Everyday Style: Essential Self Love Edition

It’s been a rough week.  I don’t really want to get into the down-and-dirty details, but suffice to say I need a little extra kindness this week.  At times like these (and I have a lot of times like these, in between those wonderful times where I can conquer anything and everything) I always slow down, prioritize taking care of myself.  I get my work responsibilities taken care of, and then I relax.  I read a book.  I cook food I love.  I watch movies.  Sometimes I set a date that I will snap out of it by—this time November 1st.  Sometimes it works.

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Here are some of the ways I’ve been extra kind to myself today:
I bought a tray for the French press and coffee mugs to sit on, so that our glass table would stop getting coffee-stained.  I dressed in an outfit that was both very cute and extremely comfortable.  Afterwards, I took it off and put on a favorite sweater.  I made myself lemon tea, which I’m sipping right now.  I read the rest of a book I’d gotten too busy to finish.  I did yoga.  I went for a long walk with my husband.  After I woke up this morning, I lay in bed for another half hour, cuddling and allowing myself to ease into the day.  I listened to the latest episode of the Mustard on Movies podcast while I cooked dinner.

I don’t always have time to be so gentle with myself.  Next month I’ll have precious few days to devote to myself, as my students turn in assignments and I try to finish my novel while grading them.  When I have the opportunity, and when I feel the need, it’s important to allow myself these little luxuries.

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I’m a big proponent of the power of positive self-talk, too—which frankly hasn’t gotten enough play with me this week.  So here are some of the nice things I have to say about myself right now:

I’m comfortable in my body, even confident in it sometimes.  (A big and ever-evolving feat.)  I’m getting pretty damn good at cooking, even with no recipe, even with no plan.  I’ve been doing really well in Chinese class these past few weeks, impressing my teacher with my reading, writing, and pronunciation.  I taught a very good lesson in Academic Writing this week—both of the teachers I’m cooperating with praised it, and the students improved quite noticeably from the beginning to the end of the class.  I looked hella cute today.

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I’m the type of person who will work myself to the bone, drive myself insane just to get the results I want.  I have to be careful not to burn out.  I know from experience the importance of taking a step back, being kind and compassionate with yourself, because I’ve been harsh and strict with myself for much, much longer.

It’s all about balance, really.  I’m always learning and re-learning these things.  I’m not naturally a very balanced person—but I believe you can be most things if you cultivate them.  So be kind to yourself, but also be strict with yourself.  Be compassionate, but don’t give yourself excuses.  Be loving with yourself, but be honest about the ways you need to improve.  Be forgiving of yourself, but hold yourself to high standards.  Be the best you can be, and do it with love.

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The Look:
Denim dress – thrifted (G.A.S. Co.), white shirt – thrifted (Decree), black faces shirt – thrifted (The Big Shirt), green thigh-high socks – Sock Dreams, booties – Target

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Energy Saving Tips: How We Made One Month’s Electricity Last FIVE Months

My husband and I live in China, which you’re probably aware is one of the most polluted countries in the world right now.  Is it as bad as the media makes it sound?  Well… sometimes.  We live in Chengdu, which has relatively clean air for its size (fifth largest city in the country) due to its propensity for rain and the mountains that surround it, but even so, Nathan wears a mask all winter long.  In the past year, I only wore my mask a handful of times—but I did get sick from the pollution almost as many times.

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We did have one or two days of “hazardous” air quality last winter.

Before we moved to China, I was very concerned about climate change; my senior year of college I wrote my 100-page creative writing “thesis” on climate change in the Midwest, and it was my second major climate-related writing project.  I have a third in the planning stages, incidentally.

But when we moved to China, our focus on the environment really sharpened.  It’s easy to ignore environmental problems when you live in a developed country.  It’s a very different perspective when you live next to a waterway that alternates between olive green and dog-poop brown, when you have to boil the tap water before you can drink it*, when you might get food poisoning from eating the vegetables raw.  When breathing the air can make you sick.

*even then it might not strictly be safe—I had a student miss class last semester because he had to have surgery to remove collected sediment (“small rocks,” as he put it) from his stomach.

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I wouldn’t want to drink that water…

We quit eating animal products in January, after learning that animal agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined.  And when we learned that more than 70% of Chinese electricity comes from coal, we resolved to do our part in reducing that coal burning by drastically reducing our energy consumption.

In fact, we reduced it to less than 1/5 of what it was before.

For a little context, we receive a 300RMB energy allowance per month—evidently the average monthly energy consumption of a three-person Chinese family.  When we first arrived, we used that amount approximately monthly.  But in February we decided to take seriously the environmental burden of our energy consumption, and we took some big steps to cut back.  This is how we used less than one month’s energy allowance (200RMB) to last us five months—without sacrificing our comfort.

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We turned off the lights.

This is such an obvious solution, it’s the first energy-saving measure you hear: turn the lights off when you leave the room.  But why can’t you turn the lights off while you’re in the room?

We don’t get great natural lighting in our apartment.  In fact, our natural lighting situation is pretty abysmal.  Our apartment’s windows face away from the sun, a few hundred feet from the next tall apartment building, with trees in between.  Add that to the fact that Chengdu has fewer sunny days than Seattle, and you’ve got a recipe for a dark apartment.

But you know what?  We can still see.  We rarely turn the lights on before 7 or 8pm, except for the bathroom light and a small LED lamp that Nathan uses to study Chinese by.  Low light is easy to get used to, even a bit relaxing.  And if you have bad eyesight or find it hard to focus in low lighting, a small, energy-efficient lamp that lets off cool-colored light will be at least as effective as an overhead light.

At night, of course, we do turn on lights—but only the lights we’re actually using.

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We turned off the A/C and the heater.

This one is a little conditional, and it’s the one that makes people think we’re crazy.  It only gets down to about 40 Fahrenheit (about 4 Celsius) during your average Chengdu winter.  I grew up in Wisconsin—40 Fahrenheit is a balmy spring day to me!  But the climate control in our apartment was our biggest energy sink by far, so it was an obvious choice to stop.

That said, not using the heater still took some adjusting.  Even if, like me, you don’t think 40 degrees is a big deal, people expect to be warm and comfortable in their home, and after a few days at those temperatures, you start feeling cold to the bone.

But there are easy solutions to this that are much more energy-efficient than using your heater!

