Halfway Around the World: Part 1

Week 1 – Old City, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Man, it’s been a weird week. It’s almost too hard to start this blog post so I’ve been putting it off- which is stupid. There are so many wonderful things to share. Which is why I separated this post into 2 parts. It’s a lot. So, let’s get right into it.

May 24 – May 26

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My trip started at 1pm on Tuesday. I landed in JFK and had a wonderful layover dinner with my friends. It was a very special meet-up in a random sports bar in Queens, especially because a buddy I haven’t seen in ages showed up and my brother Patrick was able to meet my friends. I was also able to give him a birthday present in person–something I haven’t been able to do in about 10 years. At 2am Wednesday morning my China Eastern plane shot into the air for a 15-hour flight to Shanghai.

After a sleeping pill, several bathroom breaks, 2 microwaved plane meals and countless annoying neck pillow adjustments, I awoke to find it was Thursday. It’s weird to skip an entire day. I’m still catching up. I don’t have jet leg, but something worse, my body somehow refuses to believe it’s 12-hours ahead of my real life.

So anyways, Shanghai to Chiang Mai was seamless and before I knew it I was checking into 99 The Gallery Hotel. I felt great, it was some time in the afternoon, the sun was high and hot, and I’d made a friend on my flight. Scott. We taxi’d to our respective hotels together and exchanged phone numbers on Whatsapp.

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Old City, CM. Top green box – Great Chaingmai Hostel. More central green box, 99 Gallery Hotel

 

99hotelbedThe hotel was beautiful and located in an amazing location. I didn’t wander around right off the bat. Scott and I had plans to meet up for dinner and explore together so I showered, sat in my room and just digested everything. It was like walking around in a dream. I wanted to lie down but the bed was rock hard. For example, when you lay down on your yoga mat at the start of class… that hard.Apparently this is just the Thai way, and I’ll have to get used to it. I decided I needed a walk.

 

The moment I realized I was in Thailand was the first turn I took out of my hotel. There, in front of me, was a big, beautiful temple. Wat Pha Bong, constucted around 1345, stood there in the crowds of workers, amongst pharmacies and buses and students in uniforms. Gold and shimmering and absolutely stunning. I couldn’t read any signage around it and I suddenly became unbelievably aware that I had no idea how to navigate this journey.

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Sight-seeing, Friend-making

Scott is a 28-year-old on vacation from Los Angeles, California, in town for an Egress gaming convention (no I’ve never heard of it either. It’s like the Amazing Race I think). We walked around town and went to the big street food market for dinner on our first night and tried our hands at Chang and Pad Se Ew. It helped that we were both so confused and new. It made it easier to assimilate into the new culture.Scott

For the next few days Scott and I did pretty much everything together. We explored Old City, ate meals, tried to learn Thai pleasantries and with the help of Scott’s rented motorbike we scouted hostels. Motorbikes are scary AF. Driving in Old City is scary AF. Crossing the street safely is a Hail Mary. All my years in Manhattan traffic paid off. There are pretty much no rules when it comes to driving in CM. For a 2,000 Baht (฿) deposit (we’ll get to money later), any idiot can rent a motorbike and scoot around the world.

Anyways, in our travels we discovered a pristine park with the world’s most complicated bathrooms, a back-alley bar that I’m pretty sure is just someone’s garage and a rad blues club, Boy Blues Bar, on top of the Sunday Night Bazaar next door to Ladyboy central. It’s because of his friendship I assimilated so quickly and easily into traveling solo. But then he had to go play with his other friends…

Things To Do

After moving into my new home at Great ChiangMai Hostel  and sort of understanding the layout of the city better, I started a bit of a routine. Still unable to figure out what

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Bed and Locker. Pretty nice and has privacy curtain!

day or time it was, I’d get up at like 7am and just go do stuff. There are things no blogs tell you about Chiang Mai and hopefully Thailand in general; the iced coffee is a drink from the Gods and smoothies (made with just fruit and ice) are A-MAZ-ING. Like indescribable. For 60฿ and 30฿ respectively you can enjoy the freshest most flavorful drink combo in the world. The fruit here is outstanding. It’s rich and filling and I’d be skinny if it tasted like this in the states.

