably refreshed my emails 100 times a day for confirmation that my passport was on it’s way back to me from the UK. That hasn’t been the only time things haven’t gone my way but I’ve learnt from the past that as long as you face it, you have to get through it. The month I spent sitting around at the hostel meant a month of meeting new people and from that I’ve made some of by closest friends here. When things become overwhelming, sit down, take a deep breath and let it go. It will always sort itself out.

I’ve often been told how lucky I am to be able to do this, and yes I know I am but the reality is anyone can. There are so many countries offering the working holiday visa that it really is as simple as saving up some money and getting on the flight. I’ve met every kind of person and although it isn’t for everyone, it’s always been a motto of mine to regret doing than spending my life thinking what if. With a positive mind, the right preparation and a sprinkle of get up and go you have the ground work to have the best year of your life. Or years, because traveling the world is a profession if you allow it to be.

Originally posted 2017-06-18 10:45:14.


Also published on Medium.

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48 Hours In...

48 Hours in Bangkok

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Why Go?

Bangkok is one of the most dynamic cities in the world and offers a wealth of culture, fantastic shopping opportunities, exciting nightlife and some of the best cuisine on the planet. The Thai baht goes a long way, making the city excellent value for western tourists. For LGBTQ visitors, Thailand is the most tolerant country In South-East Asia. The Thai Tourist Board are promoting Thailand as a destination for LGBTQ travelers with their ‘Go Thai. Be Free’ campaign.

Getting There

Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang international airports both serve Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi is sixteen miles from the city, while Don Mueang fifteen miles away.

From Suvarnabhumi, there are lots of transport options into Bangkok including an excellent airport rail link, taxi, airport limo, express airport buses and public buses. From Don Mueang, you can take a taxi or a cheap, but slow train to Hua Lamphong Station.

Checking In

Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis and choosing where to stay can be overwhelming. Accommodation options range from hostels and cheap hotels at only a few dollars a night to glitzy five-star hotels. Here are a few of the areas which are popular to stay in:

Khao San Road – The backpacker’s Mecca, packed with budget accommodation, bars and restaurants.

Sukhumvit – A modern area of the city in central Bangkok with lots of good neighbourhood shopping and restaurants. The transport links are good.

Silom – Close to Lumpini Park and Patpong, the red light district.

Chinatown – Hualamphong Railway Station is nearby, which can be handy and Chinatown itself is a vibrant and fascinating area.

Day One

If you happen to be visiting at the weekend, don’t miss Chatuchak market which comprises of thirty-five acres of around fifteen thousand stalls http://www.chatuchakmarket.org. It’s an opportunity to try some delicious street food (check out the mango sticky rice or Thai grilled chicken) and there are bargains galore to be had. It would be easy to spend a day at the market, but with only two days in town, time is of the essence.

Chatuchak Market – an ideal place to try some tasty street food

Jim Thompson’s House http://www.jimthompsonhouse.com/visitor/index.asp is constructed in traditional Thai style and is also a museum and art gallery. Set in a beautiful tropical garden, it was the home of silk merchant Jim Thompson and is now a popular tourist attraction. It’s a peaceful oasis in the center of the city and also has a lovely café looking out over the garden.

Flag down a tuk-tuk and head to the Chao Phraya River, where you can take a boat across the water to Wat Arun. Otherwise known as the Temple of Dawn, it’s an ornate Khmer-style structure. Climb the steep steps for panoramic views across the city.

Wat Arun – one of the many temples to explore in Bangkok

To round off your first day in Bangkok, head to Silom Soi 4 in the Sukhumvit area of the city. Here you will discover an abundance of LGBTQ friendly pubs, bars, and restaurants to choose from. For those who want to dance into the early hours, mosey along to nearby Silom Soi 2, where there are some excellent clubs including D.J. Station, Freeman, and Expresso.                                                

Day Two

After breakfast, arrive at the Grand Palace early to beat the crowds (or at least some of them). This complex of extraordinary Thai-style temples and palaces was built in 1782. Gold painted buildings and intricate mirror and glass mosaics dazzle under the sun. The star of the show is the stunning Wat Phra Kaew, otherwise known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most revered temple.