For one thing, long underwear.  Buy a comfortable, high-quality pair of long underwear.  Mine is purple and lined with synthetic fleece inside.  They’re comfortable, cozy, and oh-so-warm.  And I wear them all winter.  If long underwear alone isn’t warm enough, layer on those sweaters!  Who doesn’t love an oversized sweater?  I mean, really?  Shouldn’t you be celebrating the excuse to walk around basically covered in blankets all day?

For another thing, we bought heat fans.  This is something I’ve never seen in the United States, but they’re everywhere in China.  Now, these still use electricity to run, so we do try not to use them too much.  But because you’re able to focus a blast of heat directly onto your body, you don’t need them on for too long.  You can turn one on facing you until you feel nice and toasty, then turn it back off until you’re cold again.

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We don’t use a dishwasher or a clothes dryer.

Okay, that’s mostly because we don’t own either one, and if I had access to a dishwasher I would definitely use it.  But I don’t particularly miss a clothes dryer.  We just have a line strung up in our laundry room, and we keep that small window open to dry our clothes more effectively.  (We close the door to the laundry room during the cold months to try and contain the cold air.)

Additionally, our refrigerator is very small—it doesn’t even come up to my shoulders.  How do we live with a small refrigerator?  Easy: we eat a fresh diet of plant-based whole foods.  We don’t waste space on drinks like milk, juice, or soda.  We keep almost exclusively condiments and leftovers in our refrigerator, because the fresh produce that makes up a majority of our diet is by and large purchased within a day of when we plan to eat it, at one of the markets within a 15-minute walk of our apartment.

We made DIY dehumidifiers.

Chengdu is extremely damp.  When we first moved into our apartment, it had a horror-movie mold problem, which it had evidently cultivated over the course of just one rainy, humid summer sans inhabitants.  Aside from plugging some holes with spray foam and scrubbing the shit out of our walls with bleach water, we had to find a way to dehumidify our apartment.  But we didn’t want to buy a dehumidifier, for both cost and environmental reasons.  So instead we bought a few cute buckets, some colanders that approximately fit the mouths of the buckets, and some bags of calcium chloride.  You just put the colander inside the bucket and add calcium chloride to it—and boom!  Instant energy-efficient dehumidifier.  The bucket collects the water from the atmosphere.

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You can buy calcium chloride quite cheap online, at least here in China!

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And here we are, living in comfort with low energy costs!  I hope you’ve found this post somewhat informative!  Make sure to follow me for more posts about living low on the food, energy, and generational chain, from vegan health posts to cheap and ethical fashion and lifestyle posts and more!

Monthly: October 2016

We’re already halfway through October, and aside from the setback of being sick this week, it’s shaping up to be one hell of a month!

I’m getting more into curating my time and my life lately, so I wanted to start a monthly column to share my goals and favorites.

October Excitement:
-My 24th birthday was on October 9.  (October 9th was also John Lennon’s birthday, by the way.)  I wrote a post about it—24 promises to be a big year for me!  I’m moving into a new phase of my life, the go-getter phase, and I’m excited to share my journey.  This past year has been very focused on learning life skills, like cooking and remembering to buy toilet paper and not being reliant on Adderall, and I’m very ready to move past the basic concerns (which I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered) on to the hard work of achieving my dreams.

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October Goals:
-I’m co-writing a two volume academic writing textbook for my job right now, and I want to have my chapter on essay structure completely drafted with exercises and everything by the end of October.  It’s not a very sexy goal, but it’s gonna look great on that resume!

-I’m also submitting my writing to literary journals again this month.  I received my last rejection over a year ago, but when I graduated from college and started planning my wedding and my big move across the world, I got too busy with the everyday of life and fell into a massive rut of writer’s block, which in turn robbed me of my confidence and motivation to submit.  But this month I’m getting my work back out there!  I renewed my Duotrope subscription just for the month of October.

October Inspiration:
-October is one of my favorite months.  The change of seasons is a huge inspiration for me.  When I moved from Wisconsin to Chengdu last year, I thought there was no change in seasons in October—it still frequently reached 80 degrees or higher, the leaves were still green, and there is no such thing as a pumpkin spice latte here.  But now that I’ve gotten to know Chengdu a little better, I’m able to tune in to the subtler changes.  The ginkgo trees are starting to drop their berries, it rains more frequently, and the temperatures are dropping from the upper 90s to the 70s, even the 60s now and then.  I’m still getting cozy with warm drinks and (light) blankets, I’ve just come to accept that fall in Chengdu means more lightweight blazers and cardigans, not necessarily oversized sweaters.

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Keep an eye out for my latest fall clothes haul in a post this week!

-I’m getting super inspired by Jenny Mustard right now.  I love both her blog and her youtube channel—although I’m not a minimalist like her, I’m very conscious about my consumption and my impact on the world.  I find her content very thought-provoking, and just in the past 24 hours Nathan and I have been spurred into two separate long and fascinating conversations by something Jenny said.  I also love how motivated she is, and how skilled she seems at organizing her life and her time.

October Food:
-I’ve been eating a lot of orange vegetables lately: butternut squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes are the stars of most of my cooking.  I love this sweet potato curry, and butternut squash mac and cheese is literally the perfect vegan comfort food.  I’m really interested in trying this butternut squash, onion, and apple pizza, too—that’s one of my favorite flavor combinations, and it looks so good!

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Garlic is my year-round bae, though

-Since I got an immersion blender for my birthday, soups, dips, and sauces are the orders of the month.  I made a great sweet potato curry soup the other day, and I’m nursing an obsession with baba ganoush.  (Thinking of making a pizza with baba ganoush instead of sauce… hmmm… look for a recipe soon!) I’ve been dying to try this onion and apple spread on some homemade potato scones, too, and now that I have an immersion blender, I have a great excuse!

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I seriously can’t stop eating baba ganoush!  I’m not kidding… send help…

October Drinks:
-Nathan and I quit drinking alcohol entirely for the last half of September, and I’ve been really loving how much more clear-headed I feel and how much easier it is to stay hydrated, so I’m more or less continuing to steer clear of the stuff!  This isn’t permanent abstinence—when I move back to the US, I’m sure I’ll still enjoy a good craft beer here and there.  But the alcohol in China is honestly pretty awful, so what’s the point in drinking it if it just makes me feel bad?  I’ll still indulge on rare occasions, but my October drink is not drinking!