 

 

 

Next, I figure out where to take my beverages. One of my favorite things to do so far was a self-guided walking tour of the Wats around Old City. I followed this awesome, downloadable map from Big Boy Travel. I put in my earbuds, turned on some happy jams and let Google tell me where to turn, what to look for. Technology is amazing. Old City is small enough to walk around, so stopping into shops, or getting a bite to eat is super easy.

The wats are outstanding. (I’m putting together a photo gallery, but it’s WIP) They’re meticulously taken care of and the respect shown around them is admirable. I found myself alone, wandering the grounds at times, removing my shoes, covering my shoulders and going in to stare in awe at the statues and Buddha. Although the wats all have similar qualities, they are each different. I’d kneel on the floor and just wait. I’m not necessarily a religious person, but it’s easy to feel moved and spiritual in a place of worship that has sheltered centuries of believers.

It’s possible to make donations and pray to the Buddha. But I don’t know how to pray or what to say. I’d just sit and wait. Sometimes I guess it’s ok to feel small and insignificant. It’s honestly a great representation of my current position in life-small and insignificant but knowing there’s more, a bigger plan is in motion. Whoa, heavy stuff!

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Less heavy stuff in Part 2, coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

How I decided to Take a Backpacking Trip

Like dieting, there’s no magic pill to finding your best life.

I didn’t wake up and book a ticket to Thailand. For months I was considering the possibility of taking a little “meternity leave” (omg, hello controversy!). At the end of the day, what made the dream become reality was preparation and timing.

I started thinking about and researching this journey well before certain things happened. I knew 2 things: Southeast Asia is a well documented and safer destination for budget travelers and I am a budget traveler looking for a safe destination. Unhappy in my job, I started planning to resign my current role as a contract copywriter at the end of summer. That would give me plenty of time to save and prep. But then two of my best friends announced their wedding reception would be held in mid-September [Congrats, Maq and Atara!]. I obviously can’t miss that. Time to look for a new plan.

This was just dumb luck, but the plan found me. I was given a 30-day notice that I would be out of a job April 22. The stars were starting to align. I hadn’t really started saving for this specific reason, however I had started putting money away for a downpayment on a house. I also have consistent freelance work and a great network of people to reach out to for side gigs.

At first it all seemed like a bad idea. I applied to jobs, went to networking events and submitted the appropriate paperwork to collect unemployment. I half-heartedly interviewed and sent the most basic cover letters known to man. It was embarrassing. Then I made the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

I hired a Life Coach, appropriately named Hope. It’s a bit hard to admit, it almost feels like something that shouldn’t be talked about, like mental health, but she helped clarify so many things in my life. I was feeling so lost. I woke up feeling defeated every day. It showed in my relationships, work and daily interactions. I stopped doing things I loved and didn’t feel like myself. I was on autopilot and hated it.

Hope asked me hard questions, ones I’ve avoided answering or even considering. She gave me homework that consisted of a lot of self-reflection and writing for clarification. She gave me good advice about toxic behaviors. She wasn’t judgmental or quick to tell me what’s right or wrong. She just acted as a guide, a coach. I realized I beat myself up for a lot of things that are completely out of my control.

Ever get depressed looking at Facebook? Yup, so does everyone else. it’s a part of our lives now and it has meaningful aspects. I like Facebook. But I couldn’t help seeing engagements, marriages, babies, new homes, promotions, etc, and thinking what am I doing wrong, why am I failing? These negative, comparative, counter-productive thoughts are so useless. I don’t even want a baby. I think they resemble anchors. And I haven’t seriously wanted to marry any man I’ve been with. And when it came down to it, why the hell would I buy a house? For my shoes? Hope gave me the courage that allowed me to be ok with not wanting those things right now. Accepting that it’s not right for my life… yet.

Finding my best life was going to have to start by admitting that I’ve been on a mechanical trajectory. What do I want? Who should go along for the ride? I started expelling toxic people that made me sad or didn’t lift me up. I considered alternative employment opportunities. I forgave people that hurt me but wanted to make it right again. I started feeling free and undocked myself from the thoughts that I had to settle down and climb a ladder to “fit in” or be happy.

OK, The Good Stuff.

I collected one unemployment check and then decided the trip was the best thing for me, not job hunting. I wanted to take advantage of this amazing opportunity and then look for a new job, probably in a new field, with fresh eyes and a revitalized outlook on life. I found a sublet for my apartment (saving thousands of dollars over 3 months). I paid off bills or auto paid anything that needed to be set before I left. I used my Delta Skymiles American Express miles (40,000 miles + $129 in taxes and fees) for my ticket to Chiang Mai. My miles will also cover my return ticket, but it is yet to be booked. I researched costs and asked those with more experience (Jordan Trigilio) to give me a basic rundown.