The Grand Palace – a spectacular riot of gold and mosaics

Take the Chao Phraya Express Boat along the river – it’s cheap and a great way to see the old city. The boat stops off at various locations and it’s possible to hop on and off wherever you want to. Check out Khao San Road, the backpackers’ mecca and a lively area at any time of the day and night. Guest houses, restaurants, bars, market stalls, tattoo parlours and travel agents all vie for trade and it’s an absorbing road to wander along.

After re-boarding the boat, carry on down the river and alight at Ratchawong Pier, the stop for bustling Chinatown. Explore the labyrinth of streets lined with shops selling everything from durian fruit to nodding lucky cats. The sights and smells of Chinatown are an assault on the senses. Dip into temples to light some incense and check out the Thieves market.

Chinatown

If you haven’t satisfied your appetite with all the wonderful street food that Bangkok has to offer, make a beeline for Tealicious Bangkok (492 Trok To, Soi Charoen Krung 49, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500). It’s a lovely little restaurant serving up delicious authentic Thai food using fresh ingredients. Tom, the friendly owner is usually on hand to answer any questions relating to the cuisine. The menu is extensive and there are plenty of veggie options.

To finish off your Bangkok sojourn in style, there’s no better venue than Sirocco Sky Bar. The elegant 63rd floor bar sits on a  precipice over the city, 820 feet in air. It’s one of the highest rooftop bars in world. (The Dome at Lebua, 1055 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500). Cocktails are creatively concocted and expensive, but who cares – it’s your last night in Bangkok and the view of the city is phenomenal.

 

Originally posted 2017-09-11 09:30:55.

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How Casual is Casual Diversity

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Diversity, in numerous ways, is becoming more and more commonplace. People who used to search for themselves in the media they consume are now the ones creating that media, and as such it is more commonplace to find representative characters. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community especially are inserting themselves into the media they create. From books to movies and TV shows to comics, more and more queer characters are popping up. As a result, the addition of these characters is becoming the norm, contributing to a sense of “casual diversity” in media. But just how casual is this casual diversity? 

For many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, they want characters that reflect their gender identity or sexuality to simply exist in the media they consume. We feel like we’ve moved away from a time that requires queer people to explicitly come out, both in real life and in books. We don’t owe a “coming out moment” to anyone, but creators are still trying to find a way to toe the line between making diverse characters and letting them simply exist and proclaiming their existence to readers.   

I recently read two young adult novels that had LGBTQIA+ characters, and they were introduced in several different ways. Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger is a fantasy novel set in Chicago, centered on a young girl working as a bartender who discovers that perfectly mixed cocktails can give you superpowers. She works at a gay bar owned by a blind gay man and works with a very tall punk rock Canadian named Bucket, who is a trans man. Readers are introduced to the bar’s owner before the main character begins working at his bar, and find out he is gay only when he casually mentions his boyfriend. Bucket, on the other hand, has a coming out moment when the protagonist asks him why he works at a gay bar when he is very clearly not gay. He is almost obligated to come out to her in order to explain himself and his job. Likewise, in Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate, there is a pansexual character named Lucas who has a coming out moment with the reader. Not only does he have to explain pansexuality, but he also discusses how he cannot come out to his friends because of his status as the men’s swim team captain and the stigma surrounding that.

Though I’m sure these two authors had good intentions with their inclusion of these characters, they, unfortunately, send an underlying but powerful message to LGBTQIA+ and straight readers alike in regards to the necessity and potential danger of coming out. The way Krueger and Redgate set up Bucket and Lucas required them to come out in order to make the diversity visible, but this was not necessary. Krueger could have mirrored his simple mention of the bar owner’s boyfriend and describe Bucket wearing a binder, and Redgate could have mentioned Lucas’ previous crushes to people regardless of gender. Instead, they felt that they had to make their characters’ identities as obvious as possible, which only encourages the idea that LGBTQIA+ people need to come out in order to be acknowledged members of queer or straight communities. Lucas’ story especially highlights the general ignorance about pansexuality as well as the rampant homophobia present in men’s sports teams especially. This sends a strong warning to queer readers about the dangers of coming out and the potential harmful backlash for male athletes in particular.