-We also recently broke our little French press and bought this gorgeous thing as a replacement!  It makes 1L of coffee, which is perfect for us—just enough for each of us to have a nice, big mug in the morning on our days off.  I’ve also discovered a new favorite blend: Archer Farms French Roast.  I never knew I was a dark roast girl, but it’s like a big, strong hug.  It’s amazing.  For a totally different flavor, I’m also enjoying Archer Farms’ apple cider donut coffee, but it’s such a sweet light roast that it’s almost like a strong tea rather than a coffee.

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October Items:
-I’m a little obsessed with pillows this month!  I recently bought a poop emoji pillow, because let’s be honest, it expresses the deepest reaches of my soul.  And Nathan’s Chinese tutor somehow remembered my birthday (he’s mentioned it to her ONCE, a whole year ago!) and gave me this unbelievable bear pillow from Miniso.  It is the cutest pillow I’ve seen in a good long time, and it’s quite possibly the softest thing I’ve ever touched!  I simultaneously want to sleep on it every single night, and never use it so that it retains this springy softness forever!

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October Apps:
-I’ve recently started using Sleep Cycle to track my sleep quality and wake me up at the most optimal time in my sleep cycle.  I wake up feeling much more energized this way—I mean, it’s a really noticeable difference!  I’ve been using it for about two and a half weeks, and I’ve hit snooze twice total in that time.  Normally I hit snooze two or three times every morning!  Not only does it wake me up better than a traditional alarm, it’s been really enlightening to see a visualization of my sleep quality on different nights.  You can pay a little extra money to get more features, including an analysis of what factors are affecting your sleep, but I find I don’t need to.  If I drink coffee late in the day and that night my sleep quality is 75% instead of 93%, I pretty much know what I did.

-I’m also really enjoying the game Alphabear.  It’s a really cute and clever word game!  Like a sort of reverse Scrabble, but with adorable bouncing bears instead of Double Letter Score tiles.

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So, there you have it: the month of October according to me!  Make sure to follow me here on WordPress or on Bloglovin (you could be the first one 😉 heyyy) so you don’t miss my next post!  I post regularly about travel, fashion, lifestyle, writing, food and health, and more!

A Reflection on 23, A Vision for 24

I hate the phrase “another year has come and gone.”  At some level I get it: time is the ultimate perpetual motion machine, it’s a turning wheel, it comes and then it is gone.  But I hate to seem so passive in the (no pun intended) passage of time.

Nevertheless, here we are.  It’s October 9th again.  Another year has come and (sigh) gone.  I was 23, and now I’m 24.

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This past year, my 23rd year, was absolutely the best and hardest year of my life.  I’ve been saying that every year for a while now—for the past five years, life has only gotten better and harder.  I tend to think those things go together, and I suppose that means I’m doing something right.

I used to be terrified about the passing of time.  It was my largest source of anxiety, causing regular panic attacks around birthdays and new years.  But as I gained more control over my life (and my time-management habits), the fear faded.  The passing of time excites me now, because I have something to show for it.

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A brief overview of why 23 was great:
-I had just gotten married!
-I was living in China and had the opportunity to travel
-I was working a fairly fulfilling job with good pay and great hours
-I went vegan
-I learned how to take care of myself, from learning to cook to learning to exercise and the true meaning of self-care
-I went camping in California for several weeks
-I spent nearly a month enjoying the mountains and legal weed in Colorado

And a brief overview of why 23 was hard as hell:
-I was living in China with virtually no knowledge of the language
-I quit Adderall for good, which is great now that I’m on the other side of it but caused the hardest and most depressing months of my life (they really don’t tell you what you’re getting into when they prescribe that drug!)
-I had to learn to take care of myself, from learning to cook to learning to exercise and the true meaning of self-care
-I had a gnarly case of writer’s block that lasted from college graduation in May 2015 (when I was 22) all the way till July 2016

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I entered 23 overwhelmed, a little scared, and pretty incompetent.  I leave 23 amazed at how far I’ve come, more than just competent in every area of my life that matters, still overwhelmed, but loving it now.  The big steps I’ve taken have allowed me to make even bigger plans for the future.  And I’m motivated as hell.

My 24th birthday couldn’t have come at a better time.  I have a five-year plan, and I know exactly what I need to do to get through it.  I realized earlier this week that the learning-how-to-human phase of my life is over, and I’m entering a new phase: the go-getter phase.  And I’m so ready for it.  I’m so ready for 24.

Quick and Easy (Vegan) Thai Red Curry Sweet Potato Soup

My birthday is this weekend, and my husband gave me a perfect present: an immersion blender!  (I know I’m an ~adult~ now because the only thing I wanted for my birthday was a kitchen appliance… oh god.)  As I told him when I opened it, “I hope you don’t like chewing!”–because this season is going be full of soups and dips and sauces!

I just wanted to quickly share the first soup I made: a super tasty, super easy Thai red curry sweet potato soup.  

We literally have three tubs (not jars, tubs) of Thai red curry paste in the kitchen right now, and I’m all about the orange vegetables this season, so my soup choice was only natural.  But when I googled around a little bit for a vegan red curry sweet potato soup, I couldn’t find one I liked (or many at all)! So I endeavored to make my own.

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It really couldn’t be easier.  Here’s my totally unprofessional but totally delicious recipe (it makes a big ol’ pot… really, a big one):

4 sweet potatoes, skinned and chopped up
3 medium-large carrots, chopped
1 large onion (I used red, but I think yellow would also be fine)
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
4 cloves garlic (okay, I used like 6, but garlic is basically my favorite food)
1.5″ piece of ginger, grated
4 tbsp Thai red curry paste (use half that amount if you don’t like spicy food!!! I’m a heat fiend!)
250ml coconut milk (or a can, whatever)
water (you could use stock and it’d be even better, but I didn’t have any)
salt and pepper
oil for sauteing the onions
green onions for topping (OPTIONAL)
bread for dipping (OPTIONAL)

1. Wash and chop your veggies.  I peeled both the sweet potatoes and the carrots, but really only because of contamination concerns.
2. Saute your onions in a bit of oil till soft, and throw in the cauliflower about halfway through.  (You can just do this in the bottom of your soup pot.)
3. Add the garlic, ginger, and curry paste and saute for a minute more before you toss in the sweet potatoes and carrots.  Add enough water to cover the vegetables, as well as your coconut milk and a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper, and bring to a low boil.
4. Boil till everything is soft, probably 10 or 15 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.
5. Blend it up!  If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can also pour it into a standing blender for this stage.  Just be careful!  You don’t want to burn yourself, so pour carefully and don’t fill your blender too full.
6. Add more salt and pepper to your liking, and serve!  You can top it with any number of things: nutritional yeast, pepper, green onions, cilantro… whatever floats your boat!  It’s great on its own or with bread for dipping.