Based on an estimated $100 per week budget, things were looking good. I had enough cash to last me 12-budgeted weeks traveling, comfortably. (As an example, I’m staying at Mercy Hostel in Chiang Rai for $6/night) Next, I approached my freelance bosses and asked if they’d be cool with me taking my work on the road. They supported it and we changed our payments from physical checks to Paypal. Even more comfort!

Things were taking shape. I’ll admit getting to Thailand has been more expensive than I imagined. Buying travel goods for this type of trip, vaccines, extended Visa…upfront costs have been rough. [I’ll provide that info in a video to come this weekend once I can lay out an expense list.] But it’s all worth it.

So now you know WHY and HOW I’m taking this trip. Next step is actually packing and leaving. I can’t wait to experience all the world has to offer. Yes, I’m nervous and anxious and scared. But I’m starting to understand that’s actually my happy place. Taking on adventure and risk is my comfort zone. The unknown is my version of settling down. One day I’ll buy a house and throw a few people I love in it. But I’m ok being on my own right now and taking this journey solo.

Follow along with me as I make my way from Norther Thailand to Bali, Indonesia. I leave May 24! (Instgram: jennyfitz21 Twitter: JennyFitzCopy)

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Day 6 – Unemployment Benefits

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I wrote a ‘Thank You’ note to an agency for their time today, and began it with a friendly opening. I said something to the effect of, it’s almost the weekend, but everyday is weekend day when you’re unemployed. This got me thinking…

Unemployment. Just the word brings different feelings to different people. Ex-President Ronald Reagan once said, “Unemployment is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders.” I’m not gonna argue with Mr. Reagan, but I will politely say, define freeloader.

I don’t feel like a freeloader. For one thing, I haven’t received anything for “free.” I am still receiving my actual paycheck from the ad agency where I provided compelling headlines and gave up ideas like geo-targeting direct mail consumers (side note: I apologize to the readers who hate direct mail, just doing my job).

However, I did file a claim for unemployment today. Which means on January 22, I could collect that “free” payout. I’ll let you know on 1/22, but I still don’t think I will feel like a freeloader. While being paid via company, I worked my ass off. And as a resident of New York City, I paid for it. According to Mint.com (this is not a paid advertisement, but Mint.com is the shit), I gave up over $25,000 of my salary to taxes this year. 25?! That’s a Volkswagen—a nice one! And because I did that, I have earned the measly income this country allows while in-between jobs. It would also take me over 60 weeks to recoup that money, and I don’t think I will be collecting for that long (what’s the average time it takes to get a job these days?).

But I digress; Everyday does feel like a weekend day to me. I run errands while you run to meetings. I apply for jobs while you make mental notes to apply for that job you saw when you get home. I can work around other people’s busy schedules and, to be honest, it’s relieving. But, I’m still working.

I’m writing for one thing. This blog has given me a sense of purpose and the response has been amazing and surprising. People have in return shared with me their layoff and moving stories, they’ve given me suggestions and feedback, and for this I am grateful. I have had a couple people request more pictures—of my life as well as the people I am talking about. It’s in the works.

This has all been possible because I don’t have a job. The energy, imagination and desire to want to put myself out there has all been because as confident as I am that it will all be OK, I’m vulnerable at the same time. It’s new for me. NYC makes people hard, guarded and tough. It’s exhausting. For me, the benefits of unemployment don’t come in monetary form. They come in the comfort of knowing that opportunity is ahead; as long as I’m open to new things, new places, new experiences, I will benefit from this little severance project.

Speaking of all things new, I learned that I could apply for a Work/Holiday Visa in Australia for the low-low price of $420. This offer is only valid until I am 31—yes, apparently Australian’s are ageists. Does this mean the plane drops down in Sydney and I am just welcomed by a swarm of 18-31 year olds? Because I’d totally be down for that. But $420 just to apply? That’s quite the commitment.

What do you think? Is it worth trying my hand at a 1-year move to the land down under? Have you ever been? Let me know.

Continue reading “Day 6 – Unemployment Benefits”