It is important for characters like Bucket and Lucas to exist and be known and seen in books and other media, but creators are still finding an easy way to simply let these characters exist while also bringing them to the attention of readers and normalizing their existence. It’s a delicate balance between inclusion for the sake of inclusion and bringing too much attention to something that needs attention. It’s been a long journey already, but creators still have a ways to go to figure out just how “casual” casual diversity really is.

Originally posted 2017-09-06 14:20:41.

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Travel On A Budget

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It seems to me like people are taking shorter vacations or opting for trips closer to home, for a variety of reasons. Maybe you work a job that doesn’t pay as well as you’d hope, or maybe you’re a millennial (like me) who’s allegedly spent way too much on avocados and can’t afford a vacation (or a house).

Whatever the reason, this new trend of “I want to travel cheaply so I can buy groceries when I get back” is more popular than ever. But how does one manage this? Vacations seem to be expensive no matter what we do or where we go. And it’s true. Vacations always cost money, but there are ways to drastically reduce your expenses while away.

Off season for the win

Why get sucked into the tourist trap every single year when you can hit up the same spots a week before their tourist season begins? This can be tough depending on the area since some tourist seasons are dependent on weather. But you know what places don’t change much from week to week, whether it’s April or August? You guessed it: the beach. Most vacation spots will have dates for their busy season listed online. Once you have the dates, go a week (or two) early. Prices will be lower and hotels will be less packed.

Hostels and B&B’s

Speaking of hotels, don’t go near them. I’m serious. Go anywhere else. They’re expensive and boring, and bed-n-breakfasts are the hip new thing (unlike someone who still says “hip”). Not only are they cozier, they often have decent prices and are more laid back than hotels.

If you’re in Europe, hostels aren’t what the horror movies make them out to be. They’re actually quite comfortable, right in the middle of the city, and way more affordable than a hotel. If you’re in your late teens or early twenties, youth hostels are an even better choice. They’re more youth-friendly and you’ll be surrounded by people closer to your own age. Make friends while you make great financial choices!

ATM vs. traveler’s check

Traveler’s checks were great when ATMs weren’t a thing, and they can still be useful if there’s no ATM in sight and you happen to know where the closest bank is. But more and more, ATMs are the best option on vacation. You don’t want to carry all of your spending money all at once at the start of the trip, so when you get low on cash, find an ATM. Because there might be fees, take out larger amounts at a time, to limit the number of withdrawals while away. To save money, set yourself a spending/withdrawal limit. It’s tempting to treat yo’self while vacationing, but remember that once you get home, bills and food are still a necessity.

Guidebooks!

You are a strong, independent woman/person/man who don’t need no help. If you’re traveling somewhere unfamiliar, skip the travel agency/service. They’re a rip-off. A good guidebook sells for about $20 and will have all the same information you’d get from a travel agent, without the hassle.

Blend in, eat local

If you ignored my hotel advice, then at least listen to this. If the front desk or concierge recommend a great restaurant right down the street, go anywhere else! Chances are they tell literally every guest to go to that one restaurant, and it will be packed (and not that great). You might end up having to go a little farther from your hotel for a bite, but finding local places are a far more interesting experience than the chain places. And are often cheaper, as they’re not targeting visitors and tourists.

Shop big

A couple of months ago I went to Hawaii with my sister and parents. Before leaving, we’d all promised various friends and family that we would return with souvenirs for everyone. A local in Kailua-Kona was kind enough to warn us away from the touristy “ABC Stores” that seem to be taking over the islands. He said that if we wanted good, cheap souvenirs, we should go to Walmart (I know, I was surprised too).

Local shops are nice, too, of course, and it’s good to support small businesses (and not evil Walmart) but for large quantities of souvenirs, going the cheaper route goes a long way in not breaking the bank.

Free activities will free you

This one is easy. Go to the beach and find free parking. Sit in the sand and catch some sun. Splash in the surf to your heart’s content. Go hiking and find hidden waterfalls and creeks to play in. Anything free is your best bet (and gets you some fresh air).

Vacations mean spending some money, but it doesn’t have to empty your wallet. If you follow these tips and stay aware of what you’re spending, you’ll still have money left over for when you get home (and can buy all the avocados you want, maybe).

Originally posted 2017-09-06 11:10:28.


Also published on Medium.

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