See?  SO EASY!  I’m going to be making this all fall!  If you try it out, let me know what you think in the comments!

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Make sure you follow my blog on WordPress or on Bloglovin’ to see more vegan food, as well as updates on my travels and life abroad, my writing life, fashion and lifestyle posts, and more!

Inspiration Is A Habit, Not A Lightening Strike

As a writer, I’ve encountered far more than my fair share of folks for whom inspiration is a fickle muse, a sporadic enigma, a ghost who haunts at random. I think it’s a common attitude: inspiration comes when it damn well wants, and you just have to be ready and waiting for that moment. People use it as an excuse for procrastination, an explanation for writer’s block, a justification for a prolonged silence on their blog or their YouTube channel, whatever.

For some people, this is a source of exasperation: “I want to write, but the muse isn’t coming!” they lament, or they ask, “How do you get the muse to visit you?”  For others, it’s a reason to brag: “I never work on a schedule, I wait for inspiration to strike!”  Either way, it’s an attitude that relies on a lie.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a pure hobbyist who paints because it’s calming, or writes poetry as therapy, that’s 100% fine.  In fact, it’s great—but this post isn’t for you.  If you’re someone who wants to build a career out of your art or your content, or at least some recognition in your field, listen up.  Even if you’re doing it just for fun, but you want to improve your abilities as a writer or a photographer or, hell, even a chef—listen up.

Inspiration doesn’t control you.  You control your inspiration.

It’s always a good idea to decorate your space with things that inspire you, to keep your
~brain juices~ flowing throughout the day.

Inspiration isn’t an external force.  It’s not a heavenly hand bestowing ideas upon you.  It’s just your brain making connections, having ideas, doing the things a brain is meant to do.  Inspiration is just the practice of seeing new possibilities and larger meaning in the mundane world around you.  It’s the practice of recognizing that the world around you isn’t mundane.  It’s the practice of seeing everything as stimuli.

The keyword here is practice.  To be inspired, you need to keep the inspiration pathways in your brain warm.  Limber them up—look for inspiration.  The more you look, the more you’ll see.  There is inspiration all around you, all of the time, but if you’re not looking for it, you’ll miss it.  It’s truly a habit that you need to cultivate.  When you scroll through pictures on Instagram or tumblr or wherever you like to waste your time, don’t just let the media wash over you.  Think about it.  Figure out why it speaks to you, and get inspired!

Do this all the time.  Do it while you walk.  Do it while you shower.  Do it when you’re sitting in class, or in meetings, or in a coffee shop.  The more you look for inspiration, the more you’ll find it.

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Once you find inspiration, make sure you catch it!  I always carry a small notebook with me for recording ideas.  Right now I’m carrying the fish, which I got for 25RMB at the famous
Fang Suo Commune bookstore here in Chengdu.

I know this from experience: at certain times in my life, everything from news stories about criminals to obscure facts about Ancient Egypt to the sight of a leaf on the sidewalk sent me scurrying for my notebook to jot down an idea or scribble a stanza.  At other times, my brain has been a dry well while I prioritized things like washing dishes and getting to work on time and ignored the magic and intrigue of everything around me.  (Not that washing dishes and getting to work on time are incompatible with a creative life—it’s just a matter of balance, and I think one or the other tends to slip before you reach your balance.)  But now I’m getting it back.  I’m getting back in the habit of being inspired.

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7 Real Tips To See The World For Cheap

When I turned 19 years old, I had never left the United States—in fact, I had hardly even traveled within it.  But that winter I took a step that has completely changed the course of my life: I went to Europe for a month.  On $2,000. 

I was accompanied, of course, by my life partner and trusty travel companion, Nathan.

When Nathan suggested it over the summer, it seemed like a pipe dream.  How could I, a broke-ass college student with zero travel experience, afford to spend my winter vacation in Europe?  It seemed impossible, but I love impossible.  So I started saving every paycheck I made (minus enough money to pay for gas and a modest and strictly-limited amount of pot), and I started planning this trip.  Guess what?  I went, I had an amazing time, and I have traveled or lived internationally every year since!

Saving Tip: It’s easier to save for something if you take steps to make that thing real.  If you’re always saving for that theoretical trip-you-want-to-take-one-day-but-haven’t-planned, you’re much less likely to meet your savings goals than if you’re planning for that Very Real Trip that you’re taking to Phuket in December.

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Unless you’re truly in the grinding depths of poverty (in which case, I’m sorry), anyone can save $2,000.  Anyone can spend a month in Europe.  Or, if you want to live a little higher on the horse than I did, you can just go for a week!  Either way, international travel can be a reality for you, too, and I’ve got some tips to help.

  1. Learn to save

This is honestly the most important tip you can get.  I know so many people who believe traveling is out of reach for them—and it is, as long as they keep throwing away their money on Starbucks, the latest gaming systems, or take-out pizza every night.  But the truth is that most people can afford a good trip if they prioritize it.

Take an honest look at your day-to-day life.  What do you spend your money on?  If your answer is rent or bills and nothing else, now might not be a good time to travel.  But if your answer includes a lot of take-out, alcohol, games, weed, the new iPhone, or anything else that could possibly be called frivolous, I have good news for you!  You have a trip in your future, if you’re willing to take the next step!  It’s a step that sounds hard, but it’s not: stop buying those things.  That’s it.

Figure out what you can cut out of your life.  Identify the absolute bare bones of your existence.  Then slowly add things back in, but only those that are really crucial to your happiness.  This isn’t about depriving yourself, so don’t think of it that way.  Think of it as refocusing to provide yourself with the experience of a lifetime.  You can smoke fewer cigarettes per week if it means a day in Barcelona.  You can skip that latte if it means you get to bask on a beach in Bali.  When you find yourself tempted towards these in-the-moment pleasures, put down your wallet and think about your dream destination.  (I find that always using cash instead of charging everything to my card helps me spend with purpose, too.)

Set up a separate savings account for your travel fund, and funnel all the money you’re saving by living simply into that account.  You’ll be amazed at how fast it can add up.

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  1. Know your budget

This is critical when it comes to the day-to-day part of travel, but it factors in throughout the planning process, too.  We’ll split this into two parts: planning for your budget, and living with your budget.

Planning for your budget:
I think the most important advice you can receive here is BE REALISTIC.  Take stock of how much money you have or can save, and then decide how long your trip should be.  Look at your budget, then decide how much of that you can reasonably spend on a plane ticket.  You should strive for this to be as small a portion as possible, but it’s also going to be your biggest expense by far.  When I went to Europe, the flights (there were five) came out to half of my total expenses.  Once you’ve bought your flight, look at your budget and decide how you can spend it most effectively.  If your budget is small, don’t book that five-star hotel.  If it’s really small, don’t book a hotel at all (we’ll get there in a second).  Spend smart.

Living with your budget:
Hey, you bought a flight, you booked accommodation, and now you’re in Paris!  Or maybe Beijing!  Or maybe Lima!  Wherever you are, it’s time to spend the rest of that money you saved.  But you don’t want to run out.  Figure out how much money you have left over after all of your large expenses are paid, and divide that number by the number of days you’ll be traveling.  That’s your daily budget—stick to it.  Figure out what you absolutely need to spend money on every day (i.e. food) and how much that will cost.  Whatever is left over, you can spend however you want.  If there’s not much money left, don’t despair!  You can still have a great time for virtually free in pretty much every city in the world.

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  1. Stay out of hotels

Hotels are the accommodation of the past, let’s be honest.  They’re for people who have money, need a lot of privacy, and want to see a place without really living in the place.  They’re for the sanitized travel experience.  The true adventure (not to mention the true money saving) happens a little lower down the sleep chain, so to speak.

Airbnb: I think everyone knows about Airbnb by now.  In terms of comfort and privacy, this is probably the next step down from a hotel.  You pay to stay in somebody’s house.  Depending on your price point, you can shell it out for a full five-star experience by renting a whole house, or you can go basic in a room in someone’s basement, or any number of things in between.  Airbnb gives you the opportunity to meet people and be hosted, with more amenities and more of an air of legitimacy than a service like Couchsurfing.  Airbnb also has some really unique housing opportunities—my husband and I stayed for several days in a cave home in the Chinese countryside in the summer of ’15!  (See above.)

Hostels: Hostels are a great, somewhat more traditional choice for the budget traveler, and you can really tailor your costs to your needs this way.  If you have a bit more cash to throw around, most hostels offer some basic private rooms (often with shared bathrooms).  But if you’re really running low on funds or don’t mind a more social experience, you can stay in a dorm-style room with anywhere from three to nine other people!

Couchsurfing: I’m a huge fan of Couchsurfing.  It sounds a little more daring—you stay at a stranger’s house for free.  It’s really the ultimate experience in terms of getting to know the people and the true flavor of a place.  We couchsurfed our way through our month in Europe (except for in Venice, where we couldn’t find a host for the days we’d be there, which were right around Christmas and the new year), and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  We’re planning another trip through Europe this coming summer, and we’ll be hitting those couches again!  Couchsurfing saves the most money on your accommodation, plus it gives you the chance to make a friend and share your travel experience!

Other options: These are just the most common accommodations.  Depending on what type of trip you’re trying to take, there are other options as well, like TalkTalkBnB (similar to Couchsurfing, but you’re being “hired” for your native language), Workaway, housesitting, and more.  If you know people in the area, don’t be shy about asking them if they have any leads on places you can stay—my husband and I stayed free in Mexico a couple years ago at the empty seasonal house of an acquaintance of his aunt’s.

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  1. Be smart about your plane tickets.

There are so many tips about flying cheap that I’ll probably expand this into a full post another time, but for now, here’s what you absolutely must know:

Look in the right places.  Services like Kayak or Skyscanner are great for comparing prices and finding you the lowest one (something you should ALWAYS do, because no airline can guarantee the cheapest prices every time), as well as finding out what dates are best for flying.  Unless you have a very strict timetable, search for flights over a few weeks or a month and plan your vacation whenever it’s cheapest to fly.  I recommend flying on holidays if you can—not the days around holidays, but on the holidays themselves.  If you don’t mind flying on Christmas Day, for example, you’ll get a mostly-empty flight for a much lower price!  If your plans are looser, you can check airfarewatchdog to see what the cheapest flights are at any given time, too.

Look at the right times.  It’s all about taking the road less traveled—or the flight less booked, as the case may be. Flights are cheaper on certain days, so you could get a better deal on the same flight by booking at the right time, or by flying on a different day.  It’ll be cheaper to fly on a Monday or Tuesday than on a Friday or Sunday, and cheaper to take that red-eye or early-morning flight than that nice 2pm one. As for booking at the cheapest time, aim to buy your tickets Tuesday afternoon or early on Wednesday. There’s also a sweet spot in larger terms—you don’t want to buy your tickets too early, but you don’t want to wait until the last minute, either. Most of the time, tickets will hit that cheap spot sometime between 1 and 3 months before takeoff, but there’s no surefire way of knowing exactly when. That’s why you should always sign up for price alerts with Kayak or a similar site as far ahead of time as you can.  I’ve saved as much as $120 per ticket by jumping on that price dip when it hit my inbox!

Look for error fares.  You can’t count on an error fare for every trip, but if you have loose travel plans and you keep an eye out, you could end up flying from London to China for $30!  With these deals, you have to check frequently and jump on them when the opportunity arises.  Be aware that sometimes airlines don’t honor these deals and will cancel and refund your reservations.  But sometimes they won’t, and you’ll be on the other side of the world for the price of dinner at a restaurant!  To find error fares, I recommend regularly checking secretflying and fly4free.  I’ve signed up for email notifications on both of these websites!

Book a flight past your final destination.  Again, you can’t count on this working for every trip, but sometimes you can get a much cheaper flight by buying a ticket to a different and perhaps less-desirable city with a layover at your destination.  Skiplagged is the best resource for finding these tickets.

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  1. Save restaurant meals for special occasions

The first time I took a major trip, I did this because I couldn’t afford restaurant food.  When Nathan and I spent our month in Europe, we ate out of supermarkets every day, save for two multi-course meals that his father kindly let us charge to a credit card as a Christmas present.  Otherwise, we bought rolls of fresh bread for a euro or so each, blocks of cheese, salamis, and beer, and that’s what we ate.  It’s not the healthiest cuisine, and having since gone vegan, I wouldn’t repeat that exact pattern, but it was cheap as hell, and we were full and satisfied all of the time.  And, frankly, it was fun to sit on the sidewalk in Rome tearing hunks of bread and cheese while we watched Italians and tourists stream by.

I did it then because I had to, but now I try to do it because I prefer to.  Let’s be honest: after a handful of restaurant meals, you’re not going to get that much joy out of them.  So why waste your money?  Only eat at the restaurants you really want to experience.  Otherwise, eat out of the supermarket.  (Another benefit to staying at an Airbnb, couchsurfing, or staying at a hostel: access to a kitchen!)

  1. Travel light – only take a carry-on bag

Traveling light will only save you a little bit of money, but it will save you a lot of other troubles.  Obviously, if you travel with carry-on only, you don’t need to pay to check a bag (which you would if you’re flying with a budget airline).  If you travel with carry-on only, you won’t mind walking instead of taking that taxi or that Uber.  (I’ll write a post about why you should travel walking sometime soon!)  If you travel with carry-on only, you won’t feel tied down by the weight of your belongings—you’ll feel free to explore, free to experience!  It’s also wise to leave your valuables at home, so you have nothing to worry about if you leave your bag at that hostel for a day.

A lot of traveling cheap is really about managing your attitude towards traveling.  Leaving your things at home really helps you focus on what’s important about this experience, and getting the most out of it.

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You came to see this–you can buy shoes in any country.

  1. Don’t view traveling as an opportunity to shop

I live in China right now, and tourism is nearly synonymous with shopping here.  I understand the desire to commemorate your once-in-a-lifetime experience with a physical souvenir, but I like to limit myself—physical belongings can only bring so much pleasure.  I allow myself either a decorative trinket or a single piece of clothing for each trip I take.  It’s fun to fill your space with things from your travels, but it’s a lot more fun to have a selection of items from all over the world than to have twenty things from Berlin!

Shopping is the fastest way to burn through your money, but don’t give in to the temptation.  Stick to window-shopping until you find that one thing, that thing that speaks to your soul, that one thing you cannot leave the country without.  Then you’ll know you’re spending smart.

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So there you have it: my tips for traveling cheap!  I hope you enjoyed them, and I hope you’ll check out my other blog posts about food and health, lifestyle, fashion, and more!  Don’t forget to follow my blog to hear more about my travels, too!

 

 

Vegan Cook-Off #2: Daikon Radish!

Yesterday we spent another day getting creative in the kitchen for our second Vegan Chef Cook-Off.  This time, our secret ingredient was a bit trickier.  Everyone loves butternut squash (except for my husband, apparently), but how many people love daikon radish?  I haven’t personally met any.  It’s not that daikon radish is bad, by any means (done right, it’s even good!), but it’s a bit… well… niche.  Let’s say niche.

I was intimidated when Nathan announced the secret ingredient, for sure.  I’ve eaten it a handful of times living in China, but I’ve only cooked with it once—Nathan and I made some daikon radish noodle lo mien sometime last year.  It was fine, but it can’t have been that good, because we never cooked with daikon radish again.  I collect vegan recipes and read them in my spare time in my ongoing effort to suck up knowledge about cooking and go from What-Is-Food to The-Best-Home-Cook-Of-All-Time, and I only have one daikon radish recipe saved.  It’s for raw daikon radish fries, and it warns that “you may want to use jicama […] if you’re new to raw food and the flavors that go with it.”

So I knew this was going to be tough.

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This is not all of the ingredients we used, but it is everything we bought at the market for the competition.

Without further ado, let’s get into the dishes!  Just like last time, Nathan served his for a late lunch and I served mine for dinner.  This time, he served sometime between 1pm and 2pm.  One thing he did really well in this round of the competition is he served a cohesive meal with each dish featuring daikon radish, rather than a random collection of mismatched daikon radish dishes.

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Dish #1: Spicy pickled daikon radish

When I considered what I would do with daikon radish, my first thought was a take on the spicy pickled radishes that every casual restaurant here serves as an appetizer by the tub.  Unfortunately, Nathan beat me to it, declaring almost immediately that he needed to let one of his dishes sit overnight (we had originally planned to hold the competition on Monday).  Even more unfortunately, he rather bungled it.

The ingredients he used for this dish were daikon radish, rice vinegar, cooking wine, sugar, salt, and red Thai chili peppers.  The idea was solid, but when he took the dish out of the refrigerator in the morning after leaving it to ferment (or whatever) overnight, he discovered the taste of the cooking wine was overwhelming, and he couldn’t regain a balance after that.

After tasting this botched dish, we turned to the main course…

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Dish #2: Daikon radish sushi

My husband is the sushi man in the house.  I’ve made sushi only once, but it’s a real part of his repertoire.  He’s quite good at it, too, I think!  He tried a new method of turning the Thai rice we keep in the house into sushi rice, by chopping it up after cooking.  I thought it worked out pretty well, but he says he does not recommend it.  It does turn the rice into a bit more of a homogenous paste, while his usual method of cooking the rice with far too much water allows the rice to maintain its natural grainy qualities better.

While this dish was quite tasty, the daikon radish didn’t seem like an integral part of any of the sushi rolls.  It added a bit of that radish-y dimension to the taste, but I don’t think the sushi would have been noticeably different without the radish.

Finally, and much to my surprise, Nathan presented a daikon radish beverage

apple-and-radish-smoothieDish #3: Apple and daikon radish smoothie

Wow!  This drink was… an enigma.  When you took a sip, you were initially punched in the face by the radish.  Raw radish has a sensation that reminds me of wasabi, in that you feel it in your face as much as you taste it (or possibly more).  So you would take a sip, taste the radish, then feel the radish bloom through your face, and then it would mellow out into a pretty regular, sweet smoothie.

That sounds terrible when I type it out, and for the first sip I was so not on board.  But, inexplicably, I wanted a second sip.  And then I wanted a third.  The series of events that happened when I consumed a little bit of the smoothie (which could only be consumed in little bits) was so confounding and unusual that I couldn’t stop.  What’s more, the more I drank it, the better I liked it.

This was a truly creative offering.  I have never personally pulled off such culinary creativity.  I was, oddly enough, quite impressed.

For this one, Nathan blended equal parts sweet apples and daikon radish.  He also added a little bit of melon (the cause of the slight orange color), but he maintains that this was a mistake, as it didn’t add much to the flavor but mellowed out the combination of apples and radish.  Actually, he’s making me a plain apple-and-radish smoothie as I type this, to show me his original intent.  I’m excited, but I’m also pretty nervous!

After tasting his dishes, I felt pretty confident about my chances with my dinner, if I’m being honest.  I won the last round, and I was still high off that victory.  Besides, he had a dish that totally flopped!  I could at least be confident that that wouldn’t happen!

So, when dinner time rolled around, I made two offerings:

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Dish #4: Bahn Mi Bowl

I’ve run into a lot of panzanella recipes lately, and the idea really intrigues me.  So when I saw a recipe for a “Vietnamese panzanella,” I was instantly intrigued.  I read through the recipe, but, since it’s against our rules to follow recipes, I winged it from there.  Unfortunately, I forgot to make note of my process this time, so I can’t provide you with an exact recipe for the bowl I made.  It’s very similar in ingredients to the above recipe, though—I replaced the regular radishes with daikon radish, made up my own tofu marinade, used peanut oil instead of olive oil, and otherwise tried to replicate the concept without following a recipe.

It didn’t entirely work.

The panzanella idea is great, and I’ll definitely be doing that again.  The bahn mi idea is great, and I’ll definitely be making a bahn mi in the future.  But the bowl I made was pretty imbalanced in terms of flavor, too heavy on the vinegar and sharpness, and by the time I served it (I let it sit while I made the second dish), it was cold—I thought it would have been better warm.

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed in the results I had here.

My other dish, though… my OTHER dish was fantastic!

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Dish #5: Daikon Radish Bites

When I started researching, I saw a lot of Chinese or Taiwanese daikon radish cakes.  I considered cooking these, but if I’m being totally honest, they sounded pretty bad to me.  I love Chinese food… but that doesn’t mean I love all Chinese food.  Some of the more chewy-textured dishes leave me pretty turned off, and daikon radish cakes sounded like they would fall into this category.

But it did give me an idea.  I remembered the zucchini fritters I made over the summer (which didn’t turn out great texturally, but were a great concept with great flavors), and I thought… why not westernize daikon radish cakes?

I grated up maybe 1/3 or 1/2 of a large daikon radish, and mixed that with about half a large grated carrot (if you replicate this dish, grate the carrot smaller than the daikon radish).  I sprinkled it with salt, let it sit for a while, and then squeezed out as much moisture as I could.  I added some sweet potato starch and a very small potato, boiled and blended so that it was more of a potato paste.  This and the sweet potato starch were my binders, so once I added them I mixed it all up and squeezed it together until it was all kind of sticking to itself.  Then I seasoned it with a generous sprinkle of chives, garlic, and ginger powder (I have a jar of that all combined), some additional ginger powder, and a large pinch of “Chinese Spice for BBQ.”  (I don’t know what’s in that, or if that’s a common spicy blend you’ll find anywhere else.  Those are the only English words on the bag, haha.  I imagine some chili powder or something like that would be a fine replacement.  It just smells spicy and smoky.)  Then I formed little bites, about the size of the hollow if I cup the palm of my hand, but flat and squared.  I mixed together some bread crumbs with a generous amount of crushed red pepper flakes and coated the bites in the mixture.  Finally, I filled a frying pan with a thin layer of peanut oil and fried all of the bites for a couple minutes on each side, until browned.  I think this made about 10, but I ate a couple before they made it to the table!

These were REALLY good, especially dipped in mushroom soy sauce.  The crispy outside with the sort of creamy inside made Nathan call them the plant-based, Chinese answer to mozzarella sticks.  Not that they actually taste anything like mozzarella sticks, but they fulfill a similar desire.  These were definitely the best dish of the day—and I have enough radish left over to make another batch today!

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So, here are the dish rankings for yesterday’s competition, from best to worst:

  1. Daikon Radish Bites – this was a truly fantastic dish which will definitely be repeated regularly in our home (but not too regularly, because, while nutritious, they are certainly not healthy) – 5/5 all around!
  2. Apple and Radish Smoothie – a very strange and surprisingly successful offering… I recommend you try it, but make sure you keep an open mind!! And don’t expect to drink a lot of it at once.  By the way, we turned the leftovers into popsicles! – 3/5 for taste but 5/5 for creativity and intrigue
  3. Daikon Radish Sushi – a good dish, but a dish that didn’t necessarily require or feature the daikon radish – 4/5 in taste, but 3/5 for its use of the radish
  4. Bahn Mi Bowl – conceptually interesting, but the radish was more of a side note than a feature, and the end product was far too vinegary. A regular bahn mi would be better, and this wasn’t really worth all the time it took – 3/5 all around
  5. Spicy Pickled Daikon Radish – a dish that we know is delicious if done properly, but our rendition was not done properly – 1/5, we threw the rest away

The overall winner?  NATHAN!  Congratulations, babe.  This time you whupped my butt.  My confidence after lunch was unfounded!  This just goes to show that creativity really counts.

Follow my blog to see what our next secret ingredient will be!

Clarity on Chunxi Road – Style for Savers

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It’s the National Day holiday in China, so I have the week off work.  Originally I was planning to take this opportunity to dip down to India for a week (check one off my travel bucket list, aka the world map!), but a few weeks ago Nathan and I decided to stay in Chengdu.  For one thing, we have a lot going on here right now.  He’s working on early decision grad school applications, and I’ve got about a thousand balls in the air right now between teaching at the university, teaching teens, teaching kids, writing a novel, writing a textbook, writing this blog, planning my future…. But to be totally honest, we partially made the decision to stay because we were so damn tired of travelling.

Yeah, it happens!  This summer we spent two months in America, and even though a couple of weeks of that time was spent at our respective parents’ homes, the whole thing felt like travel.  When we were camping in California for several weeks, that was definitely travel.  When we stayed in Colorado for almost a month, that was definitely travel. But this was also the first time we’ve been to our parents’ houses and had it distinctly not feel like home.  (Makes sense, since we’ve been married and living 7,000 miles away for a year.)  Then, when we finally did come back to China, we spent several weeks travelling around and hosting Nathan’s parents.  Travelling is amazing, but it also gets fucking exhausting.  I mean, at a deep level, in your soul.

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In any case, I’m four days into our staycation now and I have to say we definitely made the right choice.  It’s been a blast, and I’ve hit exactly the right balance between relaxed and productive—Saturday I spent hunched over my computer in my underwear all day, working, but Sunday I spent people-watching and strutting my stuff in one of the major shopping districts in the city!  See?  Life is all about balance.

Going to Chunxi Road (and the surrounding area) is a lot of fun because it’s always completely packed, and everyone is dressed in their best.  People-watching is lowkey one of my favorite hobbies.  It’s fun anywhere, any time, but it’s even more fun when you get to see people present their idea of their best selves.  You can really tell a lot about a person by what they wear to impress others.

I wonder what you can tell about me.

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The real reason yesterday was so much fun, though, is that I’m feeling really psychologically rejuvenated!  This staycation gave me the time and space to figure some things out.  You could say I’ve had an epiphany—or two!  There’s no feeling like realizing that one phase of your life is over, and that you’re ready to move into the next.  And there’s definitely no feeling like realizing that, for once, you have a really good idea of what that next phase is.  It feels good!

And one thing I’ve learned in my life so far:

Feel good, look good.

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The Look (under $40 total):
Red crop top – Forever 21, white lace top – a discount clothes market near Chunxi Road (no tag), black pencil skirt – Goodwill (Body Central), black top tied over skirt – St. Vincent’s Dig and Save (The Big Shirt), shoes – Target, purse – a hole-in-the-wall shop in Chengdu, sunglasses – Goldmine Vintage in Boulder, CO

Journaling For Success: 4 Tips To Make Journaling Work For You

Look, life is complicated at the best of times.  At the worst, it’s downright overwhelming.  If you’re anything like me, it can be really hard to keep your feelings and your goals straight in your head.  Maybe you’re one of those people who keeps thinking “I should start meditating,” but gets discouraged by the barrage of thoughts that comes barreling into your head when you try to empty it out.  Maybe you’ve tried manifesting success, but you didn’t have the focus and quit before you had a chance to find out if it worked.  Maybe you wrote a journal as a child, but quit when life got busy.

Well, all of those apply to me, and those are all the more reasons to journal as an adult.  I’ve discovered that journaling can be your meditation, can be your manifestation and visualization.  You just have to change your attitude about it.

When I was a kid, I used to write an exhaustive journal covering every detail of my daily goings-on.  That’s fine when you’re a little girl living in the countryside, because frankly there’s not much going on.  But as you get older, that gets to be… pretty much impossible.  That kept me from journaling for a long time.  I’d start a journal here and there through college, any time I found a cute notebook or felt overwhelmed by my life, but invariably the task became overwhelming itself as I fell further and further behind in my exhaustive recounting of events.  I put pressure on myself to record my life in this way in case I ever wanted to go back and remember.  But I’ve realized recently that I was going about it all wrong.

So what’s the right way to journal?  Like so many things, the right way to journal is immensely personal.  But I think the way I’ve settled on is pretty damn good.

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A beautiful notebook and a trusty pen: the most important tools you can have in life.

Every couple of days, I sit down with a felt-tip pen, a beautiful journal gifted to me by my father-in-law, and a strong cup of coffee, and I write.  I don’t waste any time at all on the events of my day (let’s be honest, I was never going to reread it anyway), but I use the journaling as an opportunity to concentrate on what really matters to me.  I write about feelings that I’m struggling to sort through or make sense of, but more importantly I write about my goals, and what steps I should be taking to move towards those goals.  I write about what’s worrying me, and about how I can prevent the negative outcomes that I’m fretting about.

Writing about these topics means that journaling itself is meditation for me.  It empties my head of everything that doesn’t deserve my full attention.  It’s manifestation, it’s visualization of success.  It’s a great way to focus on my goals.  Whenever I do it, I come away feeling a thousand times more clear-headed and motivated.  So I thought I’d share some tips on how to make journaling work for you:

  1. Identify your purpose.

Figuring out your reason for journaling is the most important step to turning your journal into an effective tool for self-improvement and motivation, because it shows you what to write. I don’t journal to remember things.  I don’t journal to confess my secrets.  I journal to keep my head clear and my intentions focused.  This completely shapes what I write in my journal.  I recommend using your journal as a safe space where you don’t harshly judge yourself, but you are honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want, what you are and are not accomplishing, and in what ways you could improve.  If something isn’t important, don’t write about it.  Only writing about the important things will help you stay focused on them throughout the day.

  1. Make it a habit.

Choose a time that works for you—a time when you’re motivated but not busy, a time when you can isolate yourself a little bit and focus—and build journaling into your routine for that time.  I like to journal in the morning, every second or third day.  By doing it in the morning, I’m awake and I can harness the focused energy I get from journaling to motivate me for the rest of the day.  By doing it every other day or so, enough time has passed that I have more thoughts crowding into my head, but not too much time has passed, so I’m not overwhelmed by the amount I feel I need to write down.

This is easy for me to do, because I have a job where I only work two days a week (I’ll write a post on how I live comfortably on two days’ work a week soon), but it may not work for you.  It may be better for you to write in the evening, or the afternoon, every day or only once a week.  There’s no right or wrong time to journal—as long as you choose a time where you can breathe, relax, and concentrate on yourself for a little while!  Just make sure you keep doing it regularly.  It’s the same as anything else: you need to be consistent to see the benefits.

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I need to be alone when I journal–but it’s okay, the stuffed animals can watch 😉

  1. Do it in a special space.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but having a specific place where I journal helps me get in the mind-examining mood.  I like to do it in my bed—the only thing I do in bed other than sleeping and sex.  (By the way, staying out of the bed when I’m awake is one of the most life-changing habits I’ve quit, but that’s a post for another time.)  I sit on top of the covers, with the pillows piled behind me, the curtains open so the weak morning sunlight spills in, and my coffee on the bedside table next to me.  It’s a place where I can be alone and feel comfortable.  Since I don’t usually hang out in my bed, it feels like a special, pampering event.

  1. Don’t feel pressured to journal in any specific way.

Don’t think you need to write “dear diary” at the beginning of your entries, or sign your name at the end.  Don’t think you need to address your entries to anyone, or even write in paragraphs.  If you want to make a bulleted list or draw a picture, go for it!  This is your space.  Take liberties.  Do what feels right to you.  I personally write in straightforward stream-of-consciousness paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean you have to!  Experiment, and find out what style allows you to express yourself freely and honestly, without distraction.  Remember: it’s all about your goals.

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Now, go on!  Crack open a notebook and start writing your way to success!